Claim the Disappearing: 3
(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. If you are just joining us, feel free to return to THE BEGINNING and work your way through.)
I feel bad about leaving the drunk Dauphine lolling dangerously on the rampart.
You know what a rampart is, right? The walking ledge that circles the highest part of a castle where the guards keep watch, searching the horizon for dust clouds that signal the enemy’s approach. Except this gray stone castle was only two stories high. The rampart jutted over the cracked sidewalk like a beetlebrowed bouncer on Bourbon Street. The Creole cottages on each side—one painted orange with scarlet shutters, the other a solid purple with black and white awnings—seemed to lean away from it, appalled.
The Dauphine stirred, and St. Claude, who had been staring at me as he awaited my answer to his invitation, turned his attention to the young man. The Dauphine had one leg slung over the parapet (you gotta look that one up yourself) and coughed, pitiful, as if he were on his way out of this world.
New Orleans did that to you. Made you drink more than you intended, eat more than your stomach cared for, feel sorry for yourself afterwards. Wherever you went, in the velvet napped bars or along the French Quarter sidewalks thick with tourists or just walking the streets dotted with orange cones to warn of moon-crater potholes, partiers swirled around you. The carousers sucked you in, like water molecules yanking on other water molecules, an inescapable attraction. You staggered against the pull, but if you hadn’t been in the city long enough to be inoculated against the false laissez le bon temps rouler ethos, you gave in. Water, drink. New Orleans.
The Dauphine’s closed eyelids fluttered. He was a good-looking man (is there any other kind in a story such as this?). His wavy black curls kissed the collar of his gold-laced cloak. He wore stockings. This whole thing could be a tableaux, the fever dream of someone who truly belonged in New Orleans, who eagerly spent untold hours sewing a thousand red beans onto their Mardi Gras costume or rigging up a bike-cart-Godzilla-basket to tote their groceries home from Rouses Market or simply walking down the street naked on stilts because, hey, it was New Orleans!
Except the castle hadn’t been on the sidewalk on my earlier walks. Never.
St. Claude sniffed, his gaze locked on the poor Dauphine. The once-dead-alive-again saint knitted his white, plucked eyebrows. Claude de la Colombiere. Writer, confessor, prisoner. Perhaps lover to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque, but historically the nun’s spiritual director who spent hours closeted with her in the bare wood sacristy—the same room where the priest donned—and removed—his scratchy linen vestments—knee to knee, hot exhalation mixing with hot confession.
The saint’s lace-trimmed robe caught the orange sun and glowed, aflame. He was resplendent. He sneered at the supine Dauphine.
With a groan, the Dauphine leaned over the rampart and spewed red vomit like blood gushing from a man knifed in the stomach. We can always feel others judging us.
“Hey!” I yelled at the saint, mad at him for bullying the poor Dauphine. “I’m in.”
“Very well.” He lifted his palms as if to raise every demon that had ever been imagined to inhabit the most libeled city in America. Instead, his own toes rose off the rampart.
The Dauphine sat up on one elbow, wiping his mouth. “Wait,” he croaked at me.
Too late. I was in. I mean literally in—inside the castle.
The darkened foyer stunk so badly I almost gagged—rat turds, wet mold, and what else was that? Glue? Or dough left in a bowl in the kitchen, slowly expiring in yeasty bubbles? As my eyes tried to adjust to the dark, the last ray of light I might ever see caught on a suit of armor and glanced me a blow. I stepped to the side for a better view.
Three staircases rose in front of me. One swept to the left, one to the right, and a final one straight up to a landing backed by a stained glass window. At the foot of each staircase stood my three ancestors.
I could have predicted this. I always knew one day I’d be forced to choose something bedsides a fancy fake name.