The Girl From Vieux Carre
“The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here. You could be dead for a long time.” -Bob Dylan
Saint Louis Street; Vieux Carré, Fat Tuesday. Stumbling out of a seedy bar, shouts echoing throughout the Quarter, it was the final night of festivities. The streets were packed with people; revelers, locals, thieves...a mixture of common people and riff raff partying as if the world was coming to an end at the midnight toll, marking the beginning of Lent. The crowd was so thick, the air stifling with the scent of whiskey and perfume. The haunting sound of jazz music echoed throughout the streets.
Coming around a corner onto Bourbon Street was where I first saw her. I was stumbling around the corner when I ran into a heavily intoxicated man, Cajun, with greasy skin and beady eyes. Falling off the curb I landed on the street in a puddle of water and spilled alcohol. My vision blurry, I tried to regain my composure, as a hand extended itself to me. Taking it in mine, I found myself pulled to my feet and staring into emerald eyes behind the cover of a mask adorned with peacock feathers. Beautiful olive skin and long black hair glimmered in the lights of the surrounding bars and a smile greeted me as time seemed to hold still.
The girl was wearing a white Victorian dress in an old fashioned style, sleeves cut off at the elbows. As I tried to thank her over the chaos of the reveling she slowly backed away and beckoned for me to follow as she twirled around down the street, oblivious to the crowd around her. I started to follow her down the street and she gave me the most curious look as she proceeded. Pushing past people I followed her through the Quarter. Unaware of everyone around us, we traveled down Bourbon and up Orleans, as we went she danced down the street while I forced my way through the throng of costumed and masked people. I began to fall behind and lost her for a moment, only to be blessed with the vision of her beauty again as I turned onto Bergundy.
She grabbed me by the hand and we danced down the street. It seemed like hours, although only minutes passed, my eyes always locked on hers. We spun around and around and as I laughed I swore I had fallen in love at first sight. Pausing to catch my breath I lost my grasp on her hands and as her fingers trailed away my vision began to blur and I suddenly fell ill. Falling to my knees in the street the world began to spin. To this day I’m still unsure of how long I was there, knees pressed to the wet pavement, nauseous and frozen. I thought for sure that I had lost the masked goddess who had danced before me. I pulled myself to my feet, defeated and shivering from a sudden chill that had overtaken me. I looked around startled and confused, for it appeared my eyes must deceive me. The streets were suddenly barren and empty, with a ghostly vibe to the air. Gas lights lit the streets and shadows danced from dark doorways as the scent of burning fires drifted on the cool breeze blowing in from the canal. The houses were all shuttered and the only sound to be heard was a sad and forlorn jazz song blown on the wind from somewhere deep within the Quarter like a snake slithering along.
I took a few uncertain steps down the street and suddenly she appeared before me. I froze, unsure of what to do as she beckoned for me to follow as if in a dream. Although frightened, I cautiously followed along Bergundy and down Saint Philip. No matter how close I tried to get, it seemed she was half a block away from me. Was my mind playing tricks or was this reality? It couldn’t be, it must all be a hallucination. The light flickered in the street as I crept past shuttered windows and doors, the girl and I the only souls to be seen. Turning onto Dauphine, I caught a glimpse of her as she rounded the corner onto Saint Ann, a trail of peacock feathers fluttering into the sky and falling softly to the ground below. I started to run down the street, afraid I would lose her and be alone, terrified and lost. I paused to catch my breath and glanced back and realized that one by one the lights were going out on each street. Sudden darkness enveloped me except for a single pathway that was lit, leading the way towards Royal Street.
Nervously I inched my way along, the lights going out with a wisp behind me as I progressed. In the darkness the shadows seemed threatening, encroaching closer and closer to where I stood. It was almost as if they were mocking me as they danced along the street, as I had just danced with the strange girl who brought me through the looking glass and into this strange land. As I turned onto Royal, I caught a glimpse of the sleeve of her dress as she entered a house and shuttered it behind her. I ran to the door forgetting all about the spooks in the darkness behind me. As I placed my hand on the door the sickness came back with a paralyzing effect. I fell to my knees, rolling onto my side in pain. Eyes closed tight, I felt as if death was going to visit me in this strange world I had found myself in, when I suddenly heard a church bell tolling the midnight hour. Laughter and screams intermingled around me as it approached the twelfth sounding of the bell. The world around me began to spin and the final light flickered and went dark as I was alone with nothing but the ghouls who had taunted me.
I opened my eyes as I heard the voice of a man with a thick accent asking me if I was alright. The man who I had fallen into earlier was standing over me, the air thick with the voices of people slowly leaving the Quarter. Confused, I looked around and saw peacock feathers all around me, reflecting the electric lights that illuminated the street. He pulled me to my feet as I asked him if he had seen the girl.
“What girl missus? You fell while back and I followed ya to make sure you was okay. I ain’t seen another lady miss.”
I picked up one of the feathers and stared at it for a minute. The mesmerizing look in her emerald eyes flashed in my mind, her finger beckoning me to follow as she had led me down the streets. I stared at the electric lights along the street where moments earlier there had been gas lanterns, surely the whole thing couldn’t have been a figment of my imagination. I turned and looked at the door the girl had entered. Written in chalk on its shuttered front it said, “In this spot, on this day in 1814 absolutely nothing happened.” A recollection came back to me suddenly of something a local had told me at the beginning of the week. That the spirits of Mardi Gras are tricksters and to be careful for they only have one week of the year to have their fun.
I went home and back to my normal life the following day. I still find myself wondering about the whole experience. The beauty of the girl and the frightening eery shadows dancing down the streets, as if laughing at me with the stars and moon. Years have passed, but from time to time I still find myself haunted by the remembrance of the girl with the olive skin and emerald eyes, like a ghost of the past drifting through the labyrinthine corridors of the Quarter.
(The Girl From Vieux Carre has appeared in A Never Ending Night and Gris Gris du Vieux Carre)
Artwork by Kenti Wren