XAVIERA PAIGE

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Whenever I go back to New Orleans, the first thing that my body and soul remembers is the weather. The weather in March was extremely satisfying not only to the senses but to the soul. The chills of winter were just leaving, Mardi Gras was just simmering down, and the sun was finally starting to shine. An expectant light hovered over the city, and a settling calm filled every street corner and store, almost as though we were quietly awaiting something. Maybe the heat of summer, maybe the final goodbyes of loved ones as they left for summer work, maybe the eternal loss of old friends whose last season was slowly coming to a close. Summer would be hot, summer would be trying, and in New Orleans, summer came faster than it should. But for now all was well, all was quiet, all was sound.

It was March 1917 when I met Tommy Morrison, and he came anything but quietly, causing my summer to come much sooner than expected. I was working in the quarter as a waitress, where a girl like me was bound to work. At least that’s what the people of the quarter thought. I heard their whispers, I avoided their long gazes, and sometimes when pouring a drink for one of them, I’d accidentally make eye contact, and I could see it in their faces that they knew the history of my past and did not approve of the way I lived in the present.

My grand-mère, who I simply called Mère said that life would be this way. As a young girl, she would sit me on her lap and tell me the stories of all the people that came together to make me. She told me that there would never be another Darcey Decuir, because the recipe to make me was one of a kind. Mère was half French-Creole and half Black. She often talked in metaphors and told stories as if we were all created from elements of nature instead of skin, water, bone, and blood.

She kept her mother’s last name, passing it down to my mother and eventually to me. Mère could pass for a white woman, and at desperate times she would use this to her advantage. “The people want to see what the eye sees, but a wise one knows what it feels,” she would say. I never really understood what she meant, and always felt that she was just making herself feel better for abandoning her culture in the public to move further in life.

However, there were other times when I could tell she wished the inside of her soul was reflected on the outside of her body. As a girl, I thought she was just the most beautiful woman in the world. She had big brown curls of hair that bounced when she walked and hazel brown eyes that shone with emotion whenever she spoke. My mother inherited her eyes, but unfortunately not her spirit. Where Mère was deep and beautiful, my mother was shallow and pretty. There wasn’t a party that she didn’t like, and she’d never met a man she could stand for more than a month.

My mother eventually died. I know it sounds harsh to say it this way, but I had come to terms that my mother was extremely unhappy. Always looking for something greater than the life she was leading, but there was nothing greater for her.

She then attempted to fill her void with everything that imitated love and happiness, but the realization that the people and items she filled her life with were not the real thing ate at her until she couldn’t take it anymore.

I found her passed out not breathing. The twelve year old me stood at the end of the couch watching my mother’s body lay on the olive green sofa, lifeless. I didn’t have the urge to run to her, but in that moment I felt the demons that ate my mother’s life away transfer onto me.

There was a difference between my mother and I though. I wasn’t quite as shallow, and I was much more than pretty. I was like my mother and my grandmother thrown into one person. The darker side oftentimes won, but there was also a light to bring me to the surface.

“There’s always liquor in New Orleans!” Tommy yelled as he walked into the establishment where I was working at the time. Doc’s was the name of the restaurant I believe… if i remember correctly.

Doc’s hosted people of all types, with an upstairs place for white’s only. The bar was downstairs, but true white people would never get up to get their own drinks anyway. Everything was brought to them.

My reason for saying true white people is because there was a serious difference between the Creoles, the Cajuns, the mixed (like myself), the bayou travelers, and the white people that lived in the big mansions on the old plantations who hosted parties all the time, visited New York and Europe just for fun, and turned their noses up at the rest of us. Those were the type that Tommy envied, but I would learn that later.

I turned to look at Tommy as he carried a large wooden box filled with liquor bottles over to the bar. I couldn’t help but notice how his light brown skin glimmered with sweat or how he hovered over most of the people who happened to be standing with a stellar six foot two demeanor. I was instantly attracted to him, but these days I never knew if I could trust myself.

There were so many nights that I found myself falling in love with a man and the promises of a life that he said he would give me, and then the next week, sometimes the next morning… he’d be gone.

It left me alone at night with thoughts of everything that had gone wrong and the reputation that I had earned. Was this who I was destined to be? A toss in the sheets? A fleeting moment of deep love that could never manifest into a livelihood together?

“Darcey, can you help Tommy unpack the liquor?” asked one of the managers.

At this point, I had never officially met Tommy. It was literally my first time seeing him, and I couldn’t stop my heart from racing. I had the urge to run to the women’s room and make sure that I looked okay, but the truth was that I did not need the mirror’s reassurance. I had been told since the day I could open my eyes that I was beautiful.

I had deep dimples like my mother and grandmother, caramel skin that held no blemishes, deep brown eyes that seemed to trap anybody on instinct before they came to their senses, and tight curly brown hair that bounced at my shoulders as I walked. It was obvious that I wasn’t exactly like anybody else here, but what wasn’t obvious was who I was like. My father was a traveling black man who left my mother to go up north, and I never met him, so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was made up of. I just knew that it came together to form me.

“Yes, of course,” I said putting the menu papers up and walking over to him. He stood about ten inches over me. I noticed this as I stood beside him silently, taking the bottles out of the box. He smelled like homemade bread and cologne, and I was immediately struck with the thought that maybe he already had somebody at home cooking for him. I was surprised with how unsettled it made me.

“Darcey, right?” he asked, looking at me with a short smile, almost as though he was too afraid to really smile, almost as though he was testing the waters to see what he would get out of me, or maybe from me.

“Did you learn my name from the yelling of my boss?” I asked, hoping that he had, because if he heard it from the city, then maybe his perception of me was already set.

“I’ve heard your name before. It’s just nice to finally put a face to a name. A name as beautiful as the person who owns it.” I couldn’t help but blush, quickly looking into the box and away from his gaze.

“I know that you think you and your charming charismatic ways can just sweep me away, but there’s more to life than words,” I answered back smartly, still looking away from him, afraid that if I didn’t then I would lose all self control, and he would just be another mistake.

“I think that statement to be false. If it were not for words and men like me with charming charismatic ways, then maybe romance would die once and for all, and then maybe women would be nothing more than a night in the sheets, and family would be–”

“Save it,” I said, finally looking up, suddenly becoming annoyed by his deeper descriptions of life that, for some reason, in a way, mirrored my own.

“Now Darcey… I hate to sound like every other guy out there because I’m not, and I don’t plan on being. I find you fascinating. Even when some of the guys told stories, I found you to be awfully fascinating. You make up your own rules, and that’s something nobody in this God-forsaken town could do. I admire you.” He was looking into my eyes now as his words made their way to my heart. I wanted to turn around and run, but my feet would not allow me to move.

“You may be the only one to think that,” I said, placing a loose curl behind my ear, “but I’m not crazy. I don’t think there is something better out there for me like my mother.” The words came out a little bit harder than expected, so then I barely whispered, “I only like to imagine it.”

We finished unpacking the bottles in silence. I was sure I had scared him away, but it was probably for the better. I didn’t need any more disappointment in my life. As I started to walk away from the box, I felt somebody grab my wrist. I turned and looked at Tommy, but before even turning, I felt as though I knew it was him from the simple touch of his skin against mine. His eyes felt like a home I had never known before, and I just knew this had to be love. But how could I trust myself?

“Could you imagine yourself with me?” he asked as though I had known him for forever. I mean he was a criminal, he had to be if he was selling here, and for so cheap. But then again, if he was a common criminal, then in his eyes maybe I was a common whore. Was it possible?

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “But I’d like to,” I admitted to not only him but to myself. The words that floated out of my mouth surprised me, especially the intensity behind them. He was the first man to ask me about something that involved not just himself but also me. I couldn’t help but think that maybe it was meant to be that way.

*

That night I walked down the stairs of the house that I called home, a home that outlived generations from decades past, a home that was bound to maybe outlive me. I opened the door softly, careful not to wake Mère while she slept. My heart pounded quickly at the welcoming of a new-found stranger. I opened the door, welcoming the night as it engulfed his frame. The stars provided a slight light, and it shined down, reflecting off his face, allowing me the pleasure of seeing his features. The cool air blew, causing me to wrap my arms around myself.

“Your house is basically a part of the quarter. It’s very nice and interesting,” he commented while walking in.

Our house was small in a way, but was the perfect home for a family of two. Mère’s room was on the first floor where the kitchen and fireplace was. The sofa where my mother died was in front of the fireplace… nobody ever sat there anymore. Mère and I often commented that it was bad luck, but neither of us had the heart to move it.

Upstairs was my room and my room only. That is where I took Tommy. That is where I made love to Tommy. That is where I imagined my life with Tommy. I imagined that an ever-so-perfect night may lead to him loving me forever. Was one night all it took? Or was I living in imagination?

*

I was living in fantasy, a universe of lies that I constructed into a web of my life. Five years had gone by, and I was still living in fantasy, allowing my thoughts to convince me that life was different than what it really was and that somebody truly loved me in ways that no one had before.

The only difference between Tommy and the rest of the many suitors who came my way was the fact that he never left me for too long. Still, this did not mean he truly loved me.  He did not really love me. He couldn’t, because the fact remained that he still left in the first place.

It was the turn of a decade, it was a new era, and all Tommy cared about was women, booze, and money. I had caught him multiple times around town with other women who did not compare to me, could not compare to me. They catered to his every whim, buying him food, taking him on trips, introducing him to their well-established families. I knew it was a scam. I knew he was running them dry for everything they had. Yet, there were times, in the hours of my deepest nightmares, that I imagined him staying with them forever. Never returning home. To me.

Mère saw my despair. She didn’t ache for me to be married because she wasn’t a common woman, but she knew that I ached for it myself. She watched me welcome Tommy back every time he returned with open arms and a smile. I was ashamed, to be so heartbroken over a criminal. A criminal who I found would never be heartbroken over me.

So Mère came to me. She was getting older but had still yet to touch her sixties. She moved slower, but she wasn’t slow yet. She still had an aura of command and care that aired about any room she walked into; her presence was still as strong as it was to me fifteen years ago.

“My child, is this boy the only thing that can possibly make you happy?” Mère asked as she entered my room. She never came up to my room, so I knew that her reasoning had to be serious. She was a firm believer that we all needed our own personal spaces, and so I never went to her, and she never came to me. We just met in the middle.

“Yes, Tommy is the only thing that will make me complete,” I answered sadly, and then added, “I believe we are meant to be together. I believe we are meant for each other. He doesn’t see it yet, but I know that one day he will.” I looked out the small window in my box of a room and over the city that had the audacity to call itself my home, after relinquishing me to the desires of men who come to pass and never to stay… I could never call this city my true home.

“Then you should help him see that,” Mère said soundly. “Sometimes men need a little help to see what is right in front of them, and I know somebody who is happy to help you, my Darcey.” I listened to her words, trying to make sense of them completely. “You just have to make sure, Darcey, that this is who you love, that this is who you will love forever.”

“I will,” I said surely, desperation in my eyes. “I will love him forever.”

*

West End Blues was playing so softly. The smell of the bayou lingered over the house and the mossy trees surrounding it. The humidity was thick, as if the atmosphere was more tangible than the human body. It certainly had more substance. I was in the depths of the bayou, deep into the bayou… and I was alone.

Well, I felt alone.

I turned the knob on the door, careful not to knock as my grandmother had instructed me, but before I could even see the inside of the room I heard–

“Darcy Decuir!” I jumped in shock as Zola Olinde turned to face me. My grandmother had described that her presence was… filling, but I did not understand the description until now. She was a stunning six feet tall, with dark brown skin, and a picked-out, overly-large afro stemmed from her head, making her seem foreign and beautiful.

She said my name with emphasis, but she was not yelling. Her tone was just extremely demanding and forceful. Somehow she did this without changing her pitch.

“You come to me because you want to be loved,” she started, “in the same way that you love.” She then laughed a humorous laugh as though she was speaking to a child. “Don’t you know, Darcey, that when you give your love and your energy to every soul you meet, that they suck it out of you?” Her hands came together with a loud thump. “And men do not wish to refurbish their women. They want a woman filled with energy. Tommy does not want to save you. But if you want Tommy, then so be it. If you want Tommy to be your soulmate, then I could do it for you, baby. And not just in this life, baby, but every life to come.” She was now directly in front of me, the smell of coconut and oranges leaking from her skin drenched the air. “I could make him your soulmate.” The way she said the word made me shudder.

I had heard of people like her and of women doing little things to keep their husbands from wandering off, but this seemed a little different, and she seemed… experienced.

“Why do you want to help me?” I asked, because she didn’t seem like the type to want to help anybody but herself. I didn’t want to be anybody’s personal play toy.

“Let’s just say I owe old Helen a favor,” she said with a sly smile. “Now here, honey, let me show you what to do.”

*

“I’m happy you came over for dinner, Tommy. I hate that it’s been so long,” I said with a smile. I was wearing a dress that came a little bit over my knees. I was smaller than most girls, but that was why Tommy liked me. He felt in control and manly. I knew this because I knew him, and we belonged together.

“Two months isn’t too long a time, darling. I’ve just been busy, you know. Money waits for no one.”

“Time waits for no one, Tommy,” I corrected him. “That’s the saying, and I hate that you’re wasting so much time with all these harlots.”

“Such a hateful word,” he said, and then with a sly smile and a raise of the eyebrow, he finished with, “But you would know, now wouldn’t you, baby?” I ignored his hurtful words, knowing that it would come to pass.

“Here, have a glass of wine with me. Maybe it’ll cure this ugly attitude you’re wearing today.” I grabbed the glasses off the kitchen counter, which already had the red liquid of wine, a little of my blood, and a special ingredient that even I did not know. My wine had the same ingredients as his.

“I fear I’ve turned you into an alcoholic,” he said, looking over me grimly. I bit my tongue again. His fake act of class was tiring. He wanted so badly to marry up, to be higher in society, but he was a black man, a black criminal at that, who just like my mother was chasing something that was not there. But I was here. And in a few moments, he would love me. Truly love me… not just now–but forever.

“Can we have the goddamn food now, Darcy?!” he demanded after finishing the wine and slamming the wine glass harder than needed on the table.

“Anything for you, sha.”

*

I’ve never regretted any decision more in my life. That fateful night underneath the full moon I made love to Tommy to finish the spell. That night we slept, and the next morning he told me of his plans of maybe staying around here a little longer and helping me out with the place, so I wouldn’t have to work as hard. I was doused in love and gifts for weeks going into months. And then suddenly I just wanted it to stop.

I went through every life that I entered with the thought that love and happiness was attainable. I fell in love in the childish adolescent way that one may come to be shown that they actually have a heart that is tangible, and although it cannot be physically broken without somebody cutting a knife through your body, it could be broken with the simplest of words and actions coming from a person who you wished would be yours for maybe a second longer.

And in every life by the age of twenty-two, I learned why it was meant to be that way. In every age by twenty-two, I had met him. Sometimes thirteen, sometimes twenty. Each time I had a feeling that maybe he could be the one, that maybe he could erase whatever problem my physical body was facing at that time, and I would fall in love. Then I would wake up on my twenty-second birthday with nothing but ice cold hate, and the memories of every life I had lived before. Specifically the life in which I attached myself to another spirit, one who was not meant to be attached to me.

I hated that I was stuck with him for an eternity, somebody who did not mirror myself. Somebody who did not understand me, somebody who had no hopes or aspirations but was just living to live.

I came to understand that I had attached myself to a Karmic Soulmate. He was here simply to show me a lesson, to break my heart, to let me wonder and think and grow. He was simply a stop on my destination, and I detoured the whole journey for him. I hated him for it, and I hated myself even more.

I found out there was my twin flame, a physical being whose spirit mirrored mine, one who I was truly destined to be with in this life and the next. Not only had I ruined my own life but also my flames. I would spend an eternity going from one life to the next and never finding true love, but I wouldn’t be the only one. The hate for myself was my consequence of ruining another’s life, of putting my own selfish heart before any others. I knew better. I promised that I would not end up like my first mother, the mother who was here at the start of it all, the being who ruined my perception of life. Yet, here I was.

I spent my nights thinking long and hard about how I would break this terrible spell. I lay in the bed that I shared with my eternal life partner. A hundred years. A hundred years we had lived a loveless life. A hundred years of wishing that in the next life he would not return.

I listened to the door creak and his work boots hit the ground. I listened to his jacket hit the ground. I heard him walk to the door and listened some more as he leaned against it.

He looked over at me, but it was dark, so all he could see was a figure of a woman he had no clue had been with him for over a century. Sometimes he showed hints. He would know things about me that I hadn’t told him. He would react to me in a way of knowledge. He probably thought it was just love at first sight, but it was really that his spirit just knew mine, and his spirit was fighting to remember, fighting to show him that this was not where he belonged.

“Come lay by me,” I said in barely a whisper. A soft light came from the opening of the door, but he closed it, causing complete darkness to engulf the room. He slowly took off his clothes and then climbed into bed beside me.

“You smell nice,” he said, closing his eyes and resting his head on my chest. I waited until he was silently asleep to go through with my final plan.

I took the knife I had hidden inside my pillow, placed it in my left hand, and stabbed him directly in his neck, making sure to catch a vein. His eyes burst open, and his hands went to his neck as he eyes searched for signs of an intruder or a stranger in the dark. But the only person in the dark was me, and I was far from a stranger.

I quickly started stabbing him in the heart over and over, quick so that when he grabbed me, the life was already seventy-five percent out of his body. He held me in his tight grasp, begging me for an explanation, squeezing me to the point that I thought my skin would break off. As his fingers lost feeling, I turned the knife on myself.

Maybe if I killed the both of us, on the same day, then the feeling of hate would release the facade of love. Maybe now we would be free. I felt the tears in my eyes as I continually stabbed myself in the stomach.

All I wanted was his love, all I craved was his love, and because I had forced it, I was suffocating in it. In the fact that it was not true, in the fact that underneath it all his soul was fighting for freedom, in the fact that I really deserved more than him and I was so broken that I thought that I didn’t need it. I took one last look at the blood-stained sheets dripping with my blood. My eyes closed, and I thought of all the children we had in each life, sometimes four, sometimes two, sometimes none. I thought of how my mind and body wasn’t able to truly love, because I now knew that we were all just spirits having a human experience.

I took one last breath and looked over at him. Was it a feeling of love that was letting me go? Was it love entering my heart allowing me to be free?

*

“Your engagement ring is beautiful!” my coworker said, analyzing it. It was merely hours before my twenty-second birthday, and already life could not be better. I had met the love of my life, was moving into a new house, and was also two months into a pregnancy. Life was amazing, and I knew that it would only get better…

 


Xaviera Paige is a rising Junior at Alabama State University. Her focus on short story usually centers around speculative fiction, which is often based around events and/or the culture of Southern Louisiana, where her hometown of Carencro/Lafayette Louisiana is located.