There’s this moth – it wore its wings like a pretty, white dress. It found love with a dingy, dirty lightbulb. Sticking to it, bashing its head in, revolving around it like it had no place else to go – no business being anyone else’s moon. Though staring closer at the moth you could see the tiniest holes puncturing its perfect dress; the shadows it hung to made it look like it had black spots on its wings instead. An unfortunate spill of wine on your wedding dress. But that didn’t matter to the moth – no, not the holes in its effervescent wings, no place to fly in its magnified world of dark spots. The dark protected it from prying eyes. Though I don’t believe a care rested on its wings other than this murky coloured lightbulb. Not a care. I think that’s the case with most people in New Orleans.
“Gue glistening, goy?”
I could have sworn that the moth just spoke to me.
A slap to the ribs and the lights disappear.
“You listening, boy?”
“Yes, Mr. Lockwell, I was only–“
“You weren’t doing shit! Now I told you to go off and get a couple of bottles for the poker players but your silly ass can’t even do that right, can it?”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled. I couldn’t face him, not even with the candle that he held in front of me.
“What was that? Sorry, did I bring along a mute, too? Look, when I brought you in, I gave you food to eat, water to drink, and a goddamn roof over your ungrateful head! All I ever asked you to do was do a little work around the house for me, or run errands for me when things are lookin’ drab. Don’t tell me I made a mistake – or would you have rather stayed in that gutter? Huh? Answer me, boy. Would you have rather become a man-whore than live with me?”
My hands shook but I didn’t let him see. To be honest, had I known living with him would have been like this for all these years, then I might have spat in his face when I met him. But he was different back then. Different.
“No, sir,” I murmured.
“I might have to go out and get you a god damn megaphone to hear you speak! Look at me, boy, look at me, and say it to my face!”
I realise I’ve been staring at his shoelaces the entire time. I hate it when he tells me to look at him. It’s not just him, but I find it difficult to look at anyone’s eyes. It hurts to look at someone’s eyes. Eyes say so much. Those black spots in someone eyes are like little keyholes into someone’s soul. But if you can see their soul, that means they can look at yours.
I slowly craned by head up to look at him, but I looked at his eye brows rather than his eyes.
“No, sir,” I repeated mechanically.
“Get your sorry ass out of this house. Go play with your friends or whatever the hell you do. Just don’t come back till the game’s over.
I quickly turned and shuffled back in the dark. I could feel the moth was still there with me, but it’s wing beat was just pumping into my ears. Or maybe that was my heart.
But before I could take my leave, Mr. Lockwell called out, “And how many times do I have to you to turn the fuckin’ lights off? The electric bill just went up this month.”
Go play with your friends, he said. What friends? Who’d want to be around a guy that can’t even say his name straight without getting nervous about it. For the life of me, I can’t find a voice that would tell folks how much I just want to have a little bit of company. So I stay away from the lot altogether. But I’d rather not have it always come to that.
There’s a difference between wanting to be alone and being lonely.
I walk the streets and the moon is rather bright tonight. I can imagine anyone would have a difficult time to look away from it on this particular night. Though I did. Nothing whispered in the dark, not the drunkards trying to find themselves, or the cats rummaging through garbage cans. Nothing, but a faint, distant glow of blue and pink lights at the end of the street. I turned the corner to see that the lights were coming from this pub with neon lights stringed about. The Crescent Bar.
Mr. Lockwell called me boy but I was almost 18. And I’ve always wondered what the insides of these places looked like. Suppose it wouldn’t hurt. Mr. Lockwell did say I shouldn’t be back for a while now.…
I was hit with a barricade of cigarette smoke when I entered. It was almost too much to swallow at once, but I learned to take it all in. The atmosphere of a place that was so… adult. Though I find the interior was difficult to compare to the outside. Nothing fancy or neon about this place. No multi-coloured lights or spectacular signs. I bet if I forgot to go home tonight, this place might have looked the same as Mr. Lockwell’s place. The lightbulbs looked the same, too. Though I suppose people don’t really come here for the amusement of looking at decorations. The bartender looked at me with a raised eyebrow as he wiped a glass. I couldn’t see his eyes. I sat up at the front on a stool, trying not to draw any suspicions.
“What’ll you have, kid?” the bartender said in a raspy voice.
“Um… you have any juice?”
The bartender looked at me slowly, as if he’s never heard of such a request come from a place like this. I almost felt stupid for coming.
But then he answered. “Will cranberry do?”
“That’ll do just fine,” I said. “Thank you!” I remembered to say.
He grunted under his breath and poured me a glass.
I played with my drink, taking small sips now and then. I liked it here. The smell, the subtle tune of jazz on the radio, the modesty of the place. There weren’t a lot of people here tonight either.
I heard the door of the bar open and out of instinct I turned out to see. In strolled a woman. She looked rather high of stature, despite her dress being rather shabby and unclean. It looked like it was falling apart at the seams cause one of her bra straps was showing. She pulled her dress up and made no fuss about it. It was a nice-looking dress though. She had a cigarette in her hand and she stopped to linger next to a group of women and their husbands. She didn’t look at them, but stood there listening to the music. She put her face up softly, up into a somber yellow light and took a drag at her cigarette. She was awfully pretty.
I didn’t want to keep looking at her, knowing it was rude and all, but there was something about her. How could you not to stop to look at her?
“Hey!” the bartender yelled behind me. I jumped at his abruptness.
In fact, most of the people in bar turned to face him. The woman didn’t. But he was yelling at her I realised.
“Your kind isn’t welcome here no more. You’ve caused enough trouble around these parts as it is. Out with ya!”
I kept looking at the woman, marvelling at how calm she was about this. Someone yelling at her like that. But she only smiled and said, “Apologies, mister. I was just looking for someone.”
“Yeah, I bet you were. Go on, get!”
She put her face down into the dark again and exited quietly. She looked at some men as she passed out of the bar, with flirty looks really, to which those men just went back to their drinks and rudefully dismissed her. She looked unpleased by their remarks and left without as so much as a whisper.
I turned to face the bartender. “Mister, you mind me asking? Who was that woman?”
He scoffed. “Hmph. I’d hardly call her a woman. Past few months she’s just been coming and going, coming and going. At first I’d hardly take notice of her, but then she’d start conversing with various men, each one different than the last. She’d order drinks around the house, barely affording them and then turns on her innocence to let her gentlemen suitors take the bill. A bill they’d gladly take knowing they’d be spending a night with her. She has her ways, too. I’ve seen men straight as an arrow – loyal to the core – go home with her. Charms right through that shield. Always. Might take a couple of drinks and night of false promises but she does it somehow. Then she’d lead these men away and away they’d go, off for some merry-making. Sometimes, on the same night, the girl would come back. And the cycle just starts again. Coming in here like she owns the whole god damn town, puffing on that cigarette of hers, and luring away the boys like some siren. Boys like you. Lord knows why she does it, that harlot. But I’ve seen a lot of good men lose their wives because of her. Take my advice, kid, if you see her, stay the hell away from her. She’s no good. She must be so terribly broken, that girl, that she’d be willing to take anyone down with her just so she won’t be alone.”
She was alone, I thought. I looked back at the door she left from.
I went outside to see if I can find the woman. There was a trail of smoke in the air that led down to the street. Where the woman in the shabby dress walked. I stared at her.
“Excuse me,” I said softly.
“Excuse me… miss?”
She did. Her body traced in white by the moonlight. She wasn’t happy.
She walked closer, and I was scared of her – looking at me like that with her cigarette by her side. The bar sign was behind me and she stepped into the blue and pink light – it was then that she came alive and acted vivaciously. “Why, aren’t you a pretty, innocent thing.”
She kept looking at me. “Boy, look at me. I won’t hurt you. Don’t be afraid. Just look at me.”
I looked up at her. I could feel she was being honest. She held my hand. I looked up from her white dress to see her eyes. Those eyes. She was smiling but those eyes were… unhappy. Profusely unhappy. The bartender was right. She was broken.
Her hand felt warm. She felt safe. She’s like me. Getting yelled at, getting thrown out of places just by being there, unhappy. Though I look at her, and how pretty she was, almost innocent under those neon lights – I don’t know, it just feels like I’ve known her for a long while now. I don’t why. I want to help her.
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but see that debacle back there.”
“Oh, yes, that. Well, I don’t know what to tell you. But don’t listen to those awful folk. They just can’t stand the sight of a strong woman is all. But you look like a sweet thing. No, I don’t think you’d hurt a fly.”
“No, ma’am, I would not. But I was just inquiring if you wanted any help. You seemed rather distraught,” I expressed. I wanted her to like me.
She laughed. “It’s awfully kind of you to check up on a gal like myself. Not many boys would be willing to do that – no, most men just want to look up this dress and see what’s under it. A perverted scavenger hunt if you ask me. But you’re not like them, no. You’re not an animal. What is it you desire, boy?” she breathed. She got closer.
“My name is—“
“Oh, hush. Don’t tell me your name. I want to keep the illusion.” I was confused by her request, but I didn’t care. She put her hand up to my face. Oh, she was so pretty. I wanted to be with her. She was warm, and not unlike any of the women that Mr. Lockwell brought home with him. She was nice, and tender.
“Come follow me. I want to show you something,” I said. I did want to show her something. I could bring her a little bit of happiness if she’d let me.
“Oh. Usually it takes a bit longer for a boy wanting to escort me somewhere. But you’re eager than most. I love that.”
The boy led the woman away from the bar, away from the local streets, and they took a streetcar to the outer reaches of New Orleans. The two spoke the rest of the way, and have gotten exceptionally close. It really did feel like they have known each other for a long while. To the both of them. However, the further away they walked from the more modern part of New Orleans, the woman couldn’t help but feel only slightly endangered. She wouldn’t show it though. But no man who’s courted her has ever acted so strangely. Not even the drunk ones. Where was the boy taking her?
The two reached a closed off fence. “Where are we going?” the woman inquired.
“Somewhere you’d like,” replied the boy.
There was a hole the size of a man in the fence. One which the boy and the woman entered freely.
“If you didn’t have such a sweet face, I’d start to get ideas about you,” added the woman.
“Oh, I suppose I never thought about how this looks. But believe me when I say this is not an adventure you want to miss out on,” the boy said excitedly.
The boy led the woman further into the heart of no civilisation. No one was present. The woman was astonished to see mangled, mechanical machinations overwhelmed with dirt and grime. She couldn’t make out what any of them were supposed to be because it was so dark. She felt like she was walking in a graveyard for machines.
It was a wonder how the boy knew how to navigate the place. He held her hand through the frightful sights of dark things and strings of chilling ornaments that hung about. The boy led the woman in the white dress to the middle of a lonesome ground devoid of anything partial to a soul.
“Stay here. I’ll be right with you,” the boy whispered. And he left her there for a few moments.
The woman looked around, concerned above all else. Not knowing what to do or where she was. She felt her blood, and she clutched her dress, looking around frantically.
But by some stroke of heaven’s delight, the place came alive! Those strings of ornaments were lights of every colour imaginable! The woman was taken aback at first, afraid of the vividness and radiance of the lights that pried down her walls; her safety. Then the music started to play, and the boy reappeared, looking as charming as ever. It was only expected of her to step back into the light. That’s when she decided to dance in the lights for him. Covered in purples, greens, blues, and reds. She danced for the lights and the boy that looked at her with dazed astonishment.
“Come here,” the woman lured.
I danced with her, here in the amusement park. She was lovely and prettier than the boy could ever dream of. Even her clothes seemed to transform into something an angel would wear. Never have I felt such content to be with someone. Honestly, the only person whom I’ve ever felt a connection. I could love her so.
I showed her the other rides and themes that filled the place. Miraculously, most of them still worked. On the nights Lockwell didn’t need me or he was too drunk to even figure out I was at home, I’d come here. It was a safe place. Where no one was around and I’d be under the lights. I came back now and then to fix up some of the rides and touch up the lights. The people who left this place did a shoddy job of packing it up. But it was better news for me and her.
Oh, what fun we had! It was something out of a fairy tale. And I noticed something about myself tonight. The fact that I couldn’t stop looking at her, and when she smiled, I’d catch the same smile tempted onto my face. We spun about on the carousel, and I looked back at her laughing. Those eyes. They looked like they haven’t seen a morsel of joy in years. They made her look evermore beautiful, those eyes.
We went back to exploring the grounds together, and we couldn’t stop laughing. We played a game where we chased each other in the coloured lights, but the antagonising party couldn’t continue the chase if the other party happened to hide themselves in a shadow. And I was it. A silly game, I admit. But it’s something she thought up, and something we just happened to jump into. And so I ran after her under the lights, and she’d look back smiling; she ducked under a bit of shade in which the colours couldn’t touch. She looked at me from the dark and stared. She wasn’t smiling.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
She didn’t say anything. I got kind of nervous. Did I do something wrong?
“Come here,” she said.
I walked a few feet closer to appease her. Her hand clawed out from the bit of shade and grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. She kissed me, half in the dark, half in the coloured lights. I liked it. And I was terrified at the same time.
All the heat in my body flushed into my cheeks and I pulled away. She was smiling again. “I bet you’ve never kissed a girl before,” she beamed.
I’ve barely even talked to a girl before.
“You’re so odd. When men usually lead me away, it’s to go their apartments where their wives would be away at work, or to a bathroom that locked, or a vehicle you could put the top down in… or a back alley. But you, no, you take me here of all places. A theme park with so many lights in one place, I’d almost question you for stealing from every venue in town. Almost. I’ll admit, I haven’t had this much fun with any man I’ve been with before. I’m just surprised it took a boy to make me feel this way.” She got closer. “Why did you do it, boy?”
“You looked lonely,” I replied, “I know what it’s like to be lonely. You looked… sad. I only wanted to help.”
“You are a sweet thing. But when is the real fun about to start?” She brushed her hand through my hair, and I wanted her, I guiltily really wanted her. To kiss her again, and love her, so neither of us would have to be damned to be lonely. Now the only thing I was looking at were her lips.
She exposed herself to the lights again, undoing her dress. And that’s when I saw her scars. On her arms, her thighs – her back. Her back was the worst. “I need you,” she said quietly.
I didn’t want to look. But I couldn’t help but being entranced by them. Both of the horror and the beauty they both entailed. The stories behind them he wondered.
I needed her, too. But not like this. What I felt for the entirety of this night was not of her beauty or grace, but what I felt was for everything that her soul had to give. Her tired soul that just wanted to feel some kind of liberty that didn’t have to be coaxed by drinks, or cigarettes, or men. I felt sorry for the youth that she didn’t have. I kept looking at her scars.
She looked at me solemnly. “Why don’t you want me? Touch me. Take me. I know you want to. You’d be a stupid boy if you didn’t. I know you want me!”
I picked up her dress from the ground and handed it to her. “Not like this.”
I lied. I did want her. I did want to feel her, give into her. I don’t want to be alone. I want love.
But it wasn’t right.
She was angry. “All the other men only ever paid any attention to me because they wanted to fuck me. So why won’t you!?” she cried.
I didn’t know what to say.
“They’ve only ever looked at me with lust in their eyes, but never you. I don’t understand you, boy. Just let me have you. I need something,” she said quietly.
“You’re worth more than a man’s one-night stand, don’t you know? I see you. And you want so much more than the emptiness in you that you go about looking for someone to make you forget for a little while. But you don’t deserve that. I’ve seen you tonight. And you’re pure, you want love, but you’re so scared of it. Why?”
I don’t know why I said that. But it was true. And as she stared at me, the music stopped, and the lights started to flicker out, and we were drenched in the dark again.
She quietly put on her dress again.
“I’m sorry, boy.”
She turned her back on me and started walking. I stared.
“Please, don’t leave. Where are you going?”
She stopped only for a moment and looked at me in the darkness. “Oh, well, to places to go, people to see.” She smiled sadly, “And I’ve got a train to catch.”
And she vanished. I chased after her, and I couldn’t find her anywhere.
She’s run away.
I’m alone again.
It’s been a very long night and it was nearly dawn. I finally got back to Mr. Lockwell’s home. I still don’t think I’d be able to separate myself from the mysterious woman that I’ve met tonight. I didn’t even know her name.
The poker game has been long since over. I lit a candle as I entered. Drunken men ambled around, and Mr. Lockwell along with some other undignified individuals slept on the floor. I stepped over them ever so carefully and I just wanted to get settled into my room. Though on my way to my room I went through the kitchen to see if my old friend was still fluttering about. As I entered my candle illuminated the walls. I was startled to find out that someone found my moth while I was away. The moth was splattered up against a wall. Its winged dress crumpled like a piece of paper – one of which fell to the ground ever so slowly. I felt sorry for the little moth. Its blood oozed down the wall in a single motion. Poor thing didn’t deserve it.
I blew out my candle.