Claim the Disappearing: 1
(I invite you to enjoy this free New Orleans novel, courtesy of the wonder that is the internet, unrolled a teensy bit at a time.)
The ancient Chartres decree that the Royal Dauphine drink Burgundy while seated on the Rampart until St. Claude rises from the dead.
I taught myself that ditty to remember which rickety street followed which in the maze that was the Bywater of New Orleans. I had no more sense of direction than an old fart wandering with hands outstretched as he relived a psychedelic flashback from his swinging Sixties. That is, none. So I created the rhyme, unaware that rhymes shouldn’t be created, much less repeated, in susceptible New Orleans, not if the author wanted to stay firmly planted in the world she started out in. Which is to say, it was ignorance, not malice, that brought me up short at the base of the stone castle, neck craned against the last slanting beams of sunlight as I struggled to decide if that was truly a man lounging on the rampart as he swigged from an upturned bottle of cheap red wine.
Lord, protect the ignorant, because the rest of the world sure as hell won’t.
I was not merely the creator of rhymes. I created my whole damn life, including my name—Etoile, which I thought sounded French and exotic, and even in my most woebegone state, I understood New Orleans respected the exotic. Of course, I didn’t understand the city respected only the authentic exotic and could distinguish between that and posers as naturally as hot air rising to a clear blue sky creates a breeze, a wind, a tearing hurricane. “Aurora Etoile,” I’d answer when pressed, and then add, “I go by my last name.” Good God, the pretense. Sometimes, looking back, I believe the Bywater chose me because the neighborhood was full up to its neck with the hoards of us, gagging on the conceit of those who invade in search of the cool but by their very presence evaporate whatever was therein worthy to begin with.
The man on the castle’s rampart was in clear danger of rolling off. The leaves of the giant maple growing aside the stone fluttered, exposing their silvery undersides. Caterpillars had woven webs in its branches, and for a moment, I thought the industrious larvae were determined to protect the drunk man by providing him with the proverbial cradle should he loll a bit too far. I was wrong. Nature doesn’t stick its neck out for us. Nor, do we for it. We both roll along following our own selfish desires (yes, nature is selfish—just ask the child wailing in front of her hurricaned house) and when things go wrong, we backpedal as fast as we can, making excuses of our good intents.
I intended to call out to the man, warn him that he was getting precariously close to the edge of his rampart.
But then St. Claude appeared, his pleated linen robe billowing against the orange clouds of the setting sun.
The Dauphine (because by then I was aware of what I had done) eased down his half-empty bottle of Bugundy, and we both stared at the Jesuit priest descending gently onto the wide Rampart. When his black silk slippers scraped the stone, his gaze traveled from the open-mouthed Dauphine to me. “Are you ready, Etoile?” he asked, his English tinged with a French-lilt but otherwise perfect. “The time has come to declare yourself. Are you in or out?”
I think I need to back up and tell you how I came to be in New Orleans at all. I gotta warn you, though, it means backing all the way up to the three women who gave me life and deeded me purpose and bestowed their ill-gotten gifts on me. Stolen, all of it. You should jump off this train right now if you want a story with a worthy narrator. I am unworthy at every turn.
You’ve been warned.