Hurricanes in My Youth

The Mississippi levee breaks at the end of St. Mary, just three blocks from where we live and then water, snakes and shit and creasoled logs come pouring into the streets left and right, rumbling like an old tired Gray Line Bus. And then Mama starts yelling put up the icebox and washer on something 'cause the water's rising.

The stinky water's moving down the hall to my room so fast, and crap there's my shoes right under the bed, floating out so I have to go barefooted; and there goes a little black frog-thing and Mama says never mind, never mind, let’s get on over to the Caldoni place, they're up three stories. And never you mind the washer, your Daddy's gonna pass a brick. Just bought it from JC Penney.

Mama's in her black stretch pants, red blouse loose and no bra and I can't help but laugh at us two running, flopping, out this nasty old house, willow tree outside and them Portuguese boys from across the street climbing up it and looking in the window. The water's so brown like diarrhea and something's on my foot then between my toes. Oh hell. I'm sick of this, don't want to be here.

Hey Mama, Mama you forgot your teeth.

Hope I don't see them boys coming with us, following us, hope a old big moccasin bites their balls. I told them I don't fuck with no Por..tee..gee..guys. Swear to God they whispered so loud last night Mama was gonna hear, and me with no period yet. Almos' fourteen. Already gone to first year high school. That man Kennedy's gonna be president and I went to the campaign down at Rocky's Movie House last week. Father Malon says he's the first Catholic one and he's gonna show us all right from wrong at last. 'Bout time the true spirit of the south gets in the White House. Father's from Ireland so what's he know about it and he's so young and, well, they say he likes the coloreds. Somebody threw a brick through the rectory last week. Damn, I hate going to confession.

Well, this town smells like a leaking sewage ditch, like the Mississippi in the morning. The south ain't so sweet no more huh, Father? God's wrath, like it says in the Bible.

Now Mama's in front of me yelling come on, come on. She's already gone a block up almost to the street sign where I take the bus and then she's around the corner and I can't see her. But I can see the next street, that's Shalimar with a S, and I think who in hell names streets 'cause I sure as hell don't know what that means except could be the name of some teased-hair bitch goes to St. Theresa's school for girls who'll do it with anybody. And then I see the water rushing like in that First Story Ever Told movie just at the street sign that says Jefferson and Davis. That old red truck Mr. Spadora uses for selling vegetables is stuck there, like it's gonna turn over and there past me goes cucumbers and tomatoes and a head of yellow lettuce. Mr. Spadora sells cheap stuff I think. Only fresh goes to the big restaurants where Daddy says the Mafioses eat in style and us taxpayers pick up the tab 'cause the mayor and the governor and all them politicians on the take. Corruption. Daddy loves that word; says everything, everybody, the whole world's corrupt and that's probably why he has to drive that Ding Dong truck 'stead of sitting behind a desk and smoking. Poor Daddy watches the fights on TV all the time and don't bother to talk to none of us kids. Mama says he's lonely, but I can't see that she does anything to make it go away.

Mama looks back and she's crying and her red lipstick is smeared and I gotta laugh at my Mama 'cause who would think to put makeup on when the hurricane's coming and the water and snakes and people are peeing and shitting in the water and Mama, well, that's Mama. Once she said go ahead and smoke but be sure you just don't do it walking down the street. Be a lady, you hear now girlie. Man, I'd like to tell her 'bout what them dego boys wanted to do to me one night... and they didn't care if it's on the sidewalk neither.

We finally get to the stairs to go up to the Caldoni place and there sitting on the steps just where the water's coming is Benny Stern and his brother Manny and they're laughing and throwing a little black cat in the water. They're yelling, mew, cat mew, and the poor cat tries to swim back but the water's too fast and Mama she catches the cat and yells you little bastards I'm gonna tell your Mama how mean you are. And they get up and run upstairs and Mama grabs the cat and starts to climb after them.

I yell, hey wait for me when a big log comes rolling towards me and trash and some dead blue thing and I'm knocked backward. All I can feel is water in my mouth and pieces of whatnot and I think if I'm not gonna die right now then it sure will be later from polio or typhoid or some disease that nobody can cure. Man, I'm gonna puke. But I'm standing up again feeling the cold water under my blouse and I'm just so scared a snake's gonna bite me right on my teats. Oh God. I don't think I have time to say a Hail Mary. So I spit out the water and I'm crying and Mama's real blurry through the dirty water in my eyes and it's in my mouth and I push and cry like some goddamned cry baby all the way to the stairs and climb to Mama. I'm coughing and gross stuff is running out my nose. Mama grabs my hand and says come on. She's still holding the cat.

Dang! How in hell did all these people get here so fast is my question. The whole Caldoni apartment is full of old ladies and little kids running around and more cats, yellow and black and white and even one of those wimpy sushi dogs. Ugly as sin, reminds me of a werewolf face. Maybe when Mrs. Sullivan ain't looking, I'll kick it.

"Hey, I busta you head you lil pricka." That's Mrs. Petrelli yelling at Tommy O'Brien. Always, she's yelling at Tommy, always she's gonna busta something. One time she threw a pot with red flowers at him and said she was gonna pray to God to busta his little dick. Boy, that was one of the best laughs we had in a long time. So, poor Tommy, he got a great nickname... busta, hey, busta dick, coma here!

"Bella, how come your Nolan don't come to confession las' Saturday. Father Boudreaux says he not going to be confirmed." Mrs. Boisseau is picking on Mrs. Manella already. We know all the sore places in this neighborhood. Mr. Manella hates the Catholic Church, or maybe just priests, reason being one supposed ta' have tried well you know what with Nolan. Nolan could care less one way or the other. He says fuck them, he says that about everything, cause he's gonna join the Mafia when he's thirteen and then the Navy when he's eighteen and it don't make no difference about God in neither one. Nolan always has something deep to say. Told me the other day that girl's got it lucky since they don't have to worry about being bad 'cause there's nothin' for them to do anyway. Women just make heartache. Mostly he says people that don't have to choose are the happiest. Choose you lose.

"Give me that sausage you little asshole. That's for Penny. I brought that for Penny."

"The hell you say. We hardly have food here. Go look at the water old lady and see when you think the grocery store gonna deliver. Ain't giving no good pepperoni to no ratty dog."

What a bunch of tired asses! And so I think, oh swell world war three. Old ladies rather die then see their little baby poochies go hungry. Then the real baby in the other room starts crying and God I hope Mrs. Hanlon doesn't whip out her knockers and start feeding that kid 'cause that's disgusting and it just gives guys ideas about how big a girl's oughta be and then they gonna be after me to show 'em.

"Hey, Dominic, you see Fats Domino las' Saturday?" Artie Jones yells across the room. He's laughing like it's a big deal his brother plays for the band. Only white guy they let do that. Fats lives five blocks from here and nobody's allowed to go near his place. They say there's bodyguards all over and if you go on his property they kill you and well, like Fats sings it, it's the big piano in the sky.

So then Artie goes to Mrs. Caldoni's icebox and takes out a Jax and I'm thinking great, shit's gonna hit the fan 'cause we all know about Mrs. Caldoni and Artie. I can tell everybody's holding their breath like where's Mr. Tony and I can tell that he's probably not here but out with the fire guys saving cats. Big bet goes around about how long it’s gonna take for Mr. Tony to find out what his wife's doing and kill Artie. Dominic laughs and gives Artie the finger.

Mama's smoking another cigarette and her lips are all red and messy and she looks at me and winks like she's got some goddamned secret about being here. All of a sudden old Mrs. Shobanian screams something about the eggs being stoled from her purse and all the kids are laughing and she gets up and stands and I see she's got her shoes on and then she plops down, the old fat witch, and the kids howl and little Merci O'Brien is rolling on the floor, then the old witch screams again you lil' rotten fuckin' tings and she's looking at her feet and I see yellow goo coming out where her fat feet fold over her old lady black orthopedic shoes and I can't help it 'cause it's the funniest dang thing.

Here comes three cats and a yeepie poodle going after her feet and they're licking and fighting and Mama and Mrs. Caldoni try to stop it when all of a sudden the door bangs open and Manny yells there's a dead guy floating in front of the house. He's bloated like a purple balloon. And I think I want to see a dead guy and get outta this place with all these disgusting people.

Mama's yelling for me to come back, but there's no way in hell I'm gonna miss this. I run out and down the stairs and the sun hits me like a hammer in my eye socket. Man, it stinks like the dumps along Jefferson Boulevard, like when we have to stand by them graveyards and wait for the nine-thirty transfer to Canal Street and I hope Mama never finds out that I didn't go to Aunt Mary's but to Bourbon Street and sat on the cool grass at Jackson Square and drank beer with Ettiene Broussard. I'm heading down the stairs to look at a dead guy and down the long road to ruin in New Orleans. And I'm thinking that it can't be no worse than being in Mrs. Caldoni's apartment with a bunch of retards live around me day after day, hurricane or no hurricane. What kind of life is this anyway? Dead man with a red shirt, eyes open and looking up at me like he's scared shitless and cin't remember what to tell me, just knows that somewhere out there where he come from was bad, real bad. And Mama has her hand on my arm and says now Nikki Beaudoin you get yourself away from that there man. You hear me. But all I know is she smells like our house before the waters came.

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