by Wilson Koewing
The first time I laid eyes on Gia I had to double take at the tiny Asian girl reading alone in the patio of an uptown New Orleans beer garden, lifting a barely lunch time pint with both hands, jet-black hair slicing diagonal across her face, one side short above the ear, the other hanging jagged over the shoulder. Eyes green like Fern Gully. I couldn’t believe she was 18, much less 21.
I was on a warpath then. One night I went to sleep with this redhead. We were in love. The next morning, she didn’t love me anymore.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Sure,” she said without looking up from her book.
I sat and lit a cigarette.
“Did you want to get your beer?” she said eventually.
The lonely pint glass on the other table looked like someone left it in a real hurry.
That was six months ago.
Lying in bed, Gia keeps giving me these incessant little kisses. I ignore her and she finally stops and starts texting. So many messages. I can’t make out the names, but she’s engaged. She giggles. She types. Giggles. Types. Giggles. Types.
I really wonder how many of these guys I meet, these “friends,” are actually guys Gia’s fucked. She has a lot of “friends” and the way she says “friends” is super annoying. I meet these guys who knew her before I did, and they look at me like they know something I don’t. And I don’t like it.
“Excited about Bacchus, Josh?”
“Are you kidding?” I say. “I can’t wait.”
“I’m so excited,” she says and jumps up and down on the bed. “I have to work on my costume.”
I watch her disappear down the hall. Her perfect ass is the last thing I see. What will this costume be? Skimpy is all I know for sure.
Bacchus is the first parade we’re attending together. I got my bar shift covered. She switched hers. Service industry sucks, but it pays. Stay out late. Wake up late. Funnel money back into the industry. Days pass, nothing changes.
The parade is at 5:00. It’s 1:00.
It’s a waiting game until then. I listen to rap. Eat leftover gumbo Gia made last night. It’s amazing. Asian twist. I smoke a bowl. Shower. Pull Gia from the spare room, she hides her costume. I toss her on the bed. Fuck her from behind. She buries her face in the sheets. I come in two minutes flat. She skips back to her costume. I listen to house. Smoke again. Create my costume. A funny t-shirt, a Mardi Gras mask, some beads. Whatever. Roll joints. Find headphones I lost. Play house music as I walk to the corner store for a six-pack and try to blow my eardrums out.
Back home, I turn on the TV. Local news. Gun shots rang out at Endymion yesterday. Nothing new. People robbed, shot, raped. Living near the hospital on Claiborne, it’s always the sirens.
By three, I’m sprawled out in bed, stoned. Four beers dead.
Gia barrels through the door. The costume is a travesty. Boots with yellow and purple and green feathers. Skin-tight yoga pants. Every contour visible, destroying imaginative thought. Several dozen beads around her neck. She’s wearing nothing underneath them, but she’s covered her tits with black tape in the shape of hands. Gold belly jewelry connects with her belly-button ring. Green lips. Mardi Gras mask. Pink wig.
“Spirited,” I manage.
“Bother you I’m not wearing a top?”
Gia’s on her phone as we approach the parade route. Every guy we pass stares.
“Trey’s at this party near the route,” Gia says. “Let’s go there. Syd is coming with Bryce.”
Her enthusiasm has more than enough potential to be contagious. Her sincere smile border line touching.
“I can hear the marching bands,” she says, speeding up.
I watch Gia leap over a large crack in the sidewalk, upended and split from a giant tree root. Everything in New Orleans is cracked.
Let me tell you about Trey. My last girl had a Trey, too. These fucking Treys are everywhere. And they’re the worst. Can’t remember what my other girl’s Trey’s name was… guy whose face I’d like to bash in. Was that it? Trey’s—forever lingering around unavailable women—acting like just a friend. Constantly undermining. Manipulating. Waiting for just the right moment to strike and try to convince them he’s the one they should be with instead. You’ll know when you have a Trey on your hands when it happens, if you don’t already.
Ahead of me now, Gia starts talking to some guy wearing a tie-dyed tank top, skinny jeans and gigantic green sunglasses. I quicken my pace, just in case, but he’s only a minor nuisance. The best course of action is to allow him to simply talk himself out. Stay close enough, but don’t reveal real jealousy. Eventually he’ll go away.
As we close in on St. Charles, the din of the crowd materializes. Carnival food smells ride on the breeze. You sense the impending madness. It rushes slowly, not towards you. You enter. It surrounds you. And you’re inside. There is a wall, and when it envelops you, there is no escape.
Oak branches hang low over the avenue creating a perfect chute of debauchery. And it goes on and on. Each block overflowing with revelers. For miles. Feeding down to the Quarter —the bowl everything drains into—where you sink or swim, trying to crawl out under the hot, dead night.
We reach a congested corner where a DJ spins. A squad car looks like quicksand in the crowd. A teenager jumps on the hood and the crowd erupts. A cop, big black guy in his forties, fumes. The crowd presses in. The music pounds. A pack of firecrackers in a bowl sends this corner into a riot. I swear, for a second, I think I see the cop go for his gun, but instead he just yanks the teenager down and flings him to the ground.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” the cop says.
The teen stares back blank-eyed then melts into the crowd. As I walk by, the teen and his buddies, privileged uptown kids, chant “Fuck the police.” The cop ignores them.
I couldn’t do it. I would be the beat cop in the chief’s office handing over his gun and badge each month, a few days after my previous suspension was lifted. Spending days off drinking in a dark corner of a bar or stalking the French Quarter searching for someone to make me mad. Convinced I’m the only person capable of taking out the trash.
Gia pushes under the crowd. I fight through. Lose her. Find her again. I’m spit out into a clearing. Gia yanks my arm, dragging me on. I trip over a small foot. A kid, maybe ten, hunchbacked from the weight of the beads around his neck, gazes back. Eyes full of mischief, he disappears into the crowd alone.
We walk miles through crowds. Everything sensory. Head on a swivel. The parade has started, and we walk with it. Marching bands shake asphalt. Threaten to uproot trees. Helicopter blades Ginsu-chop the light-polluted sky above. Faceless groups. Snippets of conversation. Beads float toward outstretched hands. Toilet paper flitters from oak branches.
We reach Gia’s friends. I drop my beers into Bryce’s cooler. Bryce is Syd’s boyfriend. He’s twenty years older. Kids. The kind of guy who brings High Lifes, tells you to bring beer, and when you bring quality shit, he gives it away without asking you.
“Mind if I put these in your cooler, Bryce?”
“Not at all. May I?”
I hand him one and watch the parade approach as he admires the label.
Trey slides up beside Gia and taps her shoulder. Her eyes light up and she leaps into his arms. He puts her down and glances at me.
I retreat to the way back, leaning against a chain-link fence someone has erected to keep their yard from being trampled. Syd wanders up carrying two liquor drinks. Gia notices Syd, screams and saves me from having to speak to her.
Last Mardi Gras, Gia had a threesome with Syd and some tourist guy from Eastern Europe. I made the mistake of asking about this early on. I was trying to be open-minded. To accept that people have pasts. Such acceptance is not a part of my makeup. And fuck Eastern Europe. She’d told me the guy was out of her league, appearance wise. He was more interested in Syd. Then a memory of it overtook her, and she shuddered. But she maintained the experience had been special because it had been with Syd.
I never asked about logistics, but in my mind, Gia’s face is planted in Syd’s crotch, and she’s getting fucked from behind by some Eastern European who won’t break eye contact with Syd; the fuck between you and the one you actually want, that you can’t turn down because it’s in front of you.
I hate having these thoughts.
I scan the countless faces in the crowd and see the same kid step out into the street awed by the mad carnival. The desire to uproot sudden, he sprints across the street and barely skirts by a passing tractor.
Gia grabs my hand.
“C’mon. I want to get closer.”
The wall of people in front of us is ten–deep.
“Go ahead,” I say. “I’ll watch.”
“But I need you,” Gia says, “You’re tall. You’ll get more swag… please?”
“I’ll be up there in a minute,” I say. “When you get a spot.”
She trudges off, grabs Trey and Syd and they work through the crowd. Soon they’re in front. A float passes. Gia lands a huge throw and shows me. I give the thumbs up. She shows Trey. He acts like he’s never been more excited. Everything’s amazing to this fuck. Every moment the greatest moment of his life.
Gia turns to wait on the next float. Trey’s hand grazes her lower back. She smiles but takes a step away. I need to piss so it’s a good excuse to leave and not body him.
I walk parallel to St. Charles. One block away there’s an eerie quiet. The parade a dull background roar. I stop in front of a church and stare up at the steeple. Not a cloud. They’re selling hot dogs, red beans and rice and beer. For a buck you can piss.
I forgot beer, so I buy two and piss out what I drank before.
Then I’m gone. Walking back to Gia and her friends I can’t stand.
“Hey, buddy, want to do a keg stand?”
A bro appears standing in a driveway by a keg.
“I’m good,” I say.
I’m about to walk away when this college girl bounds off the porch and heads my way. She’s wearing a Tulane t-shirt with the collar cut out and the bottom cut off to make it a belly shirt. It drapes off one shoulder. She’s wearing way too short shorts. Face painted. Very, very drunk.
“Hold me up while I do one?” she asks.
The frat boy fingers the tap, shaking his head, like he knows she doesn’t need anymore, but honestly, is he going to advise her to stop drinking? Please.
She clutches the sides of the keg. Pokes her ass out in my direction. I get a good hold on her thighs and lift. The frat guy counts. A crowd from the porch joins in. Ninety seconds she goes for. When I finally set her down, she wobbles, almost falls, then thrusts her arms triumphantly in the air. The porch reciprocates with cheers and barking and all manner of obscene animal noises. I walk away, but she follows.
“Want to hang out with me?”
“I better get back to my friends.”
Before I can object, she pulls me along the side of a shotgun house and down a walkway with an ivy-covered fence on the other side. She pushes me against the house and leaps into my arms. I catch her. She starts kissing me, but I set her down.
She shrugs and runs off.
I mean, what was I going to do? Give in. Leave her with something to regret. On the side of this house. No. There’s another guy sucked into this vortex fit for that job. He’s got a disturbing buzz on, and he’s down for anything. And he’s given serious thought to what his name is today. And tomorrow, there will be a number in her phone, if she’s lucky, and if there is, she’ll send a message to a ghost on the other end.
I return to the street and see Gia walking my way.
“Oh my god. Things got creepy over there,” she says.
“Can we go home? I’m drunk.”
She places her hand in mine. I guide her away from the madness. We walk several blocks in silence. Gia jerks to a stop. It’s the same kid, the mountain of beads, tears stream down his face.
“Are you lost?” Gia asks. “What’s your name?”
“Do you know your phone number?”
She hands him her phone and he types the number.
“Hello? Yes, I have Kevin.”
Gia listens, rolls her eyes.
“Yes, hello. I have your son… okay, nephew...”
Kevin has a vice grip on Gia’s leg. People pass, drunk and screaming. He probably peers up at masks and costumes and sees everything much scarier than it is.
Gia clearly can’t believe what she’s hearing.
“We will come to you. What’s the address?”
She hangs up and takes Kevin’s hand.
“Come on. It isn’t far.”
I follow. Kevin grips her hand tight. Gia glances over her shoulder and smiles.
As sweet as it is, I can’t help a creeping thought. What if this is a ploy? Kevin sent up to us, bawling and scared, to see if we stop and help? To lure us some place where something terrible will happen. A couple guys waiting to rob us. Worse?
I slow as Gia and Kevin drift ahead, my attention captured by a cockroach scurrying from a bed of mulch, teetering on the edge of a sidewalk crack and tipping in. It lands on its back and struggles to turn over, but the crack is too thin. Its stringy legs kick wildly as it waits to be crushed.
I catch up and take both of their hands.
“It’s just up here,” Gia says.
We enter a dodgy neighborhood, but really, it’s not so bad. A kid jumps out of a minivan and points at Kevin.
“How’d you get lost, dummy?”
Kevin stares at his shoes as more kids trickle out and laugh. Gia leans in the kid-filled van. The oldest, a girl, maybe thirteen, with her face buried in a cell phone, appears to be in charge
“Will he be okay here?” Gia asks.
“Uh, yeah,” she says, not looking up from her phone.
As we leave, I glance back and see Kevin vanish inside the van.
A half hour later, we’re home sitting on the stoop.
“It felt good to help that kid, but I can’t believe some people. If it hadn’t been for us, who knows what could have happened to him.”
“The world is a meat grinder; he might have been better off.”
Gia looks away and shakes her head.
“What was the creepy thing that happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just say, I won’t be hanging with Trey anymore.”
Rage boils inside me. We sit in silence for a while. Gia turns to me.
“I had fun with you today. Thanks for going. And for everything you do. I know this isn’t your idea of fun, and you went for me. I know you do a lot you don’t want to do, for me. I appreciate it.”
I can’t respond.
“You know how much I love you, right?” she says and smiles at me.
The smile is pure. Behind it is love. And for the first time all day, I stop my gears from grinding and catch her eyes. They’re honest and vulnerable, and I know she trusts me completely.
“Be right back,” she kisses me and goes inside.
I take a sip of beer. My face hot. I watch the street. Cars and people pass. A siren screams in the distance. I walk down to the sidewalk and wander aimlessly. I toe a giant crack with the end of my shoe and try to wipe away the tears.