Whit – Chill (excerpt 1)

Whit Laumond held the door open for each of her four children. Those inside the neighborhood cafe and nearest the door sat and stood with cups of coffee warming their hands.

The cafe was full.

The chill of the morning shot through the door as if that air knew seconds provided the chance to curse the warmth inside. The people understood and even sympathized with the young woman holding the door open, but they mostly wished she’d hurry all them kids of her’s along and shut the damn door.

“Close the door,” a man said. He said it loud. Everyone heard. Whit ushered her kids in just the same.

In the cafe there were small round tables and even more small chairs and a few more people than chairs. Those who stood mimicked those who sat.

The floor added to the roasted aroma an undertone of settled wood and verbally protested each foot on its planks. The windows stretched off the irritable floor to touch the metal ceiling tiles and lined the wall like crooked pictures. Fragments of Mahogany mended the broken pieces of the building together like strong old bones. Whit noticed the layers of old but also that the people trusted the structure of this place. She trusted them. She used to be one of them–a child of the south and, specifically, of the beloved New Orleans.

Inside these walls, it was warm like spring and indeed bloomed beautiful things. Even so, Whit could feel a draft and pulled her coat tight.

GOUTER – Bare Fruits (Excerpt 2)

“Well, the chef had a catering and food truck business ‘in town’ not too long ago. And his ‘kitchen help’ were kids who needed a second chance. Some came from juvie centers, I hear–you know how talk can be. And other kids from who knows where. From what I gather, this was the chef’s Triumph Kitchen. But he needed more stability than what the catering industry offered for those kids.”

The Hubbs paused. And looked down at his drink.

The cicadas faded. The wine leveled. And the dying sun buried it’s head in the grave of dusk.

Conversations like this, with kids and poor, but especially the two together, tend to slice the heart and then cut the throat. You get caught between love for human decency and the back door life filling in around it like a nest of hornets. You don’t know where those demonic buggers are hiding, even in your own damn yard, until one step takes you too close into their world. By then you’ve gotten stung. More than once. In one instance you’re gazing into the sunset of life and the next you’re swinging arms in battle. I admire the guy. But it’s understandably hard that I should have to like him for such a thing at all.

The Hubbs and I continue our conversation like the kids and dinner, bath and bed could take care of itself. It can’t. But that’s a lie we hold to a promise. Continuously. And hopeful.

“Well, aren’t you gonna tell me the name of this “new place on Government?” I asked.

“The name is kind of odd even for you Lou’siana folks. It’s one of those words that doesn’t look at all like it sounds. Y’all do that down here. I know. But this one is hard. Even for Lou’siana.”

“What’s the name of the damn restaurant?”

“Gouter. Like Goo-Tay.”

“That’s french, babe. Ain’t nothin’ uncanny, or too Lou’sianan about it. Straight french. And pretty smart. I like it.”

“You think people will get it?”

“No. But they’ll get the food if it’s good like you say. And then they’ll learn the name well enough. Lou’sianans aren’t big on particulars. Especially names. Did I ever tell you about my friend, Rooster? His name was Chris too. Only I never knew until we graduated. The announcer called his name for the diploma, ‘Christopher Duplichan.’ That was the first and the last I ever heard his real name. Even so, that man will always be Rooster–to me and everybody else in that small town.”

“Babe, get this, the chef has like eight–er wait–six kids of his own.”

“So he adopted some of these kids he’s trained?” I ask.

“No. That’s his kids. Little ones too. He and his wife together. Big-time family kind of man from what I hear.”

Large families aren’t a surprising point of conversation down here. Sometimes the Hubbs forgets this. He’s Texan, a different kind of south. And though the bottom boot of Lou’siana isn’t counted among the bible belt parts of the deep, that’d be about 110 miles north of here near Shreveport, we do like our families rather large. If we don’t have the babies ourselves, we gather up our aunts and uncles, all the first through damn near sixth cousins, and the adopted friends of the family into one big plot of land. We call them a village. I grew up near one of those things. Good people. But I’ll never forget the day I discovered that every person I knew in that village was kin folk to one another. That would be a whole story worth telling. Not now.

I smile and stand. It’s time to go inside and manage our kids and the end of the day things that define the limits of tired in the family home. But before we walk into the chaos of our neglect, I hear the Hubbs tell me we have a seat at Chef Chris’s Table for dinner “a few nights from now.”

There’d be eight of us. Privately served by the chef. Ten or so courses.

“If husbands truly knew the gift of a dinner and a night out to the mother’s of babes, there’d always be room for dessert even after ten courses,” I tell him.

I could feel the Hubbs warm at my words. I rested my hand on his shoulder. He faced the night. I shifted inside. Our sacred shared world made room for duty. The kids needed us.

Hearing his story, I figured the chef whose table I’d soon enjoy a seat at understood the gift of his tables and food and that place perfectly. I trusted the course spent under his care would bear fruit. Ripe. Succulent. Fruit.

Lou’siana Flood – Answer That

My phone rang. I looked down at it but didn’t budge. The morning had Matt and I moving slow. We sat on the front end of our garage and watched the sun struggle against the low fog of blue clouds that hung at the horizon. The air folded in on itself like a dense wet blanket. I had a hard time breathing. Nine days of rain. The waters took things and homes. And lives.

I sipped the coffee he made us and watched the sky but did not hear my children as they played, or the birds as they sang, and certainly not the phone. My eyes watched but everything else played numb.

I studied the sky. I prayed, today at least, it wouldn’t rain. Even that small whimper of my heart felt a little hopeless. It would rain. I knew it would. If I believed in the gods of old, I’d say with certainty Pisces made good on a claim to the bottom boot of home sweet Lou’siana. But I don’t believe in such things, at least, not publicly.

“Answer that,” Matt said, “It could be FEMA or the adjusters.” I answered my phone but the man’s voice on the other end didn’t begin with “mrs. wallace” or “may I speak with.” Instead, the voice joyfully thanked the good Lord above that he got through to me. Cell service suffered these days. Matt made talk of getting high-powered walkie-talkies. I wished this was one of his end-of-world jokes.

“Hey, Alyssa!” the caller said,”I’m so glad I got you. Look, I had to call. Have you been taking pictures? I mean. I just got down here to help and this story isn’t being told. You need to let people know what you’re seeing. You have a gift. We need it.”

At some point in this short sentence, my legs lifted me off the ground and took me a few steps away from our garage. My eyes still glued to the horizon. Pale. And blue.

“I’ve not taken pictures,” I said. I lied. “My hands have pulled boards, walls, floor, belongings and God knows what else from Matt’s parents home. They’ve not had time to be on a camera.”

The truth. I did all those things I said. I’ve pulled boards, walls and floors and belongings out of homes, but I’ve done it with a camera tied around my neck. I pray the camera isn’t ruined. There are pictures.