Fall in the Vieux Carré
Fall in the Vieux Carré—known in English as the French Quarter in New Orleans, brings cooler temperatures. Mother Nature sometimes hits the pause-button on humidity… Breathing drier air can be a shock to our amphibious lungs. But we quickly adapt.
The sun’s light is soft and golden, no longer the bright hot white of summer. Tourists wander the brick-paved streets to partake of well-seasoned food and walk-up daiquiri bars while music spills from doorways of building centuries old. It’s a city that puts your senses of smell and taste into orgasm and soothes your soul in listening rooms and dive bars playing live jazz, blues, and funk, their notes floating on air. This is the culture of my hometown. Welcome to New Orleans.
My husband I booked into a boutique hotel in the Vieux Carré. We’d traveled from Kansas City to offer support to my step-grandmother, Miss Juanita, who had suffered a stroke. I adored her. She was big in stature and big in voice, and as a small girl, I was both afraid and intrigued by her.
Each day at Miss Juanita’s rehab, aunts, uncles, and cousins drifted in and out. They wore smiles dressed with words of encouragement. The room had a party atmosphere. After all, we were Guidrys and Landrys of true Cajun stock. Laissez les bon temps rouler was the mantra for every day. Oui, cher was the only reply.
Hanging out each day at a rehab all week had wrung every ounce of fortitude from me. After Miss Juanita finished dinner on Friday, the family began to disperse. Most were heading off to feast on crab po’boys and raw oysters. My mouth watered for Petunia’s on St. Louis in the Vieux Carré. If we didn’t hurry, we’d miss our reservation.
Back in the Vieux Carré, we hoofed it at a high speed to make our booked dinner slot. The streets were not crowded. We traipsed along Royal Street filled with centuries old, high-end antique and jewelry stores. I remember passing the backside of St. Louis Cathedral. The restaurant was at 817 Rue St. Louis, another couple of blocks down, then a right turn.
The corner before Rue St. Louis, at Toulouse, a mime stood on a box on the corner, more than a head and shoulders taller than the tallest in the crowd. A typical performance actor in white-face makeup with a red, red, mouth. A black French beret. White and black striped shirt. A red scarf around his neck and black pants. White gloves helped exaggerate his hand movements.
Speed-walking, I approached the mime and his audience. My husband following behind me.
The people gathered were mesmerized by the performance. Accustomed to seeing street performers, I recognized a good one when I saw him. A couple of people heckled, trying to get the mime to break character. A few people whispered, heads bent close together. A couple of others shouted things like, “There’s no wall there!”
Drawing nearer the group, I stepped off the banquette (sidewalk) and down to the brick street to go around them, not wanting to slow my progress to dinner—something very French accompanied by a fine glass of wine waited for me. I passed the crowd with barely a glance. Their collective “ooohhs and ahhhs” rang out as the mime continued his act. He never made a sound. Not a verbal one. Not an utterance of any sort. His every moment was silent, not even his clothes rustled.
A silent mime. That’s what everyone expects. I’d never heard one speak…never.
Fifteen very quick steps later, I started to set back up onto the banquette. The toe of my right show caught the uneven curb. Momentum propelled me forward. My brain function sped up. Flashed ahead. I saw the next sixty seconds in an instant.
Then, time slllooooowed down.
My line of trajectory headed me into a large plate-glass window. On either side of the window there were heavy metal phalanges jutting out from the red brick wall. The kind used to hold sturdy wooden shutters in place to protect the windows of the art gallery at night. The kind that could implant themselves in my brain. The kind I wanted to avoid.
A quick-second shudder raced through me.
The large picture window sat on a slanted brick sill.
My brain shouted, “Tuck and roll. Tuck and roll. TUCK. AND. ROLL.”
So, that’s what I did.
I tucked. My nose hit on the brick windowsill. My glasses flew off. One lens tink tink tinked down the sidewalk.
I rolled. Landed on my back. Feet and arms bent and in the air, like the proverbial cockroach hated in the south.
I closed my eyes and lay there for a moment, shocked.
“Linda.” My husband’s voice was quiet. “Are you hurt? Can you get up?” He didn’t touch me, waiting for a sign from me that it was okay for me to be moved.
I kept my eyes closed. Relaxed my body. My arms dropped to the sidewalk. My legs straightened flat. I assessed how I felt, mentally scanning my body for pain from the fall. In the Vieux Carré. In New Orleans.
“Linda,” he urged again. “How many fingers to I have?”
I opened my eyes. The left missing lens combined with the right in-tack lens caused my brain to scramble. My husband was standing, bent over, staring down at me.
“Call 911! Call 911 Call 911!” The mime ran up screaming.
Let me repeat that. The mime. He was hysterical.
He waved his hands over his head. “Call. 911!”
Seeing it in my mind’s eye, I guessed the crowd wondered if my fall wasn’t part of the act. Their collective heads tilted to one side, then the other, as though they were trying to make sense of a strange woman on the ground. The mime…he continued his hysteria.
Someone from the art gallery came out and bent down to look at me. The mime joined them.
Three sets of eyes locked me with their laser focus.
I burst out laughing.
The mime ran, grabbed my lens off the sidewalk and gave it to my husband. The art gallery owner got me a glass of water. Slowly, I sat up and leaned my back against the wall. The one below the large picture window. Beside the phalanges that didn’t impale my brain. Under the brick windowsill.
The crowd dispersed.
The mime left in a huff.
The art gallery owner brought me a folding chair.
“If you don’t want me to call 911, then let me take you to the ER.” My husband’s worry furrowed his brow.
“No. Sorry, I won’t go to Charity Hospital.” I sipped the water slowly, the shock of the accident began to sink in.
“I’ll carry you across the river. We’ll go to the ER there.”
“No, thank you. I want to go back to the hotel.”
Which is what we did.
I think my husband emptied the hotel’s ice bins. I had a bag of ice on my nose and another on my knee. A cold cloth on my eyes. A screw was missing from my frames, so we couldn’t repair my glasses. We had to find shop the next day to make repairs.
Food was the last thing on my mind…and all these years later, Petunia’s has long since closed its doors.
My husband called a friend in Florida who’d worked for me, and prior to that, she’d been an ER nurse. He explained my fall. Together, they did triage on my injuries. She thought I needed to see a doctor to make sure I hadn’t fractured any bones in my face. It didn’t appear as though I had not sustained a concussion.
Several hours later, more ice packs later, and some over-the-counter meds later, I settled in for bed.
Side by side, my husband and I spoke in hushed tones. He chastised me for being hard-headed, not in the physical way, but the mental way. He insisted I had a mental condition, liking me to a donkey.
I brayed to prove his point.
After a few minutes of silence, we both started to speak at the same time.
“Who knew a mime could talk?”
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I plan to bring you more short stories of events in my life. Stay tuned and follow my blog, so you won’t miss a funny, poignant, and even the humiliating moments of my life. ~ Linda Joyce