Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Love UnSeen - 07 - pt 2

07 - pt 2

Jackson never liked being recognized as New Orleans’ “royalty.” Just because his family had lived in the city practically since its founding didn’t make him any better than anyone else. “Most people don’t put the pieces together since we don’t live in a huge Garden District mansion,” Jackson finally clarified. The coffee sat uneasily in his stomach. The fact that first their grandfather and then their father had lost the once great Santoro family fortune was always a sore spot, too, and one Jackson was not keen to get into with Dan. Not now, and not in the middle of the most touristy spot of the French Quarter.
Rustling from Dan’s side of the table. Maybe he was wiping his hands or mouth with a napkin. “Why on earth wouldn’t you want to go to that party?” Dan said with a mix of shock and awe in his voice. “Cadmus is one of the most exclusive krewes in the city. They parade on Mardi Gras day for Chrissake!” Although the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras season lasted weeks, only the most prestigious krewes had the honor of parading on Mardi Gras day, and Cadmus was one of them.
“Blind guy, Mardi Gras, not exactly the best mix, as you already pointed out. Crowds of people, stuff being hurled at my head, floats I can’t see. Besides, the krewe is full of Janus-faced assholes who think their shit don’t stink. And the balls are always these huge, elaborate affairs, always in a new location, with plenty of things for me to trip over. I always spend the entire time at a table by myself, getting drunk, while Lyn dances and has fun.” Jackson felt that overwhelming sense of loneliness that pervaded his life sweep over him. It had abated slightly since Dan moved in, but had never really left him. He found a beignet and tore off a piece to pop in his mouth, although he didn’t really want it. But it gave his face something to do than hopefully betraying his thoughts to Dan.
“I’m sorry,” Dan said, again in that tender voice. Jackson heard him take an audible breath, as if he were about to ask him something momentous. Instead, he said, “Let’s go. There’s somewhere I want to take you and it always cheers me up when I’m in a bad mood.”


#


“Here we are,” Dan said once they’d walked a few blocks from Cafe du Monde.
Jackson had noticed their surroundings had changed from a line of low buildings he assumed were shops or restaurants into a blur of colors and darks he surmised must be shadows, but when he looked up, he saw darkness instead of the blue of the sky. He could feel the coolness of being in the shade and a hint of a breeze. So a building that had a roof but no walls. “The French Market?”
Dan let out a low, amused chuckle, which turned into something heavier, and finally he admitted he’d nodded. “Yes.”
“You’re really taking this ‘be a tourist in your own town’ thing seriously.”
Before Jackson could prompt Dan to describe the layout, he did so, perhaps remembering Jackson’s earlier lecture. “An open-air market, as I’m sure you know. They fixed it up really nice after Katrina. First section is for produce, with more permanent stalls, especially on the right. They have metal doors that roll down when the stall isn’t open. Feel.”
Jackson had Molly lead him closer to Dan, then reached out with his left hand until he met the cool metal of the door Dan had described, first feeling to the left, then the right to get a sense of how large the space was.
“This place used to be a dump, but now these stalls are little shops, some with seating. Here on the left they sell prepared food whereas to our right is a kind of farmer’s market slash green grocer.”
They walked awhile, Jackson observing the shifting multitudes of color and the smell of fresh fruit and greens wafting around them. It wasn’t as crowded as the coffee shop had been or as he expected the main part of the market would be. It was relatively quiet for the Quarter, and cool, and almost peaceful. “Can you describe the stalls to me?”
Dan leaned in a little closer, perhaps so he wouldn’t be overheard, and it made an unconscious shiver course through Jackson’s body that he hoped the man couldn’t see. “There’s some pretty pathetic looking lettuce and carrots on your near left, and some decent apples on your far left, but it’s slim pickings. I used to come here sometimes to pick up a few things when I lived a few blocks away, but if you really want good options you have to drive all the way to Uptown. This is mostly for tourists, nowadays.” They walked a little farther, and then Dan announced they were heading into the flea market section. “This area is more open. Bigger. Essentially the spaces are numbered, but each vendor has to bring their own table to display their wares. It’s set up with three main walkways, with the booths set up along each side. There’s occasional branches where you can pass from one side to another. These are usually fronted by stands on either side as well. Think of an ‘H’ in that case.” Dan paused. “Do you know what an ‘H’ looks like?”
Jackson smiled at the adorable way Dan’s voice sounded when he said that. “Yes. I learned all the English letters and numbers by feel when I was younger. It helps if I come across a sign where the letters are raised enough for me to feel them, but I’ll admit I can’t read very fast that way. I don’t recognize them quickly.”
“Well, I read up a little on Braille and I don’t think I could ever master it.”
Jackson smiled faintly, impressed that Dan had taken the time to do so. “Not all of us can be smart.”
Dan let out a choked laugh. “I’m serious. It’s hard enough telling all the letters apart, and then the numbers are the same as the first few letters, and then if you get into that complicated stuff like you read there’s all these abbreviations for everything. I would be a terrible blind man.”
Jackson stifled a smile. It was impossible for him to stay in a bad mood when he was around Dan. God, this was a crush of epic proportions. “What kinds of things are they selling here?”
“Everything and anything, really, as long as it’s small enough for a tourist to take with them. T-shirts, candles, knick knacks, jewelry, beads, artwork. I even met a documentary filmmaker selling copies of his DVD here once.” They walked a few steps and then Dan urged Jackson towards the left with a subtle hand on his back. Normally, Jackson wouldn’t like that when he was being guided by Molly, but he got too lost in the touch to care. “Here. This guy is selling Mardi Gras beads, if you want to feel.”
Jackson reached out, his fingertips brushing over dozens of strands of beads of different designs, the plastic clinking subtly as he moved over them. Because of their krewe membership, the Santoros always had tons of different beads lying around the house, and as a young kid Jackson had delighted in playing with them, loving the feel of the different textures in his hands, and he had a flash of happy nostalgia of Mardi Gras seasons past, when Lyn would come home from a parade and let him feel all of the beads she’d caught and pick out his favorites to keep.
“You like? Four for a dollar,” the vendor said. “Nice gift for your lady friend? Very pretty one you have there.”
Jackson turned toward the source of the voice, not able to make out much of the man. He wanted to make a snarky remark about the guy totally reading him wrong, but instead, he said to Dan although he made no effort to lower his voice, “Why would you buy something you can get for free in a parade? Besides, you can buy most of these for a few bucks a gross.”
Dan laughed and apologized to the clerk, who was insisting that his beads were of the finest quality. “You’re like the Scrooge of Mardi Gras, aren’t you? Come on. Up ahead there’s a women selling these ridiculous hats with feathers and beads on them, and next to her there’s something else I want you to check out.”


#


Dan and Jackson spent some time exploring the market, Dan constantly pointing out anything he thought Jackson might find tactically interesting. He’d announced they’d almost explored the entire market when he suddenly said, “Wow. Those are amazing.”
“Thank you,” a woman replied. She sounded older, but not ancient. Perhaps a few years Lyn’s senior.
“What’s amazing?” Jackson asked, following Dan’s voice until he was standing beside him. His vision didn’t tell him anything, and he was afraid to blindly reach out to touch in case anything in her booth was breakable. He’d already made that mistake when they’d first started out and knocked something over with a crash loud enough it momentarily silenced the rest of the shoppers. The vendor had been enraged until he’d realized Jackson was blind and had refused to let Jackson pay for the damages. Something about how Jackson already had enough misfortune, and God bless him.
“They’re miniatures of famous New Orleans’ landmarks,” Dan explained. “There’s a tomb, and a French Quarter-style building, complete with little balcony. The wedding cake house from St. Charles and State. The Camelia Grill, a streetcar, St. Louis cathedral, a river boat. They’re so detailed. Perfect replicas, but most can fit in the palm of your hand.”
Jackson turned to where he suspected the artist was based on the direction of her voice. “May I touch?”
“Of course. Help yourself.” She sounded kind and not patronizing.
“I think this’ll work best if you give it to me,” Jackson said, and he dropped Molly’s harness, holding his hands palm up.
“OK. Let’s see if you can figure out what each one is.”
Jackson laughed. “How am I supposed to tell one building from another?” But he closed his eyes once Dan placed one in his hands, using one to hold it while the other roved over its surface, getting a good sense of its dimensions and details. This piece was oblong, slightly rounded on each end, with little rectangles carved into the side on both the right and left, near the top and taking up roughly half of its height. Then he felt a larger rectangle on each end that stretched almost double the smaller ones; these were on both sides. On the front and back were three deeper inset rectangles. On the lower portion of each side he could feel an indentation, and some hard to distinguish details that continued on the underside. He carefully turned it in his hand so he could feel the object more clearly, sensing a few rounded pieces. This was no building. “A streetcar?”
“Ding ding ding!” Dan said. “Yup. It looks just like one, too. This is the green ones from the St. Charles line, but she has the red cars, too.”
Jackson had a faint sense of what the streetcars looked like, but feeling this model made the image in his head far clearer, details that were missing snapping into place. “I want to feel another one,” he said with a childish grin.
“Try them all if you’d like,” the vendor said. “My brother’s blind. Lost his sight in an accident when he was in high school. He was actually my inspiration for these figures.”
Dan traded the streetcar for something else. Definitely a building, with traditional four sides plus a base, as was to be expected. But what gave it away were the three points in the roof, one taller than the other two. This one was much easier to discern, especially since Jackson’s vision wasn’t so poor he couldn’t see the three spires on the actual building  to some extent, as long as the light was right. Besides, he was familiar with descriptions of the landmark. “St. Louis Cathedral.”
“Hmm. Too easy. OK, how about this one?” Dan’s fingers lingered just a little longer on Jackson’s as he swapped out the miniatures, and it made Jackson’s breath catch. As much as Jackson loved this, it was torture.
This miniature was smaller, but still had weight to it. Its shape was completely different than the other two. A rectangular base, then two thin pieces that attached to it. Sliding his fingers up from there he found another extension, a little flatter than cylindrical, with some striations he could feel with his nail. Then a rounder, not quite cylindrical portion that was almost as large as the base. It had yet another object protruding from it, but Jackson couldn’t be certain what it was. But then he felt something small and round at the top, and when he continued to the left, he felt a curved portion, and going down two more branches that were bent at different angles, but both pointing in the same direction. “A statue? Maybe? A . . . horse,” Jackson concluded, tracing over the various parts he became more and more certain belonged to a horse once he felt them a second and third time. “A horse, and a man riding it.” Jackson took a moment to figure out who the statue might be of. He knew there was one in Lee Circle, but Jackson honestly didn’t know what it looked like. And another of Beauregard, which he thought was of a man on a horse, but he couldn’t be certain. The woman was selling to tourists, and how many tourists saw that statue, since it was in a more residential area of the city? “Jackson?” he guessed, knowing the square nearby featured a statue of Andrew Jackson, his namesake.
“Damn, you’re good. I wouldn’t have gotten this one in a million years.”
“It really looks like this? What’s this part?” Jackson asked, indicating something near the horse’s head, maybe in Andrew Jackson’s hand.
“His hat. The horse is rearing up and he has his hat in his hand. It’s one of those Napoleon kind of hats.”
“Bicorne,” Jackson said, and now that he knew what it was, he got a better sense of what he was feeling.
“Is that like a siamese acorn?” Dan said teasingly.
Jackson pointed to the hat on the statue. “That’s what it’s called.”
“Of course you know what it’s called. I’ll file that away in more useless information I don’t need. Thank you Mr. Professor. Excuse me, Doctor Professor.” Despite his sardonic tone, Dan was teasing, because there was also a lightness, almost a playfulness to his voice.
Jackson held the statue out for the vendor to take back. “These are incredible. I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve been blind since I was a baby, so I had no way of really understanding what most of these landmarks looked like.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you like them.”
Jackson explored several more figures, delighting in getting to conceptualize parts of the city that sighted people took for granted every day. He was so distracted he barely caught the rustle of money and lowered voices between Dan and the artist, and then the zip of Dan’s bag as he put something in it.
As they were walking toward their final destination, somewhere on Royal Dan insisted they see even though Jackson hated the way the Quarter smelled the closer they got to Bourbon, like garbage and urine and old beer, Jackson asked, “What did you buy?”
Dan let out a sigh. “For someone blind you’re ridiculously hard to get anything past.”
“So what did you buy? A replica of Tropical Isle? The original building, before the bar burned down and relocated?”
“Ha ha. Just one of her pieces I admired. Now who’s the nosy one?”


#


They’d walked pretty far along Royal, and Jackson’s legs were starting to tighten up and ache enough to distract him and slow him down. He walked a lot by necessity and because keeping active actually helped his spasticity, but they’d covered a lot of ground with only a few short breaks. It didn’t help that he was beginning to get hungry, and he always got a little irritable when he hadn’t eaten.
“So I thought this was supposed to be your photography project, but other than at the cemetery, you haven’t taken a lot of pictures.”
“I have. You just didn’t notice or weren’t around. I snapped a few photos on the streetcar, and some while we were walking, and I got some great shots at Cafe du Monde and in the French Market. And I got some just for fun at Jackson Square.”
“So much for nothing getting past me,” Jackson muttered. “So where are we going? I don’t know the Quarter as well as home and I’m a little disoriented.”
“We’re on Royal, heading towards the Marigny. We’re almost there. Just a couple blocks.”
Jackson was skeptical, but it turned out that Dan was right. After two more blocks, he announced they’d arrived, and held the door open for Jackson and Molly to enter.
The store smelled unlike anything Jackson had in his experience. Like fresh paint, giving it a new, clean scent, and yet he also sensed the underlying hint of old wood, of must and mold that pervaded almost any building in the city, especially the Quarter. The place was shockingly bright, especially since the walls and ceiling were all white, and it was almost painful. Jackson squinted, then finally decided to close his eyes entirely since his vision was too washed out to do him much good anyway.
“What is this place?” Jackson asked, following Dan’s footsteps and trusting Molly to guide him. More than once he would have expected to be able to go straight, but she guided him to his right or left, took him straight a little while, then again nudged him in a different direction. Most stores in the Quarter were dark and cluttered, but Jackson could never find anything other than an occasional wall when he held his hand out, so he was mystified.
“Just a little farther. Right here,” Dan said, standing off to Jackson’s left. “It’s a gallery. And you’re standing in front of one of my photos.”
Jackson risked opening his eyes. It was still bright, but Dan’s photo was huge--about half the height of a person and twice as long--and black and white, Jackson could tell that much. “What is it?”
Dan stood a little closer. “I used to walk over to Armstrong Park when I lived down here, and one day it was overcast and a little cold, so almost no one was there. But then I saw this young woman sitting on the grass near the water, under a tree, and she was writing, or maybe sketching, in a notebook. She had her legs tucked up and the notebook resting on her knees, and then she glanced up. Her stare was vacant, like she was thinking, maybe trying to decide on a word or what she would sketch next, and I found myself enraptured by her. Her look was so haunted, so sad, so lost, and the aloneness that radiated off her stole my attention. Yes, she seemed like someone who enjoyed her solitude, but at the same time I could tell that she was desperate for company, for acknowledgement. She was disturbingly beautiful in such a sad way, I had to capture it.”
Jackson let out a breath. He’d lived long enough and had read enough that he knew how much emotion could be conveyed in a facial expression, but hearing Dan talk about how just one photo of this woman could speak so much, something so close to his own heart, struck Jackson. What did Dan see when he looked at him? Was that why he was so nice? He felt something for Jackson akin to pity, but not because of his blindness or disability, but because he radiated aloneness like this woman?
“The shot is looking at her from slightly below and the right. She has one hand on the notebook and the other supporting her head, her fingers in her hair. The leaves partially shadowing her face.”
It sounded beautiful. “I wish I could touch it.”
“Well, the gallery owner would kill me, but you can if you want.”
Jackson shook his head. “No. I mean, I wish I could touch it like those figures in the Market. So I could really see it the way you do.”
Dan was silent a long time. “So do I. If I can produce this next project as well as I hope, the gallery has agreed to give me the entire space for a limited engagement. That would be huge for me.”
Jackson couldn’t help smiling. Especially because it meant a lot that Dan had wanted to share this with him. Most people, even Lyn, would have assumed he could never appreciate something purely visual like photography. Even paintings he could touch and feel the brushstrokes, but photography was entirely contained in a flat image that was beyond his ability to understand. And somehow, yet again, Dan had managed to bridge that gap for him, sharing a little bit of his passion.
And in that moment, Jackson decided he didn’t care if he was falling in love with a man who would never love him back, at least not in the same way. Dan was like a brilliant flame, and just being around him would warm him in ways he never had been before. They stood together for a long, quiet moment until Dan broke the silence.
“I could go with you.”
Jackson tilted his head as if doing so he could hear what Dan had meant by that. “Go with me?”
“To that krewe party. You must be allowed a plus one, right?”
Jackson’s heart sped up and his stomach clenched and danced with butterflies at the same time as his mind desperately tried to keep a grip and not get his hopes up. “You . . . want to go as my date?”
Dan was shifting from one foot to the other. Was he nervous? “Sure.”
Jackson’s heart felt like it wanted to crawl out of his body, but he had to keep himself level. It was more likely Dan was curious to see the inner workings of one of the most secretive and exclusive krewes in the city, not because he was interested in Jackson at all. “You know everyone in the krewe already knows I’m gay. If you come with me, you could have sex with multiple women on stage and they still wouldn’t buy that you’re straight.”
Dan hesitated before he replied, “Even if I’m your seeing-eye person? It sounds like a place you wouldn’t want to bring Molly. I could help you avoid tripping, or at least keep you company at that table you were talking about.”
Jackson turned so he was facing Dan. He wanted to stretch a hand to Dan’s face, try to feel what his expression was so he could determine Dan’s motivations. But was it only that? Jackson ached for more from Dan. Dan showed a tenderness toward Jackson that was unfamiliar. He was used to men as colleagues, as the occasional fuck buddy, but he’d never had one as a friend. Not really. Especially not since he’d figured out he liked men. “You don’t care that every single one of the people at the party are going to assume you’re gay, even if all you do is lead me around in a totally platonic way.”
“What do I care what those people think of me? It’s not like I know any of them.”
Jackson sighed. Shook his head. “These are powerful, influential people. And as accepting and cosmopolitan as New Orleans is, these people are old school. They tolerate me because of who my great, great, great, great, etc., grandfather was, and also on the theory that Cadmus is the husband of Harmonia, the Greek goddess of accord. But the reality is, showing up with me will get you labeled. And I don’t understand why you’d want to risk that. It’s just a party. Non-members aren’t allowed access to any of the krewe’s real secrets, and even most of the members don’t see the floats before the season.”
“So you’d prefer to go alone?”
“I’d prefer to not go at all,” Jackson replied stubbornly. “You’ll have to learn how to guide me properly. You can’t just walk me around. You have to warn me if there’s something I might trip on or bump into.”
“Does that mean I can go with you?” Dan asked with a smile in his voice.
“Of course you can go with me. What I don’t understand is why you’d want to.”

########

5 comments:

  1. I'm glad you are back.
    Every week I do hope so much for a new part of one of your stories. Thanks for this new piece.

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  2. Wonderful descriptive chapter.

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  3. Moreeeeeeee please

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  4. I love this so much :) That scene at the market actually reminded me of the museum for the blind in Madrid. If you ever get the chance to go there (or to something similar), it's amazing. And for free.

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  5. Amazingly 'visual' for us in so many ways. Thank you.

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