“Yes. I’m moving on. Been puttin’it off, but gotta go today.”
“Gonna do that now because it’s getting late.”
“Why don’t I pack you a tuna fish sandwich, just in case?”
“Yep. Good idea.”
In the bedroom, I flung the doors of all three floor-to-ceiling closets open wide, which were designed like the entrance of a cathedral, doors that for the greater glory of God, make man minuscule, put you in your place. The perspective of my many possessions purchased, carefully cleaned and stacked up high in an orderly fashion was somewhere between repulsive and overwhelming but mostly beyond my reach. I selected a few books and that fuzzy bear my parents brought back as a gift from Germany, but little else before closing the suitcase.
She caught me off guard, intercepting me in the hall on my way out, to hand over a brown paper sack as promised. I’d forgotten she’d offered the favor. Preoccupied, I guess.
“Listen, there’s a chocolate pudding and an apple in with the tuna fish sandwich too.”
Glacial and dark by design, her house inhaled the heat if by the gliding open of a sliding glass door, its hermetic seal was compromised. And like a large lung, the house then exhaled a quixotic draft of cooler air, which carried me with it out on to the balcony. Before she’d bolted the door behind me, no matter how briskly, and believe me she was… The sweet swelter had swallowed me whole.
Across the street, its source obscured by a high fence hugging lush foliage, smoke was rising. Must be the Mexicans. Like too many magpies, they gathered around their granny on her tiny purpose-built patio. No one was more thrilled than she to be grillin’ again.
Yes, our side of Bayou St. John was on low boil, but the houses on its opposite bank undulated in a mirage. So I was leaning left, feeling in my bones, a future of possibilities and personal freedom lay that way. Right hand tightening its grip on the sweaty suitcase handle, I stashed the sack lunch under my moist armpit, elbow clamped in to keep it there and descended the wrought iron stairs. Pausing at the bottom, I opened the suitcase to put the brown bag in with the rest of my treasures. Now, really on my way, I was again delayed by the obligatory exchange of pleasantries with Steve, our landlord and neighbor below. As it happens he was walking his well-dressed Chihuahua whose name was N’est-ce pas which is French for “Isn’t it so?” Keeping in mind a direct question can indeed be misperceived by older gentlemen as intrusive, in a carefully modulated tone I dared ask,
“Pardon me Mr. Steve, but why does your dog have on a colour coordinated raincoat and galoshes?” At this juncture, in unison we surveyed the quivering creature sporting four knee-high Wellingtons on palsied paws.
“Because it’s a brand new set I just bought that was too cute to leave in the closet even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky. You gone for good this time?” he answered, giving me the eye and theatrically inspecting my little luggage.
“Afraid so. You two, do take care.” Turning, I saw mucho macho matching heads. The Mexicans were like one monstrous centipede, lined up as they were for a last look over their high wooden fence. We both yelled “Adios” and waved at them but they did not disperse. Didn’t move a muscle. The scorching sun on my scalp said, don’t take all day for this stand off. With better things to do, I would leave the bayou behind.
I hadn’t got halfway when I spotted the strangers sitting on their front steps just as if they’d lived here forever. They were smoking those cigarettes that smell better than the store bought ones, but you have to roll them yourself. Though unknown to me and mine, these people were in a really good mood, so pleasant in fact that I paused. Especially on account of how thirsty walking with a heavy suitcase made me, and the hissing sound the ice cold can of Dixie Beer let out when they pulled the crackling metal tab stopped me in my tracks. Without hesitation, I held it to my forehead for a minute then next to my neck and drank it slower than heck, so as not to get one of those excruciating brain freezes, to which we Southerners are prone.
The new tenants invited me inside. Said I could bring my suitcase with me and I did, gingerly placing it on the coffee table, which frankly it monopolized in an absurd fashion. I sat down on their silky soft sofa, but not before being welcomed to do so. Everything of theirs was smaller than ours, and they smelled strange, but were so nice to show interest in what I cared enough about to carry with me. They confirmed my bear was genuinely German. And though I knew every word in my books by heart, indeed they politely declined to borrow them, just as they didn’t care to share my tuna fish sandwich three ways. Said they’d just eaten and instead offered me one of their piping hot homemade brownies. After I don’t know how long, what most intrigued them was that a midget could memorize her digits. I proved my point by borrowing their pencil and a notepad of pretty purple paper to jot down my home telephone number.
We were having such fun, I nearly forgot they were foreign. The shades were drawn, and I guess I’d been there a while, when one prolonged blast from the building’s main buzzer led to two terse raps on the first floor apartment’s soft hollow-sounding wooden door. Furthermore, when it swung open, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Glaring from the hallway, hands on hips, was Mom.
Like stumbling on an oasis in the nick of time, an accidental magic had occurred. That haphazard ambience which happens in abandoned colonies with greater frequency than you might imagine. Well, that mystical moment had passed and with a firm grasp on my suitcase, Mom was on the march.
“Step on a crack, break your momma’s back,” I sang real low, hopscotching on one foot, alongside her back to a home that in my eyes was about the same size as The Superdome. Right or wrong, now that meanders of mine are no longer confined, I see Herbsaint-soaked curbs cloaked in ceramic smiles, their teeth-like tiles intelligently fired in the truest hue of Belgian blue. They spell out street names like: D-A-U-P-H-I-N-E, D-R-Y-A-D-E-S, or D-E-S-I-R-E. But the four corners of a sublime world that will always keeps me squarely entertained are contained in time, and still say D-U-M-A-I-N-E.