Here’s a draft opening for another novella (Goodbye, Maggie). If you have any thoughts, let me know.
* * *
D E S I R E
says the neon above the Royal Sonesta door on Bourbon
H U G E A S S B E E R S
screams the street vendor’s sign
H O M O S E X I S S I N
exclaims a navy-blue banner sailing through the crowd with bold white print
To their credit, the men with the banner, who alternately huddle around it like a lodestone and spread through the crowd like feelers, are not reducibly homophobes. Draped from their shoulders, in the spirit of Corinthians 6, are full-length body posters decrying fornicators, liars, blasphemers, adulterers, thieves, hypocrites, drunkards, abortionists, witches, atheists, and money lovers. They are in the right place on this Mardi Gras day in New Orleans.
One could enjoy this scene from any of the wrought-iron balconies overlooking Bourbon St. On one such balcony, a petite woman with woven dark hair and stunning violet eyes (no one could forget the eyes), costumed as a fairy queen, surveys the festive crowd below. The unholy throng carouses the street in waves. The fairy queen disappears from the balcony. The crowd revels to a crescendo and subsides.
The fairy queen returns to balcony but with her back to us, a red chrysanthemum in one hand. After a moment, she falls, face up, arms spread like an angel in flight as her body nears the street.
* * *
A rickety old paneled Datsun mini-wagon clunks into a supermarket parking lot. Phil, nerdy, early thirties, image of mediocrity, gets out. He tries a couple of times to shut the door but the latch works poorly. He finally kicks it shut and heads toward the store.
“Piece of shit,” our hero mutters.
Phil browses the cake counter for a second. A hefty, middle-aged woman stands behind the counter.
“I’ll take that pink and yellow one. And could you put ‘Happy Birthday Mary Elizabeth’ on it?”
“Too long,” says the countress, heavy, languid, but with a spirit like a coiled spring. Phil wonders. Her hostility. Is it racial animus? Does the black woman behind the counter resent his whiteness? Is she simply beaten down by the drudgery of her job?
Phil wipes his glasses. “What do you mean, too long?”
“It’s too long, baby. All them letters on that lil’ cake. How about just ‘Happy Birthday’?”
No, she is not hostile. Phil remembers what Hermia said. He needs to allow for different personalities. But now he is aggravated.
“I can’t take a cake with just ‘Happy Birthday’! It won’t look … it won’t be special.”
“How about a bigger cake?”
Yes, she is hostile.
Phil browses impatiently.
“OK, give me that one.”
“Which one, baby?”
No, she is not hostile. But Phil cannot tone it down all the way.
“That one there. The one the size of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch.’”
The server pulls the cake from the display case. She is mumbling, shaking her head. “Heard a no cake look like a watch.”
Phil fidgets as the server decorates the cake. She brings it over. It says, “Happy Birthday Mary Elizabeth,” and has a watch at the center. He looks at it, cocks his head.
“You said you wanted a watch.”
“I didn’t say I wanted a watch.”
The server sighs, moves her chin slightly, and shouts toward a woman by the oven.
“Hey, Bertha, you heard that man say he wanted a watch?”
“Yeah, sugar. He said a watch.”
The server looks back at Phil.
“Bertha heard you say a watch.”
Yes, she is hostile. Phil does not need this.
“OK, OK, look, can you just turn it into the star of Bethlehem or a gift from the wise men.”
“I thought you said it was a birthday cake.”
“Yeah, well, it’s Twelfth Night, too.”
“Twelfth Night? What the hell is that?”
“Feast of the Epiphany.”
She looks at him puzzled, as if awaiting an explanation. There is empathy, connection in her puzzlement.
“Epiphany,” Phil repeats. “Today’s the feast of the Epiphany.”
* * *
An art show is being held in a large, old, city home. People, some in costumes, are viewing paintings and art objects. A black cat masker observes a dark, richly colored landscape. She hears a voice.
She turns, startled by a close-up red and black Satan mask.
“Darkness,” says the Satan masker, “always comes with a tinge of light, doesn’t it?”
She moves on, uncomfortable.
* * *
Phil is in the parking lot with a couple of bags and the cake. He tries clumsily to put the cake on the roof of car, but it slowly slides off and crashes face-down in the parking lot. We in the audience well up with tears.
* * *
A burst of laughter at the art show. The Satan masker is away, observing another landscape including an apparent pagan ritual. He hears a voice.
x x x
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