Authors: Alexandrea Weis
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to
actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely
Copyright © Alexandrea Weis 2013
First Edition World Castle
Publishing January 15, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of
this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and
Cover: Karen Fuller
Editor: Maxine Bringenberg
For My Mom
Wish You Were Here
For many, the
course of an entire lifetime could be summed up in a few defining moments, but
moments do not choose your path. There was always an indescribable force
lurking inside of us that shaped our destiny. Whether this motivation was the
result of fear, longing, or in my case, guilt, it haunted our being and oversaw
our every action. Like a constant voice inside our heads, this energy gave each
of our lives direction.
My inner voice
was hugely influenced by the city where I was born. Built at the bend in the
Mississippi River and tucked behind protective levees, New Orleans nurtured a
peculiar world infatuated with the Catholic rituals of sin and penance.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that those of us who endured in this
swamp-ridden land below the level of the sea had mastered the art of sin. In
fact, we turned it into something of a tourist industry. It was the penance
part that many of us had not quite gotten a handle on. But God, in his infinite
wisdom, wanted to make sure that we were always reminded of our heavy feelings
of culpability. That was why he created the greatest guilt-making machine of
them all—the mother.
Mine was named
Claire Mouton Gaspard Kehoe Schuller. My mother’s first husband, Etienne
Gaspard, had been her high school sweetheart. Etienne was known for running
touchdowns, shrimp boats, and little else. Their marriage ended the day my
mother first laid eyes on Clayton Kehoe at the criminal court house, where she
had gone, yet again, to bail her drunk husband out of jail.
husband, the late Clayton Kehoe, had been a prominent attorney in the city of
New Orleans. Mother’s current husband was a Jewish jewelry maker named Lou
Schuller. Lou was not as influential as Kehoe had been, but infinitely more
skilled with gold and diamonds, which invariably pleased my mother to no end.
But my mother had always insisted that it was Clayton Kehoe who had swept her
off her feet from the first moment their eyes met.
Mother would always say. “Had the sweetest way of talking, and he always knew
how to treat a lady like a queen.”
My mother was
nineteen and my father was thirty-two when they married. It was a happy
marriage, with lots of parties, many friends, and eventually the arrival of me,
Nora Theresa Kehoe. I was named after my mother’s favorite saint and my
father’s favorite movie star.
Marriage to my
father must have agreed with Claire. She enjoyed being the wife of a
well-connected New Orleans attorney, and thrived on the social circuit of
parties and political gatherings. Even after my father died when I was
fourteen, she would still meet with her old friends from the various political
groups around the city, and pound the pavement for many of my father’s former
colleagues who were running for office. But that all ended when she married Lou
Lou was dumpy, chubby, bald, and had the personality of a matzo ball. But Lou
had the money to keep Claire in the lifestyle to which she had made herself
accustomed, even after all the insurance money my father had left ran out. In
the beginning of their marriage, Lou tolerated my mother’s love for the social scene,
but he soon grew tired of the endless cocktail parties and political
fundraisers, and reined in Claire’s activities. Now, after fifteen years of
marriage, middle-aged, and trying to cope with the passage of her youth, my
mother had found a new venture in which to place all of her efforts; me. Or
more to the point, my marriage to some man, preferably wealthy, in the hopes of
attaining the beat all and end all of middle age—grandchildren.
now, Nora. It’s time to meet a man and settle down. Why haven’t you found
someone? It can’t be all bad out there,” my mother began one Sunday morning in
I had returned
home to join Mother and Lou for our weekly brunch at their large home off St.
worth of a woman is not measured by the size of the diamond she wears on the
third finger of her left hand. Maybe I don’t want to get married,” I griped as
I buttered a piece of toast at the grand mahogany table we were forced to dine
at for every meal.
married!” Mother roared, making the fine blue veins on her forehead pop out. “I
knew I shouldn’t have sent you off to college. Those professors fill young
girls’ heads with ideas, like women’s rights and global éclairs.”
Mother.” I rolled my eyes, mortally embarrassed that she could confuse a pastry
with equal rights. “I didn’t learn about women’s rights by going off to
college. I studied it in high school, along with all the other—”
Mother put her
hand dramatically to her chest. “Oh, my God, you’re a lesbian!”
Lou chimed in, giving my mother a critical gaze over his thick, black-rimmed
“Well, I can’t
tell, Lou.” Mother’s puppy-like brown eyes looked from me to my stepfather.
“You know how kids are today; all that experimenting they do. She probably hung
out with lesbians in high school. That’s how it starts. I saw a television show
on lesbians once. That’s why she never brings over any men to meet us, and why
I never see her with any girlfriends.” She paused and her lower lip quivered
ever so slightly. “Do you have friends, Nora? You know, the normal kind?”
it.” I pounded my fist on the brightly polished mahogany table. “I work fifty
hours a week at the hospital running the total joint program for the orthopedic
department. I don’t have time for friends. I don’t bring any of my dates here
because you would scare them to death.” I shook my head as the tremble of her
lower lip became more pronounced. “Mother, I’m thirty years old. I‘m well past
experimenting and no, I’m not a lesbian.” My mother’s shoulders sagged with
relief. “Why should I want to marry anyway? I already own a house. I make great
money as a physical therapist. I’m working my way up the corporate ladder and
have lots of opportunity to further my career in management. What in the hell
do I need a husband for?”
her large eyes, accentuating the wrinkles beneath them. Her bright red hair
shimmered under the dining hall imported Irish crystal chandelier. “Nora, a
husband can’t be out of fashion. How do you expect to have children?”
“I don’t have to
get married to have children, Mother. Conception has been known to happen
outside of the marriage bed.” I winked at Lou.
Lou, turning a
light shade of red, tried to shrink further down in his chair.
“No daughter of
mine is going to have a child without a wedding. Can you imagine what all of my
friends would say? What would Father Delacroix say? What would the Women’s
League of St. Rita’s Church say?” Mother pulled at the pale cream lapels on her
perfectly pressed Chanel suit. “Lou, say something!” she shouted.
He peered over
at my mother with his pale hazel eyes “Claire, you’re overreacting.” He stabbed
a thick piece of ham on his plate with his fork. “Give the kid a break. She’ll
marry when she’s ready.”
My mother stood
from her chair and dropped her linen napkin on her untouched plate of ham and
grits. “When will that be? I’ll be dead before she’s married, and I’ll never
get to see my grandchildren.”
I chuckled with profound amusement.
She balled her
hands into fists and her pale complexion began to boil over red as she glared
at me. “I want grandchildren!” she hollered, while pumping her diamond and
gold-encrusted fists up and down for added effect.
please,” I begged as I sat back in my chair, stifling my desire to bolt from
“If you don’t
give me grandchildren before I’m old, you will have broken the first cardinal
rule of being a daughter.”
“What rule?” Lou
asked, and then stuffed his piece of ham into his mouth.
are obligated to provide grandchildren for the pleasure of their parents, and
the betterment of mankind,” Claire barked as her voice broke under the strain
of her rage.
of mankind…really, Mother! Eliminating all politicians I can see being for the
betterment of mankind, but children?”
“Since when do
you want to be a grandmother?” Lou inquired as he eyed my mother,
half-laughing. “You had a panic attack last year when your daughter turned
thirty. Cost me fifteen-grand in plastic surgery, that did.”
“Shut up, Lou!”
she yelled. “This is not about age, it’s about duty. Every generation is
obligated to the one that went before it. Grandchildren are part of that duty.”
goodness sake, Claire, it’s the not the invasion of Normandy.” Lou slammed his
napkin down on the table and stood up. “Children should be born out of love,
not because of some silly sense of duty. Let Nora find someone to love first,
then you can pester the poor girl about grandchildren,” he argued, giving Mother
one last scolding with his eyes. He turned from the table and marched out of
the mahogany-paneled dining room.
at me. “Now look what you’ve done.”
“Me? You yelled
at him.” I picked up my plate. “You can’t make me do something I don’t want to
do, Mother. I’ll marry and have children when I’m damned good and ready.” I
turned from my mother and carried my plate into the kitchen, signifying that
the conversation, as far as I was concerned, was over.
But little did I
realize on that Sunday morning that the full impact of a mother’s guilt had
been passed on to me. The heavy mantle of parental expectations had been thrown
over my shoulders, because after that day, something inside of me changed, and
my life would never be the same.
* * *
I left Mother
and Lou later that morning and headed out of the city. I drove past the swamps
that surround the metropolitan area as I made my way toward the small town of
Manchac. The community was on the outskirts of Lake Pontchartrain, and was made
up of old Cajun families who had always made their living on the freshwater
fish and shellfish found in the Louisiana bayous.
I veered off the
interstate and down a shell-covered road leading to one of the harbors located
along the edge of the lake, where many of the best shrimpers and fishermen in
the state did their business. Setting out well before sunrise, these intrepid
men with rough, callused hands and worn out souls scoured the bayous of
southeast Louisiana to catch their living. They worked every day except for
Sunday. No one fished on Sunday. That was God’s day, and in this predominately
Catholic community, a day for church. But after church, most of the men in
these parts could be found on the docks next to the lake, tending to their
boats, fixing broken nets, drinking lots of beer, and communing with their own
When I pulled my
blue Honda Accord up to the Gaspard Fisheries boatyard early that afternoon, I
found a line of beat-up Ford pick up trucks in the parking lot. I walked to the
long pier, where over fifty shrimp trawlers and fishing boats were docked, then
sauntered down the familiar planks until I came to launch number twenty-two,
and a trawler named
“Uncle Jack,” I
called out to the empty deck of the old trawler.
All about the
bleached wooden deck were scattered tools, an assortment of nets, and large
coils of thick rope. Perched away at the far end of the deck, facing out to the
expanse of the blue lake, was an old wooden deck chair. Over the top of the
back of the chair, I could make out a faded blue cap, and sitting next to the
chair was an open ice chest with two longnecks of beer protruding over the rim
of the container.