“Let’s face it, Mom, things between us are weird, and have been for ages.”
Wednesday evening, 26 August 2015
GM: No work shifts or classes save for Professor al-Aidan’s on Wednesday leaves Alice time to do homework. She needs it: al-Aidan’s grading rubric is very confusing and he assigns plenty of homework on top of her other classes.
Evening approaches and Alice hails a taxi to Bywater. As she opens the orange door to her ride, her ears are blasted by the pounding, juxtaposable rhythm of shofar and synth guitar. The smell of aging veal and tahini from leftover shawarma is thick in the tiny cab. The Palestinian cabbie’s English isn’t too good, but he doesn’t talk much either.
Twenty minutes later, Alice is in Bywater. It’s a gentrifying, residential neighborhood bordered by the Quarter’s sleaziness, Fabourg Marigny’s libertinism, and the Ninth Ward’s abject squalor. With its back to the Mississippi River (hence its name of being “by the water”), the cornered district has adopted a siege mentality against its raucous neighbors. Windows are closed and shuttered, doors locked tight, and the streets nigh-deserted after dark. It’s only twenty or so feet to her mom’s house from where the cabbie drops Alice off, but it might as well be twenty miles for all the human contact she encounters.
Michelle Guillot’s house is a modest, one-story affair. The window shutters are dark blue. The house itself is a pale beige. An iron fence silently warns intruders away from the neatly-maintained yard. A few bushes sprout up around the two palm trees, and a few plants sit apart from their cousins in separate pots. They came with the house. Alice’s mom hasn’t ever been much of a gardener.
The front door regards Alice squarely, closed, locked, and silent. As ever, it falls upon one of the Guillot women to first bridge the distance.
Alice: Alice straightens her cap and takes a moment to fuss needlessly with her shirt. It’s just dinner. Stop it.
She reaches out, and hears the muffled chimed as the doorbell announces her arrival. Alice is dressed casually, with her courier’s bag slung over her shoulder.
GM: Alice hears footsteps. There’s a slight pause at the door and a darkening through the peephole. Then the door swings open.
“Hi, Alice. Come in,” says her mom.
Alice: Obeying the direction, Alice steps through the doorway and says, “Thanks for having me over, Mom.”
GM: A high-pitched mew sounds by Alice’s leg as she enters the home.
The source is a bushy-whiskered tabby cat she hasn’t seen before. It’s missing its eyes. There’s just more fur where they should be.
Alice: Alice smiles down at the poor fuzzball. “Hey there, kitty! Nice to meet you.” She gives her mom a questioning look, and waits to see if she will offer some explanation for the poor thing.
GM: Alice’s mother closes the door and gives her a brief hug hello. “You’re welcome. And that’s Pierre. I adopted him last week.”
Alice: Alice returns it. It feels a little stiff.
“From a shelter, or is he a refugee from the streets?”
GM: “A shelter. I felt sorry for him. Blind cats are always slated to be put to sleep first.”
Alice: Alice scratches the cat’s ears. She thinks she has a guess who her mom named him after.
“Who’s a fuzzy little explorer then, Pierre?” She smiles at her mom. “Neither of us could ever turn away someone in need. I’m glad you saved him.”
To herself, Alice thinks, If only it was that easy to save everyone.
GM: Pierre mews again and rubs his head against Alice’s hand.
“Me too,” her mom states. “Dinner’s already on the table. You can go wash your hands.”
Alice: Alice stands and goes to wash up for dinner. At home she doesn’t bother, but she has long since learned that it isn’t worth arguing over something so simple when dealing with her mother. Better to save her energy for bigger arguments. On the way, she drapes her bag onto the back of her usual chair.
GM: The two sit down at the table. Dinner is crawfish etouffee, with brown roux and tomatoes over rice, and a side of salad with ranch dressing. Unlike a blond roux, which adds a nutty taste, a brown roux is cooked longer to deepen the lobsters’ flavor.
Alice is positive that her mother didn’t make it. Her enthusiasm for cooking is one of many things hasn’t changed over the last twenty years.
“Are you forgetting something, Alice?” her mom asks pointedly, not yet having started her meal.
Alice: Alice was waiting for her host, before digging in. She pauses at the question, having no idea what her mother is talking about. In the absence of real understanding, she removes her cap and sets it to the side. “Thanks for your hospitality, and the meal.”
GM: Her mom nods. Hats go off at the table. The awkwardness in the room is almost tangible as she replies to the somewhat odd thanks, “You’re welcome.”
She starts eating. The conversation doesn’t start quite as easily.
Alice: Alice waits for her mom to have a few bites before starting her own meal. Wish I understood why she cares about all that stuff.
Instead of asking, however, Alice finishes chewing, swallows, and asks, “How have you been?” As far as conversation goes, it is along the same lines as ‘how about that weather?’ but she is determined to have some sort of interaction, even if she has to force it a bit.
GM: “All right,” her mom answers simply. There’s a pause as she drinks from her water. “So. How was your first week?”
Alice: “Interesting. Art class is awesome, as usual. Uh, one of my professors is a real as—uh. A real jerk. He started the semester by telling us we would never make a difference in the world.” More to herself than her mom, she grimly says, “He is wrong.”
Blinking, she hurries on, “Penny and I are going to an 80’s themed event together. I was hoping maybe you could give me advice, for making a costume?”
GM: Fork clinks against plate. “I’m not much of a seamstress, Alice. Leg warmers. Neon colors. You can find that all out, I’m sure.”
Alice: “Oh well. I was sorting hoping you had some pictures of yourself or something. Uh, if you have time to look at old photos I mean,” Alice sheepishly replies. Come on, Mom! Isn’t this how bonding is supposed to work? Arg! Fucking pop culture, your education continues to fail me at every fucking turn.
“I did have a box full of old pictures, Alice.”
“That was one of the things that got left at your dad’s.”
Alice: Alice’s face falls. Any talk of ‘Father’ or anything related to him is brief and doomed to a quick shutdown. She doesn’t even know what became of ‘him’ in the time she was sent away.
“Sorry to hear that.”
Alice is nothing if not determined though, perhaps there is some other way to salvage the dinner. “So, why Pierre?”
GM: Her mother sips from her water. “Lafitte. There are three bars in the French Quarter alone with ‘Lafitte’ in their name. There’s also an inn. Countless tourist guides. Halloween costumes. Probably a breakfast cereal, for all I know.”
Alice: “So, you figure Pierre deserves to have something named after him too?”
“There are more figures in Orleans’ history than just Jean I’ve-had-enough-of-him Lafitte.”
Alice: Alice smirks. Sometimes I forget there’s fire in your veins too, Mom.
GM: “Pierre held the colony together, back when the French settlers spent half their time living with the Choctaw because conditions at the colony were so terrible. Seemed fitting for this Pierre.”
Alice: She looks down, as spoon scrapes plate. “Oh, uh. I guess I was pretty hungry.”
GM: “There’s more salad in the fridge if you still are.”
Alice: “Y’know, Mom. I could paint Pierre, um, Pierre the guy not Pierre the cat, somewhere. If you wanted to see him being recognized more.” Alice shifts in her seat. “Like, that piece I put into the campus art show last year got a lot of attention.” Alice reflects that it was that award winning work that got her noticed by Josh, and led to her first dose of the red stuff.
GM: “He could use the PR,” her mom nods. “I’m sure there’s a few pictures of him floating online somewhere.”
Alice: Alice nods, thinking, “If he was a figure that stood for rallying the city, and standing up to hardship then I’m sure I can get inspired enough to paint the dude. I’ll have to read up on him.”
GM: “Try The World That Made New Orleans. It’s pretty digestible. The author has a sense of humor.”
Alice: She turns her attention back to her mom. “Uh, speaking of reading. Do you remember my text about someone wanting to buy some of Great-Granddad’s books?”
GM: Her mom raises an eyebrow. “I do. Tell it to me again face-to-face, Alice.”
Alice: Alice restates the information she offered in her text from yesterday.
GM: The older Guillot’s mouth downturns in vague disapproval that’s not quite a fully-grown frown. “What’s your read on this Sandra person?”
Alice: Alice looks a bit uncomfortable as she adds, “So, the books belong to you, and are yours to sell if you like, but.” She pauses, then gives her mother a more direct look. “She works for someone with a lot of money. I know that you are trying to turn the store into more of like, a normal one, but it’s still an, well, underground bookstore. You know what the community is like.”
“As far as Sandra, she wasn’t honest with me. She lied about her name, and wouldn’t say what she really wanted. Uh, she was very rude. Sort of… had contempt for everyone, I guess is the best way to say it? Like, she thought everything was boring, or boorish.” Alice makes a face of disapproval as she finishes, “She smoked in the shop.”
GM: Alice’s mom frowns, evidently thinking. Her thinking doesn’t take very long before she replies, “Then I’m not selling. You can tell her that once she finds it in herself to be honest, and courteous, then maybe I can find it in myself to do business with her.”
Alice: Alice’s face is a mixture of relief and worry. “Okay. If she makes any shady threats or something when I tell her, I’ll tell you right away. Um, if you do end up selling the books. Could I make digital copies first?”
She looks sheepish at the final request. “They are great inspirational material. And, it feels weird, thinking about them leaving the family. I’d like to keep copies, to pass on if I ever adopt or whatever.”
GM: “I never said they’d leave, Alice. Only that being a dishonest, irreverent, smoking liar disqualifies someone from even discussing business with me.”
“But if you want to make copies, feel free. One of us should probably do that anyways. No book lasts forever.”
Alice: Alice smiles and nods. “Knowledge lost is a tragedy. Even kooky occult knowledge, from back in Great-Granddadd’s day.”
GM: The doorbell rings.
Alice: Alice looks up. “Um. More company?”
GM: “I’m not sure. Wait here.”
Alice: Alice ignores the command, and subtly moves so as to keep an eye on her mom as she goes to open the door.
GM: Her mom gets up. Then she turns and states, her expression nonplussed, “While you’re in my house, Alice, you follow my rules. I recall that being one of the reasons you were glad to move out.”
Alice: Alice shrugs. “I can’t help it if I worry. It’s hereditary. I’ll stay here, but I’d feel better if I could at least watch from the kitchen, in case you need me.”
It isn’t the first time she has been scolded for her overprotective nature.
GM: Alice’s mother sighs. “It’s a doorbell, Alice. I’ve been answering them since long before you came along. But if you’re so determined to watch, fine. Feel free.”
Alice: “I know. It’s unreasonable. You don’t need me to guard you. But, it makes me feel better.” Quietly she adds, “Thank you.”
GM: Alice’s mother doesn’t respond as she moves to answer the door. A uniformed delivery man (FedEx, by his shirt) apologizes for the delay and passes her something. When her mom returns to the table, she’s holding a small bouquet of gladioli and pink roses.
Alice: Alice returns to her seat, relieved it was nothing. “Nice flowers.”
GM: Alice’s mother looks up from the card that came along with them. “Hmm? Oh, yes. They are.” She promptly fills a pitcher of water for the bouquet and sets it on the dining room table.
Alice: Alice politely browses her phone while her mom examines her parcel.
GM: There’s actually a bit of a smile lurking at the corner of her mom’s mouth, for the first time in the evening. “No phones at the table, Alice,” she states as she gathers up the dinner plates.
Alice: Alice notices the smile and is surprised at how bitter it makes her feel.
At least something in your life makes you happy. Since being with me doesn’t.
She feels angry at herself, but some part of her can’t help but acknowledge the truth of her observation.
Alice does her best to look cheerful. “Looks like good news.”
GM: Her mom returns after a moment with a plate of storebought chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Pierre follows by her heels.
“Yes, they’re from a man I’ve been seeing.”
Alice: Alice feels the familiar rush of anxiety, but she suppresses it. “Oh. That’s good.” She absently munches on a cookie as she wrestles with her thoughts.
GM: Her mom, in turn, looks as if she’s about to sigh, but suppresses it. “Thank you for at least saying so, Alice.”
Alice: “I hope. I hope that you guys, um. Get along?”
Alice awkwardly struggles to find words for the situation.
“Mom, I know that I… was never very nice to the guys you dated.”
GM: Alice’s mom does not look as if she disagrees.
Alice: She continues, “But, the only time you have smiled all night was when you read this guy’s letter. If he can make you smile… then I really am glad you are seeing him.”
She manages to keep any lingering bitterness out of her voice.
GM: “I’m glad to hear that, Alice. Thank you,” says her mom. “That’s very mature of you.”
Alice: “Living alone… I sort of get it. After I moved out, I realized how lonely things can get, when you don’t have someone to be with. I mean, I was living with you but… let’s face it, Mom, things between us are weird, and have been for ages. Living with me probably wasn’t that different from being alone.” Alice nods, more to herself than her mom. “So, I’m glad you have someone. I hope he is a good dude.”
GM: “He is,” Alice’s mom nods. “He works for a museum. Bookish type. Like me.”
Alice: “Yeah? That’s cool. Someone you can talk history with. Like me and Penny, with art.”
GM: “The two of you are together now?” her mom asks.
Alice: Alice blushes, realizing what she just said. “Not that we are dating, or anything.”
She goes to pull her hat over her face, but doesn’t find it there. Damn.
GM: “Well, you are blushing,” her mother observes matter-of-factly. “Do you want to?”
Alice: “N-not yet. I’m hoping that the ‘80s thing goes well. That’s sort of why I wanted your advice. That and as a chance to talk to you about something other than work. I really want things to work out with her.”
GM: “So ask her on a date. If you don’t, someone else is probably going to.”
Alice: Alice looks at her mom and nods. “That’s what my friends say too. I plan on asking her at the party. I’m hoping that, if I ask when she is already out having a good time with me as friends, it will encourage her to say yes.”
Alice mentally adds, Maybe I’ll be less nervous since I’ll be on a hunt, too.
GM: “Well, don’t wait too long or decide to put if off, or she’ll think friends is where you want things to stay.”
Alice: Alice looks horrified at the thought. “I won’t.”
“Um, Mom? Thanks. For the advice, and stuff. I know you are really busy, but maybe we could do this again? Dinner, or hanging out or whatever? If you have time.”
GM: “Of course, Alice,” her mom states. The ’you’re welcome’ is there in her tone. “Most nights that I’m not working late or seeing Rich are fine.”
Alice: “If you like, you are welcome to come visit me next time at my place.” She stands, and starts to clean her plates.
GM: “Sure. How has it been working out?”
Alice: “Good! It’s worth the price for the view alone. Watching the sun rise over the city in the morning is incredible.”
GM: “I’m sure. That is the nice thing about living on a higher floor.”
Alice: “It’s in the heart of everything too. I like being able to get to lots of places in the city, without having to bike for too long.”
GM: Alice’s mother agrees. With a full day of classes still looming for Alice tomorrow, she calls a cab to take her daughter home. The hug that marks their goodbye feels less stiff than the initial one.
Alice: “…love you, Mom. Good night.”
Wednesday night, 26 August 2015, PM
Alice: Alice looks at the strip of cardboard taped over her laptop’s webcam. Doesn’t hurt to be careful.
She cracks her fingers, and sets to sieving the World Wide Web, for whatever juicy informative flies it might have.
GM: The internet makes stalking people anonymously so easy. Going through lists of employees in New Orleans museums is tedious… the history-filled city has quite a number of them.
What it doesn’t have so many of, however, are museum employees named Richard. Eventually, Alice narrows her search down to a Richard Merrill and a Richard Allen.
Alice: Alice looks at the clock, and navigates back to the main search page.
There will be more time for looking into this stuff later. Better focus on the dorms, until it’s time for bed.
GM: Further online research reveals that stories of ghosts at Josephine Louise House go back 103 years, which coincides with the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic that killed the girls in the first place.
Alice: Alice grins in satisfaction after stifling a yawn. Fuck yeah! It looks like this haunting could be the real fuckin’ deal.
Another yawn prompts her to close the browser, and power down the machine.
Shit, dealing with Mom is always so exhausting. I better get to bed.
Without further ado, she flops onto her bed.
Friday promises to be eventful. She’ll need her rest.