Monday, January 3, 2011

Crawfish in a Hurricane

This is the first chapter in a book that I don't believe will ever be published. BUT! If after reading this chapter, anyone posts that they would like to see more, then I will continue to add chapter after chapter until the entire book is posted. Just one reader...

Chapter 1

The cremation casket was a Shaker. It was plain, ash brown with an ivory crepe interior and the least expensive Milt could find before taking his last breath. Carol Benoit could not deny her dying husband’s last cheapskate wish. Milt refused to pay over a grand for something they were going to incinerate. None of the mourners would ever see the inside anyway because Milt had requested that his coffin remained closed until they burned him into ash and his bones crushed to dust. Only his immediate family could take a morbid peek if they so chose. He had expressed that his granddaughter Phoenix just might.

There would be no tomb above ground as the more affluent New Orleans deceased were usually laid to rest. Being buried in this city wasn’t an option, either, as seeing loved ones eventually rise from the saturated ground wasn’t very appealing. To Milt, there was no closure in remaining above the ground. Katrina had been a testament to that as he saw dead bodies floating away from their tombs on the news.

His son Jason had chosen a suitable picture from Milt’s youth to blow up and display on an easel. It was hard to uncover a snapshot where he actually wore a smile, but Jason settled on a photo taken when Milt was 55 years old and had made a hole in one on a par-three at City Park. He still had hair, thin as it was, and blonde as the day he was born. No one had noticed the transition to baldness, or at least they never spoke of it.

Jason and Beth had four children; Vail was the oldest at twenty-five, London was twenty-three, their only daughter Phoenix was eighteen and Rome was sixteen. Each of them could not be more different.

Phoenix had isolated herself, sitting on a metal foldout chair, away from consolers. The cool steel felt good against her calves. Her idea of dressing appropriately fell into the realm of less Goth make-up and a paisley sundress that she hated having to buy for the occasion. She felt uncomfortable and a bit sexy at the same time.

Every moment between Phoenix’s thoughts came a staggering, slow motion encore of the pillow she had placed over Milt’s face as he lay dying of prostate cancer in the hospital room. Her muscles tensed as if she was still pushing it, applying the pressure, taking Milt’s last breath in payment for all he took from her. The veins in his hands had bulged with struggle within the bed’s restraining straps. She let herself breathe and relaxed on the chilly metal chair, wondering who was watching her. Someone was always watching her.

The room itself made Phoenix uneasy. It appeared as if it had been decorated for a movie set. Cheap oil paintings of old men hung between windows with curtains of questionable flowered patterns. Pedestals of Wal-Mart vases held plastic flowers with linen petals. Standing in small huddles were a few mourners with suits or nice dresses and she knew they were the relatives with the good jobs. For the most part, for funerals and weddings, their people wore collared shirts, jeans and their dressy gym shoes, or at best slacks and button down dress shirts.

She tried to follow London with her eyes, as he looked to be avoiding everyone. Perhaps if he could stay on the move, he wouldn’t have to speak. She knew the interaction was killing him. She was reminded of London’s hidden handsomeness, as he was dressed in a pressed Polo shirt with his favorite blue silk tie.

London’s new cop-chick attempted to hang on his arm from time to time. “Jesus, let him go. You’re not on a date,” she whispered. She was pretty, though, but all wrong. No one was ever right for him, but isolation was his choice. London seemed to want to drive them away, one by one. Phoenix knew that her brother’s problem stemmed from witnessing his first girlfriend Nicole’s mysterious and blood-riddled death when he was thirteen years old. It had destroyed his teen years and now in turn, was spilling into his adulthood. No one ever got close to London again during those years; no one except Phoenix.

Eve the cop was a strong woman, it seemed to Phoenix. Eve looked like she knew what she wanted and London would let her be in command for a little while, but it would end the same. For one, she was too old. London was twenty-three and she had to be thirty, at least. Eve clung to him unnaturally, sizing people up as they approached as if she was a bouncer. Could they have had sex already? No, she would have sensed the change.

There was something odd about Eve and Phoenix knew odd. She was married to odd. Phoenix watched Eve and London whisper in each other’s ear and then they agreed to something. After that, the cop-chick left the premises. She must have realized that he couldn’t give her his undivided attention.

Over the next ten minutes, London had glanced at Phoenix once and a while, as if he was going to eventually come over to keep her company, but for some reason he kept circling. She thought he looked guilty, apologizing to the distant relatives who stopped to give him a quick hug or handshake. And her disdain deepened for those relatives not spending much time with her, although she couldn't condemn them, as she had always been the scariest freak in the bloodline.
You make your own environment, then bitch when you have to live in it, right?

The youngest sibling, Rome, wasn’t in attendance. He was sixteen and mildly retarded, yet had movie star good looks. Most teenage girls found themselves attracted to him at first – until they spoke to him. There had been a discussion with Elaine, Rome’s therapist and teacher on whether he could handle his Paw Paw’s funeral. Phoenix guessed they had decided not. She pictured Rome sitting next to pint-sized Elaine on the new two thousand dollar sectional couch as she tried to explain death with her Ken doll.

Poor Rome, Phoenix thought, amazed she was entertaining the foreign concept of sympathy. At least he would be able to say hi to his relatives as they woofed down food back at the house after the service. The long-lost aunts, uncles and cousins will be able to see how a family can remain stagnant their whole lives even while their surroundings constantly changed. They’ll get to see how old, used furniture bought after Katrina can look next to brand new luxurious purchases because Mommy can’t handle money. Oh, but Daddy could replace his boat at the Lakefront Marina, complete with wheelchair accommodations.

Still bored, Phoenix picked Mom and Dad out of the crowd. Beth and Jason Benoit have been married for twenty-seven years and they couldn’t look more like strangers. Her Dad was the picture perfect mourner; sad and attentive, giving his I’ll be okay smile when appropriate. Being paralyzed and wheelchair bound since Katrina, he spent most of his moments with his close friend Detective Shanahan or his mother, Carol, just like a good son should.

Phoenix made slits with her eyes, peering though her lashes as if they were bushes in a jungle and she was stalking her prey. She began a little game of predicting her mother’s movements around the room. Beth fixed her hair when Phoenix thought she would. She showed off her only pair of diamond earrings to some blue-hairs that should be shopping for coffins themselves - another true physic prediction. Okay, Phoenix thought, lift up your bra when no one’s looking, then go chat with the gross funeral director Mr. Nolan, who had been giving her special attention all day. Done and done.

A commotion caught Phoenix’s attention from across the way as a group near the entrance suddenly parted. Like Venus in a clamshell, Christine Peralta, Milt’s nurse of the past three months, had just made an appearance, wearing her dress scrubs no less, and making a direct path to her father, Jason.

She was a striking woman, having a face that could appear in a Noxzema commercial. How does anyone get skin so perfect? Phoenix could see most of the males trying to get a discreet peek past their wives at Miss Voluptuous and once again, she felt for Rome not being here to see the woman with whom breasts he had fallen in love.

But, why would she show up? Maybe she went to all her patient’s funerals. She could be the grim reaper in disguise. Death might be that beautiful. Instead of wearing a dark robe with a sickle in hand, it’s a set of scrubs and surgical gloves, gliding in as if on a conveyor belt to take her place behind the coffin.

Still, it was nice of her to hug her Dad. She just may be a terribly compassionate person. The kind of woman her dad wished his daughter was. Phoenix hated her, wanted to be her and wanted to kiss her all at the same time. She closed her eyes. Stop, she thought. Just stop it. You got what you wanted, didn’t you?

Phoenix scanned for London once again, but spotted the oldest brother, Vail, instead. His perspiration was thick as he crept up to her. “How are you doing, ‘Nix? You’re not going to be sick?” Vail questioned. The buttons on his dark striped shirt looked as though they were going to pop off under the strain of his fat. It was time for him to add another “X” onto the size of his wardrobe.

“I’m alright.” She didn’t believe big brother was actually concerned. The last time they had any meaningful exchange was when he had asked Phoenix to convince her best friend Angie to be in his homemade porno. Ever since he had strong-armed himself into owning an adult bookstore, his next logical step was to create a movie company and become a porn star. She had ranted about what a pervert he was and then stopped speaking to him altogether other than random small talk in front of her family.

Vail nodded, then looked around and spied Christine by their Dad. “Okay, let me know if I can do anything for you. Say hi to Angie for me, okay? Say hi to Angie.”

She parted the bangs away from her eyes with her middle finger as Vail waddled into the mix. What was it about death that made people marshmallows? Under any other circumstances, Vail the smut peddler wouldn’t have even said hi. Was it the fact that she had witnessed death? Did that make her more interesting or popular? Maybe Vail knew what she had done. Her stomach rumbled, not having eaten all day, but that was a constant. She knew there was a big difference in being a thin rebel and a fat rebel. The latter was just pathetic.

“Hey, ‘Nix.” London rubbed her shoulder and finally sat down beside her. “You okay?”

Her face didn’t flinch, but inside she was ecstatic that London had showed. “I’m anticipating nightmares that I’ll wake up screaming from every night for the rest of my life.”

He let that statement settle as he looked around at the milling waistbands, plump and skinny, shuffling back and forth, sitting and standing, trying to keep busy until they could get to the food buffet at their house.

“Eve wanted to come by the house later, but I convinced her that I was going to be busy with family.”

“Eve’s hanging in there, eh?”

“It’s hard to say no to her.”

“How does she like the periods of long silence?”

“Oh, she does most of the talking, which is perfect. I just have to say yes now and then.”

“It’ll be harder to say yes when you’re resenting her for it.”

“Get out of my head.”

“I wish I could get out of mine.”

“At least you fought the urge to kill him,” London proclaimed seriously. “I’m sorry you had to be the only one in the room when he died, but, honestly, we all know he was evil.”

“I guess.” Phoenix was close to tears and that pissed her off.

“You look good. I’m glad you didn’t wear your black lipstick although here, it might be appropriate.”

Phoenix giggled, then sniffed when she felt a drop coming from her nostril. She quickly wiped it away, “I want to know you’re okay, London. This isn’t anything like that day at the canal with Nicole. I don’t want this to bring back those feelings you had at her funeral. You know what I mean.”

“This funeral is a breeze compared to confusion I went through with Nicole’s. I dream about her sometimes. Everything’s always washed in her blood and I can’t make out who killed her…if I killed her.”

“I know it drives you crazy that you can’t remember that fucked up week, but I don’t know if you should remember. What if it’s that knowledge that sends you over the edge?”

“All I know is one day we’re riding our bikes and the next day, I’m at her funeral. I have a dream where Nicole’s alive and we’re playing in the lot. Then she rides off alone and I’m stuck in a ditch so I can’t follow her and she leaves with saying goodbye. Then, I turn into a crawfish and there’s crawfish all around my feet, except y'all are the crawfish.”

“Even Vail?”

“Yeah, he’s a fat crawfish. And y'all are shooting into your little crawfish holes because you know a hurricane’s coming. Then a hurricane does come and I’m immobile. I want to curl my crawfish tail and shoot into the mud hole with you guys, but I can’t. I don’t know what to make of it.”

“Weird. Now I'm hungry for crawfish." She smiled with sincerity. "Look, something horrible happened to Nicole. People do terrible things and your brain is wired to protect itself. The electrical impulses up there are being rerouted around the memory of Nicole’s death. You’re not ready to remember that evil. We see other evils every day. Take Vail, well, he’s just sinister. Paw Paw was practically the devil. And seeing Paw Paw actually die, I’m going to be having my own bad dreams for a while.”

“I know Dad wants you to talk to Elaine about that, but even though I don’t have your genius IQ, you can talk to me about it - anytime.”

She put her hand in his as she leaned on his shoulder. She didn’t want to talk anymore, but she didn’t want him to leave, either.

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