Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Man from Woldenberg Park


By: Sherry Wood

 
Many things have inspired The Scorpion Series, but the biggest, of course, is New Orleans.

Me and my friends left in the evening to spend a weekend there when I was 23. We drove all night, listening to the Go! soundtrack. I felt so far away from everything as soon as we arrived. The weather was extremely moody. Cloudy and stormy and then the sun would come out, and then it would be impossibly cloudy again minutes later.

I fell in love with the bright, colorful buildings that seemed to spill in front of me like a box of candy. I really did feel like I was in Candy Land.

Writing is always a great escape for me, but this was even better than that. Something about that city – I felt like no one would ever be able to find me again. And I liked that.

New Orleans felt like a mysterious jewel – something magical but small, that I could keep in my hand. Of course I couldn’t. I could walk through her, pick up her scent, and smell her on my arms when I returned to the hotel though. Everyone laughed at me, lyin across the bed and smelling my own arm – but I swear my skin smelled different, like sweetbread.

That evening we went out. It was Mardi Gras. At first I was having fun but soon the crowd of jocks with camcorders that had infested the Quarter got to be a bit much.


“Let’s go!” I said, pulling on the arm of my friend *Bradley. I didn’t know where I was going – but that was part of the fun. I never wanted to solve a mystery. We ended up down by the river. Specifically, Woldenberg Park, a place now popular for weddings and festivals, but at one time, was just a land of wharves and old warehouses. It still felt that way – that feeling of silent workers breaking their backs in the dead of night – boats being loaded or unloaded, men sweating it out in the various slipshod buildings.

I saw a man sitting on a park bench. I will never forget his strange getup. His coat looked centuries old, and it had a strange grey dustiness to it like it had been pulled from a fire, and the bottom of it was shredded like some wild animal had gnawed at it. His black top hat was really cool, it wasn’t as frayed at the coat.

He slowly rose from the bench, almost like fog.

“Hello,” he said, like he’d been waiting for me to arrive. I looked next to me to talk to Bradley, but he’d wandered off, as Bradley often did. He was always reading, and it was typical of him to bring a book along wherever he went. He’d gone over to a tree and was resting against it, reading.

I looked back at the man. I couldn’t remember if I’d said hey back, something about his presence threw me off track. My throat was dry.

“Let me give you a reading,” he said, his hand pointed to a stack of tarot cards on the bench.

“Oh, that’s okay, I don’t have any money.”

“It’s free,” he said. He seemed anxious.

“It’s okay…”

I started to walk away and he moved his head so his big, black eyes followed me, like a wild cat that was going to jump out in front of me.

“I really think you should let me give you a reading,” he insisted.

“No,” I said, walking off.

 

I regretted it on my way back to the hotel. I couldn’t stop thinking about it – it just grew and grew in my head, everything about it – his old coat, the way he looked at me – like his eyes had literally jumped out in front of me!

I hung out on the balcony that night as my friends watched a movie. I thought I was just staring off into space, but I realized I was looking in the direction of the park. I wanted to go back, I wanted to find that man and have a reading done. I tried to get my friends to go, but they thought I was nuts.

“First you keep smelling yourself, now you want to go to a park at 4 am!” Bradley laughed.

 

The next day we walked around the Quarter, and a boy sang Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” to me. He was a street musician, and the darndest, cutest thing I’d ever seen at that point in my life. This would soon become the inspiration behind Banny Jones.

I fell in love, but I couldn’t stay.

As we walked along, reluctantly making our way to the car to leave, I wanted to see that boy again who sang to me. I wanted to go have another delicious bowl of gumbo and stare at all the colorful buildings and even the decrepit ones here and there that waved at me like skeleton hands.

I looked over my shoulder one more time, hoping to see that cute boy with the guitar, but I saw the man from Woldenberg Park instead! He was wearing the same dirty coat and top hat. Every single thing about his appearance was the same. He had his own stand set up with his tarot cards.

“Hey guys!” I called out to my friends who were walking fast to get out of the heat. “I’ll meet you at the car.”

“Why?” Bradley asked. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get a tarot card reading…” I said as I turned to point at the man, but he was gone. Not only was he gone, but his stand was gone – everything. It had vanished like smoke.

“Huh?” I was simply dumbfounded. Bradley just laughed at me, because I supposed my behavior had been quite strange since we arrived here.

“Wow,” he said, walking on to the car. “This city has really done something to you.”

 

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