Retrouvailles, La Douleur Exquise; in French we say this for what would be a sentence in cold, old nail English. Retrouvailles is the happiness of meeting again after a long time away. La Douleur Exquise, it’s that perfect pain of wanting someone you can never have.” Gabriel, lighter, stronger, recomposed into himself, released us back unto ours now. He smiled, “English misses out on the broader arts of expression that is freed by hotter liquid languages. Passion blurs precision like cheap dye in the washer. Music lives beyond the notes, it’s all around the strokes we score in beats. Our themes come from the mark struck as we feel it and becomes what happen on the journey as harmonies dance. Everything feels a sound and a sound goes out forever. You are a sum of your sounds; immortal. But we only hear what we hear from here. All we will ever affect, ever achieve, all we will ever face and struggle through is shaped by the notes we play now. If Fate is the score, its reality is built in our stroke and phrase. Where we go, what we move, all comes from this minute.
La Douleur Exquise and Retrouvailles, these were themes for me, the truth of love composed in common time. A soul surviving a span many lives fit in, mais, one chance is a blessing, for that rarest romance, le grand amour. I’d bet high, not every life feels that. True? The drapes dressing my memories are La Douleur Exquise and Retrouvailles. When I could find who I suffered most to hold again, we shared a sweet instant moment, sorrow sudden as it slips. I sweated every nuance of each second to stretch, to feel with all of me, to try to live again as life moves on. The exquisite sorrow is a life sentence.”
A rustle behind me, the monkey half out the door, “I gotta piss now.”
“Captain, you loved Evangeline?” I asked, “did you love Niqui too?”
“Yes, I loved Niqui, never the same. I love Eva beyond life or world. I loved Niqui but a love all its own. We love, young Turk. You love, and you will love many. You’ll marry… one too many.”
“Human ladies, Cappum?” Voo always got there but you never always knew how. Giggles.
Monkey bleated, “meh,” a baby nutria’s call, clapping his hands like web feet slapping cement. Touché.
“I don’t see things that clearly.” Gabriel tact, whacking the last nail in my cross. Nod slow, he looked sure of me, searched me, shoring up and spackle patting my concerns. “See,” he said. “We live together, travel together, hurt together, survive together, we love. When Love needs blood, demands sacrifice, no contests or questions, Love always wins. I came to see Niqui for who she was and how she loved me. Being loved is precious above all blessings. Love, never discard it, pan it or take it for granted. Hold the love you’re given where your heart is fed and use that fire to give it back with all you got. That’s all.
Now come, Lieutenant,” he looked to Voo. “Reach those locks on the walls on your sides. I got to let Twenty Acre Pond get some of this wine my bladder blessed.”
Four streams bounced off the log camouflage on the starboard side.
“Dude, it smells like a straight up cesspool right here.” Monkey pushed with all he had to arc his pee out farther than everyone else. It was a thing with him. “Cappum, what you do, piss here all the time?”
“Everything in Twenty Acre Pond pisses here, even the fish.” Gabriel knew to take deep breaths nose skyward. “It’s marking territory.”
“Yeah Cappum, that’s a pissing contest.” I’m an archive of cheese. Uhm… cheese.
“True young Turk, but it is reading the newspaper for my super scented friends here to cover my scent from those who would try me in my weakness.”
“Nobody likes a smart ass,” Voo laughed. “Fuckin’ Turkey, why do all fat boys have tiny little pee-pees?”
“Yeah Butterball, you got the kinda dick that if you ever get to put it in a girl you will only touch one side and make the other side jealous.”
“Monkey that’s older than dinosaur shit, Tard.” I lifted my stream till it just brushed the corner of his ear. He turned to piss on my shoe.
“Alright you two.” Gabriel finished up. “You have just earned my long awaited deck swabbing.”
“Yes, sir Captain,” I said. “Besides y’all, I got an iceberg bird. You can only see about ten percent but the part you can see is a cutie.” I turned at the exact minute I needed to dodge Monkey’s last stab at soaking me.
“Ten percent of nothing is still zero, dough boy.”
“Can’t read nothing but your name yet you are a calculator for pennies and dollars, huh?”
“Allons tite frères, come fix me back and set my refreshments close. It’s time for y’all to get home. It will storm around dusk.”
“Captain, can you tell the weather because you are a, uh, Poo-nak?” I asked.
“No young Turkey, after my two hundredth birthday, give or take a decade, I wore a little arthritis into my back. And the fisherman in me smells it coming. Nobody is better at smelling weather than your Daddy.”
I had witnessed Daddy smell rain coming before and calling it so far ahead of my nose catching it I would forget he sensed it. We climbed down below again to Gabriel’s plush little sanctuary. Voo helped the Captain shackle up.
“Get me my pipe fixings.” Gabriel turned to Monkey, “Little one, go up into the master cabin above and grab the bottle with the picture of the poppy on it and a strap of that smoked deer I have hanging on deck.”
I gave Gabriel his smoke works. “Thank you, little brother. Now please, if y’all can roll that cask marked brandy close to me I would be grateful. Then y’all need to get home before the storms start. I will be fine for tomorrow. Go home and help your family like you help me. If you can come to me on Friday morning. Only two days left here. It is time, I’m ready for this to end. I am so very blessed to have you care for me here, thank you. Caregivers are most blessed of all God’s children. I am proud of y’all.
OK, Turk. Ya know what, I’ll let you be Turkey to who will call you that. Between us, you are called Bird, if you alright with it.”
I lit up. “Bird! Oh, hella yeah, Bird was the freest cat to ever blow a scale, not from New Orleans though. I call myself Bird. Thank you, Captain.” I bowed my head.
“So, Monsieur Bird s’il vous plait, reach up by the ceiling back your head to that blanket locker. Careful, fetch me my old friend Tamino to me.”
I opened the cabinet, gasped, a guitar, a soft red ruminating class, cat gut Spanish guitar. I had only played one once when the Monkey went to Grand Bayou Elementary. His teacher Mr. Crow had an Alvarez, but this was a whole other instrument. “Oh Captain,” I couldn’t say anything else.
“Yes, I bought this in Malaga a lifetime ago on ‘Mon Errance,’ my wandering time.”
“Tamino, I heard of El Camino but never Tamino is that like Martin?” Look at Voo knowing his guitars.
Gabriel smiled a slow no. “Tamino brings the melodies that turns sorrow to joy.”
“That was a flute he had though, huh Captain.” Mr. Crow had a reel to reel he let me hear that opera. “Hey, did you know Mozart, Captain?”
“Et tu, Turk-ey?” Gabe feigned being stabbed.
“Hey, I thought I am called Bird now Captain?”
“An asshole is of the derriere, tite frere, but some replies require specifics.”
Point Ole Captain, we laughed.
“So, we’ll jam later?” I could think of nothing else.
“Yeah Cappum, when you die can I get that guitar in your will?”
“You don’t play, you Dumbo eared rat-boon!” I hissed.
“Y’all know something I don’t?” Gabe stuffed up like Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road.
“Y’all some lil ole boys.” Voo puffed up. “When y’all start to mature like me you gonna see how rude you act, a big melted muffuletta and a ran over Twinkie.”
“There, it’s been said now.” Gabriel reached out. Monkey knew to fill his mug. “Now, passer la bas. Go help your Daddy get ready for the storm tonight.”
We made sure he had all he wanted then crossed back to the banks of Twenty Acre Pond and hit the trail home.
Our yard was neat as it could be, being a working yard for a family that made it’s living off the land. Daddy must have smelled the rain in plenty time to pack up the net he was working on. Thunder crack still filled our ears when the rain came in tub loads, unusually cold for this late summer evening.
“Look, I ain’t got to lie to you or nobody else.” Daddy usually prefaced a doozy with this declaration.
Mama was headed down the kitchen steps to the back porch, a pot of hot Community, dark roast, brew ‘stanking’ up the morning all yummy warm, cups clanging.
Daddy tying twine on his “sacred project,” entertained two gentlemen sitting backs to me, a tall dark one, a lighter elfish cat, black lightning greased hair styled for “Forty Second Street” and a crew cut with a rat tail. I stopped at the screen door hung open on a gnome, praying there would be coffee left.
“So, Rich,” one said. “How you gonna call this net a sacred thing. Mais, you gonna get the Archbishop to spit on that?”
“Hey Bone, you think that would help? For true, you know those things.”
The smaller rat tailed head rocked, laughs with amazement oozing up all everywhere off them.
“Big Sack, come bring some pet milk for Mr. T-Nick.” Daddy busted me.
T-Nick, could it be? I got the milk and rounded the iron lawn benches our visitors sat in. Sure enough Mr. Nickenson from Michael’s funeral. I didn’t know the little fella beside him, but he was plainly of Houmas or Tunica heritage, something native. I poured.
“So, it’s a sanctuary by Bay San Bois, takes a sacred sein to fish that. Tell ’em Doc.”
The smaller man shook his head. “Only you, Rich; a sanctuary is for the safety of the fish. It’s a place they relax and do their thing.”
“Doc, I am a humble man. I got simple needs. Life is hard. It’s a killer, ask T-Nick. And taxes and tithes. Fish gotta give just like you and me. I am a humble man who simply needs to take one pass, two tops.”
“Take, take, take, take; white men take for take’s sake and useless wealth.” The ‘Doctor’ looked off in a Valentino lament.”
“Hey, watch what you mean by white.” Daddy laughed. “No pure blood pedigrees around here, Doc, you know. To many good dances, good drunks and easy places to lay hid. Good ‘Cat-lics’ good at covering and sealing stuff. And then as if, you came here in a Range Rover, oh those poor Houmas. You always took with the best of us and being a better ‘Cat-lic’ than us, you cover and seal what you don’t want seen.”
“The Range Rover’s not mine. You can’t prove nothin’ you ole coquin.” The Houmas gentleman laughed a belly full.
Mr. Nickenson St. Raphael stood. Elegant, coiffed but dressed for the field. He was taller than last time, maybe. “Master Pauly, comment cą va? It’s good to see you.
“Bien, bien, Monsieur T-Nick. Cą va?”
Daddy shot me a stink eye, forbidden French.
Mr. Nickenson warmed and expanded like a baking baguette. “Votre français est plus approprié que votre papa.”
He lost me. I smiled and nodded radish faced. His French was too perfect, in the Parisian way.
“Let me introduce you to Dr. Terrebonne Dardar Ph.D. He is an Elder of the Houmas Tribe.”
“How are you today young man?”
I guffawed and nodded, still blushed, trying to be gentrified. “Dr. Dardar.”
“You can call me Doc or Bone.” He shook my hand. His brown hand already small in mine reminded me of my Paw-paw’s hand teaching me anything, holding a heavy quiet.
“I am honored to meet you Doctor Bone.”
“Yes, little brother,” Mr. Nick reached for my hand. “We’ve come to ask your Daddy if he can spare you boys for today to help us. If you would, we can use some young backs and legs.”
“Yes sir,” I might’ve slung a lil’ drool nodding like an idiot. I looked at Daddy with a bacon eyed puppy face beg. “Please?” It was OK.
“Thank you, thank you. Go dress for the bayou. We have some fun country to cross.”
‘;A half a Jackson Five spin I was off just in time to run into Voo and the Monkey at the screen door, mouths full carrying a mostly massacred tray of biscuit and muffins. They were already dressed. Monkey had his new monkey sized Cajun Reebok shrimp boots on. Voo’s bayou attire was more in Hulk fashion after somebody pissed Bruce Banner off with his T.G.&Y running sneakers he crawfished in.
“Hey how did y’all get up and not wake me?” I never sleep in.
“Ya know, we heard it takes twenty minutes a pound for a turkey to get done, so we thought you had another month before you were good.” Monkey didn’t duck, proud to take a slap for glory.
We pulled up the steep bank of Highway Ninety heading west in a Range Rover. That was like a Rolls Royce of trucks to us.
I looked to Voo. “You know where we going, Daddy’s camp?” He shook no.
“We are headed out to Bayou Black. Master Sergeant Ribeau needs our help. He is moving, and we are old age worn. We need your help.”
“So cool.” I said.
“Is Aunt Frankie gonna be there?” Voo got excited.
“Ooh I heard you Comardelles are lovers. You must be Parrain Gabe’s Michel born again.”
“Comardelle?” Doc Bone cut in. “I think I got a Comardelle or three in my family.”
“Yes sir, probably. Daddy used to get around pretty good. His daddy too, I heard.” Voo was proud.
The sugar cane was half harvest height in the summer. Coming out the crowded woods that made closures on green miles of pasture lands and crawfish ponds the sugarcane fields stretch out before the hard deep swamp that sets the horizon low and away. Wet, hot summer licks of full bodied Louisiana air was ripe with the brown sugar and hot shit fart funk of bagasse curing as we caught the wind off the refinery in Raceland. It was easier to take since they quit baling it and started grinding and piling it.
Bayou Blue was a town on the way to Bayou Black. We cut off on Bayou Blue Road there to bypass Houma proper but never without a stop at Borque’s Boucherie for a slab of bacon, a hot sausage poboy and some hog’s head cheese. Borque’s offered everything needed or wanted to make a day on the bayou a yummy success.
The men went one each to the meat counter and the beer cooler. Voo and Monkey were glued to the gun and knife cases in the outdoors section complete with rods and reels and synthetic lures we knew. Around the walls there in the hunting and fishing department were every cliché ever mounted. There was a horny rabbit, a pedigreed coon ass, singing bass, real bass, deer racks, a longhorn rack and every manor of oddity, cheese-witted placard, license plate and bumper sticker. Of course, there was the obligatory LSU and SAINTS helmet along with a jersey from every Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish high school where the Borque’s had grandchildren attending.
I was always fascinated by old man Borque’s pickle barrel but was hijacked by the sweet snacks aisle. I didn’t get any biscuits or muffins at the house and that was working me. The idea of food set me up like Pavlov’s pup and lit a fuse sparking on my tongue burning ‘det cord’ fast through my temples where coals stoked obsession. This was the second year of our D.A. little league football team and partly because of me the league instituted weight limits for each age group. Where Voo stayed a whole summer of weekends in the car to make weight eating only boiled eggs and drinking water and cider vinegar, I found myself lacking that kind of commitment. So, I had a few bushels to lose if I would play this year. I mean I had my guitar and was talking about forming a band with some of the older boys, so football was more because I was big and for Daddy. Still I needed to lose my Turkey perfect silhouette. I was challenged as they say. It’s not my fault that I’ve been cursed with superhero taste buds. It’s a problem. Maybe I coulda been a sommelier. It could happen maybe.
The smells and evil styled into pictures on labels possessed me like the Loup garou got Old Captain. You know what? Fuck Little Debbie, Mrs. Fields and Sarah Lee. Famous Amos is an asshole too. I tried to stand for temperance, abstinence and never kowtow or back down but for the holy Hubig fry pie.
Damn me, there was the Hubig dude just then stocking the freshest pies in every flavor next to Mama Borque’s cocoa and coconut pralines. DEFEAT! One prayer, I beg for no desire, hunger or fixation. The next prayer was in thanks for the sublime submersion in complete bliss beginning on my tongue with each bite. Doom.
I wonder now how many kids were left to struggle with these exponential appetites that defy satisfaction. So many kids starve and yet a curse of some with plenty to eat is encouraged by parents who grew up in the Great Depression. We are set to grow morbidly obese, infected by Ole Beasty like Captain called his monster, the equivalent of modern day lepers. I hated being gross fat me more than anything. I dreamed of what it would feel like to hold hands with a girl who actually wanted to hold my hand. Great tastes were never in my dreams. They owned me on a wholly deeper level. I was touched on the shoulder from behind.
“Yes, young Pauly,” Doc Bone saw right into my thoughts. “The Darkies in this world have to find a way to torment every soul in Creation if they wanna eat. They all have their niche. And we all have our particular weakness. Some, like Ari Ribeau got them in bunches like green onions. Don’t worry. You will learn to toughen up in thinner places and make peace with your own beasts. N’onc Gabe always says, increase the peace to calm the beast. You’ll learn.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Doc. Right now, the only peace I could know is one of those fry pies and a Mama Borque’s praline.”
“Well it would be my pleasure to buy you some peace my friend.” He motioned for me to make my choices. “I’ll do some rooting around to see what we can find to help you ease your pain without damping your bliss, huh? Different things work differently in different people.”
I believe I thanked him and showed unequaled gratitude for his help but honestly, I can only remember being lost in a Hubig’s glazed mixed berry pie and a chocolate praline. He bought me chocolate milk to wash it down. See, still today not even a Heitz Cellar cabernet can bring me this bliss coma. Today I know that the fry pie, praline and chocolate milk would probably give me a diabetic one.
Voo and Monkey both got new knives. My memory has outlasted all that steel.
Before long we were cruising along the manicured bank and lawns of Bayou Black. Bayou black was a thin little snakey thing that wormed it’s way out toward Amelia and on to the Atchafalaya in Morgan City. We made it out to turn onto Ten Oaks Road where a single story wooden house surrounded by a wide screened porch had its lone address. As advertised, ten stately, mossed bearded live oaks made a shady colonnade that threw a doll house scale onto the large-ish, rambling ranch.
“Is the place all packed Mr. T-Nick or do we gotta box up everything?” Voo always had a mind on the works of things.
“No Mr. Comardelle, we are not moving anything here. Sergeant Ribeau has given this place to his last nephew, Mr. Dardar. We will meet him at The Jolly Spot.”
Doc Bone nodded. “Yeah I have a present for an old friend here and we need to grab Saudad. She knows the way to the Jolly Spot.”
Voo and Monkey bolted the truck to test how their new blades threw. I walked onto the wide porch. I could feel the ghosts of parties past. Long folding tables lined the walls behind a line of eleven wooden rocking chairs. Doc Bone rolled on through the open, spacious great hall and kitchen. He threw open the back door and whistled one climbing shriek. “Sau-dad, free fish Saudad, viens ici, Bébé. We need to see Ari at Aunt Arabella. Saudad! Free fish, Saudad.”
I heard that slap, slap of webbed feet hitting wood. A nutria? Around the corner the slapper came into sight. A pelican, not a Louisiana brown pelican, no this one was white as an egret, at least four feet tall at its orange ‘afro’ crest. It’ had a deep orange bill with a naval orange big hump where the nostrils were.
Doc Bone reached into a large palmetto leave woven hamper. He pulled out two near to spilling handfuls of dried mullets. Saudad the grand white pelican began to dance and squawk. I heard a first year sax student going for it. One by one Doc pitched them and Saudad snatched them in the air. I never saw her swallow. And I don’t know what song she sang but I’d bet she didn’t miss a note for a catch.
“Come see Pauly. Help me grab this ice chest while I load this basket with mullet money. It’s how we pay our guide.”
Back at the truck we piled in. Saudad the pelican sat between the men in the front seat, of a Range Rover, a pelican on that leather. We drove through the Master Sergeants sugarcane fields to the woods where we picked up an old oil man road barely enough there now for a file of horses or two ATV’s abreast much less this top of the line carry-all. We bumped for a kidney jerking, plumb straight five miles till we came on an opened lawn with a tin storage shed next to a small two roomed cedar house boat fixed with butterfly trawls daddy called “po-pey-airs” moored on a heavy cross tie dock. Behind the house boat was what looked like a Lafitte Skiff, but then again didn’t. It was wider and cut a bit lower on the sidewalls. It had no trawling rigs but atop pole frame that held its canvas sunscreen a small radar dish turned.
“Now come with me Phillipe the Voodoo Man. We goin’ get that flat boat up top the night trawler there.” T-Nick pointed to the houseboat. For the first time, I picked up a trace of Island lilt in his orders. “T-Monk and Young Turk, go with Mr. Dardar, help get those two pirogues from that shed and load them.”
The pirogues were loaded with burlap brown sugar looking cubes about a foot every way, small wooden casks, a few baskets of dried mushrooms and herbs. We tucked them in snug with visqueen and canvas tarps. Tied atop the frame of T-Nick’s skiff I was amazed at how light these overstuffed pirogues were. I lashed the flat boat to an eyelet on the back of to the wide deck on the transom when I noticed that this boat was jet powered. The nozzle on a swivel was angled down but fitted up high enough to be flush with the flat bottom of the nearly thirty foot skiff. Most Lafitte skiffs are prop driven. Black Panther 007, eyes wide, ears wider or vice versa. I had to hang a little upside down to get a quick closer peak. Always a dangerous move because neither Voo nor Monkey would miss a chance to lift my legs to dump me overboard. I read “Miss Cecile” in flowing script. At once the engine growled alive then purred. The jet spit out a might spray, a bubbly sea dragon’s breath. I was awed still flat on the back deck watching the jet push us smoothly away from the black dock and houseboat.
Our skipper T-Nick flicked a switch and at once we hit up on the wave as the only sound offered by the powerful pass of this superhero stealth boat was its hearty wake crashing over bouskieauxs and cypress trunks. The black tupelo danced in the waves it seemed as the honey bees and hummingbird lit and fluttered. I could smell the nectar that makes the Champagne of Honeys.
The geek in me remembered Nyssa the fresh water nymph of myth. I imagined seeing her gliding from trunk to trunk as we passed as quiet as the tide. She looked like Ms. Gypsy at the Godfather’s Restaurant. Somewhere in the ears wider scan of all we moved through I heard a whisper I’d heard before. It said “Sablique.”
Suddenly I felt the hem of my dungaree leg pull tight. I went into my gator death roll. Voo, Monkey, I screamed echoes through my gourd. Settle. Bird, it was the bird standing at my feet. The dinosaur big white Pelican with its happy afro, Saudad. I swear she was smiling. She hopped down on the floor, nosed her hamper of dried pogey and hopped back on the dollar wide flat rampart. A veteran fisherman could not have walked it better while we cruised along as smooth as if we had shock absorbers. Voo and Monkey sat up on the bow entertaining T-Nick and Doc Bone.
I looked for the sun. We headed north. I opened up to not miss a scent, sound, sight or subtle slide of the grand voles against the side of this magic secret agent craft.
The bayou closed and spread. In places choked with lilies and lotus were no obstacle to us. We glided over them like a ton of water bug. The sun came up on noon. We surprised swamp bears and boars, watched eagles fish and herons fish, alligators wait, gallon fat bullfrogs and turtles sunning. I let the swamp wash me over wading down into a montage of mornings cutting through the tide-less glass of the holy green bayou with Daddy running nets or boxes. I love letting go so the deep bayou swallows me. Life comes from here. This is my home. I come from here. Here death and rebirth are dawn and twilight. Gabriel called this the womb of the world. Tupelo and bouskieauxs, duckweed and lilies hold all I am made of. Me, a musician destined for a life in the city if I have my way, no denial that I come from here. We come from here.
I’m no Army Pathfinder ya know but I am a big ole map nerd. Ninety going west, shoulda crossed Highway Ninety a while back. Now the sun tilted to two. The tree line broke out open. Another bayou crossing? The march locked up with the lilies and such so only barely an alligator hole of free water held us as we stopped. Our wake rolled through the matted greens and they made a wave on the pass. Nothing was solid under this floating pasture. Now I could make out the lake and the woods before us was in fact an island. Our wake caught up to push us through. At the island bank we found a slip covered by an oak stand hidden from where we came. A pretty stilted camp sat proper over the tiny harbor. We docked. Saudad hopped up to light on a pilon anchoring one side of the pontooned dock.
“Come men, time to let your eager ranger out to play.” Nickenson moved us like a conductor as we floated the pirogues in tether to the flat boat. We crossed all the portables into the flat boat. Doc Bone and the Monkey came up with four long poles and paddles from around the back porch of the camp. We boarded the flat boat tugging our pirogue barges. From the mouth of the camp slip we were faced with three choices to proceed. I couldn’t recognize where we came from. I don’t get turned around that easily, but I was lost.
On our left the tree line meandered with a couple ten yards of water between it and the flowery flotant that pushed out, a floating football field and on again till the swamp closed back. On the right a bayou squeezed tight to lil more than trenasse width with vines and branches scratching out over the stream, arthritic crooked fingers bounced in the breeze and springing feet of bees and bugs. Its far end was curtained by the biggest banana spider web I had ever seen, its netting glistened thick, I’d bet it could catch a bird. In the dead middle, eight inches of blazing yellow and red flashed spider sat on the vertical, motionless save the wave of its web.
Before us about eleven o’clock a single channel snaked, clean cut at a stables breath wandering through a mile of grass and hyacinth giving no tells where the firm ground stooped under and the floating ground started. I thought of the even crop of cane outta Raceland.
Saudad the Pelican stood up on the bow. Doc Bone reached in the palmetto hamper and tossed three small fish almost simultaneously. Saudad snapped them up as if she practiced. “Allons Chere, take us to Arabella and Aristeed. Saudad, show us the way to the Jolly Spot.” The great white pelican leaped up and loped off forward to the winding channel and turned a loop around heading straight for the giant spider inn the strangling little ditch which she promptly swallowed without slowing one long stroke of her angel white wings.
We paddled off to the spider web port that was a cut becoming a ditch commanding poles over paddles before we reached the silky wall sans banana now only waving in the breeze with the bullseye bitten out or gulped rather. The men spread out, Doc on the middle bench, T-Nick on the bow with a paddle and cane knife. I poled just forward on one side while Voo and Monkey poled the other. I made another resolution to not need a two person counter ballast next summer, or the one after. Monkey mainly spending his energy swatting at vines and branches with an old machete filed down to switch thin. We only had to rescue his pole twice which he promptly released thinking he’d seen a cottonmouth or copperhead.
The ditch bellied out and closed but never much beyond scratching the sides of the boat on bank flora. Finally had a chance to look to an open sky. “Almost sixteen hundred hours by my take on the sun. Wouldn’t you say so Mr. T-Nick?”
Nickenson St. Raphael pulled his wrist at his chest. His heavy chrome hard cut diver’s Rolex snatched all the sun there and spit it through my eyes and my pride.
“You as full of shit as a Christmas turkey on the Fourth of July, you fat sack of fluff.” Monkey ducked my pole thrust with a cow tail fly swat worry. We poled on. I let myself play. Ole Captain’s story was chest deep around me maybe sixty miles away but not too far in time. His words were still wet in my lobes and simmering between my ears, neuron pops, squeaks and flares like grease skating pot liquor on fast fire. I was young Gabe and Voo, Michel. Monkey was that rat Fae Kowi with all his pestilent, needley, kneady torment suffer for needing his help from time to time. Two hundred years was last night in Gabriel’s voice. We pushed on, poles bogged on a grip but never settling on a bed. I saw the Shadow King. I even missed Evangeline bent into Sister Endless revised as Emmy then I heard Sablique.
Web whack, web whack, thick welp wops, unseen smacks, web after mouthful and eyes swiped; my day dreams were spasms at best. I am stubborn enough though.
Then I saw her. I saw the Bayou Nyssa darting off from bald cypress to her namesake tupelo. At first a sweep of shadow dance with lucky rays that beam in stabs and wither as the canopy rejoices in the hallelujah warm gulf gusts. There the water recoiled in wake of something wanting your attention. Dogleg pushed through, tangles, snags and dagger tooth thorns and thistles, nettles and berry brambles hacked and hacked back, Monkeys fierce rapier whip machete broke as many as cut and slammed more of the far enough back to slap a son of a bitch branch upside my temples. I was an easy target.
I was distracted by a Goddess, an imagined one sure. But we cleared a bend and there she lay, arched up at the four o’clock sun the flowers loved, eyes closed almost, red hair spill, a veil of a gown, a voile fell, water shear, clung on the arc of her rib over the longest, most captivating waist I knew. A string bikini beneath had a pattern of tropical fish scales made of mesh left by skeletons of leaves before they’re dust. At her forehead’s center on a mossy braid, a gem gleamed lotus pendant sat Krupa swinging sun rays like a disco ball. In passing the guise of her gown, mirrored mindful in me all I saw between us, moss and black stump, depthless green and glare in prism play. gone after a trunk intruded. Another little push and she rose up out of water kneeling on the water itself, dripping still, her hand stretched out to me, eyes comely in every plea eyes ever made.
I turned to T-Nick, to Doc Bone behind me, to Voo and to Monk. Only Monkey noticed, laughing.
“Horse fly got nothing but a big belly of butter right there, Butterball? I hope it’s bleeding. You probably bleed syrup anyway,” he said.
Bayou Nyssa pushed back to sit, one knee up, one longest leg stretched out exaggerating what a woman’s leg can be. Eyes of mischief emphasized, she brought her hand out offered to me back onto her breast and raised eternity for me up as a “shoosh me” finger to her urge birthin’ lips, herding the entirety of craving lived and yet, at once alive.
Did she just shoosh me? I stiffened, Ms. Gypsy? Ms. Gypsy…
Lips, they’re glint of ganache churning graze and grab the light in rich suspensions, whispered “Sablique.” Evaporated.
Whip lashed across my cheek in cruelest candor. “Soma-na-bitch!”
“Wake up you big mud sack.” Monkey, brave but on his toes, bowed.
The men laughed. Voo shook his hand and acted prayer as if he and God were first name cool.
I was only half there a split second at a time. I lived La Douleur Exquise and Retrouvailles right there, glow grown over split seconds. English is a puny tool box, yes Ole Captain.
Ahead, a thicket of palmetto fans locked blades across the ditch, the stream still alive and flowing strong beneath.
No blockade to schooled swamp critters like us. This is Crawfishing Logistics 101. We leaned into our poles. Monkey at the ready came up with a golf driver swipe of his machete switch channeling our smooth momentum.
Daylight, summer evening sun ran me through with the fiery gaze of the All Seeing Eye of Mount Doom. Vampires, I was feeling ya a lil bit.
Once the sun stain faded on my retinas, I saw we’d bust broadside a channel in strong ebb tide. A distant thunderhead tower of sparkling clouds crackled and popped its lightning whip. It filtered what it kicked back from the pregnant twilight, so the wood line was dark turquoise, and the water was purple. Above us the blue sky’s cotton clouds not yet seeded silver backed on black, moved slow about a counter flow cartwheel, teasing before the storm could grab it over to the darkness. I let myself see the gears of reality. Satisfied, I tried to see as much of all I could and note it.
Doc Bone blew a long two finger whistle around on a full sweep. On cue across our bow Saudad the Pelican bright as if she stole the white from the clouds cut a sharp skim across the purple surface, bottom beak trawled a slice perfect as a sea plane skid. Mullets jumped to clear themselves but never missed a nip of her gullet. She banked right climbing and dipped her graceful wing tender on the breeze as a nanny’s fingertips and disappeared off around a bend to our left.
Nobody has to tell a Cajun boy when to stow a pole for a paddle. Monkey stood proud on the bow, machete raised in salute to our guide. He had to try to play that into a useful duty. Voo wasn’t buying. He nudged the monkey’s back with his paddle. I swear if Monkey was a foot and a half taller and could dribble or shoot accurately, he’d be in the NBA cause, he had their flop perfected. Errol Flynn agile, his bony ass hit the bow and he knew he won at least five non-work minutes of penalty complaints. The stroke was so easy with the load and tow I didn’t even make the effort to poke him into doing something. I didn’t need to listen to it. I witnessed hard, eyes wide, ears wider as we piggybacked the current that didn’t seem to mind.
The color here was a lil bit too vibrant. Maybe Michalopoulos or the Djinn painting in Jackson Square was called to heaven, given Van Gogh’s kit slap swatches across this swamp. Except for Saudad, all the smaller leapy, jumpy, flit about critters greeted me with cartoon smiles of Disney cells alive. I half expected Huckleberry Hound or Yogi’s black coonass, swamp cousins to wave as we slipped around the next hand set bend of their Jellybone Swamp where I swear, I saw the outlines in ink.
I reached for my brothers, a deep breath of, wow. Oblivious or ignorant in active tenses, Monkey puzzled with a Chinese finger box musta Mr. Nick packed for him alone. Voo birddogged our fore sight. Our paddles as rudders, I was close to overload. Most any idea I imagined captured all my olfactory with a spray in swirls of mad magnolia and vanilla “smell-o-vision” spreading red wed threads of seduction through my frame. I’m a sucker for a pretty scent with game.
The bend was a T-bone spurred on a dead end cut. The only way ahead was busy with Saudad’s downy dust mop ass skimming zigzags in a picture of the Ghostland Mr. Dave sings of. There on a blue runner slide the bayou bowed out left, darted right and over corrected again but always there was a straight, wide aisle to the Promised Land’s drive-in the sky sat yonder on the bayou bend.
“Gents,” T-Nickenson pointed to a triple decked wooden dock of a bare plank chalet that from a distance flashed colors Christmas tree style. “Welcome to Bayou Blood, the official driveway of The Jolly Spot sur L’île Violette. Young men yet you today can say you’ve been somewhere fancy. Of course, the few who’d believe you, would believe anything but the truth usually.”
On his proclamation we walked the pontoon dock that rocked on Bayou Blood. I can’t say we were transported, no more, I admit not remembering the paddle up. A strong polished cedar deck on my shoulder escorted us to a wooden staircase landing built onto an offshore well’s welded yellow grate and rail skeleton stylish in its tells. We bounded up to find a grand horseshoe, old redwood fence board bar with a bowling lane finished countertop all trimmed in red, blue and gold moldings, simple, flat, elegant. This same motif ran half sized around the perimeter brass buckled to pilons posting totem pole veneers anchored on the all too familiar big boy Erector Set scaffolding of the scattered platforms off Main Pass in Mississippi Sound. This “lean-bar” counter for drinks and eats corralled a parkay dance floor as fine as any college gym.
Along the backside, galvanized Canal Street store shutters hung sleepy eye heavy over a cedar foyer where Gals and Pals privy parlors were split by the saloon swing door of the “Brass Fans” Dance Hall. This galley way was sided by a festival food stall line, signs on screens down on kiosks barked out everything from bait and tackle to a flattop diner griddle sandwich stand. Another stall sold watersport accessories like visors, sunglasses, goggles, floats and sundries. Off to the side another shuttered shed was stood alone. A rusty drugstore Rx was BB Pollack-pocked in a cluster settling to Stratocaster sunburst fade in its elder ages. Flanking the bar on a straight grate side porch an ample split level band stand had the only solid back wall apart from the Jolly Spot’s “Big House.”
We followed the men around the side to a shined steel staircase mounting a narrow gallery of apartments French Quarter stacked along a stained plank decked court. French doors of the middle flat folded back so as we came through it spread out a bawdy Burlesque feather on velvet welcome, I could never trust nor turn away from. I mean, what ain’t better with feathers?
“Everybody don’t get better, Monde Mère, everything don’t get better. No mark of time nor miles passed can restore rot to life, Ari.”
“Maw Jigs you know more than any soul; pig shit makes pretty posies. Everything is redeemable.”
“Ari, you old buzzard, only you and mushrooms look for shit in a sugarcane field.”
A plumb firm posture, ink black braids coiled tight to let a peak of a triple strand of Faberge worthy pearls. Maybe Faberge found them and strung ’em himself? They splashed out that feel. In a chez, red velour, also back faced to us a man’s head bent for braids, long silver hair and a voice strangely known to me, never this timbre though. I last heard it whisper and hoarser and calmer.
Reply, cue lights stage left, all what the… I missed that, sudden. I thought Lena, Tina, Dorothy Dandridge; Mama I understand the meaning of star struck.
“Mae Bee,” she said. “Give the master scavenger his due. Mais, they let us see their recipe for turning poison to medicine and bring the sweet outta decay. We pay respects earned, our first rite. Besides, Ari’s a crow, so too silky savvy, so eyes of Eros’ every salivating sprite would firefly light the Seven Secret Exit Doors of Hell to hear their names from his throat. A buzzard, Sissy Mae, is a brute with its head up Death’s ass. Ari is much too impatient wait to fight for what he can charm you out of.”
“I’m about to charm him with a knuckle cup upside his ear, Belle. If he don’t let me finish combing these snakes out his hair, he’ll be saying more than my name.” Her pearls hurled its pastel prism of pink-gold, violet, white as she turned exaggerating their role in her music box dancer perfect pirouette. A fine brown woman, the truest words I could say of her at a glance. Her face alit with toy and joy, eyes a lil bit too far apart, a lil bit big but brown, soft, Maw-maw quilt calming.
Old noble bean pole at communion true against the plush slope of the chez, she was the perfect native princess beside this brass-blonde Creole movie star on my left. OK, outta my league at twelve, I know, but man some truer things about me were becoming steadily evident.
“Where’s Babette?” Combing continued on finger feel, Ms. Mae Bee faced us multi-tasking with the grace of a singer playing harp.
“Gone for winter early this year.” As if we watched a play, fourth wall intact, the Creole diva answered with some concern carried in query tone.
“I won’t believe she’ll lay out again for that ingrate, infectious insect plague in the east, commerce worshipers, weak easy marks for the Darks. Babette sees purpose where I see a waste of the good.” The brown bay eyes of comfort owned a natural ease in sterner stance. Princess to Queen Mother, Mae Bee flashed maiden playful to mama wolf minding cubs in a death wink.
“Heart of sorrow be,” Belafonte Nickenson cut in. “As a wise bartender advised; once you care you’re fucked. Maw Jigs, ma Belle, been a minute. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry carries nothing over shattered trust. You are the Devil’s black tomcat, Fence Walker Nick.” Turquoise skies, these Creole diva eyes candle foot lamp lit ginger skin set a glare in beg of dare.
“Pardoné moi Madame,” He said pouring on the Island lilt “but fence walkin’ let me spy that best crop on any side the wall for you Ma’am.” Then with a Billy Dee resonant belly tone he crooned, I got your herbs and oils my magic Mistress.” And turning formally he addressed the chez. “Et tu Ma’am Mae Bee, has anyone said you are beautiful yet today?”
The proper native matron, staid as granite, “Slick Nicky Loa Lord Letch, if I had any daughters not yet haunted by you, I would have that tired line tattooed in their eye lids, so they will know you on sight and sound. Then, well ya know, make up something bad for you, and, that.” She let a guarded grin grow.
“Herbs ya-sayn?” Patois poised perfect, finger push dainty, screw specs scaled on the Queen Mary’s two story prop balance.
“Ah light, its sweetest sound rides those open notes only high Island Ladies hold on any tongue they seduce me in.” T-Nick clutched prayer hands to chest.
“Sa se yon bon komès,” Ms. Belle smiled, acceptance, welcome, formal fare regards, “Dardar, be a hon, show these strong gentlemen where we fix our greens for saving, s’il tu plait mon garcon. Then Terrebonne, son, catch that cane cocoon off the tanning rack. Bring some of the baby’s breath from the basket under that, a good fist full please.”
Doc Bone beckoned, and we turned to follow. I took it in like I was told; eyes wide, ears wider. The braiding continued. Repartee between Ms. Bell and the Panther moved under breath in hushes of giggles. Giggles are the fountain of youth. See what you get from eyes wide, ears wider?
Down around the back deck in a shed next to three hotel sized ice machines and an antique yellow Royal Crown Cola cooler with a coin lock on it, two cases of six ounce bottles relying on our honor not to take four each. A test of course, Monkey took two.
A lean to canvas awning screened off on the poles to the front and far side had a wall of mounted baskets with more kinds of loud fumy, dried flowers and weeds. I knew many of the spices dried whole in wood box cubbies three deep by eight rows. Below the cabinet of cubbies, a fine meshed screen was boxed in with cedar slats proportioned to what struck me strangely as open space of Michael Pitrie’s grave. Against the front screen, on a set of doubled strong saw horses held a steel grate mat tabletop. A six and a half foot, cane and palmetto on willow woven Body Snatcher looking pod rested so lightly on the mat I imagined it hovered. If our tarp wrapped pirogues could have shed their skins like a snake, they would leave this, I thought.
Not a half an hour later we had our pirogues traded for the wicker Snatcher pod. The giant burlap brown sugar cubes were left on the mesh bed below. We unpacked none of it then marched back up to the Parlor where a skunky pungent piney incense mingled with pipe smoke, I noted having bitters, berries and old compost. A ceiling fan turned slow up on an open skylight dropping a dusting of dusk gold an opal glimmer to the shoulders and shinies as the candles on the bar came into their own.
Doc Bone snatched up the wicker pod as if it were a bubble on his fingers and laid it beside the chez. Belle kneeled there. Mae Bee, corset correct, read in whispers from a shell beaded vestment. T-Nick and Doc, at the shoulders and ankles lifted the lanky frame of Master Sergeant Lester Ribeau into the opened man-basket now lined with blankets and a cheesecloth fine wrapper. He made no notice of us. Again, this went on without regard for us back behind the fourth wall.
So, Lester is Ari, how did he go from crew cut to braids past his ribs in a few days, twins? I looked to see who else noticed. Let them say it this time or not. I just took notes. The only words I could pick from the golden Belle and the Panther’s whispered Creole French was the lieu and the attendant. Oh, I hated that Daddy forbid us to learn French. Did we need to mind the Master Sergeant in on the toilet or was he a restroom attendant? Ooh-ew doody duty; not knowing just irks me.
Everybody faced us. I didn’t see them turn. Didn’t see myself inside my head. A press of imminent immense Frodo yolk burdened me. Was I behind; me slow? Wrong maybe but never slow.
We were back out back at the ice machines and dry shed letting ourselves below on an old rope dumb waiter freight elevator. The wooden deck rose away from us worrying me at twenty feet. We should be in the ground by now but twenty more let out before we landed. And the twenty feet of deck from the Cola cooler to the rail had become a quarter mile of a quarter opened clown mouth, Fun House door blinking with a neon sign for Dixie beer. We appeared to be staring out from the throat.
Doc Bone led us to the door which was still a deck and not a cave, a mirage. Above the rail looked like the deck of the Jolly Spot but nothing ahead of us looked like the salivating swamp we come from. From here even the Disney drawn sets of Bayou Blood to the Jolly Spot seemed easier to accept as wake-time world. A wooden walk cut a skip buckled trail through a bread rise puffy swollen red clay bank. Gray on grayer scale and powder bark of crepe myrtles crowned in violet and sard flecked a carpet in feed corn spread about the sable lush moss. A reign of summer sherbet orange and mint made what played the light in this scene. It wondered off yonder and over off a ways to a high bucked brick bridge the colors closed on.
We looked to the Doctor, ready without question stirred, not even a Monkey with paranoid concerns. Oh, how I question that now, well ya know me and quests.
“What say you, my brave Fellowship,” Doctor Dardar knew, nerd true. “It’s time to return the old Big Bear to his Fawn.”
The elevator behind us squeaked as it lowered slapping me with my lack of attention to detail. T-Nick carried the wicker man-basket at his chest as if it were a child in it. Mae Bee and Belle at his sides were aware there but deep in prayer. The cage opened. T-Nick right shouldered his package with careless empty ease.
Doc Bone had a two pole canvas litter laid out before us.
Damn it, pay attention Bird.
T-Nick tossed the straw cocoon to Doc Bone beach ball style. Belle punched the Panther’s ribs. He feigned pain. We fit the cocoon into a netting fastened to the skid end of the sled. Ms. Mae Bee walked up. Voo without a prompt lifted the pull side of the litter as she tied a skinny version of the same purple prayer vestment made into a belt securing the basket to the sled. She mouthed a prayer or secret salutation. Voo motioned and I joined him taking one of the poles. Nobody had to give Monkey a job. He would free us from snags on what appeared to be a finely laid path, right up his alley.
Doc Bone put his arm on Voo’s shoulder. “Little brothers this is why we need you today. Of all Gabriel’s Trusted only you can bring this basket down this path and lay it atop the Bridge of Sighs at the middle of Ruisseau de Réveil. That is the gateway to L’attente Lieu.” Doc Bone produced a pint of Sailor Jerry’s rum and short fat cigar that looked rerolled with a less than professional hand. “Lay this rum and stogey abreast the shell belt over the heart of the basket with this bunch of baby’s breath. This is Ari’s offering for his condolence.” He handed Monkey the dried flowers. “Now I know this is gonna sound like a fairy tale warning just to scare you but don’t step off the boardwalk. The ground there is hungry and sticky. The Violet Isle is like a big jellyfish. Every inch of it is mouth.” I don’t know if we will be able to get you back. Ari Ribeau was the only one besides N’onc Gabe that could walk this flotant and his walking is finished in this world.”
“Doc forgive me,” I needed to understand. “Why us, why trust us with this much? We’ve never been taught this? Why do we leave the basket in the middle of the bridge? Why is a jellyfish out there that we need to cross on a boardwalk? What kind of jellyfish has crepe myrtles growing out of it? And how can you carry this cocoon, as you call it, like a waiter’s tray when I saw you put all of Master Sergeant Ribeau in it who went from crew cut to Hippie in less than a week? And where are we exactly cause, I got lost somewhere.”
The grown folks broke out laughing, happy to let Doc Bone handle help for my percolating figures.
“What, you want me to make up some hard questions for you to answer?” His smile calmed me. “Physics first, cocoons are made of silk and spit. Few things in this wild creation are lighter or stronger. The parts of us, as of all things, that can pass beyond the chords of this world are weighed in amplitudes and frequencies. Not much to hold there but if it is not protected any damn thing can come up and suck.
We all have our sides to perform in our time to do. But I will try to lay it out for the artist in you. See, L’île Violette lives in the passing tones our melodies move on. It’s the purple between red hot and blue. Say, the Creator composed all that’s ever been or will be out of the same eighty-eight strings we pluck or beat on today. Say life is a melody and bend it or make it bleed, we all got our own song. Your song is only yours, only your score. You can share though. When folks’ melodies ride together, that’s a band. So, this is your gig. You must write your parts a wail on. Make your cri de coeur.
Your innocence serves you now. The simple works of it is that you are young, uncorrupted, and your connection to this life is vibrant, resilient and thick. If your connection to this life is a spider web, compared to that old banana spider shooter Saudad inhaled, your web would be strung with bridge cables. If something goes wrong, we have the best chance of pulling you back with minimal damage. See me, my web is extra-lite slinky, and T-Nick is like a wolf spider who roams homeless and unattached, waiting to jump and eat or be jumped and…” He made a loud gulp then burped like Buddha Frog in rut. “The Ladies there,” Doc flicked quote fingers in the air. “Ladies never let you see their thread till it’s too late.”
T-Nick stepped in. “The Violet Isle is alive. It hangs on this world like a lamprey on a shark. Never forget this. The only way a thing holds life is by eating another’s life. L’île Violette is always hungry. It sees you and smells you. You see crepe myrtle. Maybe Voo sees oak or weeping willow or nothing. It croons to you. It wants you and everyone wants to be wanted. So, don’t be consumed by desire. Here too you three are the perfect band as Terrebonne named you. You still question your unfamiliar desires. You show no tells fore you have no prejudice to move on. You are intrepid and stubborn. My Parrain nailed it choosing you: a bull fearless warrior, a ninja bandit and an eager seer; the classic rhythm section, a heart thump, playful hand and a heady interpretation.
Ms. Belle came to stand by me and cupped the nape of my neck. “You are a turkey, young Pauly. Turkeys sense everything in a good spread around theirs. It’s hard to fool a turkey but that’s how you get to eat it. You need to be a bird with blinders now. Your brothers are not prone to the excessive processes that can be used against you. Let the back of your neck see from here. When it bristles, walk faster, eyes forward, ears tuned to your own voices.”
“Arabella,” Mae Bee spoke. “I believe our little songwriter here understands already that someone is waiting for him somewhere up ahead. She has been playing with him.” Then she snatched my focus. “Know as sure as your Little Debbie calls you, she will charm you until she has finished with you. But she will not be beside this trail. Keep your eye on the bridge. You will see nothing true until you reach the bridge.”
Voo turned in a barely woke query. “You got a woman playing with you? Yeah I believe that.”
“A rubber woman, yeah.” Monkey couldn’t miss out. “One with a turkey neck and a beak that shakes will you put batteries back the head.”
I had to be the bigger Bird. The grown folks toasted us an passed around a skunky stogey rope of smoke that lifted to the roof of this clown mouth cellar forming animal clouds to my reckon. I saw a bear, a fawn, a moose and a panther. Each gathered form and bounded out and up out the mouth in their smoky gates. Not a blink or a breath from Voo and Monk. Was I the only one who saw all this or was everything in my mind? For now, I had to be comfortable with my afflictions and move on step after the last till our job is done. We turned to face the Bridge of Sighs a stepped out onto the orange crepe petal carpeted boardwalk. I wanted to look back but didn’t, no prohibition there, only scared that nothing was behind us. Eyes forward, ears culled close.
“Pau-ly…” a honey warm sigh plied me; “Sa-bli-que,” it said. Pale purple, the longest Ms. Gypsy leg danced in the corner of my eye. I smelled meatballs and fresh grated Parmigiana cheese; peanut butter fudge cooking. A flower and powder light perfume followed, Emmy. I looked right.
Marilyn, my Marilyn Monroe kneeled against a grey trunk sang. “One day he’ll come along, the man I love.”
President Kennedy stood over her in an Atticus Finch seersucker suit. He looked at me and spoke with a regal Alabama proper cadence. “What can you do Sir? You gonna let the lily light embodied in this lovely lady be tarnished and dimmed or raped and stolen by lesser beasts? This is your heritage. Your fathers have died to give you this. Look at yourself man, toting and poling, risking all your future for what, a crazy old half-breed hermit in the woods? You do know he’s making all this shit up, right? He is not even American. Work for yourself young man. You are a stallion dragging a church. Work for yourself man. Work for your kind. Be proud. Preserve the purity of this lily’s life. The mudslide’s coming to brown out our world. Come lie by her, young white knight. Come seed your future. Do the right thing.”
I smelled Little Debbies, damn it Ms. Mae Bee. At least she didn’t cock me with Reese’s cups. Soma-na-bitch! A bellow stoked my belly. Walking maybe, face slam, I tripped. Karate book at work, I rolled a perfect three point landing, crown, jaw, clavicle.
“Ain’t no Grace on nothing you got Turk,” Voo going Grandpa on me. What you lack in coordination, son, you make up for in clumsiness.” He heard Mama say that. Touché.
“Sorry Ma’am Marilyn, Mr. President; You got the wrong bird Sir. I’m a mutt. Daddy says, ain’t no pure bloods where we come from. Where ever we came from, we made home here where life loves us, and we love it back hard. We are lovers, Sir. Be real and our home is yours. Sorry you wouldn’t know anything about that, I guess.
And just on quick recall I would say that my forefathers don’t have a great history of hero sagas. They were builders, practical fellas who practiced regularly at building good parties. I am the only dreamer in the line.” I got up and brushed off. “My Captain says dreams that don’t grow are slowly swallowed by hungrier ones. Maybe you need to grow some, a good pair even, Sir.”
I turned taking my pole back from Voo’s Mel Blount hands that snatched it up as I collapsed.
“Dreamer? Bloated abhorrent abortion botched, you are a fat bastard orphan who belongs nowhere. You eat your loneliness with inbred abandon, fat boy.” A cyclone of hissed pleas and curses crashed around on both sides of me. It stung.
Monk and Voo kept true, keeping me in the corner of their eyes.
Believe. Had to believe, didn’t know what to believe; I panicked, grabbed myself together, gut tumbles. My space cringed into my ribcage like old heavy duty foil. My fillings shocked my jaws tense. I humbled myself, clung to my core gears, one step after the last. Infected, damn infected, seer heal thyself. Step after last, I said, “Babette.”
Babette, that was Gabriel’s mother’s name. Babette, I prayed. Why?
Voo was steady as the electric meter, every step forever downhill. Monkey reached the foot of the high arched bridge. A halcyon breeze flooded through me like shedding a shiver of wet clothes for a steamy Avon scented bath. An angel grand golden eagle pulled up perching on Monkey’s shoulder. He never changed, never noticed, nothing.
“Believe,” she said, it said. The eagle lifted off away.
I put my first step up on the foot stone of the bridge. It was round and steep but a short climb to summit the hump. A brook beneath us raced in inky amethyst flows that rolled by like I sat on the needle over tracks on a vinyl album. “The Wind Cried Mary” rubbed my back and rocked me, the laughing gas breeze laid me easy.
Cocoon centered as charged and garnished with the booze and the smoke and the sticks of dried white buds. We looked at each other wondering.
She stood beside me. A foot taller at least and leaning on me. Her red hair fell off my shoulder. I focused every screaming nerve connected to any cell of me that touched her, report. “Remember everything.” Garp’s words lit my side on fire. Woman? No shear gauze or mermaid string bra, no she wore a long gown of white and a veil, nothing holy in her habit. Her skin was lit golden like glitter on butterscotch.
“Ms. Gypsy,” I said. “I mean Sablique, Ma’am forgive me. Wha…?”
“Need you name me my cherished child? Today Brigit, tonight Nyssa. Let me be what you will have me be.”
“Are you an angel?” Voo asked.
“Hush man. That’s plenty too much day job for me. I am a free spirit, a freelance facilitator with gifts for niche work.”
“Are you a witch?” Monkey was studying her now, not a manly thought one parking in that monkey head of his.
“Cute,” she said. “Witches start human. Me, I been a lotta things and accused of more but couldn’t be that if I wanted to. No. Today I am working the door.”
“Do you know God?” Monkey had a shot and took it.
“Yeah, I used to go watch the Saints games at his camp and play bouree, but he cheats, so. It’s not his fault ya know, nothing ever is. He can’t help himself see, omnipotence and shit. And never play him in Monopoly unless you truly have an eternity to lose.”
“So, God is a guy?” My eyes were wide now.
“God is everything God wants to be. God is you. Tell you what though, for being in everybody’s business all the time, that Cat’s still lonely.
She looked down at the cocoon. “Ok, let’s see what we can do for our hero. And he brings me rum, cheap rum but smells like happy smoke there. Let’s join hands.”
“Are we praying, doing a séance?” I was busting. And, I was holding the hand of a Goddess.
“No, my handsome young Apollo, I just don’t want y’all to fly off where the Grimis can get you.”
“Grimis Ma’am,” I asked; “like the fond in the bottom of the pot?”
“Corroded souls and stragglers. Look it up on your own time, scholar.” She looked up and smiled. I was the only soul ever in her eyes, as I saw it. She pursed her lips as to whistle and blew dandelion quill wish gentle.
The breeze awoke. Soon the sky darkened quickly as ink over glasses, winds cried like diamonds scraping on copper bells, Hendrix wailed on thunderhead banks of Marshalls on eleven.
The cauquer l’eaus, white water devils, came pressing up close, marsh cold and numbing, in pale palls stared wide eyes, dried ashen, massed groupie crowd waiting to gate crash at first crack the last standing room only free Beatles reunion.
Ms. Gypsy, Sablique held the bridge with effortless will. Being by nature higher up the rungs of Gabriel’s Ladder, shooshed everything. That was my shoosh. She dropped our hands and said, “Get up man.” Never a quieter command was rendered with a weightier wake. She whispered one word, “Mary.” I heard Jimi Hendrix strum on the gale fading.
The cheesecloth liner in the cocoon lit up like a lantern in a screen. It glowed golden, Saints gold, Elmer’s Goldbrick gold, eight o’ clock sun gold. It was a toy sun at our feet that rose up an filled in as Lester Ari Ribeau before Master Sergeant days, before Private days, more like pirate days. His long black hair glistened, white Cuban loose linen. He stepped out the basket, head bowed before Our Lady, sunny egg aglow boiled fire a bit before the bottom of his belly.
“Lester Aristeed Ribeau,” she placed her hand on his face locking his eyes to hers. “Have you celebrated your condolences, resolved the tensions you seeded with pain, even those you enacted in love’s care; etcetera, blah blah, ad infinitum et al?”
“Yes, Ma’am I do the best I can. I wish I was better at it. Things done in care of my Serafina and her mama Arabella, I garner no regrets for. I carry no resentments, my life spent working to heal the pain of those affected by my defenses. But see that old bastard Al-don Fin, he can kiss my ass at the pearl gates. Y’all know, I can work on that though, Ma’am Brigit.”
“What have you learned to offer your spirited, young cadre of porters to take from here in gratis?”
“Love wins always,” he said, eyes on Sablique fixed. “To truly see the energy behind a human act, even your own, know love wins always. Understand what is beloved and act accordingly. This saves everything.”
“Our waiting place welcomes you Ari Ribeau. Rest ready. You may be of help from here.”
“Yes’um, I never asked for one thing free. Serafina, s’il vous plait?”
“Ouais sieur mon fil, Peace be. You’ve earned this.” The magic Ms. Gypsy, Sablique, Brigit nonchalant, looked back and blew an offhand kiss, casual and plastic as cutesy mall adieus.
Ari’s egg broke into starlet orbs, golden swirls spilled out on swallow slides hurled through a mirror curtain, curling, gathered beside a Kong arm live oak bough. And making out a lock of lovers loomed in spun gold treading, consciousness to conscience, Aristeed and Serafina firmed to all reflections can be. I knew his name now, I knew him truly.
Foot to foot at the foot of this Godmother mossy oak he danced with a copper haired Creole beauty. Arabella’s blood was loud in her ginger proud cheeks. Step turn and on, a fiddle on the wind, they two stepped.
“Mon coeur,” he asked, “How have you come to me here in my limbo?”
“Your purgatory,” she said, “is my heaven.”
Dumbass me turned back to the boards beneath the crepe columned alley. The oak tree again mirrored there, Aristeed and his Serafina waltzed in a graveyard. A drunk bobbled and swayed when not leaning on a headstone. A young man of maybe thirty, broke, stricken, heart scar war paint mask on wounds. I knew this wretch. He is my future.
Ambush, ah! Voo put his foot in my ass. “Don’t look over there, Spaz-tard Nerdope. Didn’t you hear Ms. Gypsy and only every adult that has talked to us about this? You gonna mess this up and I’m gonna have to drop a loogy down ya gullet.”
“Sorry.” He was right.
Back on the bridge Our Lady grabbed up the baby’s breath and offered in it a flutter to the water. She bent down to Monkey and whispered in his ear. He nodded and bowed his head as she awarded him a sash for his shoulder that harnessed a drum. Not a snare drum or tom but a djembe or djun with bright yarns, yellow and green, red, yellow, orange. Monkey raise his hand to slap. She mama-eyed a “don’t” to him.
Then she bent to Voo’s ear. He nodded. I felt him feeling her, wanting to. Opened hands, humble he accepted an arrow, shaft light and shiny like polished aluminum. It’s head was a jade fleur de lis sharp as glass, sequin sparkles sprinkled along a silver shaft finned in powder blue plumes and pheasant tail streamers.
“Yes Ma’am,” He said.
Sablique my Gypsy Naiad moved me to her front, bent to face me level eyed. My Zen slid over my ice cream spine like red velvet fudge. She was telling me something. Something was said in her eyes. What? I reached, added, carried, nothing. What? Was she talking to me? Eyes wide, eyes; I tried, furnaces stoked till the joint smoked out. Not getting it. My transcendence is frustration? What, what to do, fake it?
She pulled back smiling more as she straightened. I felt short. “Fun,” she asked?
That long pause after a first kiss good night, did that just happen? What could have been? Am I stupid? I am stupid. If I only, did I overstep? Am I making all this up? I make shit up, Wally Shitty Mitty, pity me.
“Silly wabbit,” she said. “Tricks are for kicks, my yummy little macro macaroon.”
Wait, did she just call me a big cookie? Dough eyes if guessing, I did all I could, flutter flapped a flattening balloon sigh of exacerbated exaltations as if daylight blasts my midnight mirage to nothing, but the soundtrack still faded in my primal places. Even here in a fantasy Louis Carroll would herald as Alice worthy Reality needs to be a bitch to me. Don’t I get a secret and a tool?
I woke with a wet slap to the back of my neck as our whale tail wake hit the transom. Mr. Nickenson’s ‘Miss Cecile’ SEAL stealth river skiff kissed a tire bumper on a pilon back at the Night Trawler’s dock. It took me a minute, wiping drool from my mouth corner and collarbone. One yellow lamp posted atop the electric line pole over the Range Rover. The chilly fog beginning to simmer on the bayou could not yet hide the sold out audience of eyes caught in our running lights. I always dreamed of looking out on a darkened arena as the lighters burned for my first note. This was more like taking the stage at Nero’s Coliseum. Man, my dreams suck. I wasn’t about to ask how or why. Let me see what tomorrow shows me. Yeah, tomorrow I will wake up yesterday saying this was a hell of a dream.
Dawn again, well ten-ish, brunch time. Another morning behind, Monk gone on with Voo already to Twenty Acre Pond without a need for the part I didn’t get last night. Yep, last night still right there. I took a second to dust off a box of cereal. Silly Wabbit. My fruity pebbled heart fizz over spilt suds in my gut.
I took my time heading across the tracks alone, barely tending my steps, searched my archives, every detail scrubbed for a revelation. Up and up again I stood to look epiphany in the eye but found a careless quiet sky lives could waste waiting for a cloud to cross.
The pirogue was at the bank hitched to a pull rope we ran just below the duckweed that let us load and drag the boat between sides. I shoved off and climbed up the deck of Trini Babe the wreck. The quiet was all big mouthing my squeaking steps with master foley artistry. I climbed down into the Captains cozy sanctuary. For the first time I was with Old Captain alone. For the first time I noticed it to ripen with solid scents of a drunk who really needed a bath.
Gabriel cracked an eye. “Hey Bird,” he groaned sleepily. “Did you have to come jump stomping across my deck like the four horses of the Ghost of Brain Cells Past?”
“Damn Captain you look like you been shot and missed and shit at and hit. Tied one on a lil?”
He kicked the brandy cask with his heel and it tumbled over empty. “I love drinking alone on a full moon,” he said. “That way it’s just Ole Beasty and me and I don’t feel half of what he tries. I think I am a much better drunk than he is. Besides I get a better class of company than haunts the bars at closing time.”
“When do bars in Des Allemands close Captain?”
“They close when the barkeep needs to sleep.”
“Captain, I am afraid I failed you. Yesterday we went to help your godson Mr. Nickenson. We helped bring Mr. Ribeau to The Waiting Place. I let my imagination get to me and at the end Ms. Gypsy who is some kind of Fae or something gave Voo and Monk presents and whispered secrets to them and when she tried to tell me something with her eyes I couldn’t hear a word. I’m a loser. I’m sorry. I wanted to make you proud helping your kin.”
He tried to smile. I saw him lick some blood from his teeth. “See, little brother, see with your eyes. Listen with your ears. Feel with your feelers, remember and learn that you can’t lose a game that is not yet finished.”
“Turkey come bring the pirogue! Our arms are full.” Voo called clear from the bank strong as if he was at the door.
“Yeah you big bucket of chitlins. Come be some help for once.” Monkey, always perfect with splinters for me to walk on.
“Do I have to take that all the time Captain?”
“Go help our brothers, Bird. Laughing at ourselves is the most important self-defense we can learn. Then maybe shoot straight then Karate but when all else fails that’s why God made number thirty six Louisville Sluggers. Little brothers got to learn too.” Gabriel called me close for a sober note sometimes only drunks can give. “One day you will miss this.”