“Cello” by Eliza Frakes


You meet her at a frat party. She is a splatter of vintage pastels in a wet, black mold basement, dancing like a bird in a flock of men. Her PBR spills around her like champagne. It lands on your shoes. She doesn’t notice.

She says she likes your pin. It’s a figurine of ET wrapped in a flour tortilla. You say thank you. She laughs. She asks what you’re drinking. You say beer, like an idiot, and she gets you another.

You are both drunk at a frat party and you talk all night, end up stumbling down cobblestones in the early morning with your shoes in your hand like a cliché. You say how far are we from hoooome and she laughs again, a big, barrelling laugh that heaves her chin up toward the moon. You are awash in it: the laugh, the night sky, the street lights, her leather sandals smacking against her heels. She holds your arm to keep steady.

You’re drunk at a party and you end up sleeping together. Not sex, obviously, you aren’t someone who has sex, obviously, but you do sleep together. Her dorm room is all purple and blue, lined with dried orange slices and pictures of cute children and graying dogs.

When she clicks open the door she spills into the room, filling it with herself like a liquid. You feel as though you are swimming inside of her, and also with her? You are drunk. Now you are drunk in her room. You might also be high.

You can crash here if you want.

Are you sure?

It was polite to ask, but you really have to stay. The room is spinning and you just see her, her, her and you know you can’t get back to wherever it is you came from. She drops her vintage dress to the floor and changes into pajamas. You study the print of the quilt on her bed, little diamonds, one connected to the next, and then she is there with you, lying next to you.

Thanks for letting me stay here.

Of course.

This quilt is super nice.

Thanks. My grandma made it.

Aw. She must love you a lot.

Her breathing cuts and falls like a dead rose.

Are you ok?

I’m sorry.

Shit. I’m sorry.

She’s crying. She is crying because you are an idiot and you brought up her dead grandma. She is crying because her grandma died and then she is crying because she’s drunk, because she’s homesick, because she doesn’t know what to do with her life, and then she’s crying because she’s so happy she met a friend like you.

Now you’re crying, too. You watch the tears roll across the bridge of her nose and onto the sheets.

This is why men think we can’t be president.

You laugh. You tell her you would vote for her for president. And then the two of you are laughing, trying to remember that song from second grade.

George Washington was number one, John Adams, he was next…

You both fall asleep before Hayes.

You meet her at a party and now she is your island in a sea of garbage. She is your Pacific Garbage Island. Or maybe you are the Garbage Island, and she is a bird who’s managed to make a nest upon you. Either way, she is your best friend.

Now, at wet frat parties, you both dance like birds, surrounded by flocks of men. You pee together and take pictures in the bathroom mirror and compliment all the women who come through on their fishnets and bold lipstick. You go to the gym together and watch each other sweat. You share meals. You know her favorite cereal, favorite spot in the dining hall, favorite song, favorite path to the library.

She insists that skipping is the most efficient way to get around, and so you skip with her, everywhere, anywhere she wants to go. You have never skipped before, but you skip with her.

On a Friday, you go to her orchestra concert and listen to her play the cello. She is wearing a black blazer and a floor-length maxi skirt, which stretches against her knees to accommodate the instrument. She plays with her mouth open, her eyebrows knit together at the front, her whole body swaying slightly left and right like she’s on a boat. The music is tragic, mournful, it cuts into you and lingers. It stings. You like it.

You cry, obviously, you cry. When the concert ends, she bows and finds you to ask how it was.

It was fucking great!

What you want to say is:

It was like crawling into your chest and listening to your heart beat.

You both decide to go somewhere with more beer and less depressing music.

Weeks pass, months pass, and you are happy. She is happy. You are best friends, of course you are happy!

You are best friends and you meet her aunt and uncle when they visit. They take you out for dim sum. You are best friends and you dream about her. You are best friends, and you go with her to visit her step-dad in the country, play cards with him, drink tea together in her childhood bedroom. You take a bus on the way back and she falls asleep with her head in your lap. You stay perfectly still for her, your best friend, and stroke her hair as the forest blurs in the window.

On a Monday, you get accepted to your program in Portugal. You leave next week–– a month back home with family, then packing, all of your things to get in order, visa’s, passports, new luggage. It’s the last week of the semester. You are both cramming for finals you couldn’t care less about. You get lunch in the dining hall between exams.

I got in.

She is so excited for you she screams, scurries around the table and holds you in her arms. She is bouncing up and down, oh my God, oh my God, she is holding you, she is smiling so close to your neck it tickles.

I’m so happy for you.

And she is. You see joy crawl across her face and into her eyes. You want to scoop it up with your hands and swallow it. You are both quiet as morning snow.

You have to write to me every day, obviously.

I’ll have a whatsapp. We can just text.

I want letters!

You see her only once more after that, when you’re packing your brick box of a room into smaller, cardboard boxes. She sits on the twin bed and drinks everything you left in your mini fridge.

You know she is there because she is singing a John Prine song you both like, but her voice sounds quieter, like she’s already walking through the long hallway, down the stairs, and out the door. You are wrapping tiny glass animals in socks and placing them gingerly in the box.

She doesn’t look at you.

You try to speak to her telepathically, like a child.

What do you need?

You say it in your mind, but you are certain she can hear you.

What do you need?

She finishes the cheap vodka.

For the first few weeks, you do write to her. You send her letters with polaroid pictures of the ocean and Pastel de Nata. You call when you can. She sends you messages about her new classes, how the weather’s gone from down-puffer to more casual-fleece.

For those first few weeks, you miss her so terribly your stomach hurts all the time. You pop Tums and go dancing every night, flitting like a bird among a new flock of men, new music, new drinks, new language, but you are lonely. You are unbearably lonely.

You want nothing more than to listen to her play the cello. You want to hear the smack of her sandals, to be drunk in some horrible place together and wake up in a tangle of quilts. And then one night, dancing among your new men, you realize you want nothing more than to kiss her, your best friend, who is so far away. You want her to ask you to kiss her, and you want to say yes, yes, of course, to your best friend, who is so far away.

You feel sick in a new way, up in your chest.

She never tried to kiss you. She never led you to believe anything like that. Right? You can’t remember now, and you decide it’s better not to ask. The messages fade, and eventually, you run out of ways to ask about the weather.

By winter, the longing becomes unsustainable, and time washes your memories into an orange haze. Now, when you try to remember what she was like, what you did together, you can only think of the quilt, and the skipping, and the cello.

If she did tell you, somehow, with her eyes or her hands or her body, you didn’t know how to answer. You didn’t know you could. Some nights you still try to think to her, at her.

I wish I knew how you wanted me to love you, and I wish I loved you just like that.

Eliza Frakes is a writer and performer currently living in Los Angeles. Her fiction, poetry, and dramatic writing celebrate the close tie between comedy and tragedy, and isn’t afraid to cherish the absurd. She often writes about girlhood, navigating modern relationships, and our connection to the natural world. Eliza’s poetry has been published in The Portland Review and Albion Review, and her original pilot won the student branch of the Wildsound film festival. In 2021, she was selected as a young playwright in residence with the Echo theater in Los Angeles, where she debuted her original play “Moleman” and a verbatim theatre piece on women and the police, “We’re Here to Protect You and Stuff.” Eliza is also the founding director of 920 collective, an interdisciplinary group of artists who meet to support and collaborate with early career makers in the generation of new media.