“Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”
Friday night, 14 August 2015, PM
GM: “…we wish you a pleasant stay in New Orleans and we hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of all our crew, thank you for choosing Air Canada Express as your airline this weekend.”
Amelie retrieves her carry-on luggage and rises with the mass of passengers departing the newly-landed plane. More than a few grumble. The flight was noisy and turbulent. The baby in front of her wouldn’t stop crying. The lady behind her kept complaining how much tickets cost, an irrelevant topic where Amelie is concerned. For better or worse, she is unlikely to fly back to Toronto under her own money anytime soon.
Her footsteps loudly thump against the jet bridge’s floor as she follows other passengers out of the plane, her luggage audibly rolling behind her. Glass windows at the end of the corridor look out over flat flat runways that provide a nearly unobstructed view of the starless night sky. It stretches over the blinking clusters of yellow-white lights like a great void the planes aren’t flying into so much as being swallowed up by. Distant engines roar as aircraft take off, then fade into background noise as their blinking lights disappear into the black.
Amelie’s half-translucent, shadow-drenched reflection stares back at her from the windows overlooking the runway. Just past it, she can dimly make out a dark sign with a pale gold trombone emblazoned over the skeleton of a blue globe.
“THANK YOU f… N… O… &… R… R… LOUIS ARMSTRONG… N.. O… I… A…”
Amelie: Amelie stares into the dark as she takes in her first bittersweet sight of Nouvelle Orléans. Louis Armstrong even greets her with a song. He’s before her time, but she remembers the jazz musician for a few of his most historic pieces. She can’t help but mutter “pieces” now that the horns and unmistakable deep voice are stuck in her head. She lets the lyrics carry her along and even dances her feet just a little to the temp.
“-magic spells you cast. This is la view en rose.”
She lets out a small sigh once her walk down the jet bridge ends and breaks into what she assumes is arrivals. She’s not sure what she’s supposed to do at this point, but chooses to follow the crowd while standing up straight and scanning for any signs. Bad movies and worse books dictate there’s a stranger holding a sign with her name on it.
She only hopes she recognizes her own aunt.
GM: The airport Amelie walks into from Course C looks like a bus terminal in South America. It’s appallingly crowded. Every single seat in the airport is occupied by bleary-eyed, impatient-looking, or simply half-asleep human bodies. Some people sit on the floor, while others merely stand tiredly in place, almost elbow-to-elbow with their fellow passengers. Long lines only half-distinguishable through the crowd wind towards the restrooms. People snap at one another and argue through clenched teeth why they should get to go first, their motions causing the line to shift like an agitated animal flicking its tail. Most of the adults sullenly wait out the arrival of their flights, though a few of the younger children cry. “Mommy, I’m tired…”
Amelie: Amelie almost recoils at the sight. So many people in such a cramped space is unlike anything she’s seen. Just a half hour ago she was thinking on how busy Toronto was compared to Quebec City, and now this. It feels off-base and even a little alien. But she proceeds along quietly. All she needs to do is grab her checked bags and go to the front of the airport, right?
She hopes that’s right. She wants a shower and change of clothes more than anything else right now. The sweatpants and faded Real McKenzies t-shirt is not a flattering look. It’s even less so with her wild black bed-head.
GM: The scene is more orderly but little happier away from the boarding and departure points. Bored-looking customs officials herd lines of people through metal detectors like parts on an assembly line. A detained woman flushes red when security rips open her suitcase and sorts through a pile of lingerie before finally retrieving the underwire bra that set off their scanners, eliciting a round of snickers from the otherwise apathetic crowd. Masked and armed black-uniformed police officers watch the proceedings suspiciously. Camo-clad National Guardsmen shoulder their way through the throngs of bodies, occasionally chatting into hand-held radios. No one stops and frisks Amelie as she picks up her remaining luggage from the stainless steel conveyor, though a few leashed inspection dogs growl at her presence.
Amelie: The flood of gunmetal, camo, and Kevlar makes the United States seem all the more alien. Her heart drops into her stomach for a split second when she sees a masked man with a gun, but it calms after she sees the patches and realizes he’s supposed to be here. She can understand the weapons, but fails to see any reasoning for masks besides intimidation.
She goes through the metal detectors on her best behavior, eying the pissy dogs as she gathers her luggage and sets off towards the front of the airport. She looks around for a sign, or for her aunt to sneak up on her. She hopes either happens before she starts suffocating amidst so many human bodies.
GM: The airport becomes a completely different world outside of security. There are still people, but Amelie can make out wide and empty stretches of white linoleum. Leather couches and chaise lounges recline around bookstores, gift shops, and casual dining establishments from international chains like Subway, Chili’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s a couple more that Amelie hasn’t seen in Canada, including a PJ’s Coffee and West Beignet.
A man with long dreadlocks and a skull-emblazoned t-shirt storms up to a seated customer by the Subway. “The fuck are you doin’ there? Are you seriously the guy who comes to New Orleans to eat at fuckin’ Subway?”
The other man, a portly middle-aged fellow wearing khaki shorts and glasses, looks up from his sub with an annoyed expression. “If this is Southern hospitality, you’re making a shit case for it.”
“Fuck you! Go back to suburbia!”
“I’m gonna call security.”
“FUCK YOU!” the first man yells, spinning away on his heel.
Amelie: It’s a relief to get back out where she can think. Amelie stops to gather herself and take in her surroundings. Subway at least is familiar. Chili’s is known to her only through American media bleeding north, and Dunkin’ Donuts is the kind of place that can only struggle next to the Canadian giant that is Tim Hortons. The scenery is marred by the rather silly confrontation, and Amelie has a hunch that the dreadlocked man has quite a bit of pride, but also a lot of pent-up anger against white people. Just like home. She lets it go, scans the rest of the airport lobby, and pushes down the itch to walk into the bookstore or sit down with her own book.
GM: As Amelie turns her gaze from the two’s commotion, she can see a figure by the airport’s entrance holding a sign that reads “Savard.” He’s an elderly, slightly stooped African-American man with a short beard that’s streaked through with white. He’s dressed in a plain black suit.
Her aunt is nowhere in sight.
Amelie: Of course. She can only assume this stereotype made flesh is her driver for the evening. The young woman quickly fixes her hair with her fingers, takes a deep breath, and pulls her bags up to the man.
“Sir? I’m Amelie Savard. Are you here for me?”
Her accent is almost nonexistent. Like many Quebecois born to English parents in larger cities, English was a second language learned alongside her native Francais.
GM: The old man grins as he sees Amelie. “Whoa, Miss Savar’! Welcome t’ the Big Easy.” His voice is worn, deep, and slightly scratchy, like an old vinyl record. “Name’s Oscar, with the Executi’ Charter Limo Service. I’m t’ drive you to your auntie’s.” He motions to her luggage. “If you’ll permi’ me?”
Amelie: “It’s a pleasure, Oscar, glad to be here.” It bothers Amelie a little that her aunt isn’t here, but she waves off the feeling as she remembers how busy the woman must be. She does have to prepare for her niece moving in. And what kind of job does she work that lets her send a limo, anyway?
She looks back at her bags and offers Oscar her smaller carry-on to wheel after them. “I’ll take one, you take one? I have my pride, after all. Are you parked nearby?”
GM: Oscar laughs as he sticks the ‘Savard’ sign under his elbow, takes Amelie’s first bag, and holds out another hand to take her second one. “Haw haw! Naw, please, you’ll be doin’ me a favor lettin’ me carry yours. I say I let a client carry her own bags, ain’ never gonna hear the end of it from the boss-man! Blo’ on my recor’, yessir.”
Amelie: Amelie immediately realizes that being waited on like this is going to take getting used to. She mutters a small “merde,” under her breath and reluctantly wheels the bigger bag to him around her back.
“You’re a hard worker, thank you, Oscar. Do you only work for my aunt, or are you part of an agency?” She motions for him to lead the way and prepares for the drive. It’s going to be an interesting night.
GM: “Yes ma’am,” Oscar answers as he takes Amelie’s other bag and starts wheeling them out of the building. “I work for the Executi’ Charter Limo Service, like I say. Your auntie gives us a call e’ry now an’ then. She always tip well.”
Amelie: Amelie uses her now free hands to smooth through her thick black hair. She’s glad her aunt doesn’t own a limo and tipped the so-far nice man. She strikes out in front, holds the door open for the driver and follows him out to wherever he’s parked.
“How well do you know New Orleans, Mr. Oscar? I haven’t been here since I was a child. I could use some good insider information.”
GM: Amelie finds that the airport’s sliding front doors open automatically, for there are a great many other people with full hands making their way past. She is immediately struck by the almost stifling warmth of the humid air. It’s not all like her cold hometown’s. She can make out an asphalt plane filled with parked cars for as far as her eye can see, though that is not far on the dark and overcast night. The odd street lamp stares over the vehicles, throwing deep shadows where its illumination does not touch. The low roar of departing and arriving aircraft sounds in the distance.
“Well, I been here since I was a chil’, so guess I the guy t’ axe!” Oscar laughs. “What you wanna know ’bout New Orleans?”
Amelie: It’s been a long day of plane rides, for sure. But it nearly takes Amelie off her feet when the air hits her outside of the air-conditioned building. Humidity was normal where she grew up, out on the ocean of the Saint Laurent, but it was never like this. It takes her a moment to adjust. Heat itself is nothing to her, and she can have a jolly time slamming a hammer into yellow glowing steel, but the air itself being like this is something. She keeps beside Oscar as they walk and talk.
“Mostly where the good places are. I know from experience there’s a big difference between tourist and local places.”
GM: “Well, Bourbon Stree’, that a touriss place,” Oscar answers over the sound of Amelie’s luggage rolling along the asphalt. “Ain’ no self-respexin’ musician who play there! I do me a lotta drivin’ ‘roun’ the Quarter, an’ there’s things there worth a stop, don’ get me wrong. It’s the upper bit now, they makin’ it like Disneyland. I got a frien’ in Vegas who say the city goin’ that way too.”
The two stop by a parked black limousine. Oscar sets down Amelie’s luggage, reaches into his pocket and clicks a keyfob, then grins at her. “But that ain’ what you axed me, now is it? Good places, tha’ right?”
Amelie: Images of Old Quebec come to mind as Amelie thinks about how played up everything in the district is, with ‘the most photographed hotel in the world’ at the center. But Oscar knows just what she means, and she can’t help but smile at both that fact, and this limo. Her nicked-up self of a year ago certainly never thought she’d ever sit in one of these, and she still doesn’t feel quite right with it as she opens the back door and tentatively looks inside.
“Your favorites, if anything. To eat, to listen, to shop. I’ll be living here from now on, you know. Got my citizen’s card and everything.”
GM: Oscar laughs as Amelie insists on opening the door herself. “Damn, girl, you gonna drive me outta bidness at this rae!”
The limo’s interior isn’t enormous, but it’s large enough for Amelie to comfortably lie down across the seat if she were so inclined. The usual alcoholic beverages in the minibar also seem to be absent, replaced instead with pop (don’t they call it something else in the U.S.?) and flavored fizzy water. It’s still a year before she’s old enough to legally drink.
Amelie: It takes a moment for Amelie to realize what Oscar means, especially since she was only looking. It’s always been her first instinct to ride in the front seat, after all.
“Oh… I’m sorry, Oscar. I’m not exactly high class-bred, this is all more than a little new to me. I hope I didn’t offend you.”
The interior is new to her as well. It’s so posh and exactly like she’s seen in movies, though she makes note of the absent alcohol. Not that she was ever planning on drinking, she’s had quite enough of that garbage.
GM: Oscar laughs again. “Ain’ no thing, Miss Savar’. ‘Specially now that we got you ’way from any more doors to open, ain’ tha righ? Here on, you can jus lay back an enjoy the trip. Is’ a long ride. Half an hour, my way up! No wonner your auntie had me come drive you.”
Amelie: Amelie just sighs and nods a tiny bit. Half an hour. “I just had a big trip in a bad plane, I don’t mind a half-hour ride. It’ll give my nerves time to settle.”
It’s a bit nervewracking to finally meet the relative who’s taking her in, even if they did talk over the phone. Amelie can face down a bear with a toothpick but this is a big debt she has to prove is worth her aunt’s time, lest she be stranded here in America all on her own. She doesn’t have a clue if her aunt’s the kind of person who would do that, not really. She makes her way close to the front as she crawls into the limo. Oscar is good company for her nerves.
GM: The chauffeur loads in Amelie’s luggage and gets in on the driver’s side of the limo. “There should be a bag in there, West Beignet’s. Issa a good place for airport food. They don’ make nothin’ but beignets! No, they do jus’ one thing, an’ they do it righ’.”
Amelie: Amelie looks down and around for this bag. Beignets are basically a kind of fritter, but everything from short-rib meat to apple can be stuffed in the center. She’s never had any her… her mother hasn’t made. The excitement drops and she gives up the search almost immediately, instead leaning back to look out the windows. She isn’t supposed to be eating too many treats anyway, but the sore subject lessens her excitement.
“Where exactly does my aunt live, Oscar? Our talks were a little short while I was up north, she’s quite a busy person.”
GM: “She live in the Garden Dis’ric,” Oscar declares as he starts up the long car’s ignition and begins to pull it out of the lot. Amelie sees a white paper bag resting on the limo’s long seat. “Is’ real pretty. Magazine Street is’ a calmer Royal Stree’, thas the closes’ I can put it. Still a few touriss, but yknow, they ain’ all bad. They bring in the money, an’ the ones ousside Bourbon Stree’, maybe there hope for. Your auntie’s the one who lives there, though. She can tell you all ‘bou the Garden Dis’ric.”
Amelie: Garden District. Amelie doesn’t try to strain her jet-lagged head and just assumes it’s one of New Orleans’ more upper-class neighborhoods. Not that it’s hard, much easier images come to mind of squalor and hard times for residents of the other districts.
“I dunno, I’m hard-pressed to have faith in most tourists. But we’ll see how they behave.” Her tone is teasing, of course. “I have a bit of a strange and tricky question for you, then, Oscar. What do you know about the fencing in New Orleans? The city does stand as the American duel capital.”
GM: “Whoa! I don know nothin abou’ fencin, Miss Savar’. There a duelin tree in one of the parks, I guess, the Duelin’ Oak. Where people use to do tha’ in the old days. If there’s any duels goin’ on now, I sho’ ain’ hear of them!”
Amelie: Amelie grins a little bit. The tree is interesting, of course, but that isn’t what she means. But if he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.
“That’s a shame. I’m looking to join a fencing club now that I’m here. I’m a bit of a history buff. That dueling tree is interesting, though… can you remember which park?”
GM: “Lesse, that’d be at City Park. Bigges’ one in the city. Almos’ think you weren’ in a city when you’re there.” Oscar’s teeth flash in the car’s rear view mirror as he grins. “You like your hissory now, do you?”
Amelie: Amelie nods thoughtfully. This dueling tree is a good place to add to her list. Just how many hundreds of insults have been settled under that tree? Rapiers and sabers flashing, flintlocks bellowing out, sixshooters snapping. If trees can tell stories, Amelie wants to hear them.
“I live history. I grew up working with my father in an historic tourist attraction. It’s where I learned my smithing trade.”
GM: “Whoa! You a smith now, like swords an horseshoes? You pick a good city to be a smith, Miss Savar’. This city love her hissory too.” Oscar smiles distantly and taps the steering wheel. “She really do.”
Amelie: “Swords and horseshoes,” she agrees, smiling. She’s prod of what she is, and itchy to get her idea of building a forge here in New Orleans underway.
“I visited here when I was just a little kid… my aunt gave me a history book on Nouvelle Orleans. I fell in love. I’m actually happy to be back.”
GM: “Well, this city knows how to love, yes she do. She’s got a lot t’ love.” Oscar’s smile seems to dim a bit as his eyes return to the road and onrushing night sky. “Lovin’ someone ain’ always easy, Miss Savar’. This city knows that too. She’s a lot to love.”
Amelie: Amelie can only nod, not from experience, but at least from reading. “Lots of good, I’m sure. But lots of bad underneath, I’m even more sure. This writer I really enjoy once wrote, ‘We accept the love we think we deserve.’ Even if thinking that only makes it harder, I guess.”
Oscar seems a little world-weary to her, but it’s none of her business if he doesn’t want it to be. “I plan to take it slow. I do still have school, after all.”
GM: “Oh yeah? Hope you don’ go to one of ‘em, whas’ it they’re called, charter schools. Seems like all schools are charters these days. Them charters are shi’.” Oscar’s eyes seem to return from the road as he grins again. “’Scuse my French.”
Amelie: “Your French is excused.” Amelie can’t help but smile just a tiny bit as she wonders if her tongue will even work here. Anglo and Creole French aren’t interchangeable after all. Charter schools, however, make her hope that at least a good public school is in the cards for her.
“I’m not entirely sure where yet, but hopefully somewhere close. What’s wrong with charter schools?”
GM: “I ain’ a teacher or nothin’, Miss Savar’. Kids an parenss jus’ seem a lot sadder than they use to. They close down the school I wen’ to when I was a lil’ boy, too. Was a good school. Been aroun’ over a hunnerd years.”
Amelie: Oscar seems like he’s perturbed and steering away from the topic. Amelie has a hunch why. She’s coming from foster care and poverty but now in a limo as she goes to live with her wealthy aunt. Maybe it has something to do with there being no alcohol to drink.
“That’s a real shame… old buildings need to be preserved as they are.” She lets that sit for a moment before coming in with a more somber question. “How about a better question. What places in New Orleans should I avoid, Oscar? If I’m living here now, not knowing the laws of beating up muggers, I want to know where isn’t safe.”
GM: “Well, lesse. Central City an’ the Ninth Ward, those the worse’ places f’ a girl like you, I reckon.” Oscar lets out a low sigh. “The Ninth Ward ain’ so bad as they say on TV, an’ use to be nicer too. But the ward jus’ got lef’ to die since Katrina… it still looks like the hurr’cane hit only yesserday, lotta parts.”
“‘Sides those places, well, New Orleans can be a funny city, Miss Savar’. Rough neighborhoods can be righ’ nex by the not-so-rough ones. Can be har’ for a touriss to fin’ they way… Bourbon Stree’ is safe ‘nough, or least has lotta po-lice ’roun it, but Rampar’ an’ Decatur, lot worse can happen than losin’ a wallet.”
“So it really ‘pends where y’at. An’ if you ain’ sure, jus’ axe your auntie, or somebody else who know the place. The Garden Dis’ric is pretty safe, though, if you belong there. Lotta money there.”
Amelie: Amelie makes mental notes as she listens in rapt attention. She’d suspected all of this news, but but now she has names to tack onto a map of avoidance. She has research to do now, as well, about what kind of protection she can carry with her. Every form of self-defense besides your fists is illegal in her country. It’s all great until she hears that very last part.
“Safe if you belong there? What do you mean, Oscar?”
GM: Oscar makes a waving-off motion with his hand. “Oh, don’ worry, you do fo’ sho’ livin’ there with your auntie. Garden Dis’ric’s a safe place f’ you to be.”
Amelie: Oscar waving it off just makes Amelie wonder even more about what he means. She assumes the worst in that maybe the Garden District won’t have many black people. Natives get treated much the same in Canada. Rare is the Metis who isn’t living on the other side of the tracks.
She pushes the thought out of her head and looks up and out the window to do some sightseeing. “Speaking of the Garden District, how much longer? I’d kill for a shower after all this travel.”
GM: Oscar laughs. “While longer. It an hour’s drive, both ways. You jus’ sit back…”
Friday night, 14 August 2015, PM
GM: The sights roll by.
A long stretch of midnight highway follows the playground. Cars thrum along against the road, their headlights cutting twin spotlights through the dark. The muffled sound of traffic in the big limo is easy to fall asleep to.
Another park comes up near a Best Buy. Oscars mentions the lights are, “Real pretty roun’ Christmas time. They get this dragon wi’ a Santa hat in the water.”
After the second park comes another long stretch of I-10. Rows of cloned suburban houses, bereft of any trace of individuality, fly past. And past. They could be anywhere in Canada or the United States from what Amelie can tell, although the trees lining the curbs are tall and venerable-looking.
They turn in at Pontchartrain Expressway, and the houses give way to endless rows of a different sort. Oscar grins again. “Ah, now we close to New Orleans.”
Amelie: Amelie is less than interested in the parks, they just mean kids after all. An incident involving a helmet rivet and a peckish grabby child left her none too fond of them, though the Christmas lights manage to pull a smile off the girl’s tired face. What really gets her interest, however, is the cultural sculpture. Even in the dark, they’re prolific: stone faces in the ether and figures seemingly frozen in time standing guard over Louisiana’s above-ground cemeteries. They’re stunning.
“This is incredible! Real stone statues, too. Canada is only able to have steel, the winter and snow cracks stone too easily. I’ll have to come back during the day, maybe be a tourist for just a moment, and do a tour or two.”
GM: “Seein’ em from a car window ain’ the same,” Oscar nods. “There lossa cemeteries to go see, you like those. Mos’ famous is St. Lou’s, ‘course, an there thirteen more ’long Canal Street. Metairie here’s one of em. Got the bigges’ tombs an statues of em all. Like that Egyptian peer-mid, which they say there mummies in.” Oscar smiles at that statement.
Amelie: “Mummies in a pyramid, hmm? Well then, I better bring a book of matches in case he breaks out during my tour.” Amelie smiles a bit as she watches the mausoleums go by. “St. Louis’ the most famous. You have any idea which one’s the oldest?” Old cemeteries, of course, are the more important to her. Sometimes there are hints of what kinds of weapons and armor they have locked away, either from tour guides or through hints left on graves. She hopes it’s the case as well with mausoleums.
GM: “St. Lou’s is the oldess,” Oscar laughs. “But you wanna see others, like I say, lot more. Even this one, Metairie, ‘is pretty old. Davi’ Hennessy, the po-leece chief killed by the Mafia way back when, he buried here.”
The chauffeur glances into one of the limo’s side mirrors. “So’s Josie Arlington, Storyville’s riches’ an’ classies’ madame. See tha’ girl statue knockin’ at the door?”
“She’s a virgin bein’ turned ‘way, cause Josie Arlington wouldn’ let no virgins get deflowered workin’ for her.”
Amelie: That’s good info and now makes near the top of Amelie’s list to become one of her first stops. If only just for the stonework. “You know a lot of history yourself, Oscar! If it paid better, I’d tell you to become a teacher.”
GM: Oscar laughs. “I do more than jus limo drivin, Miss Savar’. I also drive ‘roun carriages in the Quarter. Cussomers like hearin’ hissory, an’ you pick it up.”
Amelie: Amelie can only smile as she pictures Oscar in a big fancy driver’s outfit carting people around on a horse. “I’m surprised a madame is buried here, though. Isn’t New Orleans mostly Catholic?”
GM: His laugh spreads into a wide grin at Amelie’s question. “Amen, she is! So’m I. Go to church e’ry Sunday. Bein’ a Catholic don’ mean you can’t be a madame too, not in this city. Maybe you’ll have a lil’ bit more to say to your pries’ behin’ the grill, but tha’ jus’ how things sometime are.”
Amelie: The strange news that this madame was a rightly buried Catholic and still facilitated the sin of selling your body in life. It’s a confusing thought, but she doesn’t judge. Instead, she changes the subject again. “Is your carriage ride job a normal history tour? Or one of those late night ghost tours by horse-drawn carriage?”
GM: “Oho, ghos’ tours? I don’ do those, but I know a few folks who do. Or, well, a lotta folks. New Orleans a real spooky city, afta all. There as many spooks as they say, I don know how it got room for the people!”
Amelie: “Probably some old ones, too, I bet. You already talked about that dueling tree. Bet it’s a pretty spook place to be near after dark,” Amelie laughs, siting back again. If only ghosts really do exist. Talking to one sounds more educational than reading a book droning about how those ghosts thought in life.
GM: “All the dark is spooky, Miss Savar’,” Oscar smiles faintly.
The limousine drives on through it. A light rain begins to patter against the windshield, prompting Oscar to turn on the wipers. Shk-shk-shk they go.
Amelie: Amelie has to agree that the dark is something to be wary of, but after growing up playing in the woods she isn’t scared so much as she is respectful. Dark places hide a lot. Then the rain starts to fall. That at least makes things feel even more relaxing in the soft back of the limo.
GM: It isn’t much longer before the cemetery’s stony expanse recedes into grass and foliage.
“That the Longue Vue Gardens. They don’ have much hissory, used to belong to some rich folks who ‘cided they’d make it a museum. But they sure made it a pretty one. Lotta weddin’s hos’ed there.”
“Now you got me started up playin’ tour guide, you jus gonna have to sit an’ lissen to me all the way,” Oscar teases.
Amelie: Amelie wonders if anything interesting besides architecture is hosted at this museum. “I’m here for the history, I really do appreciate it, Oscar. Do you want one of these fancy waters for your voice?” As much as the young woman likes the sound of it, she isn’t sure if water like this is palatable. Better to test it on the driver.
GM: The driver’s smile seems to fade a bit. “’Scuse me?”
Amelie: Amelie cocks an eyebrow and wonders if he thinks she’s ragging on his voice. “I’ve been making you talk this whole time. You probably have to talk all day during your other job. Do you want one of these waters?”
GM: “No thanks, Miss Savar’. I’m use to talkin,” Oscar answers.
Amelie: Amelie feels a pang of guilt as she gets the impression his opinion of her has lowered. “I’m sorry Oscar, I didn’t mean it like that. I like your voice, it’s calming and classy. I can’t imagine having a job that has me talk so much, and wanted to see if these waters were any good while I was at it. I’m not exactly… socially graceful sometimes. Metal doesn’t really talk.”
GM: Oscar chuckles a bit. “Don’ think nothin by it, Miss Savar’. I won’ be doin’ too much more talkin tonigh anyways. Your auntie’s is comin’ jus up.”
Amelie: Amelie almost sighs in relief when Oscar seems to forgive her. She melts back into the seat and passively watches out the window.
GM: Buildings roll past in the dark. Indistinct houses and their soft lights give way to the brighter ones of convenience stops, low-rise apartment complexes, and office spaces. Rain continues to patter down. The limo eventually reaches a tangled crisscross of looping highways, shadowed to their left by the outline of a looming sports stadium and downtown skyscrapers. On the expressway’s right, the high-rises crumble away into darkness and neglect. Indistinct shapes, perhaps Oscar’s ghosts, flicker and cavort through the ruins.
Amelie: Things change a little quicker than she’s used to thinking of as kosher for a city, but the effect is nonetheless dazzling. Even in the moonlight, Amelie is gobsmacked at the sheer size of downtown, only to turn and grow a bit somber looking at the neglect on the other side of the freeway as they drive on. It’s just as Oscar has said, this city is a lot to love.
GM: Oscar pulls off the expressway into a classically-styled faubourg with tree-lined thoroughfares. Southern live oaks, weeping willows, palm trees, carefully maintained hedges, and expansive lawns fill the neighborhood with green. Attractive rows of Greek Revival and Colonial-style homes, some small enough to be ordinary homes and others large enough to call mansions, are surrounded by ornate cast-iron fences and classical statues of Greek nymphs and muses, lending the district an aura of grace.
This late at night, the neighborhood is quiet and its streets largely deserted. Police cruisers and armed patrols with leashed attack dogs patrol the borders, keeping out jealous ghosts.
Amelie: The duality of New Orleans gives way to spit-polished streets and ancient history. Even just what she can see in the headlights and streetlamps confirms a lot of fantasies she has about this old and cultured city. Seeing the police again worries her, but her focus is quickly recaptured by thoughts of which house she’s going to spend the next year in.
“This is beautiful, Oscar… I’ve never seen a neighborhood like this where people are allowed to live in the buildings.”
GM: “Jus’ you see it durin’ the day. Is’ a pretty neighborhood to do nothin but walk ‘roun in. You can do that f’ hours, jus walk aroun’ an’ look at the ol’ houses.”
The house Oscar pulls up at it isn’t as large as some of the district’s true mansions, which are replete with their own sprawling grounds, high walls, and armed guards. Still, a cast-iron fence and barred gate provides what is likely enough privacy for most. Oscar stops the limo, gets out, and punches a string of numbers onto a keypad. The iron gate swings open to a white-washed, neoclassical-style home. Several palm trees sway against the light wind and rain.
Amelie: Amelie is gobsmacked again upon seeing where her aunt lives. None of her chats with her parents indicated how wealthy her aunt is. What does she do for a living to be this successful?
She does things right this time and stays where she is until Oscar opens the door, then gets out to walk under the kindly-offered umbrella. “Thank you for the ride, Oscar, you were really good company.”
GM: “S’ my job an’ pleasure. Din’t eat your beignets, so even more pleasure for me!” the chauffeur laughs.
Oscar makes several trips to carry Amelie’s luggage up the steps to the front door. Oscar rings the bell.
Amelie: Oscar’s last-minute joke lightens Amelie’s mood enough to put a slight smile on her face, but the bell’s ring rips her heart in two. One half rises up into her throat while the other drops like iron into her stomach. Petrifying as it is, she keeps a brave face and reminds herself to breathe. She silently prays she makes a good impression despite her bedhead and ratty clothes.
GM: The person who answers the door is a handsome, 40-something woman who wears her age well. She has long brown hair that falls to her upper back, matching eyes, and faint lines around her mouth that give her face a slightly sad, or at least contemplative expression. She wears a v-neck green sweater, black slacks, and pair of brown loafers.
“You must be Amelie. My, you’re certainly taller than I remember.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a rush of a lot of different emotions, but she swallows a mighty few. This is awkward and it feels like she’s answering for something she’s done. But as Amelie looks up and scans her aunt’s face, for better or worse, she recognizes a lot of her mother. Strong personality, a fierce intellect, expectant of results, and, yeah—her niece’s jetlagged appearance definitely isn’t winning points.
“Hello, Aunt Christina,” is all she can really manage as she picks up her carry-on and steps into the house’s atrium. Amelie stands tall with her back straight, trying to make a good impression with her proud and correct posture after she sets down her bag. “Sorry for looking so… ratty for our reunion, Auntie. This is not the kind of first impression I was hoping for.” Just like her mother once taught her, no excuses. The young woman straightens her band shirt and dark sweatpants, already having tamed her thick black hair much as she could without washing and combing it.
GM: “Don’t worry about it. It’s not as if you’re headed anywhere besides bed at this hour,” Christina waves off as she leans in to give Amelie a hug. She pulls away after a moment to address the chauffeur. “Oscar, thank you for bringing her.”
“S’ my privilege, ma’am,” he replies as Amelie’s aunt retrieves a purse and counts out some bills for him. He tips his hat to the two after accepting them and calls as he leaves, “Get some beignets someplace else now, hear!”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t expect the hug, but it does a lot for her nerves as she instinctively returns the embrace. “Thank you again, Oscar,” she waves with a fond look as the kind man leaves. She’s suddenly left alone with her aunt again. It’s still awkward, and she wonders if her aunt has questions about where her mother got off to, what her father did to her afterwards, or if the foster system has already given her reports or something.
“It was a little surreal being picked up in a limo. But… thank you. It was a good experience. Oscar told me quite a lot about New Orleans. And I—well, I don’t really know how to fit it into normal conversation, so before I get settled… thank you, Auntie. For taking me in. You didn’t need to, especially when I’m an adult, and I really can’t thank you enough.” There’s a lot more she wants to say, but knows Amelie knows she’s rambling already. She bites her lip, unable to make proper eye contact.
GM: With her eyes staring towards the floor, Amelie can’t make out her aunt’s expression as she hears the woman reply, “You’re welcome. You only have a year of high school left to finish, anyways, and I can’t imagine aging out of the foster system would’ve made that easy on your own. But come on, the living room’s a better place for us to talk. You can leave your bags by the stairs.”
So saying, Christina closes the front doors and leads Amelie down a picture-lined entry hall into a wider room with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the palm trees and green yard outside. Several couches and plush leather chairs are positioned around a central (empty) fireplace and mantle. A few low bookshelves, lamps, and vases fill in the remaining blank space. Amelie’s aunt sits down on one of the chairs and motions at a table with a laid-out spread of bread, cheese, salami, grapes, olives, vegetables with dip, and other non-junk snack foods.
“Airline food isn’t much good, so that’s there if you’re still hungry.”
Amelie: Amelie gives her aunt a small nod and does as she’s told, pulling her carry-on to lean against her luggage as she follows along into the living room. When she sees the spread, however, she’s surprised to see her aunt went through that kind of effort! It’s a good sign, at least, and one her empty stomach very much appreciates. She takes a mushroom and piece of meat and cheese, glad to finally get something in her stomach as she carefully sits down in another chair.
“This is wonderful, thank you. I didn’t end up eating any airline food. But… yes, I, um—there’s a lot to talk about, I guess. I have to imagine you have questions about your sister and her husband. And about me, as well.”
GM: Christina gives a slight shake of her head. “Your parents, not so much. But so far as yourself, I imagine you’ll know a better place to start than I will.”
Amelie: It’s a little strange hearing that after spending the better part of a year talking about her parents with a slew of people.
“Oh. Well, in that case I don’t really know where to start? I’m… still obsessive over history, just like when I was little. I still have that book you gave me back when, too. I fence and I smith, and I plan to make a career out that.” Amelie slowly peters out and awkwardly grabs for something else to say about herself. “I speak… English, French, European Spanish, and German.”
GM: “You don’t say on that first language?” her aunt remarks wryly, then smiles. “That’s good you’ve been passionate over something for so long, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. It sounds like you have your path in life fairly figured out.”
Amelie: Amelie can’t help but give a small smile and fights back a little chuckle. “English isn’t my first language, so I tend to just include it all. But as for my life, it’s a best guess… one I’m planning on achieving.”
She finishes her first little bit of finger food, takes a step forward out of the chair and snags another couple mushrooms, making it clear what her favorite is.
GM: “That’s also good,” Christina nods. “You’ve been an adult for several years now, so I think it’ll be better for us both if I treat you less like a ward and more like a roommate. I’ll be around if there’s anything you need help with, but for the most part, you can focus on finishing high school and making a start on that fencing and smithing career, getting into college, or whatever else you want to do with your life next.”
Amelie: There it is. Amelie has thought a lot about how the ways this could go over, and the current scenario actually measured rather high on her ‘possibilities’ rankings. Her aunt seems just like her mother did, only with her head ripped out of the clouds and her feet firm in her success, even if Amelie misses the warmth her father once was so happy to provide. But for now, it’s business.
“There is actually something I was hoping you could help me with, yes. My mother was… well, you know your own sister. Very strong, very independent, but sacrificing a lot of… social grace, maybe is the word? If I hope to strive here in New Orleans, I was hoping you could help me in those graces.”
GM: Amelie’s aunt reaches for a celery stick. “If that’s something you want to get better at, then I might recommend you start by using more natural-sounding language. Something like ‘I want to fit in’ over ‘I hope to strive.’”
Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and clasps her hands together a bit. She’s nervous, of course, and her heart is still threatening to fall out of her nose and ass at the same time. “I went through today a few too many times in my head, I guess. My parents never really gave me any details about you other than New Orleans and great personal success, so you’ve kind of always been this big intimidating figure for me.”
GM: “‘Great personal success’ is another one of those phrases,” Christina adds, then offers a faint smirk. “But here I am. I won’t bite.”
Amelie: Amelie sighs, her posture falling apart as she rubs the back of her neck with both hands. “I just don’t want to be embarrassing or anything. I was raised around swearing and hard work. I have—look.” She grabs the hem of her pants and pulls it up, revealing an old and oddly-shaped scar.
“All over. A-And I don’t know how to dress, Mom never bothered with cosmetics shit—stuff. Stuff… like that.” Another much deeper sigh slips past and the young woman roughly scratches her head, messing up her thick black hair again. “Les choses doivent aller bien pour baiser une fois.” (“Things need to go well for fucking once.”)
GM: Christina cranes her neck to get a better look at the skin Amelie shows her, but her expression doesn’t change at what she sees.
“Presenting yourself well is like any other skill. Some people might seem as if they have a born knack for it, but it’s really just a matter of learning by example and putting the time in.” She then adds, “And money, I suppose, when it comes to dressing. I have a personal assistant who could show you around there.”
Amelie: Amelie pauses. “You have a personal assistant, on top of Oscar driving people around for you often. What-” But she cuts the rude question short. Here she is talking about wanting to be more socially graceful. “Putting the time in doesn’t sound like a problem to me, then. What do you mean by ‘show me around there’?”
GM: “I mean go shopping with you,” her aunt elaborates. “If you’d rather do it by yourself, that’s fine, though you did just ask for help there.”
Amelie: “Oh! No, no, that would be amazing. Bit of a hand would help in something like that.” Watching her aunt, Amelie knows right away that a shopping trip isn’t really a big blip on her radar, but… “Of course, I’d pay you back. My grades are good, I can tutor while in school, or help you with your work or anything else you need.”
GM: Christina waves her off. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure your parents didn’t ask you to pay for your clothes or food.”
Amelie: Amelie gives a rather coy smile for someone so jet-lagged, then leans in to grab a few more mushrooms and meat slices.
“You don’t get arms like mine from not earning your keep. I don’t want to be a drain on you, Auntie. Though now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m curious again. Do you mind me asking what you do for a living?”
GM: Her aunt smiles faintly. “The thought is touching, though don’t worry yourself there either. You won’t be. And so far as my livelihood, I work in logistics consulting.”
Amelie: Amelie offers a little smile back. Something is up with this. Her aunt’s job has just turned from a comment piece to a mystery, especially with that hint of amusement at the mention of Amelie helping with her work. She might be coming here to live in her aunt’s house and finish high school, but she’s still an adult and hates being told she can’t do something. But she drops the matter and relaxes a little as she pops a mushroom into her mouth and leans back into her chair.
“That sounds like it’s a lot to manage, especially if you have a personal assistant. The offer is always open, though. How about… what else… school. Is the school I’m going to be attending in the area?”
GM: “Perhaps we can talk there after you finish college, if that’s something you want to do. But so far as school, it’s the McGehee School for Girls. Their campus isn’t too many minutes away from here. It’s quite lovely.”
Amelie: Amelie’s smile just gets bigger at the mention of college, until the bomb hits. School for girls? She all but freezes mid-fungal bite and almost chokes on the mushroom as she jerks up and finally swallows.
“School for girls? Like a private school?”
GM: “Oh, yes, the city’s public school system is terrible,” her aunt remarks. “It’s one of the worst in the country. The public schools have all been getting turned into for-profit charters since Katrina, which has turned out about as well as you might expect. Not that they were much good even before then. Anyone who can afford it here pays for their children to attend private school.”
“McGehee looks like a good place for you to finish up your senior year. Class sizes are very small, the graduation and college acceptance rates is close to 100%, and some of the teachers hold PhDs. That’s not common in most high schools.”
Amelie: Amelie bites her lip, slumping back into her chair. This is… going to take a lot longer to pay back than a trip to American butt-fucking Apparel. “That’s… I mean, that’s amazing, I didn’t think. I—how much—is there a pamphlet?”
GM: “They have a website,” her aunt nods. “Your tuition is only for two semesters, so it was affordable. You’re also required to visit the campus before getting accepted into the school, but given your living situation, I was able to talk the admissions office into deferring your visit until you were here in the States. You’ll need to go in either tomorrow or the day after. The school week starts this Monday, so between that visit and the weekend, you should have some time to settle in to things.”
Amelie: Amelie tosses another salami slice into her mouth. She feels simultaneously humble and dizzy with the sudden action of it all. Worst of all, she can feel some of that blue-collar sarcasm rising up like bile. “Is the uniform going to get me leered at, or is it not a Catholic school? I’ve never worn a skirt before.”
GM: “It’s not a religiously affiliated school,” Christina confirms. “But I’ve seen girls in the uniforms. They’re fairly modest.”
Amelie: Amelie winces a bit as she realizes she let something crude slip out, then nods. “That’s good. Sorry, I’m just… I never show my legs. I already showed you the scar. That was molten copper for a pommel decoration, and there’s more.”
GM: Her aunt reaches for an olive. “I stopped by the school a fair number of times to arrange things with admissions. The skirts on all of the girls I saw were knee-length. But I’d guess how your legs look is a bigger deal to you than it’s going to be to anyone else.”
Amelie: When a woman has a point. Amelie sighs, nods, rubs her eyes, and leans in to grab some cheese. “You’re right. I’ll have to look it up tonight and see what I’m in for.” She’s almost glad her aunt isn’t picking up on the Catholic schoolgirl kink joke, or at least seems to be ignoring it.
“Um… well… I’ve been asking a lot of questions. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to talk to me about?”
GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “You’re the one who’s moved three thousand miles to be here, so I’d say you have the right to ask a lot of questions. I imagine you still have quite a few others.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a little naked. Her aunt is good. But there’s one more question she has to force out.
“I have a rather… difficult one. My pieces. Back in Quebec. All the things I made, I don’t—my father lost custody but wasn’t jailed, but one of my swords, I have an… attachment to it. Is it still his?”
GM: “When you were a minor, you had the legal capacity to own property. As your legal guardian, your father acted as your fiduciary for purposes of acquiring, investing, reinvesting, exchanging, selling, and otherwise managing that property, but he didn’t legally own it, and ceased to have fiduciary powers when you turned eighteen,” her aunt explains. “So if you want to bring over anything you left at your father’s, that’s fine. You’ll just have to ask him about it.”
Amelie: “I doubt he’ll give it to me. Forged W1 tool steel, short but engraved ricosso, perfectly hand ground fuller, forge beveled and then hollow ground, perfect distal taper, and 5 degree sabering. Grip-slabs hand carved from purpleheart, riveted to the tang. Pommel Cap is hollow-ground. Non-traditional knuckle guard despite the 180 degree mild steel crossguard.” Amelie almost wakes up from a trance talking about her work, then clears her throat. She’s sold too many weapons. “It’s worth a grand a half, easily. If he even still has it, after this many years… I dunno if I’ll be getting it back.”
GM: Amelie’s aunt regards her technical description of the sword with a largely blank look. “Well, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about a sword that may or may not be in someone else’s house three thousand miles away. I’ll reimburse your father for shipping if you can convince him to send it over, but if you can’t, filing legal action against someone in another country is an absurd hassle.”
Amelie: Amelie flushes a little at the blank look. She adjusts in her seat and nods. “I wasn’t really considering suing him over a kriegmesser. I’ll give him a call next week, I just wanted to see if I had any rights to it. Sorry, I’ve been making these damn things long enough the technicals are nearly lullabies.” She shifts in her seat to look around the house, and feels small again as soon as she regards its size. “Would it be okay if I packed up some of this food and went to see my room?”
GM: “Feel free. It’s the former guest room on the second floor.” Christina rises from her seat and picks up the platter. “That’s too bad you forgot about the sword. It sounds like it was important to you.”
Amelie: Amelie stands up quickly, but there’s a frown on her face the moment the sword gets mentioned again. “They didn’t let me take it. No deadly weapons allowed in foster care, couldn’t afford a big enough deposit box, and my mother is… probably in Rio with some mouth breather, and I ran out of time before I could think anything else up.” The young woman shakes out her legs and stretches tall. “Thank you, though… it is important, as stupid as it sounds. Can I take that to the kitchen for you?”
GM: “Language,” her aunt says mildly as she passes over the plate. “I’m sorry to hear you weren’t allowed to keep it then. And sure. Put some saran wrap over whatever you don’t take upstairs. There’s also more food in the fridge if you’re still hungry.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles a tiny bit. “If that’s bad language in New Orleans, Canada would give the locals a heart attack.” It’s a tease of course as she takes the platter and thanks her aunt, then turns and heads towards where she assumes the kitchen is. She resolves to explore if she’s wrong.
GM: “It’s not what’s said, but when and where,” Christina retorts with a trace of wryness. “Anyways, sleep well. Feel free to explore, or I can give you a tour tomorrow. And welcome to New Orleans.” With that, Amelie’s aunt bids her good night and heads upstairs.
The kitchen has a dark brown hardwood floor and white cupboards and cabinets. An island with a black granite countertop and bowl of fruit sits in the center of the room, surrounded by several identically-colored chairs. Amelie finds saran wrap after rummaging through a few drawers. A random scan of the clear metal refrigerator’s interior reveals leafy green vegetables, more fruits, yogurt, almond milk, takeout boxes, a few precooked meals in glass dishes, and various other food items she might expect to find from an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods.
Amelie: Amelie waves and wishes her aunt a good night. Once it’s quiet, she stops to take inventory on what happened today. Oscar, the trip, Aunt Christina, and how hard she is to read. Maybe being a cool person is just how she works, or maybe she just has a tough shell? Amelie doesn’t know.
She goes about wrapping up what she doesn’t intend to eat and puts the rest on a plate. She washes and dries the big tray and puts it away before she turns to leave. She starts with her plate of food and carry-on bag, hauling them up and into the guest room once she finds it. The day starts to wear on her now that it’s almost over. She hopes to see an attached or at least nearby bathroom.
GM: Amelie finds that her new bedroom on the second floor contains a double-sized bed and two adjacent bedside tables with lamps on them. There’s a desk, dresser, and picture of a ship sailing by a forested coast. She also has an attached bathroom.
A window overlooks the house’s lawn and cast-iron fence. Amelie can make out near and distant lights from the Garden District’s other fine homes, nestled among the greenery like the cicadas are silent for now. In their place, raindrops steadily plunk against the roof.
Amelie: It’s a lot more than she’s used too, and as Amelie looks around the room she can’t help but visualize what she had before. Her mattress on the floor and the loft walls a pyramid over her head, covered in every inch with posters and magazine cut-outs of everything from beautiful faces to large charts detailing the reactivity of carbon housed in common iron when introduced to borax solution. Now there’s this… big window looking out like an eye over a nice yard.
As much as she misses the familiarity, she knows things can be different here. She already has more than she did in that ratty apartment after Mom vanished. She drops her carry-on onto the bed, puts her food back down, and grabs her luggage back from downstairs. She yanks it onto the bed, then lays out some sleeping clothes before tossing her disgusting life-of-their-own travel clothes into the corner and hopping into the bathroom with her toiletries kit. She thanks whatever gods are listening that she doesn’t have to make good on her promise of stabbing someone for a wash.
It’s a long one, and she hopes her aunt doesn’t need the hot water anytime soon as she scrubs the last 24 hours out of her bones. It’s an odd feeling to walk out of the shower and not immediately regret it. There’s no cold chill or freezing tiles, yet there’s still windows in the room. It’s fucking magic. Amelie is in a shirt and boxers just a moment later, checking the time on her laptop as she unpacks and eats. Maybe there’s enough time to make that call. A day can only get so stressful before it watersheds.
Amelie walks back down to the first floor. Her only option without a cellphone is the house’s landline. She’s brought a pad of paper and a pen for her to write details down on, but the ache in her gut tells her it’s not going to make keeping her emotions down any easier. But calling her father serves a lot more purposes. She’s not spoken to him since she was first put into foster care, and who knows how her absence affected him. But she dials the number, clears her throat and hopes he answers. Her hand remains ready to write.
GM: The phone rings and rings. Amelie is almost convinced that no one is going to pick up before a man’s voice grogs, “Hello?”
Amelie: Amelie is just about to hang up before she gets that familiar grogging answer. It’s hard not to just hang up.
“Salut, Père. Est-ce que je t’ai réveillé?”
(“Hello, Dad. Did I wake you up?”)
GM: “What d’you want?” he grunts in English.
Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes. Of course this is the reaction she’ll get. Fucking drunk.
“I’m settled in New Orleans. I wanted to know If I pay shipment, will you drop off my Kriegsmesser at a post office? You know, the one I spent 200 hours on?”
GM: “Wha?” the voice over the phone mumbles.
Amelie: “Dad, this is Amelie. Your daughter? The one you haven’t talked to in ages?”
GM: “Th’ hell are you talking abou’, Krigsmess? It’s not Christmas.”
Amelie: “The sword, Dad. The big one, in my old room. Wake up, go splash water on your face.”
GM: “I threw out your stuff. Don’ call again.” The line hangs up.
Amelie: Amelie just about slams the phone on the floor before she hangs it up. She looks back down at her writing notes and nearly tears the paper with the ballpoint before slamming it down on the counter and leaving it there by the phone. She stalks away back upstairs. Every fiber of her being screams that he must be lying, but she knows her father well enough. Her masterpiece is gone.
She throws herself into bed instead of fuming about it any longer. This isn’t the first time she’s had to force herself to sleep, but it is the first time she’s had to do so in another house than that drunk bastard’s. Tomorrow will be better.
It has to be.