The 7:15 to New Orleans Leaving on Track Number Nine: A Short Story
The Story Continues
What story, you ask? Well I’ve included the first chapter to the right for your reading pleasure. We’re off on a great adventure, a tour of this country, a tour of ourselves and a sampling of all that is the United States of America. If you didn’t read the first installment I suggest you do. It will help in understanding this one.
Care to join us?
Part one of the story
- The 6:10 Eastbound is Leaving the Station: A Short Story
Go on a train ride with me as we discover America and make friends on-board
A Steamin’ Bowl of Gumbo
We step off the train at the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, limp from sex, me and Sarah with an “h.” The porter tips his hat, thanks us for riding the “City of New Orleans,” and welcomes us to his city, a city swimming in sweat under the August midday sun.
“Follow me,” she says, and I’m more than willing to do so, her summer dress clinging to her flanks, she leads me to the Loyola Avenue Streetcar. “We’re going to get you some gumbo, Sugar, and then we’ll make our way to New Iberia.”
We switch cars for the Canal Street Line, and that takes us to the French Market. A short walk from there to Metarie’s Café and air-conditioned comfort, first table on the left, a view of the oak-shaded street bustling with commerce and tourists. She insists I try a beignet along with the gumbo and Lord Almighty they both taste heavenly, and she smiles as I smile, her blond hair framing a face etched with the lines of living fast and loose. Late thirties, early forties, a charming face made lovely by eyes that sparkle with joy, Sarah is easy to look at, comfortable to be with, and I find myself wondering what life would be like with this Southern vixen under a canopy of moss, tasting her sweetness for years to come.
She tells me we’re two hours from New Iberia, her home as a child and still home to what family she has left. The bus leaves at three and six, she says, don’t make no never-mind to her which we catch, she says, and she takes my hand upon leaving Metarie’s and leads me along the heat-soaked streets.
Welcome to Lafayette Square
“I don’t know how you stand this heat,” I tell her. “I've been in San Francisco for two years and we wilt in this shit.”
She squeezes my hand and tells me to stop being a wuss and then she laughs. I’m surprised by the number of tourists braving the weather, bright shirts competing with bright flowers, gaiety, some real, some manufactured, surrounds us as we walk past statues and fountains. Mid-afternoon in the Big Easy, a city that’s known its share of misery but refuses to acknowledge its frailties. Every day is a new opportunity here, the past worth remembering but never allowed to be a hindrance.
I can smell the river, the mud, the fish, the exhaust and decay, and I can hear the hopes, the dreams, the anger and the desperation. It’s infectious and frightening, alluring and repulsive, unlike any city I’ve ever seen, and I’m fascinated by it all. Sarah tells me of her childhood in New Iberia, and the field trips to New Orleans, of college here and meeting a boy, of wild nights and pregnancies, shattered expectations and glaring realities, running from the past, facing the truths and learning from it all. We duck into a store where she buys a parasol, and twirling it above her head she smiles again, lifts up on toes and kisses me sweetly.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’m not looking for a husband. Let us enjoy each other, share in each other, explore each other, and when the last laugh fades we will go our separate ways and fondly remember, in our later years, the wonder of it all.” I tell her that sounds wonderful to me, and I smile and by God I mean it, it does sound marvelous, no expectations, just exist and enjoy, two adults giving, two adults taking, no harm in either.
New Iberia, Louisiana
It’s eight-thirty when we leave the bus and I set my gaze upon New Iberia, the home of Sarah with an “h” and my new favorite city in the US of A.
Down on the bayou with Creedence and a revival it is for this city-raised boy, the brick storefronts, the colonnades, the balconies with bougainvillea, two-lane main street with honest-to-God gazebo in the city park. The air is heavy with moisture and thick with history. Little kids are eating ice cream cones or cups of shaved ice as parents catch up on the latest gossip and frogs croak in the gathering dusk. Spotted trout break the surface in search of a late snack and somewhere a gar rolls and splashes. The calendar may say 2015 but this is a postcard from the past and I love it.
Sarah grabs my hand. “This way, Sugar. Home is four blocks east of here.”
“Home” is where Grandma Elaine lives, the woman responsible for raising the woman I was fond of, a ninety-something Cajun who lives alone in a shotgun house on the banks of the Bayou Teche. She was sitting on the porch as we approached, smoking a corn cob and strumming a six-string. Nothing wrong with that woman’s eyes cuz she spotted us a block off and let out a whoop and a “Lord Almighty, my girl is home again.” She met us in the front yard under the massive limbs of a sycamore. Sarah gave her “Maw-Maw” a hug and then the old woman held her granddaughter at arm’s length.
“Just look at you, girl. A little bit skinny now aren’t you? We’ll have to get some food in ya. How long’s it been, granddaughter, over a year? Too long….too long! And who is this fine young man with you?”
“Maw-Maw, this is William Dale. We met on the train from San Francisco and we’ve become dear friends along the trip.”
“Don’t you try to slip that by me, granddaughter. You two are more than dear friends. I can see you blushing. My eye sight ain’t that bad now. I’d say you’re sweet on Mister William Dale and by God, I think the colt is hot for the filly. Well that’s fine, just fine. Mister William Dale, you’ve got good taste in women. Come on inside and we’ll have a drink or two and you can both tell me about your trip out west. Come on, now, ‘fore the skeeters eat us alive.”
The old woman went to the cupboard and found three glasses, grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam from the countertop and returned to us with a wink and a smile. “Truth serum, kids. A couple tall glasses of Beam and Maw-Maw will know everything there is to know of that train trip and dear friends.” She cackled then and slapped me on the back. “Drink up, William Dale. If you’re man enough to bed my granddaughter then you’re sure as hell man enough to drink the hair of the dog with me.”
She poured drinks for all three then finished hers off in one swallow.
“Let me tell you something right off, William Dale. My granddaughter has been hurt by men. The last one beat her, by God, so I’m a little protective of this little girl. She’s been with me since her ma and pa died in a car wreck when she was five. Ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do for this girl and that includes chopping off the balls of any man who would hurt her. Do we understand each other, William Dale?”
“Maw-Maw!” Sarah yelled. “William Dale is not that type of man. Now please, don’t read him the riot act. He’s done nothing to deserve this kind of greeting.”
“Oh granddaughter,” the old woman said. “He’s got a penis and he’s used it on you. He damn well does deserve this conversation.”
This was going to be a very interesting visit. New Iberia was just full of surprises and Southern hospitality.
A Note from the Author
This may or may not be the ending. We’ll just have to wait and see if the muse speaks to me again. Sometimes, in life, there isn’t really a satisfactory ending. Sometimes life is just a random beginning with no end game to it. This may be one of those times, or it may be that William Dale and Sarah with an “h” are meant for more adventure.
My thanks to author James Lee Burke for allowing me to borrow his hometown of New Iberia for this story.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)