This is the beginning of a short story about a uptight woman that gets possessed by a Gede Loa during a New Orlean Fet Gede Ritual. It is called UnCertain Futures
“Are you sure?” asked the Uber driver as we stopped on Dauphine Street, at the mouth of the alley between Piety and Desire. I squinted at the address in the lighted window of my phone then dropped it in my cross-body bag. “Naturally,” I replied.
Honestly, in spite of my hasty Google Earth recognizance, I wasn’t as certain as my voice implied. Two more scotches joined the previous three and while a little tipsy, I was on the downhill slope toward sober and the threat of a pounding hangover in sight.
“Thanks,” I said. With a bag of Voodoo chips and the airline-sized bottle of Bourbon I’d picked up at the hotel gift shop, I stepped out onto the deserted street. As the car’s taillights speed away, uncertainty resonated.
What am doing here? I thought as I searched for signs of life.
A few hours ago I stood on the stage in the Regency Celestine Ballroom addressing the American Association of Actuaries. They rewarded me with a rousing applause and a standing ovation. I felt euphoric. Now I stood on an empty street in the French Quarter feeling like a fool.
If this was a party, where are all the guests? I pulled my white velvet shawl around me and repressed a shiver.
Gingerbread encrusted single-story family homes flanked an ordinary residential street. Raised porch stoops stood testament to New Orleans’ tendency to flood. Tall windows and doors, barred and shuttered, adorned each house.
Last night at the convention’s Halloween masquerade, I wore a single strand of pearls at my throat, a black velvet half-mask, and my fair hair pulled into a chignon, the picture of a cool Hitchcock blonde. I nursed my flute of Dom Perignon through one circuit of the banquet room. I rubbed shoulders with all the right people then retreated to my room for an early night alone. It was just enough to leave them wanting more.
Leave them wanting more. That’s what I thought as I ‘parade waved’ my way offstage after my triumphant speech.
Reginald Applebaum, the conference chair, waited in the wings with a bottle of Evian and my classic Louis Vuitton satchel.
“You were brilliant Sally Anne.” Breathless, he twisted off the cap then held out the drink. “From the moment, you opened your mouth, every one of them sat in the palm of your hand. You’ve clinched your reelection.”
“It’s all about preparation,” I replied waving off the compliment.
“You are so thoughtful, Reg,” I said as I took the bottle he offered. I flashed the perfect teeth which put my orthodontist’s children through their first year of private school. The short man blushed, shifted his weight and began a serious study of his footwear. Poor Reg had a hopeless crush on me.
“I’ll leave your case here, shall I?” He placed my monogrammed bag on a tall stool by the lighting board and took a step back. “I’ll be in the speaker’s green-room if you need anything call me.”
“Un-huh.” I turned my back on him and approached my handbag.
The first order of business, check my calls. A phone in my pocket would’ve ruined the line of my suit, so I tucked it into my purse. I hated being disconnected, but I couldn’t risk an interruption during my address.
A quick glance at the screen revealed three voicemail messages, none critical. One from my mother, the next an unknown local caller and the last call from my tall, square-jawed boyfriend, Callahan Rutherford Esq.
Cal and I met during his second year at Harvard Law. Smitten, we moved in together immediately. From day one, everyone said we formed the archetypical power couple.
I took a deep breath and released a satisfied sigh. Mrs. Callahan Rutherford. Sally Anne Miller-Rutherford, CEO. Next month is our fifth ‘cohabitation’ anniversary; perhaps he’d pop the question then. My whole being tingled as I imagined Cal on one knee holding out a flawless five karat solitaire in a classic platinum setting or perhaps a Rutherford family heirloom. . Nothing ostentatious. I blew the phone a kiss.
“I’ll start with Mom and save the best for last.” I removed my pearl earring then selected the first message.
“Hello Sally Anne, this is your mother,” she said in a singsong.
I rolled my eyes.
“I am calling to wish you good luck on your little talk today. Oh… and your auntie, Rosie called. Her daughter, your cousin Sheryl Jean is living in New Orleans. Did I tell you this already? You remember your cousin; she spent the summer with us when you were twelve. Rose was in Paris recovering from one of her divorces. You remember?”
How could I forget my only brush at adolescent rebellion or the infamous Ouija board incident?
“Well, your aunt asked if you would check in on your cousin.”
That will NOT happen, I thought.
“You know what my sister is like, and she is crazy with worry. Rose thinks you are such a good example.”
NO… no no! To put things mildly, cousin Sheryl Jean was a free spirit. From ashram to isolation tank, there wasn’t a ‘path not taken’ she hadn’t skipped blindly down.
“Do it for me will you sweetheart? Bye-bye, and love you!”
Oh God deliver me. No way on earth. I rubbed the back of my neck as I gave my head a slow shake.
The next call only made matters worse.
“Sal, where y’at? It’s Sheryl Jean. It will be a kick to see y’all. I can’t explain, but I’ll ring back later. Au revoir, cher.”
“Heavens, the pathetic fool’s gone native.” I hit delete.
One call remained.
My pulse sped at the thought of hearing Cal’s deep resonant voice. For close to a month, our heavy schedules prevented us being in the same city at the same time. Luckily, our shared commitment to our career only strengthens our bond.
Callahan’s message began with a long odd silence; then he took a deep breath. “Sally Anne, I didn’t want to tell you this way.”
Tell me what? What way? My head pounded as my blood pressure rose.
“Your trip to North Carolina prevented me telling you face-to-face last weekend.” His voice quavered. “You’re great, but there is no other choice. The thing is… I’ll say it plain. Sally Anne, it’s over.”
My self-assured foundation dissolved.
“You know ‘we’ haven’t worked for a long time, and I’ve been unhappy,” His voice became flat and emotionless.
Did I? We didn’t? This cannot be. I clutched the phone with a death grip and felt my heart’s blood drained out of my body as if from an open artery.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve met someone else, reconnected with an old friend of my family. It is very serious.”
A broken sensation started at the base of my spine and settled into my stomach.
“Don’t worry, I signed over my share of the condo and my attorney will message the paperwork to your office. I’ll be out before you return.”
On the stage of my recent triumph, I now stood empty, naked with nothing but an artificial smile froze to my face.
“I’m sorry, Sally, but I need something… more and it is time for me to leave.”
On the empty street, I fanned my eyes to keep back the tears. I have been at the mouth of the alley for five minutes and no other party goers had arrived. My cousin said to follow the passageway to the end. “You will recognize it,” she’d texted. My judgment remained in question, but I needed to know what Cal said to her so I decided to blame everything on my lost afternoon.
The darkest booth in a hotel bar is the perfect location for brooding. My life was too busy to cultivate girlfriend confidants; I couldn’t confide in anyone from the conference, and telling my mother would set off the familial jungle drums. So, at three thirty in the afternoon, I sat alone in that bar, drinking.
The single malt scotch hit the back of my throat like the flame of a blow torch. I responded with a wince and a sharp intake of breath. According to Cal, a twenty-five-year-old Macallan was the perfect spirit, but I’m not much of a drinker, so the nuances got lost on me. Now, my head spun, but the pain wasn’t threatening to kill me.
I’m ashamed to admit I already called Cal, leaving three voicemails, each more pathetic than the last. Halfway through my third drink, my phone rang.
I didn’t check Caller ID to see who was on the line. Big mistake. I suppose I hoped to find Cal claiming temporary insanity and begging me to take him back. I grasped at the opportunity like a drowning woman would a life preserver.
“Hello, Cal is that you?” The words rushed from my mouth ending in a gasp for breath.
“Chill, baby girl, it’s me, your cuz. Your psychic scream broadcast all the way to Algiers.”
Africa? Even my addled state, I couldn’t believe she’d left town this quickly. I caught the eye of a cocktail waitress and pointed to my glass then held up my index finger. She nodded back. “Thanks,” I mouthed. “Sheryl Jean, this isn’t a good time for me.”
“I just chewed out that dirt-bag you shacked up with.”
Oh my God, what has she done? My head dropped in my hands. “You what?” I forced my voice to remain calm and casual.
“Mom said you were in town, but didn’t know the name of your hotel. I called your house and guess what; shit-for-brains answered the phone. I suppose that wasn’t so weird because he lives or should I say ‘lived’ there. So, Mr. Snot-nose Esquire told me he dumped you and he didn’t know where you were. I gave him a hard push, and he burst like a bodega piñata.”
“What did he say?” My stomach started back flipped like a gold medal gymnast.
“The snob must not have any friends because he totally aired his boxers, but all this is for a longer conversation.”
“Sheryl Jean, please…” my clenched fist tapped against my upper lip.
“Patience cher, I’m helping friends put on a celebration tonight.” Through the line, someone called her name. “I’m coming,” her answer muffled. “Sally Anne, I can’t talk now.”
My heart sank. “But…”
“Come to the party tonight and we can talk later. I’ll text the address,” Her words raced. “Turn up at seven, bring a bottle and something for a potluck.”
“Don’t hang up, Tell me what Cal said now?” My stray hand raked through my hair.
Sheryl Jean didn’t answer, continuing with her instructions. …and wear black, white or purple.”
“Is it a theme party?” I asked.
Sheryl Jean burst out laughing. “I suppose you could call it that.