When Marie is twelve years old, her mother’s mother takes her to the French Quarter for Mardi Gras. “You need to see the glorious dead,” Mamáw tells her. “They come back to life for this one evening and experience the world again.”
Thirty years ago, the city of New Orleans issued city-centric passports, some of which cost thousands of dollars on the black market, to control the number of people pouring in from all over the world to watch the dead—newly risen from St. Louis Cemetery Number One—flood the Quarter for a precious few hours. Any dead buried in the cemetery, fresh dead or old dead, were alive one night each year. For most of her childhood, Marie had been waiting to be allowed into the Quarter.
“You might see things you ain’t seen before,” Mamáw says, as she and Marie, hand in hand Double-Gallery house on Prytania Street to the Canal Street streetcar that would ferry them to the edge of the Quarter. “Ladies may not have their clothes on, and there are some men who don’t mind relieving themselves right on the street. You keep close to me and don’t go wandering off.”
“Will Mama be there?”
Mamáw held her hand tighter. “I’m sure.”
Marie’s mother, twenty-eight years old, worked overnight as a waitress at Huey’s 24/7 Diner, and Marie didn’t see her much. This used to bother her, but didn’t now that she’d gotten her period and considered herself old enough to understand such things. Her mother worked hard so Marie would have a better life, and it was best if Marie respected her for it. She’s seen enough movies and TV shows to know that children always regret not respecting their parents.
In the Quarter, they find a couple of feet of curb along Royal at Dumaine and spend their time until six watching the parade go by. The parade Marie has seen before from the Garden District, but here, in the heart of the city, children leaning out past the police barriers hoping to catch beads, is something new. She’s never once been allowed in the Quarter for Mardi Gras before now. So many people. So many plastic cups in hands and colored beads raining down on their heads like the heavy snowfall she’s only seen in movies. The pavement is hot, and when a man with a shopping cart full of cheap lawn chairs comes by, Mamáw pays him twenty dollars and gets chairs for them to sit in.
“If I break this thing,” Mamáw says, smiling, “don’t you tell nobody it was my fat that did it.”
After the parade passes, and Marie has given away many of her beads to smaller children, she and Mamáw go to 13 Monaghan over on Frenchman for early dinner. The waiters at 13 usually don’t like kids to come in, but Mamáw had dated the owner at one time, or so she said. Marie is never bothered and they’ve never been asked to leave. As soon as they’ve eaten, they head up Bourbon, which has started to come to life like a blooming flower.
They swim back into the main throng of the Quarter. Mamáw is right—for the first time in her life, outside of a textbook, Marie sees a penis. The man stands outside Lafitte’s with a cigarette between his lips, a glass in one hand, and his penis in the other. His forceful stream hits the garbage waiting at the curb and sounds like rainwater running out of a gutter. Marie’s face feels hot, and she clings to Mamáw’s hand even tighter.
The electricity of the French Quarter, the lampposts and the neon bar signs and the still-up Christmas lights, glows with the approach of full dark. Marie stops Mamáw at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann, reaching up on her toes to whisper in Mamáw’s ear. “How will I know who’s dead?”
Around them, the police force begins to swell, keeping out reporters and anyone with cameras larger than their hands. “I want to be able to tell.”
“The dead are happier than you and me,” Mamáw says, “because they’re for the day. They know they’re dead—this ain’t like Papáw, up in our attic. They know they’re dead, but they’re happy to be awake.”
Mamáw buys them virgin daiquiris, and as Marie sips hers, delighted with the shock of cold in her mouth, she sees what Mamáw means. “That man is dead,” Mamáw says, though Marie has already observed the black man dance in the street to Doreen’s Jazz band, the music streaming from its locale on Royal. Amid the living who jostle around him, the man, eyes closed, swings his arms and legs in some kind of Charleston. Marie thinks he is glowing, but she may be imagining it.
As they watch a pair of skirted young women throw up in the sewers, Marie notices a same boy she’d seen three streets back standing just to the side of her. She looks at him briefly, taking in his brown skin, black hair, dark eyes, his plain black t-shirt, and narrow jeans, wondering if she knows him from school since they look the same age, but no. She’s never seen him before, and here he is following her. Marie shivers.
“I really like your dress,” the boy says, right at her side. There are enough people around that Marie doesn’t think she needs to shout. Mamáw hasn’t said a word. It’s okay.
“My Mamáw made it for the parade,” she says. She pulls out the full white skirt.
“This is my first year,” the boy says, hands in his pockets with his shoulders a little hunched. “I’m told it’s the only time I can come.”
“I don’t mean to be rude. But are you dead?”
The boy smiles, flashing white teeth, the front two crooked and chipped. “I died last year. I don’t remember how anymore, and I never see anyone I know, so I can’t ask.”
Mamáw tugs at Marie’s shoulder, and her face shows she’s not happy to be here anymore. Too many people. “Why you stalling?”
“I’m talking to this dead boy,” Marie says. Mamáw’s irritated face shows surprise. She looks at the boy and nods.
“Evening,” Mamáw says. “And what is your name?”
“Deacon,” the boy answers. “And yours, ma’am?”
“You may call me Mrs. Boudreaux.”
“Cajun, ma’am?” Deacon identifies. “My family’s Creole, but I do like me some Cajun food.”
This pleases her. Mamáw looks Deacon once over before she says, “Come along, then, and keep your hands to yourself.” Deacon has said nothing about wanting to join them and Marie feels her face heat up enough to fry an egg.
She’s been thinking all week about what it would be like to kiss a dead boy, since Mamáw has been very explicit about not kissing or dating or being around boys alone. If he’s dead and only around for a day, it would certainly matter less. It probably has to do with Mama, who had Marie at sixteen, or maybe with her Mamáw’s Catholic faith. Mamáw likes to say she’s a Catholic though she never goes to church.
Kissing a dead boy sounds better than kissing a live one, since she’d only have to deal with the dead boy for one day a year. If Deacon doesn’t remember dying, maybe he won’t remember her next year. Maybe that would be a good thing. She’d come back each year, looking better and thinner and more beautiful, and each year he’d see her and fall in love with her again, and she wouldn’t have to have him around all the time, wouldn’t have to make promises she didn’t want to keep, wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not she wanted to have sex with him, or if she could get pregnant.
Getting pregnant, Mamáw says, is the worst thing that could happen to a girl, and Marie has to agree. The thought of giving up so much of herself to someone else makes her sick to her stomach.
“Isn’t it neat that we can all have a good time together like this?” Deacon says, when they stop for a passing group of elderly women. Marie thinks this is the loveliest thing she’s ever heard. He takes her hand to avoid being lost, and Marie doesn’t know why she thought it would be cold and icky-feeling. His palm feels warm and solid against hers.
“Are you sad that you aren’t alive anymore?” she asks when Deacon takes her daiquiri from her and sips it himself. Their lips have touched the same object, and when he hands the drink back to her, she looks at the straw as though he might have left some magic behind, something she can keep and use.
Deacon moves faster while Mamáw shuffles through the crowd; Marie quickens her own steps to keep up with him.
“I don’t much notice when I’m not here,” Deacon says. “It’s quiet where I am. It’s like I woke up from a dream and then I came here to the Quarter.” He gives her another smile and it makes her dizzy for a moment. She tells herself he is a person, not just a very cute boy, and she can talk to a person. She’s done it her whole life, so nothing has to be different here, despite thoughts of kisses and no commitments and wondering what would happen if she got pregnant with a dead boy’s baby, what Mamáw would say to her about that.
“So where are you when you aren’t here?” Marie asks. Beads rain down on her from the rooftop above the half bookstore, half woodshop; Deacon bends down to pick them up, offering them to her, but she already has so many. She plucks up her courage, takes them from his hands, and reaches up to drape them over his neck. She isn’t short, but he is tall and narrow. To reach him, she has to raise up on tiptoes. He catches her wrists gently to help her and then lets go.
“I don’t know if it’s heaven or not,” he says, “but it’s real quiet. I get to read a lot, all my favorite books, but I don’t talk to nobody. That’s why this is so nice.”
She’s about to ask why he doesn’t know if it’s heaven or not when she hears Mamáw call her name to get her attention. Mamáw makes a come here gesture, so she follows, Deacon right behind. They move forward through the crowd again, toward Conti Street, almost to the edge of the Quarter, where Canal is the boundary that separates the historical district from the modern downtown.
“I’m sorry,” Mamáw tells her, “but we gotta get goin’. I’m tired and we’ve had enough excitement for the evening.”
Marie’s glance at the sky tells her it couldn’t be later than nine or ten, so early for the Quarter and practically the afternoon during Mardi Gras. If she leaves, she won’t see Deacon again for a whole year, and even then, maybe not. She wants to kiss a dead boy, kiss someone who can’t hurt her in any way, kiss him so she can dream about it when she has no friends to talk to at school, when her grandmother keeps her occupied and lonely inside a falling-down house, when her mother’s few free hours a week are used for silence, looking at her with brown eyes and a half smile like she doesn’t know who Marie belongs to but thinks she’s a nice girl. A kiss for times like that. Marie wants something of her own, something to kickstart her life.
“Do we have to?” Marie asks. Mamáw’s sharp nod leaves no room for argument. So they walk to Canal Street, the people dispersing more here, since the real party is closer to Bourbon. She thinks of Deacon’s tomb and how nice it must be, to be alone and surrounded by others like you, who feel the same way you do.
At the very last foot of what could be considered the French Quarter, Deacon stops. Marie turns to look at him. Mamáw’s halfway up Canal toward North Rampart, where they’ll take a trolley most of the way home.
“Can you come with us?” Marie asks. “We have pralines at home. You’d like them.”
Deacon shakes his head and smiles. His teeth are whiter than before, his black curly hair has risen in the damp air. There’s a tiny scar near the corner of his left eye that looks like two of the chickenpox scars she has on her forehead. Dead boys are safer than real ones.
“We can meet here next year,” Deacon says. He looks at her the way she sometimes reads about boys looking at girls. She thinks about her big calves and wonders if ghosts have big calves.
“Right here,” she says and she’d thought she’d want to cry at leaving him, but she doesn’t. “Bourbon and Canal,” she continues.
He nods, turns to Mamáw, and nods when she stares at him. “Evening, ma’am,” he says. “See y’all next year.”
“You will,” Mamáw says, then, with a look around to perhaps inspect the nature of the people making their way into the corner. She gestures to the trolley parked and waiting a block away. “I’m getting tickets,” she tells Marie. “You’ve got three minutes, sha.”
Deacon looks up at the sky, which is clear and navy blue, and Marie looks too, but they can’t see any stars. New Orleans, the Crescent city, is too bright, all aglow with streetlights and neon that reaches to the heavens.
When he kisses her, she both expects it and not. His mouth is warm. It is a simple kiss, not much more than what Mamáw would give her before bed, but it feels different, his free hand curved on her waist, fingertips little points of heat on her back.
“I never kissed no one before,” he says, and she thinks she says something about that—Me, too—something, then Mamáw hollers for her and the trolley is about to leave, so Marie waves goodbye and starts to run down the block.
“Don’t forget next year,” he yells behind her, and she turns, waves again, out of breath already, climbing into the trolley with effort. Her knees shake. She’s gotten what she wanted, and yet she wants more. Her mother probably felt the same thirteen years ago, in the backseat of that boy’s car.
Marie sneaks out of the house shortly after putting two Ambien in Mamáw’s white Russian so she’ll fall asleep on the couch. Marie has been planning this for days, bought the Ambien from a classmate for five dollars and an under-shirt-over-bra feel of her ample chest. There’s guilt that burns in her stomach at doing such a thing—putting drugs in Mamáw’s drink, not letting Mark Robicheaux touch her and running with the pills tight in her hand—but Marie reasons with herself that it is for the best. Mamáw doesn’t need to know everything she does and besides, she’d try to control her the way she controlled her mother. The older Marie becomes, the more she sees the fractured relationship her mother and Mamáw have, and the more she realizes that perhaps her own mother is not as much at fault as she once thought. Pregnant at fifteen does not have to mean a life sentence, which is what Mamáw seems to think.
Mamáw’s eyes are sharp and miss nothing, including the way Marie looks at herself in the mirror now, admiring her blooming body.
Marie jogs the mile and a half from Prytania Street to Canal and Bourbon, then looks closely at everyone she passes, zigzags down the street and across to Royal, Chartres, Decatur, up to Toulouse, and back over to Bourbon. She wants to get a look at the crowd while dusk is still yawning. She wants to be able to spot Deacon quickly, to find him this year.
Because she hadn’t been able to find him last year and it nearly broke her heart.
She buys herself a Coke and guzzles, ice and all, as quickly as she can before tossing her plastic cup into a nearby trashcan, the top of which, shaped like a sedge hat, has the words dick moon written in bright orange paint. Though she knows the trashcans rotate, she looks at her cross-street—Bourbon and St. Louis—and tells herself to remember this as her stakeout point.
The streetlights flick on and she thinks she can hear them crackling and burning. The Quarter swells with people in a hurricane tide, more coming from the north side of the Quarter, where the St. Louis cemetery sits unmovable, save for this one night.
She sees Deacon almost immediately and has to get closer to make sure it’s really him. Brown skin, black curls, t-shirt and jeans and Converse. She gets closer and sees the wonder on his face and knows that he thinks this is his first time here. He will not remember her, though she remembers everything about him from two years ago, especially the scar by his eye that matched the ones on her forehead.
“Hello,” she says, approaching him, and he looks at her, then looks her over, in the way boys are starting to do. It makes her feel good, though she’s still never kissed any of them except him. Occasionally, when she needs something—like the Ambien—she lets them touch her breasts, though never beneath her bra, despite their bleating whines.
Whatever Deacon sees, she thinks he likes it. She’s grown in two years, nearly five-six now, which Mamáw says should be her final height. With no real weight gain, she’s slimmed up the way king cake does when they roll out the dough at Meche’s to braid it, still pheasant-plump, but attractive—something to hold onto.
“Hello,” Deacon says, and when she takes his hand, he lets her.
She makes small talk, explains how it was a much cooler night than the last two years.
“I wouldn’t know,” Deacon says, “this is the first time I’ve ever been here. I died last year, see.”
Last summer she went to Dallas with Mamáw and rode a rollercoaster for the first time, and her stomach and heart feel like that now at his words. He doesn’t remember her not because she isn’t memorable, but because he doesn’t remember anything. It is so perfect, there’s a catch in her throat.
They walk the Quarter, avoiding vomit and urine and the crying children of clueless parents who clutch their purple New Orleans passports in their hands as if they would get snatched elsewhere.
Deacon says, “I didn’t know you in my life, did I?” and she shakes her head, drawing him onward. The Ambien, Mark had told her, lasts a good eight hours.
They talk more than they did the last time. Deacon is fourteen, unsure of how he died, but doesn’t think it was violent. He remembers something about Fontainebleu, but isn’t sure if that was his neighborhood or if it was a name he’d heard somewhere. He confirms he liked football. “Guess you can’t ever forget the Saints,” he says, when Marie takes him down Pirates Alley toward the cathedral, because the light is softer there, and there’s always something mysterious inside the shadow of the cathedral. That’s where she wants to kiss Deacon for the second time.
In Pirates Alley, Marie sees her mother, sitting at one of the wrought iron tables in yellow light. This isn’t unusual. Pirates Alley is her mother’s favorite place in the Quarter, dark and uncomfortable with a reputation for trouble. Also, her mother enjoys absinthe in moderation, something she’d only told Marie about recently. She frequents the absinthe house once or twice a week, alone, and sips a few glasses before walking home. Tonight, Marie thinks, she’s probably meeting friends.
Marie doesn’t know if she should say hi or not. Mamáw would not have approved of either outing. But then, her mother smiles and waves her over, so Marie tugs on Deacon’s hand and crosses the narrow street.
“Who’s this?” Her mother extends her hand.
“Deacon, ma’am,” he says, reaching for it. “Are you Marie’s sister?”
“Mother,” she says.
Marie says, “She was sixteen when she had me.” There’s a long pause until her mother offers the glass to Deacon, who looks surprised. He takes it.
“You’re dead, aren’t you?” her mother asks. They nod. “There’s no age restrictions for the dead.”
Jealousy prickles at Marie’s skin until her mother nods in her direction. “Have a sip. You should have fun tonight.”
Marie has always known that they look alike: their same shallow-set brown eyes spaced slightly wide apart, the same brown hair too straight and silky to do much with, the same rounded chin that has a dimple a bit off-center. But her mother has a thinness to her that speaks less of malnutrition and more of a distaste for food, and Marie has a healthier glow to her skin that tells of youth without alcohol or drugs.
The absinthe tastes foul and it takes her a few swallows before she can speak without choking. “Deacon and I are just walking around.”
“I see.” Her mother looks them over again before something in her expression changes and her fingers flex on her glass. It’s as if she wants to reach out or say something but changes her mind. She leans back in her seat, and looks up at the sky for a moment before saying, “Have a fun night, you two. Love is lovely, isn’t it?”
Dismissed by her mother’s distant look, Marie drags Deacon along, pleased when he falls into her and curls his arm around the deep curve of her waist. When Marie pulls him to the stairs of the cathedral and kisses him with an open mouth, she thinks of her mother and what it was like for her fifteen years ago in the back of that boy’s car. Mamáw never mentions it other than to say that the sinner gets their comeuppance, but her mother mentioned it once, when she’d come in from her shift at the diner and sat on Marie’s bed and stroked her hair because Marie was sick with the flu on her thirteenth birthday. They talked, though Marie didn’t remember a lot of the conversation, feverish as she was. She did ask her mother who her father was, a topic forbidden with Mamáw, and after a moment her mother said it was Troy Arceneaux, a high school boyfriend and the man who used to own the boucherie in Metairie where they got their favorite boudin before he moved to Arkansas to be with his now-wife.
“He didn’t know about you,” her mother said, “and I didn’t want him to, because he would’ve stayed and I couldn’t have that.” Marie asked why and her mother smiled. “I just couldn’t,” she said. “I can’t explain, but maybe you’ll understand one day.”
With Deacon’s hands all over her hips and back, his tongue in her mouth, Marie can appreciate her mother’s words. Not being tied down is a beautiful thing. The freedom to do this, to have this, and not have anyone to account for, was intoxicating. Marie kisses Deacon harder and longer, lets him touch her everywhere, until a police officer clears his throat and looks at them as though he’s disappointed. Marie takes Deacon’s hand, and leads him behind a quiet building for the last hour she dares to spend in the Quarter before Mamáw’s Ambien wears off.
A rift has grown between them over the last several months as Marie blooms into the woman she knew she would become.
Before, her Mamáw was a holy figure made of softness and delight, a firm but gentle hand guiding her down what Marie had thought was the right path, different from her mother’s, and better. Marie worshipped Mamáw far more than she ever had God, but now that she’s been out of the church for nearly a year and refuses to go whenever Mamáw happens to get the craving for Jesus, she sees Mamáw less and less each day, as if the very visage of her broad body has shrunk at the edges, compressing her greatness into something small and sad.
Mamáw is petty and mean-spirited, wanting to make Marie into the daughter Mamáw wanted but never got. When Marie rebels, Mamáw starts to distrust her the same way she distrusts Marie’s mother. And being of babymaking age in this household is the ultimate sin.
“I didn’t give you permission,” Mamáw says, and her voice is so loud and so hoarse it hurts Marie’s ears. But she isn’t going to listen. She isn’t going to be bullied. She is already dressed and ready to go, beads draped about her neck and cash in her bra.
“I didn’t ask,” Marie says, pulling on her zebra print flats. It’s a cool night, too cool for sandals, the walk too long for heels. “Don’t wait up.”
For such a big woman, Mamáw moves fast. She blocks the door and they look at each other eye to eye. Marie straightens up so she is even taller.
“I said,” Mamáw says, but Marie doesn’t wait for her to finish. She shoves her out of the way and tries to catch her at the same time to keep her from falling. Marie doesn’t want to hurt Mamáw, but she doesn’t want to be told what to do anymore.
She is seventeen. She’s made good enough grades to get into UNO, which was her mother’s only wish for her: Make it to college. Do better for yourself. Get out. And then you can fall in love.
“I’m sorry,” Marie says and she means it, as Mamáw stares at her with an open mouth.
“Another heathen raised,” Mamáw says. Another soon to be forgotten, Marie thinks.
“Don’t wait up,” Marie repeats. She walks out. Mamáw follows her halfway down the porch, saying, Don’t you come back if you leave and I’ll throw away all your clothes, you watch, but it is Mardi Gras and Marie is more aware of her aging and mortality than she’s ever been.
She needs to see Deacon. Each year, it has been her only goal, but the last two years have proven impossible. More passports have been given, more people have been allowed to swell and bloat the French Quarter until it’s a safety hazard. This year should be better. More police, more blocks. She keeps her ID out to prove herself a New Orleans resident. Her picture is checked at Canal, then again at Bourbon. They let her in.
She tosses her newly cut hair and walks with a purpose, feeling like a goddess of immeasurable proportions. Tonight is hers, and Deacon will be hers as well, and then maybe after this, she can feel like a normal girl who has sex with normal boys. She’s still never been touched by anyone but him, and her body is starting to crave affection all the other days of the year that Deacon does not breathe.
But she wants him to be her first, because he is, for so many things, and she feels she owes him that.
It takes her two hours to find him, and when she does, he’s talking to another girl, a young girl, maybe ten or eleven, who’s there with her distracted parents. Marie clenches her fists as she looks at his sweet young face like glazed caramel, and she is angry he looks like a child to her, a little boy. She remembers the first time she saw him, how handsome he was, older than her, with a look of naked wonder on his face. He still has it, talking to this girl, and she hears him say, “This is so neat, I never imagined any of this.”
She approaches him and takes his hand, and the girl and her parents stare at her, but she doesn’t care. Deacon looks at her, a stranger to him again, and blushes. She can see it in the neon lights above them, the ones reflecting orange in his dark eyes.
“Do I know you?” he asks, and this time she nods, pulling him along through the Quarter just as she had three years before. He will never age. When she is as old as Mamáw, he will still look like this, his youth a blessing and a curse. She leaps ahead a year at a time, her growth in long jumps, one year, two, three. Her time is numbered, the clock already working against her; yet for him, it stands still and lets him breathe and live and discover again and again. She wishes she could breathe some of his death inside her and slow herself down to match his pace, but she knows she can’t, and never would.
She decides then, with Deacon following her into the dark garden of an apartment building on Governor Nicholls and Burgundy, that when she comes back next year—because she will—she will no longer look for him. She will take and give what she wants and let him go. He deserves that, the poor dear.
Behind the building, her hands go to his jeans and she unbuttons, then unzips them. Deacon says “What are you—” but then he realizes she is hiking up her own mini skirt around her hips. If somebody catches them, they’ll have a story to tell someone back home about the teenagers they found fucking in an alleyway during Mardi Gras. She isn’t the first girl to do this and won’t be the last.
Maybe next year, she’ll do the same thing, only without Deacon. A living boy she’ll make wear a condom, a morning-after pill tucked in her drawer as insurance. She won’t end up like her mother, but that doesn’t mean she can’t do the same things. She’ll be responsible with herself—and she’ll never get pregnant.
His cock inside her hurts, and he pants against her neck, mumbling something over and over that she can’t quite hear over the rush of blood in her ears. It hurts, but then it doesn’t. It isn’t beautiful like she imagined sex to be when she was younger, but it is satisfying. He comes inside her, then lowers his fumbling fingers under her skirt in an attempt to help. She pushes him away and finishes herself off, one arm around his neck, tight as a vice, to keep her knees from going out.
Before she can change her mind and wilt in the face of the unknown future—after all, this has been her goal for the last five years of her life, each Mardi Gras looming up as the only day of the year she cared about, even more than Christmas or her birthday—she kisses him and pulls her skirt down, leaving him in the alleyway with his pants undone and his soft voice calling out to her, Hey, lady, wait.
It is a long walk back through the massive crowd that’s gathered in the heart of the Quarter, but she makes it through with her feet throbbing. Blisters have popped on her heels. At Canal, she thinks about taking the streetcar—she’s remembered to bring money this year—but the night is lovely and cool on her damp skin. She wants to walk. Taking off her shoes and holding them in one hand, she starts the mile trek toward Prytania Street. Tomorrow, she’ll go back to school, where the boys who want to have sex with her have already told everyone they’ve had sex with her, and the girls who want those boys have believed them and refuse to talk to her.
Marie is ready to graduate, ready to get out of the stifling confines of her childhood and move on to what she hopes, but doesn’t believe, would be greener pastures. If only she and her mother could find an old house somewhere like the one on Prytania, for just the two of them to live in, certainly not like family but as roommates, ones who tolerate one another’s comings and goings and don’t complain about late-night invitations out.
She thought of her mother from the week before, looking at her with glassy eyes, as though surprised by her presence and her age. Whatever happened to that dead boy who was so smitten with you? she had asked. Such a pity he’s dead. Ladies deserve romance. Marie had said she hadn’t planned on finding him again, a bald-faced lie. Marie sees sex as something separate from love, and love as something grotesque and crippling. Her mother’s unfailing romantic heart had gotten the best of her with Mamáw, and with Troy Arceneaux, the teenage boy with whom she crashed out of love, a decision that had left her daughter more alone in the world by one.
Marie knows she is wiser—jaded, her mother would say. She can get a job, pay rent. She can waitress. She can fuck her way through college and leave broken boys behind. She can do anything she wants, as long as she can get out of this sticky web of childish feelings pressed upon her by half-alive women.
Nearly home, she feels a sharp pain in the heel of her foot and gasps a curse as she almost falls. Glass on the sidewalk. It’s too dark here to see clearly and now she’s cut herself, and will probably need a tetanus shot after school. Limping to the end of the block, she leans against a lamppost and turns up her foot, watching as blood, bright red, leaks out of the hole she’s made. She pushes at the cut until the pain unfolds and droplets fall to the damp grass. Closing her eyes, Marie presses her thumb to the cut and imagines her heartbeat pounding the blood out—out, out, out, out, out.
Jen J. Moody
Jen J. Moody has an MFA from Eastern Washington University and currently lives in Spokane. She has been published in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mad Rush, and Blue Earth Review, among others. One day, she will return to New Orleans for more inspiration.
Photo: Billy Longino