Something Like the Rain
I stood just inside the door of a daiquiri shop, deciphering graffiti that had been scratched into its glass pane with a blade. 2Hott. The acid green latex paint that had been used for the interior walls was peeling top to bottom, revealing behind it layers of old paint leading the way back to naked drywall. The light grew dim as I watched porch lights come on one by one across the street, grey clouds rolled south towards the river.
“What’s in the ‘Miz Peach’?” Elias asked, moving his weight back and forth to opposing feet, his hand on a laminated menu held with masking tape to the glass countertop before him.
The cashier looked up at a blank space on the wall behind him, reading off an invisible list of ingredients, “Peach, mango, strawberry, and a float of 151.” She counted out the flavors with her fingers.
“Hmm, okay, and what about the ‘Wet Wet’?”
“Peach, mango, strawberry, blue, coconut, and a float of 151.”
“That sounds good, get that one.” I offered loudly, trying to rush him.
“Of course it sounds good,” he barked back, “it has blue in it.”
“It’s the most popular.” A gesture of the cashier’s hand led our eyes to a pallid lump of a man sitting barely upright on the blown out cushion of a bar stool. He clutched the bar with one hand and raised his cup with the other, giving a nod, exposing a herd of skin tags that had been tucked away beneath his chin. Thick strands of blonde hair fell out from beneath his hat, growing darker with sweat, they stuck flat against the back of his neck and retreated down into the collar of his shirt. Elias look directly at the man, then quickly snapped his head back to the cashier.
“I think that will be just fine, thank you.”
The girl left the register with an empty Styrofoam cup and began to walk down the row of whirring daiquiri machines. She pulled on handles affixed below different spinning paddles and let out layers color one inch at a time. She dipped her hand into a nearly empty jar of maraschino cherries, red syrup dripped from her splayed fingers as she dropped a single cherry onto the top layer of slush. Elias took crumpled dollar bills from his pocket and pressed them onto the counter, flattening them for the cashier as she returned to the register with a bottle of copper colored liquor, she poured it over his mix of off white and blue ice, cherry dye bleeding out onto the surface and dissolving into the rum as the rest of the cup filled.
“Going to the parade?” she asked as she worked her French tip nails around the plastic lid, fastening it tightly to the rim of the cup. Sugar and alcohol pushed itself up through the cross-shaped hole. She wiped away the spill with her finger and handed Elias a straw.
“If it doesn’t end up raining,” I said, “but it looks like it’s about to.”
“We’re going.” Elias said, glaring back at me from the register, “rain or shine.”
I laughed as he turned towards me in his freshly cut jean shorts, bleached white and paired with faux leather black combat boots, altered remnants from Mardi Gras the previous year.
“I didn’t put this shit on for nothing.” He gestured with his cup at his cutoffs, which were short enough to make the fabric of his front pockets hang below their tattered hems.
“You look like Britney Spears.”
“Thank you.” Elias gave a bow.
“No, I mean like scary Britney Spears, barefoot at the gas station with a frappucino and a baby Britney Spears.”
“You’re a bitch, you know that?”
The restaurant next door was open and the smell of hot grease hit us as we stepped out onto the sidewalk. Hand-painted signs bolted into hot pink plaster walls advertised fried oysters and roast beef debris. My eyes stung as old bay fumes and boil steam rose from the open lid of an aluminum pot a man stirred on the sidewalk. With a wooden hook the length of a baseball bat he latched onto a handled mesh basket and raised it to the rim of the pot. Teeming with hundreds of struggling little brown and purple crawfish, I watched him lower it into the water. I always expect them to scream, like miniature lobsters, but they never do.
“Maybe we should eat first.” I looked beyond the basket towards the display case and examined biscuit sandwiches half-wrapped in white wax paper, craggy sausage patties sweating under a heat lamp.
“Ugh, not here, I’m not trying to shit my cutoffs before the parade starts.”
Entire rows of houses that were normally vibrant and colorful became pale and washed out against the grey sky. Our reflections disappeared from windows behind shutters as people prepared for the rain. I scraped the ice at the bottom of my cup and slurped the last mouthful through my straw, then stopped, pressing my tongue hard against the roof of my mouth and shutting my eyes tightly, trying to force the cold back down my throat and into my stomach. “Shit.”
Elias picked up a dead palm frond that had fallen from one of the trees lining the street and tore a single thin leaf from its stalk. “We used to make these into little crosses every year the Sunday before Easter, you can fold them up like origami, but you have to do it while they’re still green, otherwise they get brittle and break into pieces.” He bent the long strip back and forth a few different ways, looking at it from different angles, before giving up and dropping it back onto the ground. “Whatever, I don’t have time to figure it out, we gotta go by the convenience store to get champagne before the parade starts. Text Jan and tell her to meet us outside The Golden Lantern.” We ducked below dripping window units and went down an alley past the floats and carriages waiting in line for the parade to start, looking away so as not to spoil the surprise.
By noon, the parade started and it almost looked as though night was falling. The rain had begun but only so lightly as to add a slight weight to our clothing. I didn’t feel it land but it was present in the dampness between the pads of my fingers. Tiny clear beads were forming in Jan’s eyebrows as she approached through the drizzle; she poured sparkling wine into her half-empty bottle of Minute Maid on the corner of Royal and Barracks.
“Beads.” she called out unenthusiastically as a horse-drawn carriage full of drag queens passed.
“You have to at least look at them, Jan.” I took her drink and pointed to the floats rolling down the cobblestones, “They aren’t going to throw you anything if you’re screaming into your orange juice.”
“Whatever, y’all are just getting stuff thrown to you because you’re boys, these queens have no love for a bald-faced dyke like me.” Just as the words came out of her mouth a plush rose hit Jan in the tits and bounced off of her towards the ground. She hurled her arms forward and latched onto it just before it fell into a puddle of beer draining down a network of cracks leading into a gutter. “Yes!” she called out triumphantly, “It never touched the ground, it counts!” Jan raised the rose skyward from its fleeced foot long stem and looked back at the man in drag, seven feet tall in heels, wrinkles spackled with foundation and blush the color of a burning house. She blew Jan a kiss and waved a gloved hand in our direction before disappearing into a port-o-potty being pulled behind a minivan. She seemed stately, royal even.
“See,” Elias said, “Easter is fun for everyone.”
The blue lights of police cars followed the last float down Royal Street towards St. Ann, signaling the end of the parade. As we walked further into the French Quarter the sounds of laughter and shouting echoed down the narrow street and from behind the police cars, a second parade had begun. Camouflaged by the blinding neon that hung from storefronts, the signs of protestors began to make their way down the same path the parade floats had just taken. I began to make out the black letters of their slogans, things like AIDS CURES FAGS and HOMO SEX IS SIN. No one seemed shocked. The signs, and the people who carried them, had become a sort of tradition of their own.
A crowd formed at an intersection a block away, hordes of gay men and women began to move into the path of the protesters, laughing and dancing with one another to the music playing from the open doors of the club on the corner. A middle-aged troll of a woman lead the group behind her with a sign that said NO TEARS FOR QUEERS, the background fading from red to yellow to blue. She held it high above her head, the same way guides ushered tourists through the French Quarter with brochures.
“Oh fun,” Elias said, “a little Easter gay bashing.” We stood still and watched the woman approach a group of dancers, lithe men wearing low-cut white briefs with powder puff cotton tails sewn on the backs and pastel bow ties. Pink and white rabbit ears were held in place with elastic cords wrapped under their chins like party hats. They bobbed their heads and bunny hopped after one another. As the rain picked up the crowd parted down the middle, stepping up onto curbs and moving for cover beneath wrought iron balconies. We stood outside the gay bars on St. Ann unbothered by the line of protestors trudging forward through the storm. It began to pour; their signs dripped and shook violently in the wind. The poster board of the first woman’s sign came loose from its tacks and fell from the wooden stake she held. Stumbling through a puddle in an attempt to retrieve it, she moved too far ahead of her group and stopped. Temporarily alone, eyes frozen ahead of her, she began marching in place until the rest of the congregation caught up with her. She wiped the wet hair out of her face and took half her make-up with it, leaving her looking as though she had been dragged from a mall makeover before it could be finished. They marched on towards the end of the street.
They passed everyone without incident, their chants and jeers tangled and lost in the noise of the crowd until we could no longer hear them at all, the accumulation of our singing and laughter drowned out their voices so entirely that they all just sounded like ambient noise in the distance, something in the background, something like the rain.
When the storm passed we watched the crowd grow thin from a deserted stretch of bar. I tried to imagine what the woman at the front of the protest would be doing with the rest of her holiday. She was probably already on her way home to feed her cats, maybe an iguana, then while microwaving a tv dinner, she might stand alone in her kitchen, watching her reflection move in the window above the sink, rubbing a damp washcloth into the fold of her eyelids down to the corners of her mouth, her face red and sore from the rough terry cloth. I wondered what she thought about in those solitary moments spent each night before saying her prayers and falling asleep in her twin bed, staring up at her massive wall of decorative Hobby Lobby crucifixes, breathing quietly though lungs sore from screaming.
The week before, she could have been leading a group of children at her church, going over the meaning of Palm Sunday. I pictured her quietly talking to a shy little boy, a smile on her face, affectionately showing him how to fold his long green palm leaf into the shape of a cross, her hands working gently over his, the warmth between them might make her feel loved. I wondered if she might consider that the little boy could one day forget that feeling, forget her, that he might forget the meaning behind the palm fronds; he might forget the ways they fold. I wondered if she struggled to connect that shy little boy to some of the young men that she had spent the day condemning to hell, I wondered if she connected them at all.
Did she have friends? A boyfriend? I pictured her analyzing her reflection, twisting and turning in the mirror, checking for blemishes, picking out different outfits she thought would be complimentary to the make-up she had worked so hard to perfect. Had she done it for someone specific? Did she worry about not being pretty enough? Did she worry about not being loved? Was she lonely? Thinking about how disappointed she looked as we all ignored her, her Tammy Faye Baker mascara spilling down her face like India ink, I wondered if she went home feeling accomplished or defeated. I almost started to feel sorry for her, but that woman’s personal fulfillment, or lack thereof, was her own cross to bear.
We laughed to ourselves at a group of men who had waltzed through the French doors of the bar soaked to the bone. They wore elaborate handmade Easter hats adorned with fake birds and tulle the color of different marshmallow Peeps. They pressed together closely and drunkenly repeated the same corny joke, announcing it to the remaining partygoers until everyone present had heard them.
“He is risen!” One man shouted while another reached over to pull back the elastic of a resting go-go dancer’s underwear, they paused for effect, “He is risen indeed!”
Alex Ebel studies nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. He work has been previously published (or is forthcoming) in places like Hello Mr, The Rumpus, and Punchnel’s. Follow him online @alexsebel.