Some Sunken Cities

Picture Credits: Michael Gaida

On the train to New Orleans an Amish couple, Esther and Ray from Ohio, say they are going on west to El Paso and a shuttle bus to a Mexican clinic. Low-cost cancer cure for Esther using cyanide from apricot pits.

Train horn signals (= indicates long horn, O short horn)
= Train stopped.

Esther and Ray tell a story: they were in a friend’s car and he hit a deer. The airbag hit Ray’s face. The patrolman took them to a motel. It was called The Dead Deer Lodge. Their guests all came from deer collisions. They had a tea and aroma therapy lounge for PTSD. The sign had a deer in a casket.

= = Train releasing brakes and proceeding.

In the observation car a slender young woman with glasses who looks like a middle-class college student tells the stranger next to her that she knows he isn’t a criminal, because all her brothers have been in prison or killed someone or run drugs. That’s what she’s doing now, on the train, for her boyfriend. You could come in on it if you want. But I see you’ve got something going there, she says to the guy, looking down at his crotch. I’ve got a condom if you just want to go in the bathroom and do it.

OOOO Request signal, or give signal.

When they return one of the porters approaches them. I had my twenty dollars of tips on the table back there, he said. The money is gone. You’re the only people who have walked through there.

OOO Train stopped, is backing up.

She says, are you saying we took your money?

The porter says, yes.

= = O = Approaching a public crossing.

Later, when the train can’t continue due to flooding, the bus driver says her first husband killed himself drinking cyanide from a coke bottle. She says “SIGH-nied” and drives with two fingers while texting and drinking coke over the twenty-four-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, longest continuous, she says, veering a little to point out a gator slumbering under a green mold trestle. She wears Elvis wraparound shades with rhinestone crosses on the sides and takes two unscheduled vape-breaks to selfie with passengers, feed the diabetics and “take a piddle.” The first stop is to Buck-Ees, which boasts “world-famous bathrooms” and caramel corn, knives, pepper-spray, jerky and energy drinks, and then the Tiger Stop, with a video sign that reads, LIVE CAMEL. They used to have a LIVE TIGER, she said, but the tiger died and they got the camel. The store also features knives, jerky, pepper spray and energy drinks, and the live camel, in a stinking pen outside.

Alma Twohig
Nobles Salvant
Ruck Bulloco, and the whole company of Jefferson Home Hook and Ladder No. 1.

The next bus has a more sober-seeming driver, but she turns on a heavy-metal radio station and plays it loud enough for the passengers to hear. At a stop for new passengers, someone leaves a purple bag with a keyboard case outside the luggage hold on the sidewalk. Is it coming, or going? Over the intercom the driver says, if you are a passenger on this bus with a purple bag and keyboard case, please come forward so I can load your luggage.

Will the owner of the purple bag and keyboard case please come to the front so we can load your luggage?

Who has a purple bag and keyboard case on the sidewalk?

There is a purple bag and keyboard case outside the bus.

I am going to leave a purple bag and keyboard case on the sidewalk.

A purple bag and keyboard case.

A purple bag and keyboard case.

A                     purple              bag                and           a               keyboard              case

The door wheezes shut and the bus lurches away. A young man runs to the front and the bus stops. He seems affronted, shocked. Even amazed. He says, I didn’t understand it was my purple bag.

They load the baggage.

Ellen, consort of J.G. Rogers
Elise Blaise
Catherine Huth

Downtown is the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, with a display called The Underground Gallery:

“Visitors to the Richard C. Colton Jr. Underground Gallery shrink to the size of an insect with gigantic animatronic bugs, oversized exhibitry and surprises around every turn. Feel what its like to be the size of an ant while learning about the huge impact bugs have on the environment we all share!”

It is dark, and cool. Giant mechanical bugs lurch out of holes. Human footsteps thud overhead. It does not convey an insect’s view as much as a child’s in a funhouse. Or a very particular adult experience, perhaps that of a serious actor acting a role on the set of a low-budget monster film from the 1950s (Them, or It Conquered the World, or Invasion of the Crab Monsters): a determination to be a professional, play it for real no matter how fake it seems. There was always the hope that on film, it would all come alive.

The house across the street is tilted like in a fairy tale. The landlord is working hard to paint the front porch bright white. He will rent it immediately for eleven hundred a month. The desire to stay in New Orleans, even as the next storm bears down, is strong. Not just visit, but live there, in that crooked house. Be that serious actor in a low-budget horror movie about the end of the world. Maybe it will all come alive on film, or as a story. Be remembered, like those movies, as a brave crazy thing, hopeless at the time.

Down the block, names on the tombstones in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1:

Coashtie Dark
Amelia Siren
Sande Shurnway

The air is thick, sweet and peppery. Everything has a touch of green mold. A green gecko or chameleon on pink brick. Mardi Gras beads on trees and powerlines. Grackles with vertical stabilizers like planes, that swoop and screech over several tarnished syllables.

Telesphore Bourque
Rene Clerc
Davis Herrod
Aurora Arceneaux
Elizabeth Wolfaith
Mantin Shutard
Annetta Bouintine
Regis Chandris

At the Voodoo Museum dollar bills are rolled into tubes and inserted into wooden spirit dolls to satisfy wishes. Weeks later that area will be flooded again. Everyone knows it will happen again, and again, but still are affronted, shocked and amazed when interviewed on TV.  Oh my god, one man says at the rapidly-darkening sky. The olive-green street cars plow through waist-deep water. They run on electricity from overhead cables. The seats are wood. At the end of the line they flip over to face the other direction. The driver walks to the controls at the opposite end and goes back again. Is there one named Desire.

Edwin Given                       

                                             Eule Prytania                               

                                                                                                            Kendal Keyes

                                                                                    Marguerita Freudenstein

        Praeger Fontaine         

                                                 George Mekas                           Aaliyah

                      M. Koenig                 Regis Chandris           

                                                                                       Nicholas Dominique     

                                                                                                                   T.J. Earhardt

James Hederbon                                         

                                                                                           J. Tarbato

                                             M.K. Karschendiek

The New Orleans Home                                                                                 

for Incurables

Gregg Williard

About Gregg Williard

Gregg Williard's fiction, non-fiction and graphic narratives have been published in New England Review, Shenandoah, Raleigh Review, Fiction International, The Collagist, Diagram and Infinity's Kitchen, among others. He teaches ESL to refugees and does a late night book reading show on WORT community radio.

Gregg Williard's fiction, non-fiction and graphic narratives have been published in New England Review, Shenandoah, Raleigh Review, Fiction International, The Collagist, Diagram and Infinity's Kitchen, among others. He teaches ESL to refugees and does a late night book reading show on WORT community radio.

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