“BIG BAD NURSE & THE HEARSES! MON NIGHT! MERMAID LOUNGE, 1100 Constance St!” The ad, printed in washed out stencil on an 8” X 11” sheet and tacked to a telephone pole on Frenchman Street, caught Hans-Georg’s eye amid a palimpsest of other band flyers and notices of lost pets. Beneath the headline, a dot-matrixed, black-lipped punk girl was shredding a star-shaped guitar, snarling. Behind her, two grey smudges of other guitarists—the Hearses, presumably—held a beat. This city, he thought. He would have to tell Milena about it later, on the phone.
But there were so many things he’d wanted to share that he simply forgot in the wash of other, crazier things. Case in point: in his two weeks since moving to New Orleans after being hired on at an engineering firm, he’d already forgotten the incident on Decatur with the Goth girls who’d warned him he was vampire fodder because of his light-colored clothes, and then hissed at him, baring their filed canines. Memorable as that was, he forgot about it after witnessing a stranger dressed in a purple wife-beater and black parachute pants who’d walked straight to him in a café and said, “You never did pay me, but if you still want it, I got that boot in the back of my van.” And he forgot to tell her about that in the wake of the mid-afternoon traffic jam on Common Street for a mass of women and men in red dresses traipsing across the road, cocktails in hand. And he forgot to tell her about that in the wake of having seen, out his office window at ten in the morning, five elephants trumpeting as they moped down Julia Street like drunks walking off a night’s debauchery. This, ultimately, was the only nugget he’d offered her.
For Hans-Georg, trying to talk to his Milena on the phone, he thought at first, those stories weren’t really stories worth sharing: they were unconnected anecdotes that each wanted to outdo the others as better proof of the importance of frivolity in this town. And what good was frivolity, in this time of their serious commitment? He was young. Committed. Driven. Myopic in his ambition, as the part in his blond hair and the straight line of his thin lips announced. But curious, too. And when it came to having a tolerance for these wondrous oddities, he was starting to realize that she was a regular freaking homecoming queen: when he mentioned the elephants, he could hear her polite smile through the phone’s bad connection. Only when he offered a justification—the Ringling Brothers, it turned out, had docked at the Julia Street Wharf on the river—did she seem satisfied. This troubled him, for he had begun to discover a secret joy in the unexplained. He’d spent his time at this, his first job out of engineering school in Munich, designing ways to connect steel beams to glass windows. He hadn’t taken much time to look around. Now that he was, he noted Milena’s practical mind with less affection. And so, he held these oddities to himself, like shaken bottles of beer he knew not to pop open.
Likely, he supposed, this was a phase. He’d come out of it, finish up his contract, and return to Munich to marry as they’d planned. Anyway, there wasn’t much chance to discuss it. She was a nurse working graveyards back home, and he had his long hours here. On the phone, they stuck to conversations about whether she’d found a flat for them, which of their Austrian cousins they should invite to the wedding in Innsbruck.
Monday afternoon in Hans-Georg’s office building, the vending machine fell on a man and crushed him. As medics wheeled the body away, a group of onlookers gawked, Hans-Georg among them. A bra strap dangled from the dead man’s shoulder, his fingernails painted a vibrant red. “Devil’s due,” someone said. Hans-Georg hadn’t met the guy. What had been his story? He looked at his watch: quitting time. Would he tell Milena? Or maybe instead, he thought, he’d go see what was what at the Mermaid Lounge.
Blake Sanz‘s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ecotone, Puerto del Sol, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Chariton Review, and other literary magazines. He has been awarded scholarships and funding to attend Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s Sozopol Fiction Seminars in Bulgaria, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Seaside Writers’ Conference. He holds an MFA from Notre Dame and teaches writing at the University of Denver.