into the fire, and began to munch it fiercely.
May twentieth two thousand fifteen.
Four thirty A.M.
New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gnat has always been the first person out of bed in the morning. There are many reasons for this: hot water for a shower in a house full of people, having more than the last piece of burnt toast for breakfast, and to ensure no one is sneaking under the covers to feel you up before you are awake enough to defend yourself.
The weather in New Orleans is predictable. It will be hot. There will be overwhelming humidity. And, it will rain at some point during the day. Outside the Streetcar window, the first hints that night is coming to an end streak low on the late night horizon. A pervasive fog rolls in thickly covering the industrial areas of the Tenth Ward, coating Tchoupatoulis Avenue in a shroud of mystery. Nathaneal sits on a folding wooden seat which pinches his ass in a most unpleasant way. This discomfort makes the attraction of riding the number nine fifty-one car less than nostalgic. Holding one coffee he settles a second steaming cup with its plastic lid beside a white paper bag on the fold of the seat next to him. Gnat digs with a finger at the crust of sleep settled in the corners of his eyes, absently trying to make out the abstract shapes of buildings off in the distance. Everything begins to come into focus sip by sip of a large coffee in the good company of blue-collar Joe’s riding in silence. They make him feel more relaxed than the hoity-toity patrons at the Hotel Dauphine. For the first time since leaving Chicago Gnat feels self-possessed, knowing intrinsically this is where he truly belongs; here inside the throngs of the invisible people who haunt reality.
These everyday men and women are not Wizards who have lost their powers. They are not Queens (or Kings) of anything except the purple, green, and gold of tradition. The familiarity of their thick gray hoodies crowning the fluorescent safety vests allows him to think, unhindered, about the events of the last four days. During his stay in the Big Easy, Gnat has had the opportunity to learn many lessons that have nothing at all to do with real life. This city has schooled him much like these ghostly images of abandoned factories in a back-lit darkness of brick and mortar relief; nothing is concrete in its tangibility and everything is suspect.
He cannot touch, smell, or taste magic. He cannot prove magic exists as a scientific fact beyond a reasonable doubt. But, there was no denying that Janzen wielded something far more than hyperbole in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen. Gnat saw first hand when the Wizard drew upon a conduit and let loose something impossible to thwart an agitated Vampire. The very same unbelievable way he found himself kowtowed to a woman they call Majesty just because he could feel the barometric pressure of her hypothetical power besieging a room full of people. For a boy from Uptown Chicago it is a lot of change to digest. Not unlike the rich taste of chicory in this southern beverage, the thoughts swirl around and leave a bitter aftertaste that lingers long after it has been swallowed.
The Streetcar rolls around the banks of the Mississippi slowly picking up and dropping off its passengers at the stops in the First, Third, and Fourth Wards. Gnat stands up and holds onto the brass handrail with a wrap of his elbow noting that these are far more decorative than the Chicago El trains chipped paint poles. For a moment he feels a strong pang, wanting to forget all of this whackness and just go back to delivering packages to make a living.
They come to a squealing halt at the stop for the Sixth Ward and Gnat’s lanky body waves under the fictitious backward force. Gnat, ever the brunt of his own jokes, laughs out loud with a big “..whoa.” Up ahead in the first row seat behind another fleece jacket someone scoffs in reply. Gnat takes a minute to look in the direction where a young man’s gaunt face scowls back at him like a sinister grotesque. The caves of his eyes are sunken to a dark blue surrounding a bloodshot nose above a thin mouth coated in peeling, dry, skin. When Gnat stares back benignly the man’s sinister smile reveals black outlines following his gumline around shrinking enamel that is an off shade of gray. Skeletal hands gather up the bulge of the zipper on the front of his jacket keeping in the warmth and staving off the tremors. Gnat steps around to pass the driver and onto the first stair in the well that leads to the street. That is when something fundamental at his core, makes him turn around just as the doors swing inward.
Nathaneal holds out the bakery bag and the extra cup of coffee with the name Penny on the front in black ink. “It’s ok. I don’t even know why I bought it. It’ll be cold before I get to where I’m going.” He urges the man to take it by nodding his head.
The young man, not much older than Gnat, is cynical at first. In admonishing anger he replies, “I don’t need your fucking pity.”
Hunger and need will always win out in the end. The man grabs the bag and cup looking anywhere but at Nathaneal Breedlove. Addiction, as Gnat has observed, is a powerless yet mighty adversary. Later, while the needle dangles in the bend of his elbow, this poor sap will see the revelatory truth inside the high: Pity happens in the way people leave you unseen. True Charity is when someone can bear witness to your Pain without judgment.
Gnat exits at the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf and heads north through the Treme towards downtown. He is unhurried in these wee small hours of the morning happy to watch the tourists just getting in and the locals just coming out. Looking back, the Streetcar disappears into the gloom as if it was never there at all. Much like the enigma of magic he will never be able to confirm that he was ever a passenger on the trolley that bore the destination Desire over its windshield; he just knows he was.
And, that he has to stop and get Penny Grey another coffee and a muffin, or there will be hell to pay.