“Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t.”
Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015
GM: Amelie’s first week of classes goes by.
Mr. Thurston’s class is enjoyable enough, if one likes finance and listening to his stories about the city’s families and banking “in the old days”. The retired investment banker has a fairly laid-back attitude to class and doesn’t assign homework, quizes, or projects. He mostly just lectures and says there’ll be one exam every month throughout the semester. He says that’s “closer to how the real world works,” though he offers extra credit to students who read any of the recommended books off his syllabus and write 10-page reports on them. He also offers extra credit to any student who’ll grade his exams for him, as he evidently doesn’t assign enough work in his classes to justify a TA.
To the surprise of few, Sarah Whitney receives this position, although a black-haired girl he addresses as “Miss St. John” seems like she also wanted it. Amelie gets the impression that Mr. Thurston has no interest whatsoever in spending any of his own time on the class outside of class. Amelie hears he doesn’t even have Sarah read the book reports, just check to see if they’ve been plagiarized (and are actually about the chosen book).
At the same time, the old man has “about forty years” of experience in the financial sector and genuinely seems to enjoy imparting that knowledge to the daughters of his former banking clients. He also has a seemingly photographic memory for the names and family histories of many of his students. He often meanders off-topic from his lectures to relate stories about students’ families in his lazy Southern drawl, and some of the time they’re even relevant to the lectures’ subject matter. All told, his class is a peculiarly personalized blend of zeal and sloth.
“Just like college at the Ivy Leagues,” Mr. Thurston even briefly quips.
Amelie: Amelie tackles her schoolwork intensely: she only has a year of advanced schooling like this before she graduates. It’s a sobering thought and reminds her that being at the very top here is important to her future.
Finance is probably her least favorite class, thanks to Mr. Thurston’s constant tangents, but she uses the chance to memorize names from the old boys’ clubs he seems to be part of. His stories also provide some context into how the finance game’s players operate, and maybe even give her an in with those people. If she hears a name in this classroom there’s always a chance she can ask the teacher for introductions.
GM: Mr. French’s history class is more straightforward in its content matter, and perhaps more professional in how it’s structured. Mr. French treats it like the college course it is: there’s some amount of homework and assigned readings, as well as exams, but it’s mostly lectures geared towards writing a term paper. He seems like a hard grader, and most of the students seem like hard workers. Golf doesn’t come up beyond his initial introduction. Amelie’s own passion for the subject matter likely makes the prolonged lectures more enjoyable for her than they are to the other girls.
Amelie: History class is Amelie’s bread and butter. She sits with a straight back and laps up everything in every lesson, keeping detailed bullet point notes. She fails to keep a small smile off her face as they go over wars, changes in maps, political and religious shifts, and more. This period of history is fascinating and exhilarating for her, and she’s already working on drafts for her paper on the Hundred Years’ War in her spare time. Her initial concern about a male teacher in the girls’ school seems less valid every day, and downright silly by the end of the week. They clearly picked the right man for the job. She frequently raises her hand to asks questions and sometimes stays after class to clear up certain dates and faction names.
GM: Mr. French clearly expects all of his students to be raising their hands and asking questions about the material, and appears to take notice of Amelie simply for doing so more regularly than her peers (which she can hope will earn her a good participation grade).
In contrast, students in Ms. Perry’s third period seem to have a lot more fun. The teacher is younger and more energetic than Mr. French, and tries to give the girls more hands-on roles in the class through small-group discussions and presentations. She still gives lots of lectures herself, but punctuates them with jokes, wry commentary, and frequent pictures on the room’s smartboard (including the occasional cartoon and popular meme). She seems to hold strong opinions on a number of historic figures, especially John Law, who she repeatedly calls a “ne’er-do-well-scoundrel,” “sweet-talking hustler,” and other such variations, usually with a smirk. When one of the students brings up the topic, she laughs and admits she has a soft spot for “bad boy” types.
Amelie: Amelie does her best to keep her hand in the air during Mr. French’s class. She sometimes feels like he doesn’t go into certain topics on purpose, just to keep his students asking questions.
Ms. Perry’s class is more Amelie’s milk and honey, however, and she sits there with a big dumb grin on her face throughout the teacher’s lectures. She can’t help but chuckle at Ms. Perry’s half-hearted admonishments towards John Law. There’s plenty of ‘bad boys’ in New Orleans’ history. Jean Lafitte is a big name that springs to mind: French pirate, spy, smuggler, and war hero. Amelie suspects that more than a little class time will be spent learning about this man.
The figure she looks forward to hearing about most of all, though, is Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla. The famed duelist was only seven or eight when Laffite died, but one of his best-known business ventures was ironically the purchase of Grande Terre Island in Barataria Bay: the former island base of Jean Laffite himself. Amelie enjoys sharing tidbits like this during the more hands-on portions of the class and discussing them with her teacher and classmates. It’s a dream class.
GM: Ms. Perry seems to appreciate Amelie’s knowledge and enthusiasm for history, and the Canadian transplant soon finds herself being regularly asked, “Ms. Savard, you have anything else you want to add for us?” during lectures. Ms. Perry laughs when she brings up Jean Lafitte and admits that her “crush” on the notorious pirate turned folk hero is well-known among her students. They’ll spend plenty of class time on him and his lesser-known brother Pierre in due order.
Amelie: Amelie’s great passion for history is finally stoked! And in a school, by teachers, of all people. The irony of her surprise and delight isn’t lost on her. Amelie always seems to have at least a small tidbit to add whenever Ms. Perry calls on her: the city’s history of the city has a lot of little offshoots and interesting facts, enough that she even researches more outside of class just so that she’ll have more to do.
GM: Lunch breaks continue to be lonely times for Amelie. All of the girls know each other, have their own cliques, and seem to possess an invisible map that designates what spots are acceptable for which people to sit. The school lunches, however, continue to taste delicious, and could easily be restaurant-level fare. The girls who go off-campus for lunch mainly seem to want some extra variety in their diets, and can be found eating at the cafeteria just as often.
Amelie: Lunch becomes a time for review as Amelie figuratively balances her food in one hand and her laptop in the other. She doesn’t deny that she’d like to sit by other people and resolves to make some friends as the days go by. Yvette and Sarah seem like good candidates once they feel more comfortable around her.
GM: Amelie observes that Sarah Whitney spends every lunch period with Susannah Kelly and two other girls she recognizes by sight, and whose full names she eventually fills in as Mackenna Gallagher and Aurora St. John. The four of them appear to be quite popular, and their table is usually surrounded by hangers-on who listen to their every word and laugh at all their jokes.
It’s seemingly by chance that Amelie observes with whom Yvette spends her lunches: her sister Yvonne, and two smaller girls who share their blanched complexions, pale blonde hair, and translucent blue eyes. The physical resemblance between the four young women is already uncanny, and their identical McGehee uniforms make the effect even more pronounced. Only their obvious disparities in age make it possible for Amelie to tell the younger two girls apart. The four eat their lunches in the library and talk exclusively in their formal-sounding metropolitan French.
Amelie: At least lunch allows Amelie to observe the school’s social hierarchy. Sarah is definitely one of the untouchables. It seems Yvette has a family rife with siblings and what she hopes is only selective breeding and not that other thing people often accuse high-class families of.
GM: Ms. Ward never sends Amelie to the principal’s office, but she never seems to quite forget how the new girl showed up tardy during the middle of her introductory speech about why she’s teaching at McGehee instead of pursuing a research career. She’s younger than Ms. Perry, but somewhere between her and Mr. French in terms of the seriousness of her class. She’s friendly enough, and can relate to the students fairly well (she looks maybe a decade older than them at most), but work comes first. In fact, she’s probably the harshest grader out of all of Amelie’s teachers, and clearly has very high expectations for her students. Class follows the same college/AP model of lectures, more emphasis on exams than daily work, one group research project, and the syllabus actually matters.
Amelie: Inorganic Chemistry is a little more tense than Amelie’s other classes. She keeps on her best behavior and often shows up first or second from then on to avoid the teacher’s wrath and demonstrate through her actions that her first day was a one-time accident. The coursework itself is much more serious, but Amelie knows she’s good at this. Inorganic chemical reactions and the understanding of them are what makes a smith a good smith. You know how steel hardens and how different levels of heat affect the introduction of oxygen-leeching borax. She pays close attention, less from mirth like her morning classes, and more from duty. She takes her trade seriously.
GM: Mrs. Laurent doesn’t appear as unenthusiastic for her class as Amelie initially thought and turns out to be maybe slightly more easygoing a grader than Mr. French is. However, the woman speaks in a damnably quiet voice. She isn’t impossible to hear, but missing bits and pieces of her lectures is inevitable unless one pays extremely close attention. Amelie may be amused by the convoluted and always—always—flawlessly polite ways through which her peers entreat their teacher to please, please speak at a higher volume. Mrs. Laurent seems oblivious to each and every one of these requests, and also has a habit of lecturing with her eyes half-lidded, which further compounds the sense that she isn’t quite present during class. Fortunately, small group discussions take up a good chunk of each period.
Amelie: Mrs. Laurent proves to be slightly frustrating, in that her students are always leaning forward to try and make out what she’s saying. Amelie has a solution in mind in the form of a collar-mounted microphone and simple belt speaker to amplify the teacher’s voice. But for now the she just keeps her ears open until it’s time for the group talks, and proves that new kid jitters do not affect her as she shares her opinions and listens to others.
GM: It’s easy for Amelie to see why so many students signed up for Mrs. Flores’ class during sixth period: it’s a relaxing way to end the day and feels more like an extracurricular activity than a proper class. Grading is participation-based, which would be bad for any cutters, but Amelie doesn’t see much cutting in any of her classes—the students all seem to take their studies seriously.
Mrs. Flores spends the first week of class on waltzes, which she calls the “easiest type of dance—most of your grandmas can probably still do it.” She also permits a notable deviation from the school uniform: girls are not only free but encouraged to bring high-heeled shoes to class. “Nothin’ too risque, of course, but you do want to learn to dance in the shoes you’ll actually be dancing in,” the teacher adds.
Even more notably, Mrs. Flores also allows “dress Fridays” when her students don’t have to wear their uniforms. That privilege comes with three caveats, the first of which is that attire must be at least semiformal—skirts or dresses of a minimum knee length, and “definitely no blue jeans.” Secondly, the girls have to change in a nearby locker room before class starts, as the offer is not good for other periods. Finally, they have to change back into their uniforms when class ends, even if they’re driving straight home. Not wearing the uniform is a privilege, Mrs. Flores emphasizes.
That cautionary aside, the class is abuzz with enthusiasm at their teacher’s announcement (though many girls also seem as if they knew it was coming ahead of time), and almost everyone seems as if they’re going to show up in non-uniform come next Friday. The class is generally a very enthusiastic one, and everyone seems like they have a lot of fun, though there are a few occasions when Mrs. Flores has to sit down and direct things from her stool because of her leg.
Amelie: Mrs. Flores’ class proves to be quite fun for Amelie too, and gives her a chance to show off her more physical prowess. She still prefers to lead during dances, but she learns from her first day and plays the female role too, even though she’s sure that the other girls find it awkward to lead around their tall and masculine classmate. Still, she probably needs the practice there.
The mention of dancingwear makes Amelie a little nervous. Her earlier shopping trip with Kristina hasn’t changed her opinion that her fashion sense is… fairly bare-bones. She thinks she can do the dancing shoes at the very least, though.
Amelie stays behind on days when Mrs. Flores seems to be in pain. She offers to help the older woman with stretches to ease the pain and shows her the rigors of ice skating injury recovery.
GM: Mrs. Flores thanks Amelie several further times for her thoughtfulness on the first day of class. On subsequent occasions, she simply smiles and tells the young woman she’s “very sweet, but you don’t need to worry about me. My leg’s been this way since ‘03, so I’m used to managing.” She laughs. “It won’t be too much longer before it’s old enough to take this class.”
Amelie: Amelie still offers her services every day the pain seems to be a bother for her teacher. Long-term injuries are a different story than injuries from the last few years, but unless the muscle itself is missing Amelie keeps the offer open. Either for fetching ice packs, being a partner for stretches, or helping her walk to her car.
GM: Amelie’s after-school afternoons are fairly open. She has an hour to kill every Tuesday and Thursday before driver’s ed begins, but she receives enough homework from her classes that she can put the time to productive use studying in the library. Getting behind the wheel is intimidating at first, but it doesn’t take long before she can drive a car in basic laps around an empty lot.
Christina also helps Amelie set up a bank account at Whitney Hancock National Bank. She leaves a monthly allowance in it for expenses like clothes, cab fare, eating out, and the like so that Amelie doesn’t need to ask her for money all the time.
Her aunt also recommends that Amelie apply for a credit card, and is willing to co-sign for one if her first two applications get rejected. She cautions Amelie to always pay back the monthly balance in full, and to use it simply to establish a good credit history—which she will need even more than the average person if she intends to open a business. Banks and would-be investors alike will want to see evidence that she can handle money responsibly.
Amelie: Amelie’s life outside of school moves quite a bit faster as they get the bank account set up and apply for a credit card right afterwards. She does some reading and postulates that the longer she has the card the more likely the bank will be willing to set up a corporate card once she gets her business off the ground.
The monthly alllowance is another matter. Given the facts she rarely eats out, considers it wasteful to take cabs, and already has a bunch of clothes from both Quebec and shopping with Kristina, it simply feels like free money. Still, she leaves it at that.
GM: Amelie is able to purchase a pair of rollerblades without issue. Her aunt pointedly makes no comment.
Amelie: For all the silence that purchase meets, Amelie doubts her aunt can argue with the results. It’s not long before the she’s whipping in between traffic like she’s gliding on ice. She’s actually faster than the streetcar on days with congested enough traffic.
GM: Ms. Nguyen gets back to Amelie several days later about the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation’s ISA program. She has a brochure and repeats that she can arrange for Amelie to meet one of the foundation’s members. She adds that it will not be a formal interview or anything of the sort, merely a simple ‘question and answer’ meeting that the foundation is happy to entertain from potentially interested students.
Amelie: Ms. Nguyen’s pamphlets are as useful as always. She pours over the information inside, thanks the counselor for her time, and says she’ll have more information for her in the coming month. She would would love to have that Q & A meeting once she has some examples her work and a write-up of the material costs she’ll need to get her feet wet.
GM: Ms. Nguyen clarifies that the foundation will be happy to meet with Amelie simply to answer questions, as opposed to deciding whether she qualifies for the ISA, but leaves it at that.
Ms. Perry provides some time during Friday for her students to do research on their group projects. She also admonishes them, “With only ten of y’all, I can tell who’s checking Facebook!” Yvette mentions that she spoke with her mother and Sarah Whitney, and that the Devillers invited the Whitneys over for dinner a few days ago. Sarah’s grandfather Lyman, the bank’s now-retired CEO, was willing to pull some strings and get Yvette into the LaLaurie House for a night as a favor to her family. Amelie still isn’t sure how allowable that is under the bank’s policies, but nepotism and old-boy networking seems to be everything in Louisiana.
Lyman is willing to let Yvette bring along a single classmate of her choice, but was stern this was not to turn into a slumber party. If there’s any damage to the historic house, the Devillers are paying for it—and Yvette’s mother expects Amelie’s family to pay for it.
“’E also mentioned a liability waiver to sign in case the curse kills us,” Yvette states dryly.
Amelie: Class with Yvette is a real kicker. Amelie is surprised that it only took a week for Sarah to not only get back to her grandfather, but for the two families to meet and give them the thumbs up.
“That’s… that’s great! Honestly, I didn’t think it’d be this easy. As for the curse, I think it might only apply to the owners of the house. As long as Sarah doesn’t come with us.” She laughs lightly before asking, “Are you sure you want to do this, then? Spend the night in this scary old place? It sounds like we aren’t allowed to bring that priest or voodoo mambo like I suggested.”
GM: “Of course,” Yvette answers. “It’ll be a much better presentation if Ah can actually go inside the ‘ouse we’ll be talking about, no? Besides, mah mother and Ah already asked Monsieur Whitney. ’E’s been so nice to us, Ah’d be rude to back out now. Ah didn’t ask ‘im about any priests, though. Ah wouldn’t want to bother one over something like this. And don’t be silly, Ah wouldn’t want to damage the ’ouse letting in some voodoo clochard.”
Amelie: “That’s wise,” Amelie nods. “But I want you to know the offer is open. I can always spend the night alone with a camera. Though I think I’ll bring one anyway.” She doesn’t overlook Yvette calling Vodouisant priests tramps, but she lets it go.
“I’m heading to a cathedral after school today, however. I’ll at least ask the priest their advice on the matter. The interaction between religion and ghosts is something interesting I’d like to explore. How Catholics love to have buildings consecrated and exorcised of spirits, and how New Orleans’ Vodoun traditions interact with hauntings. Did they give a certain time they’d like us to visit?”
GM: “Oui,” Yvette answers, “Frahday next week. Monsieur Whitney said it would take a bit to pull strings, and mah mother would rather Ah did something like that on a non-school night.”
“And that’s very nice of you, but Monsieur Whitney is letting me stay the night as a favor to mah mother. ’E’s letting me bring one classmate, but Ah ’ave to be there with ’er.”
Amelie: “That’s good of him. I’ll have to think him personally, if I ever get the chance. Friday gives us time, though, that’s good. Maybe we should call Ms. Perry over and inform her of the good news. I’m sure she’d be amazed.”
GM: “Be mah guest,” Yvette offers as she scrolls through something on her laptop.
Ms. Perry is talking to another pair of students, but in the ten-girl class, Amelie does not have to try very hard or wait for very long to make herself heard. “All righty, what can I do for you gals?” the black-haired teacher asks as she strides over.
Amelie: Amelie nods and beckons Ms. Perry when she can, smiling as the teacher approaches. “We just wanted to give you the good news. We secured a night pass to stay in the LaLaurie House for our project.”
GM: “Oh wow, for real? You two better watch out for that curse, no telling if it might haunt you later,” Ms. Perry smiles.
Yvette replies with a faintly sardonic one. “We can only ‘ope not, ma’am.”
Amelie: “The curse has only ever affected owners though, hasn’t it?”
GM: “Good point,” Ms. Perry laughs. “you two are probably safe if you don’t plan on moving in. But that’s wonderful for you though, really it is. Who knows when that house is going to get snagged up by another movie star… take as many pictures as you can, hear?”
Amelie: “How about you make a small list of things you’d like us to document specifically? I’m sure we can help you out with your curiosity. As long as the ‘attic’ isn’t on that list, of course.” It’s a question in the back of her mind she knows the teacher doesn’t have an answer for, if they sealed that space off or filled it in.
GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea. If the attic is off, definitely the courtyard… that’s where a young slave was supposed to have jumped to her death, because she was so terrified of what Madam LaLaurie would do to her.” Ms. Perry’s smile turns a touch self-depreciating. “I gotta admit I’m just a little jealous. The most haunted house in the city, all yours for one spooooky night.” Yvette smirks and rolls her eyes as Ms. Perry raises her fingers to eye level and wiggles then as if to pantomime a ghost.
Amelie: Amelie chuckles lightly, enjoying the banter. “Actually, ma’am, I do have a question. The slaves in Madam LaLaurie’s possession… were most slaves in those times Christian, or followers of voodoo?”
GM: “You know, that’s a somewhat tricky question,” Ms. Perry answers as she sits down. “We have to remember that Vodoun developed in response to early African slaves being forcibly converted to Catholicism, and as a means for them to continue practicing their native faiths under the watch of their owners. West African religions are syncretic, so the slaves had no problems adopting Catholic saints into their ‘pantheon’, or just viewing them as equivalent names and faces to loa they already revered. The loa Papa Legba, for instance, is considered the same figure as the Catholic St. Peter, and Damballah is another mask for St. Patrick. Fun myth there-,” the teacher smirks, “-the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland in Catholicism is a giant snake in Vodoun.”
“As time went on,” she continues, “Vodoun adopted more Catholic trappings, and its followers didn’t see all that much difference between being Catholic and being a Vodouisant. Marie Laveau considered herself both and she was married in a Catholic ceremony by Padre Antonio, the city’s probably most famous priest. It took time for Vodoun to evolve from an underground religion in the early 1700s into a more public one and even influential social force by the mid-1800s. By the time of Madam LaLaurie, there were around fifteen different voodoo queens who’d amassed quite a bit of power. In fact, it was only a year after Madam LaLaurie’s abuses were exposed, in 1835, that Marie Laveau became New Orleans’ more or less supreme voodoo queen. There’s actually a story that the two of them knew one another—which isn’t impossible, Marie Laveau had a lot of upper-class customers—and raised a baby who was the Devil’s own son together.” Ms. Perry smiles over the rims of her half-oval glasses. “I can’t vouch for whether that last bit’s true, though.”
“Are there many voodoo followers these days?” Yvette asks.
The teacher seems to think for a moment. “They’re still around, but there’s a lot fewer than there used to be. Particularly after Katrina, since a lot of the real believers were poor and some of the most displaced by the storm. People who practice Vodoun these days might just be purely ‘in it for the money’ as something to commercialize and sell to tourists. Others might think of Vodoun as part of their cultural heritage but not ‘really’ believe in it, like an atheist Jew who still celebrates Passover and Hanukkah. Others might think of themselves as Catholic Vodouisants like Marie Laveau did. And probably only a small minority see Vodoun as an exclusive religion.”
“Of course, I might just be talking out of my rear end there,” Ms. Perry smirks, “I don’t actually have any Vodouisant friends. If you ask a Catholic, they’ll probably see Vodoun as a distinct religion, and if you ask a Protestant, they’re even more likely to. History shows us that religion is pretty mutable, and trying to assign hard labels to people’s beliefs can be a tricky thing.”
“But to actually answer to your question, Ms. Savard,” the teacher finishes, “Madam LaLaurie’s slaves were probably Vodouisants who also attended Catholic Mass.”
“Ah don’t see ‘ow that must work, ma’am,” Yvette frowns. “Catholicism isn’t just believing in saints. Do followers of voodoo, for instance, believe in the ‘Oly Trinity? It would seem more like another religion if they don’t. Ah mean, Islam believes in Jesus, but not that ’E is the son of God or rose from the dead.”
“Afraid I can’t answer that, Ms. Devillers. My degree’s in history, not theology.”
“Hmm, well, one thing you maybe can. Is that what they’re called, people who follow the religion? ‘Followers of voodoo’?”
“That’s a somewhat roundabout way of describing them,” Ms. Perry smiles. “The religion’s name is Vodoun, or ‘Vodou’ with a ‘u’—the spelling with two ’o’s is how Hollywood spells it. ‘Vodouisants’ or ‘Vodouists’ is the term we use for someone who believes Vodoun. Less of a mouthful, isn’t that?”
“Oui. Rather so,” Yvette smiles faintly back.
Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet as she listens to Yvette and Ms. Perry talk, nodding along and thinking up questions. Papa Legba makes her think of two things, the first of which is Baba Yaga. Despite her fascination with New Orleans, the study of fencing takes one to northern Europe and its own legends and folktales.
The other thing Legba makes her think of is an embarrassingly cheesy new TV series in which Papa Legba and Madame LaLaurie are prominent characters. The loa is depicted as a sly and playful man who makes iron deals and doles out harsh punishments in hell. Now that she thinks about it, his demon-like role paints him in a very Catholic light. She doubts West African Vodouisants had ideas about hell before the Catholics sewed it into their skin.
“The issue I think I’m taking is that I see Louisiana as a very strange spot, in that I don’t think I could rightfully lump it all together. From my reading, New Orleans’ development of voodoo, with all ’o’s’, basically became a local ‘folkway’. Not quite African or Haitian Vodou, not quite Deep South hoodoo, but very much a practice while I would be wary to call it a religion. Yet we all associate this Creole ‘folkway’ with the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Of course, you can steal a name and commercialize it, and that’s indeed what’s happened. I can’t google any spelling of Vodou without some mid-50s white woman in middle America telling me her gris-gris is 30% off.”
She’s not smiling as she makes the joke. New Orleans’ commercialization bothers her.
“I think it’s a question to ask, though. Maybe I’ll snoop around for a living practitioner to get her two cents on New Orleans’ dearly not-so-departed for the paper.”
GM: “Talking to someone who knows more about Vodoun than us couldn’t hurt,” Ms. Perry nods. “Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a new thing or two to teach us about the religion.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and taps the table with her finger as the wheels turn in her head. It might be best to get the opinion of both or either a Catholic priest and a Vodouisant. She hasn’t taken confession in a while, anyway.
“Either way, we should bring plenty of cameras and take some video as well. With how much it’s been renovated I’m sure it’s not anything like it once was, but if we work at it I’m sure we can identify original features between all the replicas. Though I have to wonder what they may have done with ‘that’ attic door.”
GM: “Perhaps you’ll just get to find out,” Ms. Perry smiles.
Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015
GM: After school gets out for the day, Amelie either walks or skates home on the now-familiar route past rows of old houses, verdant gardens, and majestic Southern live oaks. The muggy heat is no less stifling than it was on her first week in New Orleans, and perspiration is slick against the Canadian transplant’s back when she finally enters her aunt’s blessedly cool, air-conditioned house. Christina is not home. After a quick shower, Amelie hits up the internet for her latest line of research.
Amelie: Amelie enjoys the trip more on skates, at least. Her speed makes the wind rush right past her and cools her off slightly. Still, her first thought when she opens the door is a string of expletives in two languages as she feels sweat making her uniform stick to her back. The shower and change of clothes greatly improve her mood as she sits down by her room’s desk and turns on her laptop. The former already houses several stacks of printed reference material as she works towards her next goal: the Vodouisants of New Orleans.
GM: Amelie’s search proves slow going, but she eventually turns up the names of several Vodouisants who also sound like priests (mambos and houngans, as the female and male ones are respectively called).
A man named Toussaint turns up the most results. He is apparently known for hosting semi-public rites and ceremonies in Tremé, the Ninth Ward, and other poorer parts of the city. Toussaint does not maintain a personal website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media presence that Amelie can find. Indeed, she only finds out that he exists by cross-referencing a number of police reports (many people associated with him have been arrested at some time or other), and an article by the Times-Picayune about “modern voodoo kings and queens in the Big Easy.”
A woman named Julia Jackson claims to sell charms, curses, love potions, and assorted spells from her shop in the French Quarter. She actually has a website, if one that is fairly dated-looking.
A woman named Mama Rosa has been the subject of an anthropologist’s book about Vodoun. Like Toussaint, she has no website of her own, but she is mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the anthropologist (Margaret Harrell), which makes it sound like she lives in either Tremé or the Quarter.
Amelie uncovers two final names from some more online police reports: Doc Tom in Central City and Mama Wedo in the Ninth Ward.
All told, she concludes, legitimate practitioners of Vodoun do not seem to maintain a very large online presence.
Amelie: Two names catch Amelie’s attention the most. Mama Rosa and Mama Wedo. She’s in a girls’ school, so it makes sense to pander to that in her report. She could outline the prominence of ‘voodoo queens’ over the traditional patriarch-driven priesthood of so many other religions. Doc Tom and Toussaint both come up as possibilities too, though Toussaint’s semi-fame makes her a bit dubious. Just because you’re public doesn’t mean you’re authentic. Julia Jackson doesn’t even earn a footnote. Having a store, and one in the French Quarter no less, makes Amelie instantly disregard her. She starts with Mama Wedo, a very mysterious-sounding name if nothing else, and looks around for any means of contacting her.
GM: Amelie looks through page after page of Google results, but cannot find a surname (or given name?) to attach alongside Wedo. Locating an address or phone number for the potential mambo proves frustratingly out of reach.
Mama Rosa’s surname, however, proves easier to locate after Amelie pulls up the title of the book she is featured in (Mama Rosa: A Vodou Priestess in Little Cuba). A few more searches on the online yellow pages pull up both a phone number and a home address in Bywater.
Amelie gives the number a call. The phone rings for a while. “You’ve reached Rosa Rouzier. Leave a message,” states an older-sounding woman’s firm voice. A beep follows.
Amelie: Amelie plans out what to say before dialing the number, but she’s almost relieved when she hears the tone ask her to leave a message. The woman sounds old, which matches what her research turned up, and the name she gives matches too. It’s the best chance the teenager is probably going to get.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Amelie Savard, I was just calling because I was looking for your advice. I’m spending a night in the LaLaurie House for research purposes, and with the stories and my research pointing to those departed from life being Vodousiants in life, I wanted to approach the house as respectfully as possible. Thank you the time you’ve already spent listening to this message, and have a lovely day. Thank you.”
GM: Amelie hits the ‘end call’ button on her new phone. The rest of the weekend stretches before her—and the rest of the week until her promised night in the LaLaurie House.
Amelie: Amelie glances at the time, then grabs her things and hurries out the door. This is a good time to make the other half of her trip until she can talk to Mama Rosa. She uses her phone to navigate the city’s public transportation system and heads out to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in Jackson Square. The St. Charles streetcar has a route from the Garden District to the French Quarter every ten minutes. Perfect.
GM: The streetcar doesn’t sound like the bus. There’s a distinct clang-clang as it clatters along the tracks, like a tiny railroad car, and a low roar that follows in its wake. Amelie pays to get on, like any other bus. The seats are wood instead of cushioned, the ceiling is a woodish-hued maroon, and its largest advertisement for a local restaurant.
Amelie: Amelie enjoys the streetcar. It’s open-air and feels heavy as it moves. No plastic and paper-thin buses with fogged and closed windows whose wheels grind along bad roads. This mode of transportation feels solid, grounded, and loud not least of all. She puts her earbuds in and leaves the music off just to have a small bit of insulation.
GM: The terminus of her destination is just off Royal Street, at a restaurant called the Court of Two Sisters.
The first thing she notices about the Quarter is how much louder it is than the Garden District. The beeping noise of ongoing traffic was all but absent outside her aunt’s house, as was the indistinct din of multitudes of human beings walking, talking, and going about their lives. The occasional clop-clop of horse’s hooves reminds her that she isn’t in just any city.
So does the music from wafting from three men in white t-shirts and pale fedoras. Each sits on a folding chair in the middle of the street. Their cello quivers, low and deep, while their trombone and saxophone blare and wail. A small crowd listens. Some people record the performance on their phones. A man and woman pull one another into an impromptu swing dance and get cheered by onlookers. A golf cart-like patrol vehicle with a blue-uniformed police officer rolls by.
Not far off, spectators laugh, gawk, and snap pictures at another attraction.
Worth a picture—worth a dollar
Coffins are expensive—tipping is appreciated
Need money for a proper burial
Amelie: Amelie pulls out her earbuds just in time to be assaulted by a wave of new sounds. Royal Street’s noise and architecture is a feast for her senses. People using the streets to panhandle with clever routines and good music is an almost welcome change from the pockmarked tweaker back home who’d use broken French to ask “do you got any change, I need a coffee” from people who can barely stand. The dog gives her a fright for a split second before her eyes scan the sign.
GM: A man abruptly dashes up to Amelie. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!” he calls.
Amelie: The man is the two in a one-two punch and makes Amelie nearly jump as she turns away from the dog and almost runs into him. She pulls herself together as the man talks and smirks lightly at his proposed bet. She digs a hand into her jeans and pulls a $10 bill out of her wallet to offer him. “Sorry, I’m a shitty gambler. Better just buy out before you know my tells. You mind giving me some directions though, Mr…?”
GM: “Oh, why, ’course, girl! I know this city like the palm of my hand!” the watery-eyed man exclaims, happily plucking the bill from Amelie’s fingers as he dances up around her.
Amelie: Amelie turns on her heel to keep the man’s eyes level with hers. She notes he didn’t take the hint to give his name. “I’m looking for the St. Louis Cathedral.”
GM: The man leans forward and taps Amelie’s shoulder, then quickly pulls away and slinks behind her, pointing down the street as she follows his hand. “One block down Royal, stop at the green lawn with the Jesus statue. Can’t miss it!”
That’s also when Amelie spots his other hand creeping towards the pocket she pulled out her wallet from.
Amelie: Smooth as the man is (or thinks he is), he’s doing this in a heavy tourist area. Making movements too quick and close for anyone to follow just shows what he’s up to. The shoulder tap is an even bigger warning, and Amelie’s hands go in her pockets as she spots where the man’s hand is moving. She grips her wallet firmly and mentally thanks the Lonely Planet Guide to New Orleans for its sidebar about pickpockets and conmen in the French Quarter.
“Sorry, sir, but I’m not technically a tourist. Thank you though, you have a good day.”
She steps away from the man and briskly heads in the cathedral’s without another word. Her hands stay firmly in both pockets.
GM: “Fuck you, dyke! Even got your directions!” the man whines after Amelie as she leaves.
Amelie: Amelie just waves with the hand not gripping her wallet and doesn’t waste any more energy. He’s got to make a living too, and it’s not worth dragging him through the mud or reporting him to the police. Part of her really wants to punish him for trying, though. What a rude little man. Still, taking in the sights on her way to the cathedral puts her in a good move again.
GM: The man’s directions at least prove true. It is not overlong before the soaring cathedral fills Amelie’s vision.
Its semi-famed Christ statue is less ominous when the sun is up. The edifice casts a tremendous black shadow, like something distorted by a fun-house mirror, in the nighttime photographs Amelie has viewed. One’s gaze is still all but pulled to the Nazarene’s enveloping stone arms, which stretch wide as if to receive all the world’s poor sinners into his fold.
Amelie next passes through the so-called Pirate’s Alley to reach the front of the cathedral.
Jackson Square. The cultural and historic heart of the Big Easy.
The square is named for its iconic equestrian bronze statue of Andrew Jackson mounted on horseback, erected to commemorate the former president and general’s victory at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The area around the statue is landscaped with circular paths, fountains, trees, flower beds, gas lamps, and an iron fence. Benches and statues of the four seasons sit in the corners.
The Jackson statue is fronted on two sides by matching red-brick, block-long 4-story buildings: the Upper Pontalba Building and the Lower Pontalba Building. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments, inhabited since 1849 by some of the city’s wealthiest residents, and the oldest continuously-rented apartments in North America.
The third side of Jackson Square overlooks the Washington Artillery Park & Moonwalk. The former attraction holds a Civil War canon in honor of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard, while the latter is a brick walking path named in dedication to former mayor Moon Landrieu.
Jackson Square’s fourth side faces the church its image has become nigh-synonymous with in photographs: Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest continually operating church in the United States, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The historic cathedral is flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytere. Once, Amelie knows these two early Spanish structures were used by the state supreme court and by the city as a courthouse. Today they constitute the Louisiana State Museum.
But Jackson Square is more than historic buildings and tourist attractions.
Artists hawk their wares and works to flocks of chattering Japanese tourists, curious college students, and Midwestern parents. Painters and photographers try their hands at capturing the city’s image for posterity. Mimes pantomime their struggles to escape invisible prisons. Jugglers dextrously toss rainbow-colored clubs through the air to applauding audiences. New Age and neopagan devotees tell fortunes and read palms and tarot cards, promising to “lay bare the mysteries of your past, divine the portents of your future!” Horses pull carriages as tour guides regale audiences with anecdotes from the the Crescent City’s history (such as the murdered sultan of Dauphine Street, a fantastically wealthy Turk who moved into a renoved townhouse with a harem of bewitching slave girls and eunuch bodyguards, only for them all to be savagely rent limb from limb by assailants unknown). A man in a gold spray-painted sweatshirt, with equally golden spray-painted skin, mutely regards his onlookers as he proceeds towards some unknowable destination with exaggerated, robotic steps. Off by the Artillery Park, a small boy climbs onto the Civil War cannon while his mother shouts for him to get back down.
The music never ceases. There’s saxophonists, trombonists, and buskers aplenty throughout the area around the Square, but it’s the slow and heartful tune of a violin that most catches Amelie’s ears. An older man wearing plain clothes stands near the statue of Andrew Jackson, a violin case open in front of him. His eyes are closed as he gently plays a superb rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Onlookers gather around the man. Some toss coins or bills into his case, but he doesn’t acknowledge them or open his eyes. He simply continues to play, seemingly lost in his music.
The cathedral’s tall black doors silently loom past the statue of America’s seventh president.
Amelie: Jackson Square’s degree of activity is almost dizzying to Amelie. She could always tell from pictures that New Orleans is a bustling city, alive with everything one could imagine, but actually being there is a completely diffetent experience. She stops every few steps to take something new in, and it soon gets to the point where she’s grabbing onto random objects just to feel them beneath her hands. Old walls. The alley’s wrought iron fences. Glass lanterns. Door frames. The city’s history is well and alive. Every sight is incredible. The style isn’t as intricate or grand as Château Frontenac, but the feeling is so much more open and classical. It’s like the people who lived here wanted to feel the wind every moment of their lives. It’s almost strange how touching that suddenly feels.
Amelie wanders for enough time to realize the heat might start to get to her if she doesn’t make her way inside. She slows her pace past the master violinist and the many artists and fortune-tellers. It’s only a few more moments before she makes her way up the cathedral’s doors and smooths her hands along the old wood before she pushes them open.
GM: It’s just as Amelie shakes off her semi-stupor that she feels a hand lightly brushing against her side. Against her pocket. She sharply turns around.
It’s the guy from earlier. The same one.
Amelie: Amelie’s expression is clear as death as her hand darts to check for her wallet. She’s starting to get angry. “In front of a church!? I was more than fair with you, leave me alone!”
GM: The watery-eyed man quickly withdraws his hand as Amelie catches him. His features are scrunched in frustration as she confirms her wallet is still there.
“Cheap-ass carpet-muncher! I’d rather suck dick than stick mine in a cunt as slimed over as yours! You wanna be a man so bad, ‘girl’, you too chickenshit to hack off those walnut-sized tits?”
Amelie: Amelie feels it coming like a crashing wave behind her eyelids. Her turning point towards violence.
“Cheap!? What planet are you from!? It’s my wallet, you windshield eye wiper-needing motherfucker! Why are you wasting your time being butthurt that I know a pickpocket when I see one, rather than going and digging too close to some tourist’s dick! What, you wanna hold a grudge like a woman, go cut off that gumbo shrimp you call a dick and cook it for your mother so you can both go eat a dick! I’m calling the cops!”
GM: The man dances behind Amelie and laughs in her ear, a sound not unlike an apoleptic hissing cobra. She feels wet flecks of spittle against her neck and hair.
“Ha ha! Go ahead, dyke hag! Cops don’t give a fuck! Go back to ’Frisco!” the man jeers.
Amelie: Pop. The crashing wave turns into a watershed.
Amelie doesn’t bother with retorts. Her expression visibly calms, but her body moves frighteningly fast. The ‘dyke hag’ steps back with her left foot and spins, putting her her whole hip into a hook shot aimed right for the man’s crotch.
It’s not her first fight. The little girl teased for being too strong while chasing scared boys with sticks got into plenty of those.
GM: Amelie’s fist drives into the jeering man’s testicles like a jackhammer. His bulging eyes are practically wide enough to resemble china plates as his mouth puckers into a perfect ‘o’, his knees buckle out from under him, and he topples helplessly to the ground.
“Ohhh-hhh-ohhh… hhh… yyyeeaaah…” he moans.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything. She double-checks her wallet and pulls out her phone to dial 911 as she heads towards the church doors for protection. She gave the man slack before, but now she just wants the cops to take him away so she can get on with her afternoon.
Despite everything, though, she has to admit she needed that. It’s a chunk of frustration off her shoulders.
GM: The man’s watery eyes rapidly blink. His lips pull back from his teeth into a grimace… and quivering smile that has all the warmth and greasiness of melted butter. His left hand weakly caresses his battered manhood. His right one snags out to grab the leg of Amelie’s jeans.
“Hit me… ’gain… dykie!” he wheezes.
Meanwhile, exclamations of notice go up from Jackson Square’s many and now-gawking bystanders.
Amelie: Amelie stuffs her wallet into her sports bra to keep it safe as she pulls out her phone, dials 911 and calls to the crowd, “HELP! This man keeps trying to take my wallet! You! Guy in the red shirt, please come help me hold him down while I call 911!” She tries to cut through the bystander effect as she listens to the phone dialing and plants a foot on the man’s back keep him on the ground.
GM: A few more people gawk as Amelie sticks her wallet down her shirt, but calling 911 turns out to be unnecessary when she spots a man already making his way through the staring and picture-snapping crowd. He’s wearing a short-sleeved pressed shirt, dark green pants, and full black utility belt. The side of his shirt is printed with a six-pointed star with the Louisiana pelican in its center. His clean-shaven, ruddy-complexioned doughy face is set in a humoring smirk. “Ma’am, please remove your foot and step away from that man.”
“Off… cer! She att… acked me! She’s crazy!” the would-be pickpocket wheezes from the ground.
Amelie: Amelie hangs up the call and slides her phone back into her pocket. She puts up her hands and takes a step back, should the man not still be clinging to her jeans, and folds her hands in front of her as she waits for the police officer.
“This man asked for money when I stepped off the 12 to St. Charles. I gave him ten dollars and he tried to take my wallet. Followed me here when I caught him and walked away, sir.”
GM: “That’s… not true! Search me, officer, I ain’t got ten bucks!” the man wheezes, ambling to his feet as he dusts himself off. He has since released Amelie.
“Uh-huh, I see. What was he doing on the ground?” the cop asks.
Bystanders continue to hold their phones up around the trio. Clicks and tapping noises go up from many.
Amelie: Amelie steps a few more feet away from the man as he gets up. “He kept trying to get behind me and I was afraid. So I punched him in the crotch, sir.”
GM: “Uh-huh now,” the police officer clucks.
“She did! She’s crazy! She’s a psycho!” Amelie’s would-be pickpocket whines in agreement.
Amelie: Amelie just keeps a straight back and a calm face. “Should I get my IDs out for you, sir? I put them in my shirt.”
GM: There’s a few laughs and ‘wows’ from the crowd. The only person seemingly unmoved is the violinist. His eyes are still closed and his face remains tranquil as he gently strums the instrument.
The officer pulls out some handcuffs and snaps them around the dark-skinned man’s wrists.
“Hey! Bullshit!” he whines.
“Ma’am, please come with me,” the cop states as he takes the man’s arm and leads him away.
Amelie: Amelie obeys the officer, takes her wallet back out of her shirt, and puts it back into her pants. She keeps quiet as she lets him lead.
GM: “You’re under arrest, blah blah Miranda warning, I’m sure you remember it as well as I do by now,” the cop drawls to the man in a familiar tone as the three walk off.
“This is bullshit! You’d cuff her if she wasn’t white!” the man whines.
“Probably,” the cop agrees. “Now you know the first law in the Quarter as well as I do, pervert.”
Amelie: The exchange is hauntingly familiar. Just replace ‘black’ with ‘native’, turn the thermostat down, and Amelie’s back home again. But she knows it’s better to keep quiet and follow the officer’s directions until spoken to.
GM: The officer leads the three only a short distance off from Jackson Square where his Polaris is parked. The vehicle resembles nothing so much as a militarized golf cart. He helps the sullen-looking cuffed man into the back seat.
“I didn’t do nothing!” the pickpocket whines.
The officer turns back to regard Amelie and grins widely. “You know, ma’am, I’m on patrol for the French Quarter Response Force right now.”
Amelie: Amelie gives him a confused look. “French Quarter Response Force? I’m sorry, I’m new to New Orleans, I’m not familiar. But thank you for your service, in either case.”
GM: “Yeah, Mr. Moreno thanks us too,” says the cop. “I’m getting paid $50 an hour right now, plus goodies like gift certificates at Ruth’s Chris Steak House whenever I pick up troublemakers. Those are usually $100. Mr. Moreno doesn’t want any trash on these streets, no sir.”
Amelie: “That’s… wow, that’s staggering. Does Mr. Moreno own a lot of property in the French Quarter?”
GM: “Oh yes, he’s very concerned about public safety. There’s a lot of crime here in the Quarter,” the cop agrees. “Like psycho dykes punching people in the balls.”
“She did! She even said so!” the cuffed man wheedles.
Amelie: Amelie winces a bit and nods slowly. She deserves that. “I’m sorry, officer. I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I was up against a wall and stopped thinking. I was here to visit the cathedral for a paper, and already explained what happened after that.”
GM: “Oh now, ma’am, I understand how it is,” the officer smiles. “This pervert’s always making trouble. Frankly, I’d be kicking him in the balls too, if I didn’t know he got off to it.”
The smile widens to a grin.
“Sounds like you’re a student somewhere too, to be working on a paper?”
Amelie: Amelie nods slightly. “I’d tell you where, but I don’t put it past present company to visit me there.”
She instead pulls out her student ID and hands it to him. “I’m asking about the haunting at the LaLaurie House.”
GM: “Oh now, you go to McGehee? I hear that’s a pretty nice school. Your family must be rich,” the cop remarks unconcernedly as he looks over Amelie’s ID and hands it back.
Amelie: Amelie winces when the man says it out loud anyway. Still, it’s not like the watery-eyed man can easily get that deep into the Garden District.
“Not really, sir, no. But I had the grades for it. But if there’s nothing else you need, am I free to continue back to the cathedral?”
GM: “Really, your folks ain’t rich? You get a scholarship, something like that?” the cop asks.
Amelie: “More like… a loan. I’ll be paying it back when I leave high school.”
GM: “Now ain’t that a plum shame for us both,” the policeman clucks.
“Still, I can see how things might be for you. You must owe a lotta money already, going someplace nice like that. I sure wouldn’t wanna owe any more if I was you.”
Amelie: “Well, and then there’s college to think about,” she mentions, feeling a lump in her throat. She can’t follow the cop’s thought process here.
“But, do you mind I get going, sir? I’m kind of shaky still, and I’d like to… get my info for my paper, and head home.”
GM: “Since you said you’re new to town, ma’am, battery carries a fine of up to $1,000 here. Here in the great state of Louisiana,” the cop grins. “Plus up to six months in jail. The judge’ll see you up to three days later, and you gotta hire a lawyer to wrangle out the plea deal. You gotta strip naked in front of a buncha cops when you check into jail, too.”
The cuffed man shoots Amelie a rancid smirk.
Amelie: Amelie’s eyes widen slightly at the man’s talk as she clears her throat. Is he trying to blackmail her or just scare her?
“That’s… not pleasant to think about, sir.”
She’s not scared of the threats. It’s more the man himself who’s leaving her ill at ease. Americans and their shit law system are lots of fun to poke at from a distance, but right up close is another matter.
GM: “Oh yes, it’s not,” the cop agrees as he pulls out a second pair of handcuffs from his Polaris and walks up close to Amelie.
“But y’know, lawyer, judge, three days… you’ve got money. Be a lot easier on us all to cut out the middlemen, wouldn’t it?” he drawls quietly.
Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘aha’ in her head and mentally pulls herself together as the man makes his intentions clear. She takes a small breath and nods her head as she thinks. It’s a gamble, but she goes for it.
“I don’t have any family besides my aunt, sir. She was a lawyer, so I’m not worried about the legalities. The naked thing doesn’t bother me a whole lot, either. But I don’t have anything to give you anyway, the loan went right to tuition, not into my pocket. I’m only still in high school. I’m also sure there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, and I don’t want to burden you. May I please go, sir? I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
GM: The policeman laughs. It’s a hard and mirthless sound, but his eyes glint as he takes another step closer to Amelie. He casually plants an arm against the building wall behind her head.
“Well, missy, that’s too bad you don’t got any money. I’ll still get a gift card bringing you in. Here in the great state of Louisiana, see, which you don’t sound like you’re from, 20-year-olds happen to be grown-ups. Even if they are dumb enough to still be in high school. They go to the grown-ups’ jail, face grown-ups’ charges, and get to keep it all on their arrest records.”
The policeman leans forward until his grin fills Amelie’s vision. She can feel his breath hot against her face as he whispers, “See, missy… in this city, nothing is difficult, unless it has to be. Understand?”
Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘oh’ look like it’s no big deal, taps her chin, and nods.
“I understand, sir. I’m sorry, like you said, I’m not even from the States. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to make excuses. But I was honest about the money, I have maybe 20 dollars left in my wallet. What could I do to make this easy for everyone?”
His breath stinks. She wants to punch him and run, especially after the comment on her age, but that’d only make things worse.
GM: “You can match the $100 I’d get bringing you in, is what you can do,” the cop answers, but his voice is no longer an easy drawl. There’s a dangerously rising impatience to it.
Amelie: "Can I get to an ATM, then? Please?’
GM: The policeman stares into Amelie’s eyes, then pulls back and smiles again. “Don’t get any funny ideas now. I know your face.”
Amelie: “You know more than that, I showed you my ID,” she notes before letting him direct her to the nearest ATM. She just wants to get this over with.
GM: The man does not do so, and seems unwilling to leave behind the arrested and handcuffed man who harassed her earlier. The latter shoots Amelie a sullen glare. A dark look is starting to reappear on the former’s face.
Amelie: Amelie shrugs and tells him she’ll be right back. She resolves to just take the hundred dollar hit to her allowance and come back immediately.
GM: Amelie weaves back through Jackson Square’s now-reoccupied crowds and past the still-playing, close-eyed violinist. She is fortunately able to find an ATM in short order. The modern-looking machine is discongruently all but jack-hammered into the side of a historic-looking building.
The cop counts the $100 when she’s back, pockets it, and offers a friendly smile. “Stay out of trouble now, ma’am.”
The handcuffed pickpocket is gone from the Polaris.
Amelie: Amelie looks back at the cart, looks towards the cop, and offers a wordless nod as she turns away. A ball of violent hate rolls around in her gut. It’s already been too long of a day. She proceeds towards the cathedral again and resolves to take confession and calm herself down before she asks for a priest. She wants to get as far away from this situation as she can.
GM: The cop lays his hand on Amelie’s shoulder just as she turns to leave. “Oh, now let’s have that Jackson in your pocket too.”
Amelie: Amelie sighs as she takes out the $20 bill and hands it to him. “I have to give it to you, you’re smooth. I’ll learn from this and stay out of trouble.”
GM: “I get paid either way,” the cop offers with a simultaneous smile and shrug as he tucks away the bill. He climbs into his golf cart-like vehicle and drives off.
Amelie: Amelie just sneers at nothing. Moreno. She’ll remember that name.
Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015
GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Amelie’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s. Amelie can make out two black-garbed and white-collared priests near the altar at the far end of the chamber.
Amelie: The silence is like a soothing breeze to Amelie. She breathes it in through her nose and out through her mouth as she takes in the beautiful surroundings and tries to calm herself. The historic church is everything she imagined. Bright and grand, with painstakingly detailed work and hand craftsmanship that preserves its history and import. Just three years to go until the third centennial for this great building.
The young woman keeps her steps quiet and approaches the end of the aisle where the two fathers are. She hopes she won’t bother them too much with her interruptions.
GM: The two priests are engaged in discussion near the statue of St. Peter, who bears heaven’s keys in his right hand. The first priest is an older man in maybe his 70s with a full head of silvery hair. His equally full salt and pepper beard has only a few streaks of pepper still left among the salt. Bushy eyebrows meet over weary blue-gray eyes and a thick, wide nose. He leans heavily upon a cane.
The second priest looks much younger, perhaps in his early 30s. He has slim, almost facial features, ash-brown hair, and solemn gray eyes.
“…Father, you are unwell,” states the younger priest.
“You have responsibilities, Adam,” the older one answers. Both of their voices are quiet, though his volume is especially low.
“As do we all. But there are few parishioners here now, and you may better serve the later ones if you are rested and healthy.
The older priest seems to chew on the younger one’s words, then finally replies, “All right. So long as you stay here. I will call you if I need you.”
“Of course, Father.”
The priests exchange farewells as the older one limps off, clearly favoring one leg (and his cane). The younger priest initially moves to assist him, but the older one motions him off.
The younger priest watches his senior go, then turns to regard Amelie. “May I help you?” he asks quietly.
Amelie: Amelie initially approaches the priests with intent, but takes a respectful few steps back when she hears their still-ongoing conversation. She doesn’t mean to eaveadrop, but she can’t help but respect them both after what she overhears. One is concerned for the other one, who’s concerned for their flock. The end of their conversation is not good news for her intentions, though.
“I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to interupt. Though it seems less likely now that any priests are free for confession?”
GM: “I am available,” the ashen-haired priest answers Amelie.
Amelie: "Only if you’re sure, Father. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your senior. Do you take confession in the booth? "
GM: “The confessional is the only place a priest receives confession, barring a just reason to hear it elsewhere,” the priest answers Amelie. He turns and leads her a short distance away from the altar towards the grilled and box-shaped wooden structure. Amelie enters through a door-less latticed opening that leaves her still visible to the public. The priest remains hidden. There is no chair for the confessant to sit upon like some new churches have, but there is a kneeler.
Amelie: Amelie feels a bit sheepish when the priest has to correct her on how the confessional is used and even what it’s called. She follows him inside the wooden enclosure and slowly kneels. Movies made her think that was the confessant’s choice when she was younger, but historical paintings at least made her familiar with kneelers.
She’s silent for a few moments. It’s been awhile.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… four years and a half since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins,” she starts.
GM: The priest patiently listens.
Amelie: “When my father spun to the bottom of a bottle, he approached me with more and more anger every day. I was working in the shop to keep us fed, with the help of my neighbors. We were smiths in a small theme town in Quebec. Just a few months before I was taken from the house, he raged at me with a bottle and threatened to beat me. I took a sword off the wall. Just a sharpened blade with no handle. It made him angry and he lunged at me. When he did, I… I’m sorry. I swung at him, and sliced open his face from mouth to ear.”
“I stayed in a group home after that and was teased every day. I keep my hair short. People assume. But this one girl, an unapologetic terror, would not stop. Day and night. One day, she stole my clothes while I was in the shower. My hate boiled over the next day. I tore off my chair’s leg during group therapy and assaulted her with it.”
“I also feel like I’m taking advantage of my aunt. She worked to ship me across a country, took me in, gave me a home, and put me in a good school. But I feel like I have nothing to offer her. I feel like I’m a burden on her, and making her spend money on something she’ll get no returns on right away. I can’t even properly comfort her about her sister, my mother, vanishing.”
“I also… often think of fighting. It’s as though I need to best someone, or a tension behind my eyes won’t go away. I sated this by fencing when I was younger, but now that I’m not, I feel this pressure to strike out at people who wrong me. Like I did just today.”
“My final sin I can think of was just this past hour. A man approached me off the streetcar and tried to steal my wallet. I caught him and left, to come here. But he followed me. After he tried again, and I felt him becoming a threat, I struck him without thinking. Hard. A corrupt policeman blackmailed me into giving him money. So I paid. I was scared he’d arrest me for assault. But I didn’t realize until too late that he and the pickpocket were working together.”
“For these sins and all those that I cannot remember, I humbly repent and ask for absolution, counsel, and penance.”
GM: “Very well,” sounds the invisible voice behind the booth’s grill. “Let us begin with counsel. You say that you are a burden upon your aunt. Why do you believe she took you in?”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t like the question. “I don’t know. We only saw each other a few times when I was growing up. I’d imagine it’s even painful to see me. Maybe just an obligation to my mother.”
GM: “Perhaps. Tell me, daughter, what is your interpretation of this scriptural verse? ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.’”
Amelie: Amelie has to wonder on the passage for a moment, but she knows what the priest is trying to say in the process. “That it wishes people to treat children as though they were treasures.”
She wants to point out how old she is, versus the age of childbearing in the times the scripture would have been written, and the fact that she’s not her aunt’s child, but leaves the man to make his point.
GM: “The scripture tells us that children are treasures,” the priest corrects Amelie. “But you are otherwise correct.”
“You say that you wish to compensate your aunt for the money she has spent on your care. Yet according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost for a middle-income family to raise a child from infancy to 17 years of age is just over $230,000. That is enough money to buy a house. That is enough money to buy many material things. Yet even the most materially fixated parents choose to forgo those things.”
“The decision whether to bring new life into the world is a deeply personal one, and parents may arrive at it for many different reasons. Yet few parents in the developed world realistically expect their children to be financially profitable ‘investments.’ As the scripture tells us, children have value beyond the material. Their value is intrinsic and decreed thus by God.”
“I do not know your aunt or her motivations for taking you in. Certainly, however, if she wanted ‘returns’, then finding another relative to care for you or simply leaving the foster system to do so would have been a more financially sound decision. It would seem more likely that your aunt was motivated by altruistic reasons such as love or a sense of responsibility—and recognition that caring for her sister’s child was important for reasons beyond simply money.”
Amelie: The priest’s numbers and statistics catch Amelie slightly off-guard. She wasn’t expecting those from a man of the cloth. They certainly lend weight to his following words, however.
It’s clear to Amelie how much she’s worrying over nothing, and how she might have taken her aunt’s comment about ‘treating us as roommates’ slightly out of context. She came to New Orleans expecting… something different. Roberts women don’t seem wired to be up front with their affections and emotions, among other things. Her mother and Christina are—or were—very much alike in that way.
Still, the father’s words put a dent on the issue, or at least let it breathe.
“I should talk to her more about that. Thank you, Father. Maybe it’s just me misunderstanding her. I’ve not been here with her too long.”
GM: “Seaking with your aunt to understand her better would then seem only logical. As to your thoughts of violence, which you satisfied through fencing, the solution to this would seem self-evident.”
Amelie: Amelie nods again. “There are no reputable fencing schools in New Orleans, but I found something similar that will fill the void thankfully.”
GM: “Pursuing that alternative, too, would seem only logical, if there is no obstacle that makes you mention it alongside your other sins and dilemmas.”
Amelie: “It’s already in motion, thankfully. There is nothing in the way of my attending that I’m aware of.”
Amelie still feels a block in her stomach of things she could spill out, but she hangs on to them for now. There’s more pressing matters she could use help with after this, and she figures that asking about ghosts during confession may not be very polite.
GM: “As to your father attempting to strike you in anger, that is a grave sin. As was your response in doing the same. ‘See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.’ Your penance will be to deliver him an apology. Written or verbal, over whichever medium you find more convenient.”
Amelie: Amelie can almost hear her drunken twitching mess of a half-man father growling at her over the phone last week. Refusing to even speak to her in French. Silence is the only reply from her end of the partition for a moment as she wrestles with herself.
“Written would likely be easier,” is all she can finally manage, past the flurry of pride and hate in her gut that screams she owes him nothing.
GM: “Very good. Do you know the name of the girl in the group home whom you attacked?” the priest then inquires.
Amelie: “Not her real name, no. She used a nickname or a… street name, as she called it.”
GM: “I see. Call the group home in which you stayed. Find out her name and where she is now staying, if possible, and deliver her an apology for your actions as well.”
Amelie: Amelie’s gut is much more clear cut on this issue. It says NO. But the father is right that it’d make her the bigger person.
“I’ll try my best to find her. If they’ll give me the information, I’ll call her.”
GM: “As to the pickpocket you attacked, I believe you have already suffered an unjust, but nonetheless instructive consequence through being extorted by the policeman.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. There is really nothing to say for or against. “Yes, Father.”
GM: “You say it has been over four years since your last confession. I am sure it has also been a long time since you last said a rosary. Do that as well,” bids the unseen priest. “I will now hear your Act of Contrition.”
Amelie: Amelie nods to herself at the father’s request. She claws at her brain to remember the proper words translated from French to English.
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
GM: The unseen priest’s somber reply sounds through the booth’s grill.
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
There is a pregnant pause, as if the priest might be tracing the sign of the cross through the air.
Amelie: Amelie does not look to see if he is, but maintains her kneeling position and makes a mental list of what the things she needs to do to make right. This isn’t her first time taking confession, but she’s never done penance for any gods but herself. Soul or not, she knows from experience how it feels to scrub the slate you sit upon.
She takes a deep breath after several moments of silence and nods. “Thank you, Father. I was hoping I could take a bit more of your time as well, once we end our confession. If you aren’t busy. I need advice on a matter of spirit.”
GM: “You have been given penance and absolved of your sins,” the priest answers. Amelie hears the sounds of footsteps from just beyond the booth. “Confession is over, but I will give what advice I can.”
Amelie: Amelie follows the priest out of the booth. “I would like to hear your advice about ghosts. I’m going to be spending the night in the LaLaurie House and heard this cathedral was said to be haunted as well. I thought consulting the church on matters of protection from those not quite passed—but still quite wrathful, I hear—would be wise.”
GM: The priest frowns deeply. Perhaps at Amelie’s strange phraseology, perhaps at the topic of ghosts. “As Catholics, we believe in that which science tells us is unbelievable. We believe in the power of saints to perform miracles and to intercede on our behalf. We do not teach that souls, angry or otherwise, linger on earth after the deaths of their bodies. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not the empirical channels employed by purported ‘scientists’ in pursuit of the paranormal. God alone has power to control and invoke the supernatural. Ghost hauntings are stories told for the entertainment of tourists and no more.”
Amelie: Amelie nods but doesn’t otherwise react to his statement. It’s a good quote to put in her paper.
“It’s for a paper I have to write for a class on the history of New Orleans, Father. I didn’t mean any offense. If that’s the official stance of you and the church, I can leave it at that. I’m happy to hear you haven’t been bothered or taken in by the trappings of tourist rumors, however. You must have more than a few people come to you asking about the ghost of Père Antoine.”
GM: “We do,” the priest answers. “We also see many self-proclaimed mediums, astrologers, tarot readers, psychics, and other spiritualists in the area around Jackson Square. If you were to ask them, they would purport to be able to establish contact with Père Antoine and countless other historical figures. If you would indeed like to know the church’s official dogma for your paper, we teach that all forms of divination are to be rejected. This includes recourse to Satan and demons, conjuring up the dead, and other practices falsely purported to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting palm readers, interpreting omens, an interest in clairvoyance—all of this conceals a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings. Belief in the supernatural contradicts the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. Spiritualism is hostile to all of the world’s religions, and the miracles attributed to Christ and the saints stand on a level high above all spiritic interpretation.”
“Was there further advice you wanted to ask of me, daughter?”
Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers quite a few of those psychics in Jackson Square, but the bulk of her thoughts are on the priest. She’s never really seen someone so straightlaced working for the church before. But she shakes her head at his question.
“No, Father. I’ve taken up quite a bit of your time, thank you for seeing me.”
GM: Amelie takes her leave of the cathedral and makes her way down Jackson Square’s tourist-filled streets on the route back to the streetcar. When she pauses to adjust her loose backpack, though, a note card tumbles out.
Amelie: Amelie keeps her strides quick and wide as she resolves to ignore the people around her—unlike last time. Movement still catches her eye, however. She stoops to pick up the card.
GM: Amelie sees that the faded, coffee-stained piece of paper is actually a business card for a one ‘Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry.’ The back of the card contains a hand-written message:
Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t. See Tante before the slumber party at LaLaurie.
Amelie: Amelie looks up at the cathedral’s doors again. Someone had to have put this in her bag after listening in on her conversation with the priest. But no one was close enough to have done so. Or at least no one she remembers. The thought puts a chill up her spine as she slides the card into her pocket and resumes her walk towards the streetcar. She googles the name ‘Tante Lescaut’ on her phone as she does.
GM: Several results turn up for a store that sells occult-themed books and knick-knacks just off Royal Street. The store claims to have been founded during New Orleans’ colonial era and close to three hundred years old.
Amelie: Amelie pauses, looks at the address, and turns on her heel. She might as well confront these people right now. She watches her progress on her phone’s map as she makes her way towards the supposedly centuries-old shop. Maybe she can even catch whoever thinks scaring high schoolers is so funny just as they return to the storefront.
She’ll give them a piece of her mind.