New Orleans' magic has found it's way into a young couple in this short story. Unfortunately, with the love it brings there is also truth.
“Charles, there you are!” Margaret cried out, running up to the young man coming into the dark night’s view. “I thought you had forgotten about our plans tonight,” she grumbled as she placed her arms around him. Sweat drenched his body, permeating his cotton shirt causing it to cling to his body. Margaret surprised herself at how oddly alluring that was.
“Forgotten? How could I possibly forget about meetin’ the most beautiful girl in New Orleans tonight?” the man gleamed as he held her out at arms’ length admiring her. He noticed that she had worn a new dress tonight, one of those floral printed crepe dresses that filled the local boutiques. The soft pastel print of the dress matched perfectly to her rosy fair skin. It would be the perfect dress for tonight’s celebration he decided.
“We better get a goin’ before the café closes up,” he warned as he folded her arm into his and walked down the now nearly empty Canal Street. The only sounds were of a lone clarinet man sitting under the corner street light playing “Summertime”. The man nodded his head in gratitude to Charles as he dropped a nickel into his hat and then he hazily drifted back into the seduction of the night.
“Good, they’re still open.” Margaret chimed as they reached Lily’s Cafe. The little café was one of her favorites with its foreign French delicacies that made the small town girl feel like a glamorous socialite. She could picture it being the type of place you’d very easily see Mae West scoffing down a chocolate crepe, well, that is if scoffing was something a big movie star would do.
Charles pulled out a wrought iron chair for his love, quickly brushing off whatever the weather may have laid on it. She smiled up at him as she wrapped her dress beneath her and sat down. He hurried himself to the chair beside her, wondering if his nerves had begun to show yet.
“What would y’all like tonight?” the older waiter asked as he lit the small candle in the crimson colored votive on their table.
“I would like some coffee, no sugar and the lady would like some of your finest chocolate crepes,” Charles responded. The waiter nodded and headed back inside towards the kitchen.
“Oh Charles, you know I shouldn’t be eating such things. I need to keep up my girlish fig-“she began when he cut off her words. “My darling, your figure is not that of a girl but rather that of a woman. Eat whatever you want tonight, tonight is special.”
Margaret could feel her cheeks flush as he emphasized the word “woman”. Even after their long two years of courting, he still knew how to make her heart stop. He liked that he could make her feel like a mature woman instead of a immature girl like most boys had.
“Your coffee sir and your chocolate crepe Madame,” the waiter returned placing their items in front of them.
“Oh this looks absolutely delicious!” Margaret exclaimed, thanking the waiter as he turned and stepped away. She laid her linen napkin in her lap and began delicately eating her crepe, being all too careful not to get powdered sugar on the dress she had borrowed from her sister.
“Is it what you expected, my darling?” Charles playfully questioned as he watched her treat the crepe like it was the world’s most expensive caviar.
“It’s perfect Charles! Absolutely perfect!” she replied as she looked up at him smiling sweetly down upon her. “But you shouldn’t waste this much money on me. This has to cost almost a dollar,” she griped.
“Well this night is one for celebrations, my dear.” He could feel his chest tighten as he placed her delicate hand in his. The time would be now, he could wait no longer he declared in his mind, hoping it would spark a bit of courage.
“Celebration? What are we celebratin’?” she questioned. Her chest too had begun tightening, although for very different reasons than his. Reasons she knew she couldn’t dare express on her face.
“There are many things to celebrate this beautiful summer night. For one, I haven’t seen you in almost three months now, a time that passed too slowly for me. Secondly,” he took in a deep breath attempting to calm his shaking hands as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, “well, Margaret, the moment I first met you during the fair in ’34, I knew there was something special about you, something different from all the other girls,” he stated as he brushed back a small blonde curl from her face.
“You know it was hard on me to leave you and go up river for the extra work this spring,” he said as she nodded back at him, her eyes filling with tears. “Well, I needed to go because I needed the extra money. I needed the extra money to buy you,” he paused as he brought the ring out of his wallet, “I needed to buy you a ring.” A small gasp came from Margaret’s lips.
“Margaret Anne Harrison, you have made me the happiest man in the world. The few years we’ve had together on this earth have truly been a gift from our Lord. I want to have many more years with you and because of this, I ask, will you be my wife?” Charles asked as he placed the ring with the delicate diamond on her finger.
Her eyes met his; tears began flowing down her cheeks. There was silence. An uncomfortable silence.
“Margaret?” he asked.
“I, uh, I-I, of course I’ll marry you!” she proclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck.
“Oh thank God!” He cried. “For a minute there I almost thought you’d say no.”
“No no, of course not. I was just caught up in the moment, you caught me off guard,” she answered with an uneasy laugh.
“She said yes!” Charles stood up and screamed to the wait staff that he noticed had begun nonchalantly staring at them. A small applause erupted as he grabbed Margaret up from her chair and kissed her soft red lips.
“My dear you have just made me the happiest man in the world!” He proclaimed. “I know, let’s go tell your sister the good news. She’s just a few blocks away and I’m certain she’s not asleep yet” he said as he hurriedly laid down two one dollar bills.
“Keep the change!” Charles called out to the still cheering wait staff as the two began quickly heading hand in hand down the street like two children who had just found a quarter.
Two blocks away from the small little café, Charles spotted an intriguing shop tucked into an old decaying building. “Mama Billie’s Fortune Telling” was written in the small window beside the red wooden door. Fortunate telling, how interesting, he thought. He knew that there was a culture not spoken about in New Orleans, one filled with mysterious gypsy women and an odd religion called Voodoo. Some called what they practiced black magic but he thought it was all a scam. He thought this because he had once known a Haitian man, a voodoo doctor he was called. The man and Charles were working on a crabbin’ boat one October day when the man had confided in him that most of black magic was made up to scare silly white folks. Their fears kept them out of their part of town and let them live as they sought fit. With the way he often saw white people treating colored people, he understood.
“Margaret, you see that shop there?” Charles asked.
“The fortune tellin’ one?” she questioned as they stopped staring at the door.
“Yes, that one. Let’s go in,” he directed.
“But Rev. Bishop said that those places, those people were evil and of the devil,” she whispered.
“Oh that’s just silly made up stuff. There ain’t anything evil about them. It’s all for fun, none of it is real,” he answered as he grabbed her hand leading her into the small store.
“Realer than you think,” a voice called out from the back of the room as the door chimed behind them.
The room was rather small, no bigger than most people’s kitchen, and in the center of it sat a round, old oak table. Four chairs circled it and the only light in the room, a small gas lantern, hung overhead.
“Oh Madame, are you still open?” Charles asked as an older caramel colored woman with burgundy scarves wrapped around her head approached them.
“Yes my child, I have been expecting you.” She smiled, “My name is Billie, but most people call me Mama. Have a seat there if you will,” she said gesturing to the small table.
Margaret’s cling to Charles made him feel her uneasiness. He patted her arm to reassure her as they both sat down. Mama took the chair across from them, the clear jewels on her black dress clinking as she sat. She pulled out a peculiar, oversized deck of cards from her dress and placed the stack on the table.
“These are called tarot cards and have been used by my people for centuries to reveal the inner secrets of humanity,” Mama stated as she laid out five cards in the pattern of a star. She placed her hand on the first card and turned it over to reveal two young lovers embracing each other. Margaret suddenly began to feet at ease and realized the woman was probably just going to tell them what she thought they’d want to know.
“This card is of lovers and tells me that the two of you are very much in love,” she said as she looked up and smiled at the couple. Charles squeezed Margaret’s arm and whispered in her ear, “I told you, it’s all fun and games.” She nodded back at him.
Mama then overturned the second card, this one of a young woman in a black veil. She looked at Margaret and said, “This tells me that while there is great love, there is also something hiding in that love.” “Interesting,” she said suspiciously under her breath.
Charles looked up at Margaret but her eyes did not meet his. “All silly games, remember?” She whispered to him, feeling his eyes upon her. Her stomach clenched as Mama reached to the third card which had a small white rabbit painted on it.