There’s a moon over Bourbon Street tonight…playing across shadows, illuminating many curious faces of those who wander this ageless city. Through dark alleys and well-lit streets I wander in turn, heeding your call, searching for the out-of-the-way bar where tonight you will play.
It’s been so long since I’ve been here…years, almost, unless you count hasty afternoon visits or weekend jaunts spent cooped up in some hotel room or other. I’ve enjoyed the seductive pull of the city many times, but have never fully surrendered to its power. That ends tonight.
I open my mouth to claim the city in a kiss…the tart taste of tobacco, the sharp tang of lime, the sweet salt of sweat and the wet pulse of the music, which throbs deeply in my veins. My heels click against the cobblestone streets and I brush my hair from my shoulder, trying vainly to escape the heated caress of the night air.
At last I see the heavy wooden door and the stained-glass window to the bar where we first met. All this time…memories assault me as surely as arrows, and a smile slips unbidden across my lips. Has it truly been so long? It seems like mere days since we last spoke, though logically I’m aware it has been much longer. Time is a hustler; give her a chance, and she will steal from you what she can, leaving you with nothing but an empty pocketful of memories. With a wistful sigh, I enter the bar.
You stand before your audience with eyes downcast, face fixed in a posture of shyness, but as the slow hiss of the drums begins your eyes dart upward, mischievous, that sliding smirk playing across your face. Your hands, no longer idle, coax thick rubbery notes from the slender neck of your guitar, and the grin I’ve been watching broadens.
It’s a song from your past, a tale of long ago, but with reverent and painstaking care you bring it back to this lifetime, to the present. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and the audience cheers in delight. I watch for what seems like hours, though a glance at my watch reveals that only twenty minutes have passed. I gaze around the room to see friends—your friends—all whom have heeded your carefully scripted invitation.
An evening of dinner and romance, you said, the silver lettering standing out against heavy black cardstock. Fitting, of course, for this city of sin, for the heavy cloak of mystery this ancient ageless town wears like a blanket.
I laughed, just a bit, when the note slipped under the narrow crack of my door. How you even knew I was here is beyond me. Why you decided my presence was indeed fitting your subtle little party also escapes my realm of comprehension, but the wines have been sweet and the music more so, and I appreciate fully your kind gesture.
You gently bow, as is your custom, to the gathering of high-and-mighties and down-and-dirties and promise, as always, to return. It amuses me to know you believe you could walk away from this lifestyle—the cloak-and-dagger, the one-night-stands, the tempestuous affair with the Lady Music—if it so suited you. Far be it from me to ever contradict your opinion…at least while your temper is hot and your ego flared.
I press the thick crystal goblet filled with deep red wine to my cheek, not at all surprised to find its surface warm. Even in the evenings, when the sun has retired and the moon has come once again to play, the city sweats. The raw heat, the invisible curtain of warm, cocoons all that travel beyond the fair city’s borders, and I am no exception.
I trouble a kind waitress for a glass of water and before the request has left my lips I hear your faint chuckle in my ear. Silent you are, as always, preferring to travel unawares and sneak up on people. You love surprises, and conversely hate being surprised. Like many things, the contradiction suits you.
“Hello…” You say, and once again our eyes meet.
At our last parting I swore to myself that I would not be the one to break character first. I would hold my detached, disinterested gaze for as long as possible. I thought it might be fun to see you squirm for a bit, instead of feeling my own skin crawl under your intense scrutiny.
I do not fulfill my own wish, and allow an unabashed grin to steal across my lips. You lean over the table a second later and brush your lips across my cheek, murmuring a secret greeting and thanking me for coming to see you. Your hair is shorter now, finer, less structured than it used to be. You still smell, as you once did, of sandalwood and seawater…a potent combination that has a proper brand name, which of course I am too embarrassed to request. Confession stated: I like a good mystery as much as anyone, and the secrets of your fragrance have long since enticed my sense of curiosity.
We lapse into small talk, the two of us…discussions of art, which lead to discussions of literature, which, as always, lead to discussions of music. When the topic turns down that path I am merely content to sit back and watch you, to see the elements of your essence rise up like a court of angels as you speak of what we both silently acknowledge is your one true love. It is true I am not ill-versed in any subject of song; a fair statement it would be to say I share that same love…but I am a consumer, not a creator, and as such the final link in the intricate puzzle we have come to call music will always evade my grasp.
You catch my secret smile at your earnest declarations, and relax further into your chair. My waitress has returned with a glass of water and you scoff, sending it back to the bar despite my protests, and ask for something stronger: whiskey neat.
I balk at your request. You are not a liquor drinker, nor am I. We both enjoy the taste and ritual of wine, and the carefree delight of beer…but liquor is something neither of us prefer, unless heavily doctored and carefully mixed with any of a dozen other spirits. Still, the dutiful waitress returns with a silver decanter fetched from “the cellar,” befitting such a special occasion.
I never tire of the sheer delight of renewing long-lapsed friendships. Though I can remember with astonishing clarity the exact hue of your eyes, it feels so different to gaze upon them, their crystal blue depths flickering in the hazy light of the bar, your gaze revealing nothing. Your face is still youthful, but carries now the added wisdom of the trials of life. Your heart, I wager, has not changed. It still beats with the same unceasing rhythm.
You take my hand and smile, offering me a playful grin and a simple question.
What’s on my mind, you say. How have I been?
Fine. Wonderful. I’ve missed you, friend.
And I know what is coming before the words cross your lips, and so my fingers fly to the necklace resting at the hollow of my throat.
No. I don’t know if he is well. I don’t know if I am well. And I do miss him. My heart aches to see him…but…
You finish my sentence and I smile woefully. Nothing has changed. One tortured artist to another.
The evening passes in a mist of old times and pleasant greetings from long-forgotten friends whom have shown up to pay you tribute. We remain at the table for much of the evening, falling into deep conversation, remembering days gone by…those when I was younger and more foolish, and you angry and far more brash.
We laugh at old arguments, at the sputtering insults I flung at you when you claimed my interest in you was more than just platonic. Even now, years later, you are unwavering in your position on the topic. As always, I offer a red-faced denial and hastily gulp down more of my wine, which causes that beautiful laugh to issue forth from your lips.
At last it is well past and the crowds are dwindling, so together we stand and hold each other’s gazes for quite some time.
“It was good to see you again,” You smile, and I return the gesture, sincerely, taking your hand in mine.
“See you tomorrow?” You offer, leading me slowly to the exit.
I answer in the affirmative and linger under the thick wooden doorjamb, not content quite yet to leave you…it has been far too long and there is much still to say. Uncertainty hangs heavy on my mind, and always I had sought counsel from you when time allowed. Still I am hesitant to lay my troubles on your already burdened shoulders, but in your typical fashion you discern the cause of my worry in nary a heartbeat.
“Don’t worry about him, sweetheart,” You whisper quietly, voicing the words neither one of us wanted to say. “He’ll come around.”
I nod, swallowing forcefully, blinking back tears I had tried so hard to hide. I am enfolded by your arms a minute later, and allow myself to indulge in the embrace for a few moments before wistfully stepping away.
“Goodnight,” I say softly, and this time it is my lips that brush faintly across your cheek.
“Goodnight,” You murmur, and close the door behind me.
I wander slowly back to my hotel, the moon’s soft glow and the hazy streetlights leading my way. I relax inside the cool silence of my room, the air conditioning a welcome feel against my overheated body. Walking to the window I gaze down upon the city and its sleeping guests, as my fingers gently caress the small piece of precious metal tucked against my throat. I open the window, gazing down into the streets where people still wander alone. I toy with the clasp, unfastening the silver chain, holding it up in the light, where the moon catches it and plays with it for a few brief moments before slipping back into shadow.
I cannot bring myself to let the necklace fall, and so I return it to its home. There it shall wait…as I shall wait…until…
© 2002 ~A.