Ring of Centuries Inn
Ring of Centuries Inn
While walking down Decatur Street, I see a woman lying in the grass in Jackson Square. She fascinates me. The freedom of youth sweeps me away and so I watch her.
It is a bright sunny September day. There are cool breezes off the river as she lays in her summer dress, with her thighs and back bare, and sunbathing in the grass. My view is of her lying on her side while looking across the fresh green grass at the bright orange marigolds which fill her little corner of Jackson Square.
She looks up at the black iron fence which borders the marigolds. I look up and see huge cottony clouds that float high like islands in the sky in the deep blue heavens. They cast shadows on the patch of grass upon which she luxuriates. As they pass over I feel the warmth of sunshine kisses on my face. But my peeping Tom’s eyes gaze upon her with her hips and legs sunk into the soft bed of grass as though she is in the hands of an expert lover.
I watch her run the palms of her hand over the blades of grass and feel like joining her. Like for her, there is nothing more stimulating to me than being in a quiet place under the sky to feel the sun or rain on my body. I watch as a dark grey cloud forms over me. The air begins to grow cooler and I feel goosebumps form on my skin. But I am too mesmerized by her to seek shelter. She lies there and gazes at the marigolds.
Soon, tiny raindrops begin to tickle my face. She lies there bathed in the drizzle and I feel the cool water invigorate me. Her dress begins to get damp and sticks to her body. I begin to shiver. She gets up and walks through the light rain to Pirate’s Alley.
She was the main attraction but I notice that the park blossoms with maidens in summer dresses. The New Orleanian afternoon is dipped in a tangerine sun with the grassy park a pleasure garden where lasses and lads languorously lie.
I traverse Decatur Street with my emerald eyes attuned to feminine beauty.
The aura of feminine beauty overcomes my guilt and I make my way to the Canal Street where a warm and dry streetcar waits to whisk me to Audubon Park where sunbathing beauties are the wildflowers I seek.
Upon arrival at Canal Street, I approach a ticket vending machine to buy my passage to a nature gallery of models whose artistry outdoes a painting on a wall. A songstress glides into my space with graceful ballerina steps. She is the very same beauty who bathed in the grass seemingly for my viewing pleasure back in the quarter. But now I get an unobtrusive yet close up perspective. She is a petite elfin chanteuse who proceeds to feed the ticket machine her coins for me with her soprano singing reverberating.
Her cryptic message is deciphered by me as I hand her a fiver. She swishes away in her dress with her song fading into the transmigration of souls. The trolley rumbles past me with my last fare gone to the lady whose song took me for an enchanting ride.
Out of the blue, a lady with a German accent intercepts me. “Sir I’m going to have to give you a ticket,” she says. “But don’t worry. It isn’t for jaywalking or anything.” Her plea for a donation to a woman’s shelter is granted.
She has me hold out my hand and affixes a smiley face sticker to my skin. “That’s for girl watching. You can look but don’t touch.” She power walks away.
I am bewildered and call to her, “What did you say?”
“You heard me” is her gruff repartee with me busted. “Do you need a ride? Since you were a decent enough gentleman to support our cause, I can get you where you want to go.”
I reply, “Well when you put it that way of course I do need to get somewhere.”
She holds my hand and opens her van door. She gives me a derriere boost and the refreshment of her air-conditioned hand surprises me like the spray from a lawn sprinkler on a sidewalk stroll. She pushes me into the plush seat with alpine air blowing from the dashboard vents.
She takes me to a homeless hotel where private rooms and three squares await. There, pretty maidens all in a row are garbed in gabardine skirts. These angels of mercy are happy to serve and please the boarders with grownup candy striper smiles.
A lass glows with a tupelo honey smile that is sweet as the sassafras tea she pours for me. At the entrance to the shower room, I am greeted by a magnolia mademoiselle who beams forest love. Her camellia hands pass me a towel and I cross the threshold into a fresh outlook on life. Afterward, I taste the collectivist dream of mocha freedom donated by a coffee shop.
The same bohemian damsel whose speechless song began my strange journey to this place enters the picture. She embraces me like an old friend but with my street dementia, I don’t register a clue about our apparent history. I gaze at her lovely face until her spoken word solves the mystery. “How could I forget you, John? We go back to ancient Ireland. I was known as Rowena back then. We waltzed naked in the woods. My only embarrassment was that none of the men tried to cut in on our dance. I must not have been pretty enough.”
I say, “More likely they knew not to mess with my woman.”
She replies, “Well, for a guy to barge in on your naked woman puts a different spin on things.”
“This is a most unique homeless shelter,” I say.
She says, “You see this is a house of wives who wait for their husbands to return in the transmigration of souls,” Rowena proclaims.
I reply, “Of what possible interest could a guy like me who’s only skill is girl watching be to you?”
“Once you were a blacksmith.”
“I also ran a video store. But neither of those occupations is in demand much less in existence.”
She replies, “Well are you handy with a mop? I could use a househusband to cook, clean, and wash dishes.”
I say, “I am good with a broom.”
“My resume has read custodial work since I was a teenager. So my job skills more closely resemble a housewife. Someone needs to bring home the bread. Since you ran a video store you must know about accounting. So it is settled you’ll take up accounting while I do janitorial work to make ends meet. Then with that diploma in hand, you’ll present yourself as an accountant. Then we’ll afford to send me to paralegal school so our pay scale will be close so you can still be a man.”
A maiden floats like a flute melody to lead me to the fount where hair conditioner will untangle my knotty crown. She lays her soft hands upon my head to bring me comfort in the hour of my deepest need. I feel the flutter of her silken fingers with tropic water pouring onto my pate.
She sifts the fine strands of my angel hair in the flaxen sheen love light of her touch. My wheaten ripples roll under the weave of her undulating strokes. Like a fine web of sweetness, my tender scalp becomes a pleasure garden with my ache joining her compassion. She leads me to the barber chair. There, my locks fall under the finesse of a scissor witch who reclaims the handsome man from what vagrant tears have wrought.
Rowena my belle takes me well in hand. She says, “You refugees of the street are like unto Jesus. But our match is earthy as well as heavenly. So shall I wash your feet in the tears of the Dead Sea like the woman bathed Christ’s feet in her own teardrops.”
Uninvited she sprinkles the bottled salt water upon my feet. I smile like a boy on his first date when the pangs of his youth were soothed. Then she dries my feet with her hair like my wife from time immemorial in an act of love. Her frankincense oiled hands soften my calluses. But her most precious gift comes when she cradles my heel in her hands. Her kisses upon my bare sole feel like a walk in a bed of rose petals.
She says, “I knew we were passengers on the same streetcar named desire the moment I caught you watching me in the grass, even before I knew who you were. Your eyes had that mad gleam which won my heart from the first.”
My response is, “What was it about that woman who picked me up off the street that made me trust her when the men at the V.A. hospital couldn’t bring me back?”
Rowena replies, “Men respond better to a feminine consolation of a sensual nature.”
Upon arrival at my new home with Rowena, she says, “That smile on your face doesn’t lie. You’ve been girl watching again.”
“I just went on a bird watching tour of Jackson square. There were some blue jays and cardinals that caught my eyes.”
“You’re talking in code. Blue and red are your favorite colors in women’s dresses.”
“Well, my eyes may wander but my heart belongs to you. So how was your day honey?”
“I ran into a fortune teller down at Jackson Square. I asked her if she thought relationships could survive long term cohabitation. She told me ‘It is like making a dish using ingredients not found in the recipe your Mama gave you. It can turn out outrageously delicious or it can be so foreign to the palate as to taste downright peculiar.’”
“We’ve had two thousand years of dress rehearsal.”
Ro says, “Though practice doesn’t always make perfect in a way your wandering eyes are cute. I fully expect you to become a dirty old man. If you don’t I’ll mourn that spark in your eyes that brought you back to me.”