An incurable bachelor falls in love
The mournful sounds of the Olympia Brass Band echoed off brick walls of centuries-old buildings as the group marched down Dumaine Street. Phil sat beside me as the slow clip clop of the horse drawn hearse made its way to Saint Louis Cemetary Number One.
I rolled my eyes, unsure what was worse: Phil’s loud wailing or the dirge the band played.
“Phil, for God’s sake shut up!”
“You unfeeling bastard,” he said his tiny chin quivering.
This was your idea.”
“I know, I know, but….” He clutched a little black book tightly under his left wing.
“Will we ever get there?” I whispered under my breath. I took another sip from my flask and felt its calming effects immediately.
A crowd gathered behind us. Tourists pointed and shutters clicked, capturing pictures to show their friends when they returned home.
The band, the black hearse and the curious onlookers came to a slow stop in front of the whitewashed walls of the cemetery. Phil cried softly as we alighted and made our way through the corridors of standing tombs. I glanced at Marie Laveau’s grave and wondered what this high priestess of Voodoo would have thought of this nonsense. Was she watching us and passing judgement? Or perhaps she was giving us her blessing? One could only guess.
The band followed us past a row of decaying tombs. The same somber tune echoed along the graves, raising the hair on my neck. I glanced around, hoping we weren’t disturbing the rest of the dearly departed. I led the way towards my family’s mausoleum and stopped in front of the marble building marked BOURBON.
“How fitting,” Phil remarked as his red-rimmed eyes took in the name.
“You never asked me my last name,” I replied.
“God loves his little jokes,” Phil snickered then hiccuped as a finishing touch to his comment.
“Let’s get on with this charade,” I demanded, embarrassed by the spectacle Phil was making.
“One question though,” I whispered. “How in the hell did you manage to get the Olympia Brass Band to play for this outrageous tapestry of death?”
“Oh ye of little faith,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “Because, unenlightened one, I happen to play the best sax around. All jazz guys know me as more than a mere roach.”
I dropped the subject, leaving it for a later discussion. I just wanted the whole damned affair to be over. My head pounded and my patience was starting to wear thin.
I opened the door to the crypt. The musty smell of dust and death assailed me. Stacked to either side were my ancestors. I brushed the cobwebs covering the dates and whistled. “Wow, 1750.” My voice echoed in the enclosure, and I felt Phil shiver against my neck. Phil clung to me as the diffused light through stained glass windows cast their eerie shadows.
Remember, this was your idea,” I said as Phil’s eyes grew large with fear.
“I know, but I’m afraid of ghosts.” His huge eyes searched the corners for apparitions.
“You? Afraid? I thought you weren’t afraid of anything!”
“Why would a roach have reason to be afraid of the dead? Only the living can take you out,” I reminded him.
“I’m still afraid.”
“Then let’s get this show on the road and get out of here.” The crypt was beginning to give me the creeps too. I placed the newspaper on the floor and lit the lighter. The edges of the paper blackened and licked the center with orange and red flame.
Phil opened his book and tore out a page. The band played softly in the background as Phil wailed. “Goodbye, Abigail,” he said as he kissed the page. Sweet Bonnie, what a heart of gold. Cherie, with the sweet lips. Kathy who only wanted me and no other….”
I watched in a trance as Phil dropped pictures of past girlfriends on the newspaper, flames devouring the memories of his old loves. He clung to the last picture, then lost control. “Fifi, my love. You were a bitch, but I loved you anyway! Farewell, mi amour.” Phil sobbed. His tears hissed as they fell to the inferno and evaporated in the flames of his former love life..
Pages of secondary girlfriends followed: Henrietta, Jackie, Lina, Margaret…. Phil wept openly, fondling the page with Penelope’s name and picture. “What a dame,” he sighed, releasing the paper and watching her picture be eaten by fire. “Rebecca!” His hand shook as he sent it to join the others.
“Wendy!” he gulped as the last page turned to cinders.
“Yes.” He took a quick look around as shadows closed in. Darkness descended like a shroud over the tranquil labyrinth of tombs. The band struck “As the Saints Go Marching In,” and the band master handed Phil a purple, green and gold umbrella.
“Time to PARTY!” Phil’s face beamed, a mischievous gleam shone in his eyes–a look I had seen far too many times. What now? I wondered. I followed Phil down Toulouse Street–an appropriate name when applied to Phil, but that was all behind him now thanks to his beloved fiancee Lisa.
I pulled a yellowing handkerchief from my pocket and waved it in time to the music. Members of the second lime followed my lead, waving anything they could find. It was a strange procession as we second lined our way to Bourbon Street with Phil in the lead, his tiny umbrella dipping and swaying in time with the music.
Music issued from Preservation Hall, and I wondered how good old Phil was holding up as he stopped to peep in the open doors of strip joints and stepped in front of Peeps and Squeals Lingerie.
“Thanks, guys. See ya next Tuesday.” Phil waved as the crowd and band dispersed, leaving us alone in front of Lisa’s shop.
“What was that about next Tuesday?” Lisa demanded, tiny pincers on her rounded hips. Sparks of fire flew from her bedroom eyes, and her agitated antennae twitched back and forth.
“Nothing, sweetheart….” Phil stammered.
I leaned in and whispered, “Are you sure you want to go through with this wedding? She seems a bit demanding if you ask me.”
Phil looked aghast. “Well no one asked you. And what are you implying? You of all people should never give advice, not after the romantic fiascos you’ve been part of in the last two years. Melanie, Elaine, Paula, Denise; the list, if I remember correctly, goes on and on. How could one human have so many romantic failures?” Phil was indignant and flew off my shoulder to join Lisa.
“How’s my little sugar plum?” he asked, whisking Lisa into his front legs that I had come to regard as arms.
Lisa giggled, pressing her lush body against Phil, holding nothing back. I mean, for a non-roach, even I had to appreciate this bug’s charm.
“Everything taken care of?”
“Yep,” he responded.
I stood transfixed, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.
“Could you get rid of the geek?” She smiled beguilingly with a come-hither look. Phil practically melted in her arms. I could see why he’d cast away his book of contacts. Lisa was a force to be reckoned with, and Phil was hopelessly ensnared.
“Um, Peter, could I have a word with you?”
“Sure, buddy.” My mouth went dry, and the bottom fell out of my stomach.
“I won’t be going home with you. Lisa’s got a little something planned, if you know what I mean.” He winked.
“I understand,” I said, feeling a bit dejected.
Without Phil around to keep me entertained, I feared my life would unravel. I saw the beginning of the end if Phil married Lisa.
“See ya later, Phil.” I turned and walked towards Canal Street and the street car line that would take me home, without Phil. Loneliness closed around me like the morning vapor that hides the waking world from an early-riser before his first cup of coffee. I reached for the bottle of Jack I kept in my pocket, the bottle that had kept loneliness at bay most of my adult life, but it didn’t taste the same. Phil watched me as I looked over my shoulder then he straightened up.
“Lisa, this is the way it is and is gonna be for awhile. I’m just too much to settle down with one lady. You’ll have to share the wealth, if you know what I mean.”
“Honey pie, what about our plans?” Lisa begged as she clung to Phil.
“Someday, maybe. I gotta be what I was meant to be.” He kissed Lisa and flew to my shoulder.
“I’ll always be waiting for you, my love ….”
Apparently he hadn’t heard her. He asked me in his typical deep-throated voice, “Got a light?”
“What about Lisa?” I asked.’
“Women come a dime a dozen,” he responded. “But true friends are hard to find. She’ll just have to understand, I’m not the marrying kind.” He smiled a wicked smile. “Besides, she’s not going anywhere. Not when she has the world’s greatest lover.”
I looked at Phil, mouth hanging open. “What about the book? You burned it.”
Phil laughed and pulled a duplicate from under his wing. “I never burn all my assets. Do you think I’m crazy?”
“What about this ridiculous claim of being the world’s greatest lover?”
“Sometimes I wonder where your brain is, Peter.” He turned a contemptuous look at me. “Have you ever seen me with a shortage of women?”
“No….” I had to admit.
“I rest my case.”
“Perhaps you could teach this old dog some new tricks about the game of love.”
“It’s all in the approach, my friend.”
Phil whispered in my ear, and my eyes nearly burst from their sockets. “Really,” I responded.
“Really,” he replied confidently.
“Hum, never thought of that.”
“Humans think they know everything, but let me tell you, the animal kingdom could upstarts things you’d never dreamed of.”
“Now that you mention it….” My mind went into overdrive.
The streetcar pulled to a stop in front of us, and we boarded. Phil kicked back and rested against my neck. I pondered his advice all the way home. Perhaps he was right. We did have a lot to learn, but I was glad to have Phil home again.
“Home,” Phil sighed as I unlocked the door. “That old saying is true. There is no place like home. Even this dump looks like a palace when shared with a friend.” His words dripped with a bit of roach sentiment.
“It’s just you and me, old buddy.” I replied as I kicked back in my favorite chair.
“Thank goodness,” Phil added. “Back to normal….”
Jerry Springer’s face filled the screen and we settled back to watch the shenanigans.”Is this what you call normal?” Thanks to Phil, even Jack’s hold on me had slipped. Thank God for all the little things.
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