below is the sketch of a fictional piece set in New Orleans, just months after Hurricane Katrina. That first year after there was a veil that hung over our empty city. It was a strange and beautiful time to be alive in a ghosttown...
It was almost three in the morning. Fadi said he was going to meet up with his cousin Ramy, but that was hours ago. These were the gray areas in our relationship. Mostly, I knew where he was all the time, just because, and vice versa. But when I didn’t, I didn’t. And I didn’t ask. Fadi didn’t ask either if I was out, but he disapproved. Or if he didn’t disapprove, he felt reminded. Reminded, that I wasn’t his girl. That I had been for Gabe. His best friend. And that this whole situation was supposed to be temporary. He slept in his own room on those nights. I knew, eventually, I would need a place of my own.
Elysian Fields was quiet; I could only see a couple feet down the street. There was a thick fog covering everything. This was one part of the city that didn’t flood and had open stores. The other clusters were Uptown or across the River. I was downtown where I belonged, but I couldn’t sleep. I thought about putting my shoes on and walking around the corner to the bar. I could hear the music playing from my steps. I decided against it. The danger felt good though, familiar and warm. The last place I had been before coming home was so safe. I used to walk all hours of the night. Slept with the doors unlocked without a second thought.
They had already sent Gabe from OPP to Angola when the storm came. I was gone for six months after. Georgia. Texas. I had family in California. I tried them all, but there wasn’t much reason to stay. In Georgia there were hills, leaves that changed color. Houston was flat like home but no water. And in California there was so much water, I was scared it might swallow me whole. I never feared the earth quaking, just that I might, at the sight of it, jump right into one of its’ opened cracks. This is how I knew I had to come home. Most of the people I knew were still gone, their homes destroyed, but not Fadi’s building. Fadi already had people living in the three apartments above him, so he offered his master bedroom to me. It was only right. When Gabe went to jail, Fadi had promised him he would look out for me. Make sure I didn’t want for anything. Just so I could get things together, I told Fadi and myself when I got to New Orleans. Just to get myself together.
Then it all happened between us. I don’t know, I think it was Katrina. I think it was me and Fadi both just missing Gabe. It was everything being washed in one fell swoop. It was being erased. I didn’t know what to make of that feeling except that it made me and Fadi start a new story. Sometimes at night, it was hard to remember who I was lying next to. Both Gabe and Fadi smelled a lot the same, reminded me of the same things. We were an odd sort of trinity.
So me and Fadi weren’t a couple. We were just together. We had seen the end of some things and weren’t ready to let go just yet. I loved Gabe for a long time, but those iron bars he was locked up behind had killed it and whatever we could have had. Behind bars was like the shit that was underwater. He was as gone from me as anything else. Sitting out on my porch, I looked at my city like a graveyard. The houses hollow with missing people. It felt odd to be here. Another cigarette first, I decided, and then I would be ready to go inside.
I took one puff and a white man appeared from the alleyway on the side of the building.
I took one puff and a white man appeared from the alleyway on the side of the building.
“Hey, don’t be scared. It’s me Shorty,” he said, like we knew one another. “You don’t recognize me? We see each other every day, around this way.”
I stared at him for a second. His bald head, weathered face, baggy jeans and hoody started to make sense.
“That’s right, I see you on Decatur, hanh?” I asked him.
“Yeah! Where’s your mind tonight?” Shorty chuckled.
Shorty hung on various corners panhandling. Every day I walked through the Quarters. Out through the back on Royal across Esplanade, out to Elysian Fields Ave, where Fadi’s building sat just off the corner. Wherever I happened to see Shorty, he always asked me for money.
“You got a joe you could spare?” he asked me tonight instead.
I had two left.
“I’m out, fam.” I answered, feeling a little ashamed. I had never been so selfish that I wouldn’t share a cigarette. I wondered what else about me had changed.
“Come on, sis,” he gestured with his hands. “You do coke? I got some rock I could share.” Shorty opened his hand to show me the yellowed pebbles.
I was taken aback by two things. One that a nicotine craving could be strong enough that you’d part with your crack for it and two, that Shorty thought I might make such a trade. Was this something else that had changed, I wondered. I tried to see myself the way Shorty saw me now, thin, red-faced and barefoot in my cut-off shorts at 3:30 in the morning. Anything was possible, I supposed.
“Damn, man,” I said. “You must really want a fucking joe. Here, Shorty. Now leave me alone. Can’t you see I’m upset?”
“That’s why I stopped,” Shorty joked.
Shorty paused to light his cigarette, when we heard someone yell out his name from up the street. It was dark and the fog made it impossible to see.
“Oh, Shorty!” the voice yelled out again.
This time I knew exactly who it was and he stepped out of the mist.
“Where’s my money, Shorty?” Fadi asked slapping him on the back when he walked up.
Shorty started stuttering, talking about let him go run by his woman house and pick it up. Fadi knew Shorty was bullshitting but he let him slide. Fadi laughed as he slinked away. He’d stay missing for a while now.
“You want to smoke?” Fadi asked.
“Fucking right,” I answered. I did. Where he had been would have to wait. I loved him. His teeth, his skin, his freckles, and his part wooly, part satiny black hair.
Fadi rolled up the cigar with his back to the street. We sat in the dark smoking. I don’t know why we didn’t go inside. It was good weed. Fadi did tricks with the smoke. Little o’s and the French inhale. We were high as hell when we saw an army tank slink casually up Elysian Fields, as if it belonged there. As if there had always been tanks on Elysian Fields Ave. It paused at the corner, shined a light in our direction, and then a man popped his head out of the top.
Fadi licked his finger and put the blunt out without flinching at the heat.
“Hey,” the head peeking out of the tank shouted, “Do you all live there?”
We kept quiet.
“You heard me!” the man who was now a whole half a person yelled again.
Neither of us said a word. I could see that the man had red hair under his helmet. Fadi stood just outside the beam of light. It went brighter on me, it seemed, because we didn’t answer. It tripped me out that all the newcomers were starting to seem like they belonged here and we were starting to look out of place.
“I can take you all in for loitering. Is this your residence?” he asked over the speaker.
We stayed quiet.
“I’m going to ask one more time. Is this your residence?”
Me and Fadi stared back at the red-head together. Another soldier appeared out the hole now. Fadi stepped into the light beside me. They could see his face now. Fadi was fair, with green eyes and freckles.
“Yeah, fam,” he called out to the soldiers. “You need my I.D. or something?”
The two men stared us down for a second longer, then stuck their heads back in the tank, shut the light off, and kept rolling.
“It’s only because you’re not black, they let us off like that. If that had been me and Gabe, we would have went to jail.” I wondered if I had said the wrong thing. If I reminded Fadi of what used to be. I wondered if our love was purposeful or circumstantial or both. What the real difference between the two was.
“When I was little boy, they used to call me ‘the Jew’ because of these eyes. Pussies.” Fadi laughed, lighting the blunt back up. “At home the rocks are as big as a baby’s head. Fuck can you do with these pebbles?” he asked kicking at the gravel.
I sat down, waiting for him to pass the weed to me. He held it for a while longer than he should have. I sensed reluctance in him. Could he trust me, really? Or me him? I think he wondered if this was love too or just loyalty toward Gabe, as odd as it had manifested. Fadi understood a lot without asking. He sat down beside me, handed the cigar over and rubbed my back long and hard, and kept quiet. The porch was no place to put my head in my lap and cry, but I did, keeping the smoke trapped under my folded arms.
None of these motherfuckers knew what we had been through.
“Damn, you can’t see shit. Look, Rey.” Fadi broke the quiet like an excited child.
I picked my head up and looked around me. Zero visibility beyond our steps. Fadi stood up with his back to the whiteness.
“Crazy, you look like you’re about to fall into the abyss.” I laughed.
“Let’s go to bed, Rey,” he answered, pulling me to my feet.
“Go ahead. I’m coming in a second. I’m going to kill the rest of this blunt. “
He held my hands for a moment or two.
“Don’t burn your tongue on that shit. And don’t worry, Rey. All that, it’s done. Whatever you out here crying about. It’s over. We’re okay now.”
Fadi let go and went inside. One more Kool and I would follow.
In bed, Fadi nuzzled his face in my hair and my neck, like he always did, and soon he was asleep. I thought about Gabe and all the time I spent afraid he would die young. I thought about the lifetime he was supposed to spend behind bars. He would kill or be killed before he let himself be an old man in there. I thought about what a jailhouse funeral was like and I cried some more. I wondered how long this thing, this love with Fadi could last. Not possibly forever. And when it was over, where I would go next. I didn’t say my prayers, but I did say this, not my words but Tecumseh’s, the ones from his greatest vision: the master of life has appointed this place to light our fires. This place to light our fires. This place to light our fires. I said the words over and over again. I fell to sleep and dreamed of stones that could be food to eat, babies to rock, rocks nobody sold, nobody smoked, but large enough to live in or throw with accuracy. Stones like arrows. Like bullets. One by one, we would gather them, rebuild this place, till we were all full. Till we all had a place to remain.