Art by Bixby Boss
The caterpillar slinks across the clothesline, only hesitant at the pins holding up the laundry. The spider piddles beneath the mattress, a listless warden of the pallet kennel. Its legs bristle against my breath as I search for something easily replaced with a phone call and minimal investment. I’m pretty sure I can smell it, the spider. Or its domain must be full of its scent, as there’s not much else it leaves, save webs catching buffeted cigarette ash. I saw the caterpillar copulating with a wayward pen cap the other day. Sooted fuzzy tiger. The oakbourne type that matures to ruddiness, that gushes when stomped, and stings between underclothes and skin. It humps all it treks. I don’t think the spider moves much. It likes the way my mattress slumps and creaks when I’m bedridden. I’m not sick. There’s just no peripheral public to join in my cackling.
I walk the St. Roch neutral ground and it’s all drunks and dogs. The Tavern’s closed, so the regulars park themselves on the stone benches nearby. The ones who don’t know any better than to say “New Marigny” seem to believe they’re excused for the uncramped wind. All the empty lots and secluded parks I blow smoke in feel unattractive. Vacuous. Without the weight of tar or the occasional poignant mumble, soon forgotten. I don’t remember where my bike is. Or I doubt I brought it back from my last outing. It seems logical. Loitering feels more delinquent now. Wandering self-indulgent without chance for encounter. Canine companion a passport. I want to feel naked. I want to wag my tongue. I want to feel the deference of inquisitive looks.
On the other side of St. Claude I spot a kid, white gel pen sheathed in his palm. I only say kid due to posture, which I project as adolescent. A cigarette languishes in the other hand. I instinctively look at the porch of the apartment behind the pottery studio, but no one is there. I notice the kid wags his head in search of habitual socialization as well, though with different phantom correspondents. He doesn’t seem nervous. Nor giddy. Rather seems whistling, though no tune is jettisoned from his lips. That absent-minded convivial whistling, ever at the edge of self-conscious arrest, engenders my fixation. I am obedient enough to my impulses not to need a leash. I recognize my cue to heel, and propel myself forward, but remain in the bleary periphery, a passive participant. It’s both socially and legally suggested to keep ten feet away anyways.
My first nonchalance is demonstrated as he and I cut up Franklin back towards St. Claude. I stoop and feign forlorn, kennelless. He’s made no quick tags in the interim. The kid’s stride is blithe, yet precise, without perking at prime candidates, unsullied by rival signatures. He stops at a boarded up shop, We ♥ You NOLA painted on the resignation. In the middle of the red heart, he frolics with the pen, making sure to lay claim to the whole symbol. Someone waiting for the bus peers around the corner to watch, smoking a cigarette. The kid notices and hurries his pace, more from excitement than fear of repercussions. He then looks in my direction and I busy myself with contemplating my hands. I hope he doesn’t notice me, as it defeats the purpose. Performance for another is much more revealing than when you’re considered a part of the audience. When I look up, the kid is backing up towards me as if ice skating, gesturing a clutching invitation at the sentinel as they engage in their own performance of hospitality. I now notice the kid’s dark blue faux-denim shorts are smeared with what looks like chalk. The cigarette in his left hand has caramelized the filter. The abandoned building across the street has been cracked again, tatters of soggy upholstery and tumbled empty bottles spilling over the washed up board as it bends from the weight of spray paint. I never notice the mural next to it. When the kid gets to the corner of N. Rampart I get up and make a note to return to the ♥.
He jaunts. My back is stiff. I now pass cats and the occasional vexed look. My neck feels hot when the kid rubs his, probably addressing the resurgent grime of humid spring. Our steps mingle in a cancelling clop as I murmur about my supplication to another form of idleness, one without the spectacle of sunrise, surely followed by a doomed attempt at redemption. Sky like ice sheets of exhaust. Afternoon an interpolation therein.
On Dauphine in the Bywater, the kid chooses a hurricane shutter on a corner cottage. I can’t tell if the choice is premeditated or not, as once again, he seems more occupied with the expected acknowledgements of public life than seeking out prime real estate. As he approaches, he seems increasingly restless, pulling on his tight striped shirt probably pulled from the discount rack at Clearview. As he writes, he seems to be more concerned with peering between the slats than the arc of his letters, repeatedly lifting himself by finger grip, suspending his hasty scribble despite its nearing culmination. He does not assess a passing pedestrian, coming off more as casing than leaving his litany. A meerkat periscoping over the savannah, stripes and all. Jitter, jitter, jitter, flittering over an apparent vacancy. His weight amputates a slat and he takes off running. I follow, picking up the limb in pursuit. I can’t make out the script. It is sporadic, without flow or pacing, though hinting at a winding style. All I read is longing.
I follow him to Vaughn’s where he takes repose on one of the stumps. Three neighborhood kids smoke a blunt on the long bench that follows the Dauphine side of the exterior, seemingly relishing in whatever adventure they’re planning for the day. The naval base feels like an erupted asylum, unmanned and only occupied by those too used to the proscribed lot to go scavenging elsewhere, despite so many abandoned enterprises and so few eyes. The time isn’t right — or so, caught up, I notice. I know by name a slew of people in this corner of the Bywater, but gave up on reacquaintance long ago. The sidewalk only reinforces this sentiment, cultivated well before I thought the bar would be without its happy hour rush.
The kid takes out a Marlboro, but there’s no butane in his lighter for the flint to catch. I hope I caught him midroute and will catch him again in the future given my flint isn’t wet and his butane is nothing more than a gasp. Not that I’d even recognize it en scène. He pummels the light against his palm, even more restless than when peering. I feel clotheslining between an announcement and vicarious postponement. I get a good look at his face and it cements everything. Definitely 20’s. Matted short hair and a scar along the right side of his beakish nose. I had chucked the slat a few blocks back, neutering whatever message it was meant to send. The erroneous endeavour of turning a passing glance into a day’s occupation. I walk up to him and offer him my lighter.
“Thanks, it just started sputtering”
At his voice, that of unbridled hooliganism, I realize any interaction was a mistake. The only avenue left is to pry, for the exercise to become an interjection of seeking companionship— not to be bottled, and chucked into a box of other sidewalk momentos. I linger a bit, sending inquisitive looks with no reciprocity. The kid pockets his pen. His cigarette is neglected again, but he keeps his eyes on the naval base. He turns to watch as I leave, my legs hairless, lathered by his breath.
When I get back to the Franklin Ave hippy boutique, I feel sore. The sun hasn’t set, and I have no wandering or loitering left in me. My tongue is dry, and there is no appetite to be wetted. I stand in front of the heart for an adolescent hack, before discerning its language. The winding style hinted at by the slat, that of an English garden designed by an overzealous landscape architect with an abundance of space, fully formed. The ♥ is all congested traffic, not quite twisted or clogged, rather a concise ramble. The words:
“It’s hard to think in the absence of flies buzzing”