A long tongue of highway slithered out ahead of us, the windows kept sticking and the air conditioning didn’t work. I could feel my breath make a wave of lazy lines in front of me as I sang to you. Later I watched you sing, staring straight ahead, distracted by the road. I pointed out how it looked as though we might drive straight into the moon and then we sang together for the other 6 hours until our throats protested like a dry creek with sad frogs.
“I have a bad feeling”, I said while dropping ice chips in your mouth. “Let’s turn back.” Your opal face reproached me, you laughed a short brutish laugh, and “We’re in Metairie we have to.” As we eased into the driveway of the dilapidated house, I listened to the night and the rocks that were like popcorn against the tires. I could see lights on inside with a gaunt frame sitting in a chair next to the window. “Come on,” you said with the lacy edges of regret in your honey voice. I sat a little longer and willed my heart to slow, to become casual. Something felt off.
We hefted our suitcases up the staircase and a mangy black dog met us at the door. He seemed to be warning us with peeled back lips and rotting teeth. He didn’t bark though, and when he growled it sounded hollow like knocking inside a padded cell. Our friend came out wrapped in a sheet and nothing else, his chest so withered that it caved inward. I hardly recognized him. He spoke of things that we used to do and the places we used to haunt. A glimmer of my friend came back, a phosphorous glow against the barnacled ribs of his ghost ship of a body. I reached out instinctively to hold the wisps of him and then pressed my hands into my sweaty skirt, pushing it down instead of him.
Impossibly, it was hotter inside, stagnant and even the flies were exhausted. They lounged in pools of spilled food and drink. You refused to look at me while my eyes searched you in a panic, your raggedy shorn hair matting to your nape. We all stood around saying nothing, eyes dragging the ground. I asked about a shower, towels, and a bed. There was no shower, a big bathtub instead with a black ring around it like a choke collar. I got on my knees and scrubbed it with a brush until it was a sick grey until my knees had tiny red honeycomb marks.
You suggested we bathe together. I sat behind you and washed your precious scarred back while you held a joint to my lips and I inhaled to forget. The cold water felt almost sweet as we scrubbed away the road and the unspoken fears that clung us like needy children. I asked you how you felt about souls and you laughed at me instead of answering. I thought about reaching under your small ass and sliding into you, my other arm holding you against me. I missed your pussy and felt lonely for it in that moment. I could feel myself getting wet under water, and before I could act you stood up, and the water in your wake dripped on my upturned face. The only worship I was allowed anymore. We were only given one towel so we took turns drying each other like sisters instead of sometimes lovers, and I asked you if you remembered why we came.
In the morning the house was curiously filled with the haze of cigarettes and limp slender bodies curled around each other on the living room floor. Someone would stir and someone else would moan in protest. It was 8 am and already stultifying. We walked to the market nearby for coffee. We sat on a crumbling curb and fed each other piping hot beignets that still have not met their match. I stood up to shade my eyes and watched a boy practice tricks with his skateboard while an orange cat stared malevolently on. The boy openly took sips of a bottle of liquor and I briefly wondered where his parents were before a knowing told me that they didn’t care.
When we got back to the house, people were awake and already shooting up right in front of us. My eyes tracked this activity carefully. I had never seen anyone shoot up before and I could feel my heart become a woodpecker against my stiff, tree body. My feet panicked and crept like alley cats up the stairs to our hallway bed. It seemed our host had changed in the last year since moving away from our shared house. He had neglected to tell us that in this time he had made new friends and a new vice. Heroin.
We packed our bags quickly and realized that some of our cash had been pilfered from the toe of my extra pair of shoes and was slowly sinking into veins downstairs. As we slinked down the back stairs, I looked up and saw a small child in one of the windows of the house. She had perfect little bow lips, haunting eyes, and scraggly black hair. She looked like a perfect hard won bruise.
Determined to see the trip through, we sprawled on the scabby grass of a cemetery and made up stories about the ghosts we pretended to see. Somehow in those limp necked moments a beautiful large woman found us napping and wanted to know everything. Our story seemed likely enough for her to invite us back to her cheery home where fans blew in every room, rose lemonade refilled in sparkly glasses, and piled high chocolate cake was placed in front of our teary heads. Our last 48 hours were spent in her garden, walking through her strange walls and bare feet lifting up from white painted wood while rocking in her porch swing.
As we drove the many miles home together, we popped gas station white crosses until our eyes felt insectile. We talked and talked about nothing and everything until our tongues hurt. The last leg of the trip the silence in the car became a roar as I realized that this trip was be our end. That was the last time I ever saw New Orleans and you became nothing more than a smiling photograph in a beat up photo book.