More Beautiful Ships

Shotgun houses in mint and yellow. The airiness of bread. In spite of the mix of greens and spices and seafood or sausage, the opaque taste of gumbo. Following behind Anthony on one of his hug-filled catchup visits, Clare had listened to a recipe that included cayenne and dandelion tops, and things she was unfamiliar with like arugula and pepper grass (if you could get it). Anthony had an astonishing number of relatives, their skin tones ranging from almost light like his to nearly black. Clare couldn’t define the local accent. It was something eastern, something southern, something that was something else. It was a mix of things like the gumbo and the music that seemed to be everywhere—in the neighborhoods where Anthony’s family lived, in the houses and corner bars, on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter  where Anthony met a friend and Clare looked in the open doors to the smoky air and the bands playing.

She had fanned herself throughout the funeral service. It was so hot. Humidity laced the air. She felt immersed in it and in the beautiful hymns. When the coffin was closed, the church bells rang, and that was another sound Clare logged into her brain. Anthony had told her they’d follow the hearse to the cemetery, that he’d be with his uncles, and that she should watch the man in the tuxedo who took the lead. She had. She’d been listening to the somber, pure notes of the horns as they left the cemetery when Anthony’s young stepniece stuck a damp hand in hers. Clare looked down.

“Gonna strut?” the child asked, pulling at the frilly hem of her small white dress. “You gonna shake it?”

Clare had laughed. “I’ll watch you,” she said, and she’d done that, too, after she heard the drummers starting a new beat. She felt the pulse of the music growing stronger and stronger until it broke into a sound like the jazz she’d heard on Anthony’s records. There was no rain in sight, but umbrellas had opened everywhere and people had started to move with the horns and drums. They were dancing, the music and party attracting people along the route as though they were joining a parade of pied pipers.


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