Eye on the World

Feast upon the scintillating and salient poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, audio, art and multimedia works in MadHat Annual, Issue 15. We have our our “Eye on the World.”

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One thought on “Eye on the World

  1. Hi Claire,
    I am working on cathartic writing. And I am working on the night we changed the black valet statues in Lafayette into multiracial mutlisexual archetypes in drag. This is a memory that is one year before I met you.

    THE BROTHERS OF BAYOU TECHE
    Memory-1982

    Lauren Fey was a principal dancer in the Atlanta Ballet. She had relocated to Lafayette with her lover, Bob Jones, an oil millionaire in a lovely home. She wanted to further her career on stage so they decided to go to a few productions in the Lafayette theatre scene and I just happened to be in a few of the productions.

    “That actor Clay is who you need to make contacts. He’s got fire. Looks like he could help.” Bob Jones caressed his beautiful muse.
    “I’ll go meet him at the backstage entrance.” Lauren, clad in a cowl collared designer dress with matching pumps and tailored trench coat, followed the trail of cigarette smoke to the backstage entrance.

    Lauren and I fast became friends and I dragged her to every interview, singing, acting and dance audition. Her resume was beautiful and professionally created. I had never seen anything like it.
    ‘So this is how a professional dancer’s resume looks like?”
    “Well I think my mother had her designer format it.”
    “So that’s what they are supposed to look like,” I thought. I had never seen a performer’s resume before.

    I was her “Dream Curly” and she was “Dream Laurie” in Oklahoma! She enrolled at USL in theatre classes. She and I were selected to be in A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room at University of Southwestern Louisiana, Burke Hall Theatre in Lafayette. It was a small cast of six actors portraying many characters. Everyone in the cast were my friends and I had marveled that they actually invited me to their homes. I was a sophomore scholarship and Pell grant college student. The cast of theatre majors came from families of means; owner of The Evangeline Downs Horse Track, owner of the local television station, professor of French history, a doctor, a lawyer and all of them seemed to have connections to offshore oil drilling. But the one thing that startled me was, not the majestic homes they lived in, but the shelves of books in every room.

    When I was very young, I craved reading. I would sneak into my step-grandmother’s home and read their Encyclopedia. Maw Maw Millie had a baby the same time my mother was pregnant with my sister. Many people could not understand how I was one year older than my aunt. Maw Maw lavished her daughter with the Child Craft series, dictionaries and children’s books. All of these books were rarely opened or read. But I read them in secret. When I heard their truck pull up into the driveway, I would dash out of the back door, fluffing the shag carpet to hide my footprints. We never had reading material at my home. Most of my mother’s family were illiterate and my brother was still looking at picture books. We had the same three children’s story books for many years. I read them to my brother, along with reading him the JC Penny Christmas catalogue entries and the back of cereal boxes.

    “You remind me of all my dancer friends in New York and Atlanta,” Lauren said as she hugged me. “Are you from New Orleans?”
    “No darlin’, I am from the outskirts of New Iberia. Bret says that his mother told him to eat all of his food as a child because children in New Iberia begged for red beans and rice on the street corners. Isn’t that a hoot?”
    We both laughed at the image of small Cajun children with outstretched arms and sunken eyes, “Beans! Beans and rice!” clutching to telephone poles or crawling out of ditches.
    “Why don’t you come and visit my mother and brother? You can help me wrap Christmas presents in my dorm room.”
    “Lovely idea, Clay.”
    “I get out of work at 6:00.”
    “Which job is this, Clay?”
    “Just another job to make ends meet, sweetie pie.”
    “Gotta keep workin’ workin’ day and night” we danced and sang Michael Jackson.

    “Do you really have to wrap every crayon and every coloring book?” Lauren was not the very best gift wrapper. She shared that her mother always had gifts wrapped and delivered to their home in Atlanta.
    “Ben loves to unwrap presents. He is an innocent and just loves quantity of gifts, not quality my dear.”
    “Is he in preschool?” Lauren inquired.
    “No, he is 22” I chimed with a smile.

    In my blue Dart, Lauren and I travel an hour south to bring holiday gifts to my mother and brother.
    Founded in 1779, this rural deltaic wetland is where I was raised. We exit Hwy 90 and drive on small two lane roads. Signage for Atchafalaya Basin, Pangay’s Honky Tonk & Bingo, Spanish Lake, Lake Martin
    Cypermort Point rush by. It is a mild winter night and the sounds of crickets sound thicker and deeper.

    “Where are we?” Lauren dragged on her cigarette.
    “Not too far from Cade and Spanish Lake.”
    “Bob Jones took me on a tour of the Tabasco plantation. It was just too hot to enjoy it.”
    “Well we live not too far from there” I chimed in.
    Sugar cane fields on one side and water on the other go whizzing by as the wind from the bayou engulf the car with the windows rolled down. Darkness enveloped the night.

    “Where are we?” Lauren looked nervous as the crickets started to breathe their night deep hum.
    “Just a few more miles” I smiled.
    Abandoned shacks. Slave shacks with abandoned cars and trucks littered the side of the road.
    “What is that sound?” Lauren heard the crunch on the tires.
    “Oyster shells make great paving sweetheart.”
    We get to my hometown and I show her the school I went to as a child. Broken, old and covered with debris.
    “How long has it been closed?” Lauren asks looking at the dilapidated edifice.
    “No baby, classes are in session.”

    We turn and pass more slave and shotgun shacks.
    “Sweetie pie, this is where I am from.”

    We pull into the driveway of a shotgun shack. It is immaculate. It is surrounded by unkempt Creole shacks that served The Shadows Plantation on Bayou Teche, broken sugar cane trucks, and is very small, but quaint and clean.

    “It looks like a Bed and Breakfast cabin Bob and I stayed at in New Orleans” Lauren says nervously.
    “What’s a Bed and Breakfast? Is it a restaurant?” I asked.
    We clang the big bell at the front door

    “Welcome home! Welcome home!” My mother greets us at the door, makeup and hair perfect, wearing holiday emerald green, with accessories to match. She look like a model. My brother is clad in Calvin Klein sleepwear with a matching robe. He looks like Cary Grant, sophisticated. Mom looks so refined.

    “Hi Ben!”
    “Well, hello. Hello!” Ben said loudly with a huge smile.
    “Ben this is my friend Lauren.”
    “She be so pretty!”
    Lauren gave Ben a hug.
    He replied, “T-tank you berry much, please.”
    “She is a dancer, Ben.”
    Mom gave us a big hug. “Y’all come on in. I am sorry about Ben wearing his pajamas, but after 8:00 we get ready for bed.”
    “Look at my watch Clay bought me. It be 8 and 3 and 5 on my watch t-tank you berry much.”
    “Ben, why don’t you show Lauren your medals.”
    My brother had just won Special Olympics for track and bowling.
    “Can I show her my clothes and toys?”
    “Absolutely Ben.”

    I always bought Ben the finest of men’s fashion. He was so very handsome and he would walk into a room dressed so fashionably. Everyone would say, “Hey Ben, where did you get that suit?” And he would say, “Dat comes from my brother, Clay Paul David. He be in Lafayette. He bought me dis in Lafayette.” Thinking that the fashion center of the universe was in Lafayette.

    My mother pulls me aside in her room and says,
    “I want so much for your friend to like us. Everything is dusted, windexed. Do I look okay?”
    “Momma, you look beautiful.”
    “I just want you to be proud of me and Ben. We are workin’ so hard.”
    “I have a couple of cleaning jobs for us Mama. In Lafayette. It is a long drive but these folk want immaculate cleaning, which you, Ben and I can do. Just wait by the phone and I will give the info. We are going to clean some nice homes in Lafayette, and you will see how my friends live. They have so many books, Mama.”

    I come to Lauren after she has seen Ben’s medals and his pre-school toys and videos. My mother is making tea for us in the kitchen. Mom goes off to Ben’s room and gets him ready for work in the morning. I open the door to the pantry. Everything is perfectly organized. All shelves are full.
    She looks at the full pantry and I tell her to look at the cans and cereal boxes. All of the can goods are empty cans. All of the boxes are empty.
    “My mother is in fear that my father will take Ben away from her so she hides our poverty by making the cabinets look like we are okay. She opens the cans and boxes from the bottom, cleans them out and remounts them in her pantry. Family snoop and she knows how to make things look good. She opens the cans from the bottom and the boxes from the bottom so no one will see. Amazing. But I just got another job coaching forensics at St. Thomas Moore, so I think we will weather the storm of my father and his family.”

    Lauren comes to the Christmas tree surrounded by gifts.

    “Look at these beautiful gifts under the tree.”
    Lauren reads the notation:
    “To Nobody from Nobody”

    “These are faux gifts that ensure that Clay and I are raising a good child and they won’t take Ben away from home. Ben can read his name on the cards. But this year we just do not have money to have gifts under the tree. Clay and I will pull our money together and get discounts next week. He still believes in Santa Claus.”

    “Momma, Lauren and I wrapped at least 20 dollars’ worth of coloring books. Ben will be just fine.”
    We unload the gifts that Lauren and I wrapped in the back out house.
    “Thank you Clay. Thank you so much.”

    “We are going to have a wonderful Christmas, Mama. I have to open the kitchen and 5:00 am is coming soon, cher. Lauren, are you ready to go?”
    “Yes.”
    We hug and kiss my mother and brother.

    The car starts, thank goodness and I have enough gas to drive back to Lafayette and go to work.

    “Just roll the windows down. I can’t talk right now. I need a cigarette. Don’t talk Clay. Just drive me back to Lafayette.”
    Lauren’s hands are trembling.

    Chain smoking, “Oh my God, Clay. I didn’t know.”
    Tears stream down her face.

    “Sweetie, we are going to be just fine. We are going to clean Bret, Nicole and Adrian’s home. I taught Ben how to vacuum. I have three jobs. We will be just fine.”

    Now I start crying.
    “Can I bum a smoke, sweetie?”
    Lauren’s hands are trembling.

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