April 9th. My first real bike ride to the french quarter with my new bike and we went all the way across the bridge to sit on the levee in the ninth ward. I rode with Braden and Erik and we passed graffiti that said
I LOVE YOU
YOU ARE EVERYTHING GOOD
IN THE WORLD
spray-painted on the side of an old brick building. They ride faster than me and I yelled it at them, reaching my hands forward over my handlebars. At the levee Erik read poetry from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf. On Esplanade we sat outside a convenience store and ate a Hubig's, drank beer and coconut juice, orange soda.
At the river there was one of the wide, lit-up boats with a red paddlewheel, and the music was jazz projected all the way across the Mississippi river water to where we sat on the rocks. I stepped from rock to rock, the wind blowing back my skirt and hair. The wind was warm, like an embrace.
Outside the convenience store two people were riding a tandem bicycle built to look like a banana and an old woman muttered "BYWATER KIDS" as she passed. When the pie was through we walked down to Washington Square. I made Erik hold my beer so I could go play on the swing set. Eventually he drank it. A little girl came to me and told me she was three. "Do you want my swing?" I asked her and she said yes so I gave it to her, hoisted her into that lopsided duct-taped piece of plastic held together with rusty chain, and pushed her. On Frenchman they were filming a movie.
Riding down St. Claude through the eighth ward everything smelled like fried food and that scent of summer. When my tires went over the fine metal mesh of the St. Claude bridge, I could see the water below. The lights began to blink and after we had passed they rose the bridge so a boat could pass through the space where only moments earlier our bicycles were, our bodies were. When I bought whiskey the woman at the counter asked me how I was feeling, smiled, told me to have a nice night. I did. The wind at the levee alternated warm and cold, leaving ripples of goosebumps across my damp, sticky skin. The lights of the business district on the water were beautiful and the riverboat passed slowly by, a blur of light in my camera across all that dark water.
At the bike help desk we'd made a run for free food on the LBC quad, spooning the thick chocolate-chip-flavored-ice-cream into our mouths. I recognized the woman who fed me.
At the levee Erik offered me sips of whiskey, a pint of Jim Beam from a glass bottle. He held still while I photographed him.
I do not know about bicycles but I held parts while Phill worked, wiped bike grease on my green skirt.
In the humidity my hair escaped in small, curly tendrils that cling everfine to the curved skin on my neck.
On the way back down St. Claude we stopped at Hank's, got four pieces of fried catfish, a peach pie, and an orange for four dollars and forty four cents, and ate on the stoop outside. I screamed when a cockroach crawled across my lap and Erik laughed at me. I ate the fish standing up, and it was warm and peppery on the inside of my mouth.
The light slipped behind the horizon.
On the back streets we rode fast, delighting in the feeling of wind across our shoulders.
When we stopped for coffee it was Erik's turn to recognize the woman who fed us. She gave us a cappuccino at a corner cafe in the Marigny and I ate the foam off the top with a spoon. The last time I was at this cafe was with JR, in his blue button-down and mirrored aviators, in the very miserable days when I was still in love. I did not recognize it until I was sitting at the same table, the same chair I was in one year ago. I am not her now.
In the French Quarter at night the sky is never dark, only the deep shade of navy they call "cerulean" in clothing magazines.
At Hank's on St. Claude a man came over to tell us stories about the country club, "bathing suits optional", and asked for a hook of Jim Beam. We gave it to him.
On the walls of the coffee shop the palm fronds looked like the legs of millipedes creeping across the gray siding.
At the levee when I took photographs only the sky is visible, all the rocks a line of blackness spreading diagonally through the frame. "This is the Ninth Ward," Erik said. "These are the levees that failed." Two young boys passed me, both on bicycles.
At the coffee shop we took the table without the umbrella and someone had left four brown cigarettes lying on the mesh-metal table. I put one in my purse, for luck, and Erik smoked one. There were fleur-de-lis spray painted on the trashcans. I skipped lunch and went to work instead.
This morning an anonymous person sent me flowers, to my work, and I engaged all my friends trying to figure out who it could be. I couldn't bike them home and left them, in water, in the bike shed. They were purple and white and wonderful. "Why? Because you're like a parfait: beautiful on many levels and everyone loves you," the typed card said. It was signed "Love," but the name was cut off.
At the river I could see stars, the old moon lying in the new moon's arms. "Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts," I said, eating catfish on the stoop of an abandoned house.
Outside the R-Bar, a man named Josh told me: "My sister's getting married tomorrow."
Women were drunkenly singing on Royal Street: "YOU LOVE US," they shouted. I do.
Three of the boys who have been pursuing me examined the card and the flowers, but none confessed. I received no phone calls or text messages until all the light had gone away.
Biking home the air was cool and Baronne was dark and soft. The wind pulled me back on my bicycle, warm and insistent, as if it were saying SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN. "It's okay, I know, I understand," I shouted to it. We took the cigarettes home, stuffed leftover bread into our mouths. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I am grateful for this day.