Finding Home - Chapter 1
by Siobhan Fallon, Army spouse
Val had a small backpack and a return bus ticket, which made her feel untethered and free as she walked toward Bourbon Street. It was drizzling and there was music in the air; the sound seemed part of the drops that fell lightly on her denim jacket and she stopped to listen to a man in a wheelchair fill the sunset with his trombone’s song. She put five dollars in his jar, knowing Billy would like that.
Billy always gave too much money to the open hands and empty coffee cups held in his direction. He had a kindness Val wished he hid a little better, a kindness that made him easy to hurt, and she wasn’t proud that she was the one who usually hurt him.
Yesterday, they’d fought on the phone. Billy had forgotten to tell her he changed his debit pin number and Val hadn’t been able to use it at Publix to get groceries. It wasn’t a big deal, but it embarrassed her in front of the cashier who chewed gum in the side of her mouth and looked Val over as if she was a thief. Val used her credit card to pay, but yelled at Billy anyway, said he wasn’t looking out for her, that after only a month he’d forgotten her already. Her voice got too loud as she asked him what he would forget next. To deposit money in their joint checking account? Maybe he’d forget her birthday, or the color of her eyes?
As soon as the words were out of her mouth she regretted them, but she was someone who only said sorry when it was too late. She knew this and yet it didn’t make apologizing any easier. Billy, in his Billy way, laughed gently, said there was no way he would forget Val because her hot temper would be chasing him all night in his dreams.
Then he told her he’d try to call again in a week. A week. A whole week of feeling miserable and not able to do anything except wait for his call. A week to kill, and it made her want to be in New Orleans. Billy had been raised not far outside the city, so New Orleans felt like the closest she could get to him, walking around in a place full of his memories.
She took the 5:55 a.m. Greyhound bus out of Atlanta, and twelve hours later she was here, in this oddly magical place of ornate iron balconies brimming with ferns and flowers, horse-and-carriage buggies clomping down the street, old-fashioned street lanterns casting an antiqued glow over everything. She could even see the shine of metallic beads caught at the top of a lamppost, twinkling ?in the last light, a ghost of Mardi Gras past and future.
Val had always wanted to see New Orleans, the French Quarter, the parades and floats and general debauchery of the place. When her sister, Lucy, moved here four years ago after her wedding to a Navy man, Val assumed she would visit. But the silence between them stretched out, and now it had been nearly that long since Val had heard her sister’s voice.
The wheelchair bound trombone player switched from "Mack the Knife" to "Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen." The song welled up, tinged with grief, and Val moved on, trying to get out of earshot of the sudden sadness. She’d make everything OK with Billy. Of course she would. She felt around in her pocket for her list of local dishes he loved.
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