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tearing the rag off the bush again
New Orleans: Katrina Postcard PDF E-mail

I come home one night from the bar, on my bicycle, to find what sounds like a garbled message on my voice messaging service to be what is possibly the neighbors next door arguing. I listen for a little bit, unsure of whether or not this is a recording on my phone of an earlier discussion or the phone’s two-point-four gigahertz antenna picking up an actual conversation going on next door, right now, only moments after I carefully walked my bicycle down the narrow dark alley between the two houses to the washroom because I was afraid that the clicking of the deraileurs would awaken my own wife, not Miss Brenda, the neighbor’s wife, who is on dialysis. The day after Thanksgiving, I heard Steve, her husband, (I was down the narrow alley in the backyard, feeling sorry for myself, so I only heard Steve say what could only have been an answer to the question “How was your Thanksgiving?”) say, “Terrible. Damn, man, ain’t no holiday from dialysis.” From DI-Al-y-sis, he says, his rich black voice accentuating the syllables, filling the neighborhood with frustration, anger, and grief. I don’t want to awaken my wife, I walk my bike carefully down the narrow alley on the front wheel only, because I don’t want her to worry where I’ve been. Almost two hours ago, I went out for contact solution and toothpaste, a tube of Tom’s of Maine on sale for four-twenty-nine at the Walgreen’s next to my son’s middle-namesake bar, the place my wife and I went on our first date over ten years ago, right before we left New Orleans for someplace else, but tonight I sat in that bar watching college basketball and drinking. She worries because we are back in New Orleans, ten years later, a year after the storm, and things aren’t right. Last night while sitting on the couch, sober, my wife, who never writes, filled three pink pages of our daughter’s stationary with writing and wouldn’t tell me what she was writing or who she was writing to, but then left it there on the coffee table the next day, staying home from work to spend the day with us, a book explaining why New Orleans matters resting on top, obscuring her thoughts. I wouldn’t read it anyway, even though I had earlier that same day been daydreaming about a short piece that involved a desperate young man and a talking hand-dryer in a dimly lit bathroom—it wheezes out strings of numbers, an almost inaudible whisper, a disease. My wife is scared. My wife is scared because the other day she read a column in the newspaper about depression. But, damn, man, depression isn’t a disease. DI-Al-y-sis, now that’s being sick. I hear the desperation in the voices fuzzing in and out of the static on the line, knowing that THIS is the sound of somebody dying, and wonder if this is a conversation someone is having now or waiting to have until things only get worse. I press three. The voices stop. The message is erased.
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