Chess Over Royal Street: A Love Story

The pre-dawn piano player in the corner practicing. The wrong notes. A buzzing. The fruit flies on the windows. The singing tile floor and the blue painted stars on every other tile. The lost beans and the baseboards.

The owner of a café. Two broken marriages and a gunshot in the 7th Ward. A bullet in water. The water in the body. Means nothing at all. To anyone. Not like the tune Iko Iko. Not like Mercedez Benz. Not like the hot coffee and shattered ice. Not as much as piano music.

Miniature oak stools and secrets. The coffee and the ice in the deep freezer. The coffee and the viewing case. The baklava and the brownies. The carrot cake. The fruits in the hanging net. The boiled eggs in the cerulean bowl—four for a dollar.

The first customers and the news. A gunshot. A power outage. A warehouse fire. A train whistle by the river. A boiled egg for a quarter. Chess on the sidewalk out front with room for whole milk. A nod. A gesture. A bark of recognition for the street and its morning routine.

The 3 PM rain and the banana leaves. The chessboard and the boots, together under the tables. Egg sandwiches and motor oil coffee. Sour cream and half and half.

Kids on bikes. Kids on stilts. Kids on unicycles. Kids on shoulders. Kids with licenses, with lovers, with face tattoos, with babies, with glitter wings. Ankle boots and nail polish. Gray kneehighs and a hat with a red feather.

Spilt coffee and chess players. The leashes and the dogs. The newspaper and the water bowls. Bulging toes and wet boots. Banana leaf water chutes.

The Angola Prison Group sings Rise and Fly over the loud speakers. Response. Call and response. The piano player taps, barely touching the keys.

The bikes lock-up. The black bars on the windows lock-in. The chess games end. The Pall Malls on the cracked sidewalk. The Jim Beam in the bottom of the white cup. The cats sprawled on porches, in gutters, in doorways, in entrances, in exits. The coffee. The bathroom with the names and the hearts. The “X”-ed out names and the blacked-in hearts. The crud in the drain.

Upstairs, Levi’s on the floor. Mapping the body, rooting out the sore spots. Pills for the pressure. Mississippi John Hurt.

The dark room and the turning of the pages. An absent hand on the back and the slow, silent breathing. The fitting of the two bodies on Royal Street.

Headlights. A parade. Float and float and float goes down Royal Street. Wave and wave and wave from the room above the ice machine. Saying something. What? Iko Iko plays from the Mercedez Benz. A record spinning. Turned one hundred times a day.

And it ain’t nobody’s business if the plantains burn soft, and the poached eggs fluff hard. If the coffee and the whole milk curdle and blister like skin. If the feet on the stairs and the clanking of silverware sound like piano keys.

If they get louder every day until human navel and ceramic plates collide with shoulders and napkins. Face down and arched up. Hunched over and mouth open. Tongue and epiglottis. Tongue and earlobe. Tongue and hipbone. No more tongue. No more navel. No more until you coax an egg out of that bowl.

The body in a boat full of fire. A good push clear to the Gulf. Float and float and float until the old light goes out and the river gives light to the body. Reclaiming. Swallowing whole.

Trains pass. A barge, too.

Upstairs bodies and eyes. The eyes and the bodies. The nothing in the darkness. The early morning. The fitting of the two bodies together in that bed on Royal Street.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked