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Authors: Louis Maistros

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The Sound of Building Coffins (43 page)

BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
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Pretty little voice, soft and weak:

There was a baby in my body, Marcus—your baby. I named him Michael—for the saint. He knew. Little Michael knew. From the womb, he knew. He saw us through all that death, and brought us back together. Even if just for a little while, he brought us together. It was what he wanted. For us to be together again. When he was born…” her voice broke into little sobs.

Malvina continued in her stead, the mambo’s voice gentle and even:

When that little baby came out of Maria, he took the disease with him. Her fever broke the minute of his delivery. He lived a little while, then died. Died from fever. He died for his mama. And you. So she could be with you. But his work was not done. He sent you on your way, Marcus. Into the grave. So you could know. He was never far from you. Always nearby. And when you were ready, he found you. And he brought you back. Back to her.”

Tiny fingers on my tongue…

And it was true.




I am found.


He never left you. Never gave up on you. You must not give up on him, Marcus.” The mambo’s eyes filled with clear water. “She’s dying now, our Maria. Her body was too weak from sickness. Michael’s sacrifice only bought her time. Took the sickness out, but her body too spent. She’s dying, Marcus…” Tears silvered the mambo’s cheek.

Maria smiled at her aunt, a finger to her lips. “He found you, Marcus. He really did. Our baby. Now you must bring him back, my love. Find his little body. Bury him with me. So we can all be together in the potter’s field. All three. Together. We are a family now, Marcus. Find our boy. Promise.”

I promise.”

She hold my hand tight. Smile. Her eyes fading but glowing still. She believe my promise, but I don’t know if I believe it myself. I am shivering. She pull that perfect blanket off her body, hold it up to me. I push it back to her.

Malvina say: “No. It’s time.” Gently, Malvina take that sacred blanket from Maria’s hands, step behind me. Wrap it around my shoulders. My Maria is skin and bones in a loose, yella dress, lying on the bed. Her feet are bare, my little Coffee Maria. She lift a hand to my face, stroke my muddy head. Pull me down to her sweet lips, whisper soft in my ear:

Mo couer tacher dans to chaine comme boskoyo dans cypiere.”

Her dying breath was sweet as cypress. I could feel it on my tongue. Like tiny fingers. I pulled the blanket tight around me. And it felt just like a miracle.




As for me, well.

Still doing that hard potter field work, old as I am. Lotta work to do round here, the storm has made it so. But that’s just fine—when I work that field, my Maria is close. When I ain’t with her, I’m here on this piece of levee lookin’ for that fish.

I made my gal a promise many years past, and promises are for keeps.

I’ll find our baby Michael before I die. Maybe after. Til I find him, I won’t stay down. You can bury me, but I’ll come back up. When the water is right, I’ll be back. Little Michael will see to it, and I’ll see to him. Don’t you worry none. I’m looking for that catfish. The tan one with pale eyes—
des yeaux goueres.
The one that touched my cheek and gave me comfort among the drifting dead.

Regarding this more recent storm, I will always remember those things, too. For like the storm of my youth, its unfolding will likely go on for a good bit.

Like so many others, Buddy Bolden rose to the challenge brought on by high water only to find himself diminished with the tide. Straight off, he sought only to recover the body of his little son—just as I continue to seek my own in the now. But Buddy gave up too quick, lacked the tenacity to continue against all odds, just as others can’t help but go on. Some folks is unable to keep toiling after so much bad fortune, and I don’t blame them for it—not one lick I don’t. These troubles can be more than hard. Beyond sad they sometimes are. After a spell of fruitless trying, Buddy just fell into that bottle of his. Fell so hard he wound up in the big asylum over by Jackson, very likely to die there some day. In the end, I reckon he done what he could to right his own wrongs, done the best he could. But there’s only so much a man can do in that regard, only so many bad deeds can be made good on.

But Buddy’s time here was not in vain, for he brought music into this sad world—and he did one extraordinary good deed in saving that Morningstar gal. The one called Malaria.

Not long after the risen waters had gone back down, she come across an old friend from the Eagle Saloon, Gary the Gent. She’d assumed Gary to be dead and swept away like so many she had known, and had tried hard not to dwell upon such. But later come to find he’d made it up and out of the black waters just like she.

This meeting of Gary and Malaria was at once tender and cordial, she holding back tears and promising to make good on that old bar tab. He just smiled and took her in his arms—and there she stayed; their mutual tears ripening on a vine of the heart till heavy enough that they might fall of their own accord. Tears did fall in time—and that ain’t all that fell neither. Other things come of that chance reunion. Good things they were, too.

Malaria and Gary the Gent, whose last name is Byrd, were married six months ago today. The two of them knew each other only as friends before the storm, but in their rediscovery of each other after so much misery apart, well, it was as if the tragedy of their lives had created a passion for living that they’d otherwise never have known.

Starting over is a funny thing. You only get one true start, on the day you are born. But as we get older and know better about the lives we’ve lived, every once in awhile we try to make ourselves a new beginning. Problem is that you can’t erase where you come from, the accumulation of your experience being undeniably
who you are.
Ain’t no one can be rebirthed out of a past that has come to define them, no matter if these things come by chance or design. You can only pretend to start again; never to forget, try as you might.

I guess that’s what Buddy learned. Some fare better than others in this life—with its various turns and stops and starts. This may not be right, but it is true.

Last I heard Gary done built that old Morningstar house back up better than it was. Last I heard Malaria was heavy with child. Last I heard they was doing quite well together, those two. Last I heard they was happy. Simple things. Small victories. One heartbeat at a time.

Starting over, or something like it, the best they can.

Very last thing I heard was an old song in my head, singing somethin’ bout troubled souls and a savior called Jesus pulling folks up from the clutches of hell. An old song is all it is and ever will be, but if played true—it is enough. Starting over and over again from the pit of my heart. A circle in time. Just as the spring trickles into the lake that flows into the river that empties into the sea so that it may rise up to the sky to make rain that must fall—sometimes to fall very hard—and back down again to fill that first little spring once more.





Deepest appreciation to the following, without whom you’d be holding some other book in your hands right now: Barbara Braun, John F. Baker, Matthew Miller, Deborah Meghnagi, Katherine Maistros, Poppy Z. Brite, and The City of New Orleans.

Additional alphabetical gratitude to: Tani Bayer, Raymond Buckland, Jenny Keith Ciattei, Bryan Civello, Douglas Clegg, Crispin the Coffee Guy at the old Rue De La Course in the Quarter, Mark Doten, Shari Fisch, Vicky Gashe, GiO the Burlesque Queen of New Orleans & Dr. Bob, Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman, Habitat for Humanity, Jeff “Almost Slim” Hannusch, Skip Henderson, The Ghost of Edna Hicks, Homeless Bill, Khaled Hosseini, Mr. Ike and His Harmonica That Cost More Than a Car, Robert Jaugstetter, Kaldi’s Coffeehousemuseum (RIP), Jack Kelleher, Little Freddie King, The Kowalkowski Family, Levees.Org, Diane Maistros, the memory of George Maistros, Michael Maistros, Roger Mehl, Keely Merritt, Peter “Sneaky Pete” Orr, Diana Price, Zak Rahman & Schiro’s Café, Coco Robicheaux, Gary “The Gent” Rouzan, Brett Savory, The Very Reverend Jim Smith & His Damn Frontier, T-Bone “Whiskey Boy” Stone, Paul G. Tremblay, Mike West’s 9
Ward Hillbilly Band and everyone who came back to New Orleans after the storm to swing a hammer in trembling fists.

Extra special thanks and love to my little tribe: Elly, Amberle & Booker.



About the Author



ouis Maistros is a longtime resident of the New Orleans 8
Ward neighborhood. A former forklift operator and self-taught writer with no formal training, his work has appeared in publications such as the
New Orleans Times-Picayune
and the
Baltimore City Paper
. Along with his wife Elly, he currently owns and operates Louie’s Juke Joint, a combination jazz record shop and Vodou botanica. He is mildly self-conscious about the fact that he shares a birthday with Lee Harvey Oswald, and is currently working out a conspiracy theory about that.





















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BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
11.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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