We are quiet, watching the primordial from our windows. The darkness of the past seems to crowd close, panting and steaming up the glass.
I-65 becomes the never-ending Interstate 10 south of Mobile, and the salt smell of the sea rides the breeze. Nearly two hours along the toe of Mississippi, then at the border between Alabama and Louisiana near Slidell a wooden pier walks out into the water and signs tell you to watch for the alligators. I see many ominous lumpy logs, with mud-colored scales barely rippling the surface. The water is stained the color of sweet tea, and in towns the sounds of music older than time echo from the voices of the residents and the doors of bars, where zydeco and jazz and laughter have settled into the soil and the laughing eyes of the people there who greet you with a handshake and a smile.
The graves sit stolid above the ever-leaking, crying ground, the damp seeping in and rotting all flesh and trash and once-living things. The dead are on display here, and no one seems to mind that death presides over all with a toothy alligator grin.
In college I rode for hours in a car that smelled of the fetid slippers of a blonde-haired friend and her evil feet, to see the vomit-soaked streets of Mardi Gras and find some memories to haunt us all into our old, boring years. I remember fragmented visions of the weekend – flashing our nascent breasts at old men and Asian guys with SpongeBob beads. The wet breath of a man in my ear as I hid behind my mask, feeling safe with the liquor in my veins, turning around holding the hand of my roommate and noticing the naked crowd around us in this bar above the hordes in the street. Someone was getting a blowjob and others gathered around to smile at them. Another man wore chains and his girlfriend held the whip. I wondered what the normal citizens of the city imagined was happening here, as they sat around dinner tables or watched late-night TV and avoided downtown for the entire week. Something like this scene, probably. At the end of the French Quarter a man picked my back pocket in the shadowed streets, slid his hand down my ass and I didn’t feel a thing. Silly country girl, or nomad girl, whatever I am- here in the city pressed against the masses with their flashing teeth and metallic beads. Another man grabbed him by the back of the shirt and shook him until he released the bills in his wallet, a wad of bills I hadn’t had in the first place. I accepted the extra cash and the man disappeared to pick unsuspecting pockets farther down the avenue.
The gay men kissed for us when we asked them to at the end of the street in the dark, and the rainbow-lit bars there made us feel welcomed and safe. Among family.