Sarah McCarry 

 All Our Pretty Songs

What, then, could she complain of, except that she had been loved?


At least I have the flowers of myself, and my thoughts, no god can take that



Aurora and I live in a world without fathers. Hers is dead and mine was gone before I was born. Her house in the hills is full of his absence: his guitars in every room, his picture on all the walls, his flannel shirts and worn- through jeans still hanging in the closets, his platinum records on the mantel of the marble fireplace that is so big we both used to crawl inside it when we were little. He is everywhere, and so we never think about him. Aurora’s mother is a junkie and mine is a witch. When I say it like that, it sounds funny, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

This is a story about love, but not the kind of love you think. You’ll see.

Aurora and I grew up like sisters, and this is how we match: same bony, long-toed feet; same sharp elbows; same single crooked tooth (Aurora’s left canine, my right front). Same way of looking at you out of the corners of our eyes until you blush. Same taste in music: faster, harder, more. Same appetite. Same heart.

Aurora and I live like sisters, but we are not alike. I am tidy, and Aurora has never cleaned a mess she made in her life. Aurora sleeps until four if you let her, loves Aliens, smiles often, is the kind of girl who will break into your car to leave you a present you don’t know you want until you find it. Aurora’s mom is richer than anything you can imagine, and mine is poor. Aurora is sunlight, and I’m a walking scowl. Aurora’s skin is dark, and mine is watery cream. She bleaches her black hair white and smokes unfiltered Lucky Strikes and drinks too much. She wears dresses made out of white lace and gloves with the fingers cut off, Converse with holes at the toes and old-lady satin pumps, and if you think right now of the most beautiful girl you know, Aurora next to that girl is a galaxy dwarfing an ordinary sun.

I am not beautiful at all, but I am mean. Every day I wear black jeans and the worn-out Misfits shirt that used to be Aurora’s dad’s and combat boots with steel in the toes. People keep away from my fists in the pit at shows. I cut my dark hair short and my eyes are grey like smoke when I am happy and like concrete when I am not. Every morning I get up at six and run seven miles, into the hills and back, and where Aurora’s body is model- skinny, mine is solid muscle sheathed in a soft layer that all the miles in the world can’t skim away. Aurora breaks hearts, and I paint pictures. We are both pretty good at what we do.

Before we were born our moms lived like sisters, too. They drove up and down the coast in Maia’s diesel Mercedes, following punk bands and sleeping on the beach, dyeing each other’s hair pink and blue and orange and green. Maia met Aurora’s dad backstage at a show in Los Angeles, before anyone knew how famous he would be. Back then he was just a sad-eyed boy from a shitty town in the Northwest with a guitar and dirty clothes. Maia chased him out into the parking lot and they fell in love as the moon rose over the Pacific. Cass drove them around while they kissed in the backseat. “It was so much fun we drove to Mexico,” Cass said, the only time she told me the story. The three of them spent a week living on the beach and swimming naked in the ocean every day, sleeping on striped blankets they bought in a market. They had no money, but that was a time when you didn’t need money, when it was enough to be young and beautiful and in love. Cass drove them back to LA and they got married in a twenty-four-hour chapel next to the freeway, with Cass as their witness and a hungover Elvis impersonator officiating. Neither Cass nor Maia owned a dress. Maia wore a white slip she’d bought that afternoon in a thrift store and a headdress Cass made her out of roses and silk ribbons. Cass wore cutoffs, a dog collar, and the Misfits shirt she stole from Aurora’s dad and later gave to me. Before the year was over Aurora’s dad would make one of the bestselling albums of all time, and then Maia and Cass would have Aurora and me, and then everything would fall apart. Now Maia sleeps away the years like a friendless fairy-tale princess behind a wall of thorns, and Aurora’s dad is dead, and Cass and I are stuck in the real world of never having enough money for bills despite all of Cass’s spells.

“But that week,” Cass said. “That week was the most perfect week of my life.” Maybe it was perfect for Maia, too. I’ve never thought to ask.

Aurora’s room is like an antique store and a record store exploded while mating. Posters hang all over the walls: Arthur Rackham prints, the Pixies, a wet cat hanging from a tree branch with the motto HANG IN THERE. Aurora’s embellished the cat with a markered-on mustache and fedora. Piles of magazines, Vogue and Ben is Dead and Spin, Sassy with all the quizzes dog-eared and filled out in different-colored inks (red for Aurora’s answers, blue for mine). Every inch of wall that isn’t covered in posters is covered in pictures: Aurora in her dad’s arms as a baby, his face already haunted; Aurora and me at every stage of development, from infants with the same fat, formless faces to our first junior-high dance (Aurora in sunglasses to hide how stoned she is, me looking serious and faintly alarmed); Aurora and Maia; Cass and Maia. The famous picture from Rolling Stone: Aurora as a wide-eyed toddler, clutching her father’s guitar, surrounded by the members of his band. It was taken right after he died. The guitar dwarfs her. It’s an original print, unframed, tacked carelessly next to a sheaf of dried roses tied together with a dirty ribbon and hanging from a nail. Empty Dr Pepper cans and sticks of incense, rhinestone-covered dresses, Christmas lights and piles of silk scarves, an empty bottle of Chanel No. 5 in a dish full of quarters. Her dad’s record collection—crate after crate of old punk and new wave, obscure soul music, seven-inches his band recorded before they were famous. Books on witchcraft, travel guides, old anatomical textbooks, Flowers in the Attic. Her battered copy of Tam Lin that we traded back and forth as kids until the covers fell off. Winterlong and Weetzie Bat.

I used to borrow Aurora’s clothes, but as I got older, as it became apparent I’d be the draft ox to her dragonfly, I quit shimmer for death-metal gloom. But sometimes when we’re bored we stay up all night eating ice cream and listening to her dad’s records. We raid Aurora’s makeup drawer for mascara wands and compacts of pressed powder; iridescent eyeshadows; rich, dark-red lipsticks by the handful. I let her paint my eyelids with the intense concentration of an old master, color my lips a Jazz Age maroon. We take Polaroids of ourselves and tape them to her walls, steal Maia’s video camera and film ourselves gyrating to the Clash. When we’re finally exhausted we fall asleep in her giant bed, curled around each other in a pile of silk and feathers. We don’t wake up until long after the morning sun gives way to afternoon.

Tonight, we’re catnapping in Aurora’s bed, watching Heathers for the fortieth time and eating Cheetos. Cass would die a thousand agonized deaths if she saw the color of the chemicals going into my mouth. Aurora’s in love with Christian Slater, but I think he is too cheesy, even as JD. It’s a longstanding bone of contention between us. “Look at him.” I lick fluorescent orange powder off my fingertips. “He’s, like, engineered in a factory. A factory for teenage girls.”

“You comprehend nothing,” Aurora says, wounded. “I would totally have gone the distance. Winona Ryder isn’t worthy.”

“He tries to kill her,” I point out.

“Only because she wouldn’t follow through with her own vision. You have to commit. That’s the lesson. God, look at those cheekbones.” But nothing she says can convince me. There’s no real torment behind those eyes. JD is a sham.

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