Parade

Juliet Grable

In the days that followed, Tara spent hours perched conspicuously on the coach roof of Brint’s sailboat, coercing poems out of the old Royal she had rescued from a dusty corner of an antiques store. One afternoon she donned her black felt hat with the red flower and I helped her lug the heavy typewriter most of the way to downtown Sausalito, then stood on the boardwalk watching her walk purposefully towards the ferry landing. She wanted to do this on her own. Tara taped a hand-drawn sign to the back of the typewriter, set up on a bench in the middle of the current of tourists streaming from the docked ferry, and waited. She improvised poems on request for couples, for children, for single people missing their significant other, and for a lone backpacker, accepting tips in the typewriter’s worn case. She bravely flung her words into the world and the world rewarded its new daughter with a kiss. I could only stand by, wondering, stunned at the boldness of youth.

 

As a teenager I secretly dreamed of being a street musician just as Tara aspired to be a street poet, only my mind played out the fantasy in another sensual city: New Orleans. The Big Easy evoked for me the same golden-tinged delirium as the Haight on a sunny afternoon, especially during Mardi Gras. My family and I often drove there from Dallas, attending as many parades as we could. Possibility is what I sensed when I glimpsed down alleyways in the French Quarter, or through ornate iron gates into courtyards bathed in melon-gold light, or up at the balconies that tumbled flowers over their railings. The French colonial architecture and the stew of strong smells steaming up from the streets excited me. The city dripped with sexuality, but I didn’t identify that specifically, I just knew I responded to it, yearned towards it like a tender shoot seeking sunlight. I recognized only the city’s romantic sheen, oblivious to its underbelly of vice and poverty. The artists sketching street scenes in the Quarter and the open travel-worn musician’s cases winking change and crumpled bills dared me to imagine outside my presumed trajectory--the straight-A’s lined up like arrows to a future pointed and predestined--to something more akin to jazz, free-form and open-ended.

I was fourteen the year we caught the Irish-Italian parade. On the parade route I strained ahead of my parents, following floats draped in red, green and white, wearing my jean jacket and sunglasses and a beret as ridiculous as Tara’s young man’s top hat. I flicked my mane of hair, aware that it was curling in the humidity and casting flecks of red-gold. I gave in fully to my giddy greed, clutching at the deluge of doubloons and cheap plastic beads: junk transformed into treasure, into the tokens of Possibility.

I caught the eye of a young man riding on one of the floats. He was considerably older than Tara’s young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, and he wasn’t cute or goofily endearing but dark and dangerous, with sensual lips and a soccer player’s physique and bona fide facial hair. He leered at me and shouted something I couldn’t understand, so I simply grinned back, and as the float was about to pass he jumped down, swooped over, and took my face in his hands, and before I knew what was happening he was kissing me like I’d never been kissed, because in fact I hadn’t been kissed at all, but he didn’t know that (did he?), nor did he know or care that I was only fourteen, and because of his recklessness my mouth was full of his tongue and hot saliva and new knowledge. Then he was running back towards the float, head turned to throw me one last devil’s grin, and people on the sidelines smiled at me as I tingled and jolted, briefly spotlit and as much a part of the parade as the musicians and the floats. And the beads and doubloons rained down and the grabbing hands reached towards heaven and the shouts from the crowd mingled with the molten brassy notes that swirled out of the musicians’ horns, offering themselves to the enchanted afternoon light.


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