I was too distraught to take in the details of the interview. I had become numb, dead to the world, irrelevant and bereft. I lived in a state of extreme suspension for the next few days. I pulled the phone from the wall, locked the door, closed the curtains, and left the apartment in darkness. I ate from cans, dry cereal chased with swigs of wine, beer and then vermouth and then vodka. I slept but did not dream. Then the taxi driver banged on my door, yelled that he was there to take me to a funeral, and literally carried me down the stairs and dumped me into his cab. Who called the cab and who arranged the funeral? I was beyond caring. I somehow managed to wipe my face and underarms with Handi-Wipes and tie up my hair with a purple ribbon.
It was late morning, but the sky had taken on the tint of Stygian gloom. We passed through the French Quarter and then took St. Philip’s and headed north, passing Louis Armstrong Park. Clouds swirled and meshed, a spear of lightening jettisoned earthward, and then a burst of thunder hit and rolled over us. It seemed I had lived in this same storm for days. The cab driver whistled. “Whoa! Mais, I tink God done come on down and gonna tell us what’s be what.” I pulled myself forward, my head pounding, and said: “He already has.”
I plopped back and pulled my legs up, my heels balanced on the seat, cupped my hands to my head, and suppressed the urge to throw-up everything I had ever eaten in this forsaken life of mine. In just a few days I had forfeited everything and had been let lose, unanchored, abandoned just like the children I had tried to save. The cab rocked and turned and stopped and the fume from the city buses was like the poison piped into hell. I breathed in, choked, and then the cab rocked from the wind. A large black man with white hair who smelled of peppermint helped me out.
“Come on, darlin’, you gonna get tru ‘dis. We be hera ta hep ya.”
Then I was standing alone, wobbling like a wounded wild duck. My hair clung to my face and shoulders, my clothes flattened to my body. I looked around for the driver, but saw only a rain funnel sprouting toward the sky and old ladies in black dresses, a priest shrouded in white vestments, and some young men with bandanas and sleeveless sweat shirts, their arms decorated with colorful tattoos. Gang members, I whispered, and laughed like a demented crone. I have finally gone mad, Mama. And who said I wasn’t like you? Fou, fou, fou.
She was buried next to her mother in a graveyard that had endured since the Civil War. Out of deference to history and remembrance and rage, the community had left a wooden sign that read: Colored Cemetery. It rained straight down on me as I stood watching her casket descend into the ground. Ninety-five degrees and raining, I heard an old lady grumble. Steam rose off the bodies standing around Pinch’s grave. Mud and branches and pieces of rusted metal slid into the hole along with her coffin. Then a little girl in a yellow rain coat sprang from behind another lady and grabbed the metal. She sloshed through the mud on baby feet, stretched her arm up toward the priest, her round eyes shining as though she had found the source of life. In her hand was a rusted crucifix. The priest smiled at the child and nodded, telling her to keep it. Such a beautiful child, turning towards me in slow motion, braided pigtails moist with raindrops, yellow ribbons dancing in the wind like butterflies. She smiled with Pinch’s smile; looked at me with Pinch’s eyes; waved at me with Pinch’s baby hand; she was Pinch as a little girl. I stifled a sob and looked around the cemetery, imagining dead confederate soldiers molding along with slaves who would never be free. Ghosts were everywhere. The little girl hid behind a woman’s body; only a patch of yellow against a black sky. The priest mumbled words I did not want to hear, about dust and departed and a good life not without struggle and then the thudding reverberated in my head as mud and dirt slammed down on a shiny black box and finally she was covered and gone. Red plastic flowers that were stuck into the ground by a few unidentified mourners clacked in the wind.