O’Neil De Noux.
“Women are Like Streetcars.”
© O’Neil De Noux.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
THERE’S AN old New Orleans saying that women are like streetcars. Just wait ten minutes and another will come along.
You got that?
Now pay attention because whoever said that never met Desirée LeBlanc.
I WAS sitting with my penny loafers propped up on the desk, resetting my Mickey Mouse watch by the clock on St. Louis Cathedral when she strolled in like a blonde cliché from a bad detective novel. She had cherry lips and a face of ivory, long silky legs covered by silky stockings, and a figure to match.
She had big blue eyes, the kind that make men beg . . . baby blue eyes. But there was nothing baby about those baby blues. She was a man-eater. I could tell by the way she slipped into the armchair in the corner of my office and crossed her legs. But I wasn’t in the mood to beg . . . or be eaten.
“My name is Desirée LeBlanc,” she said in a breathless voice, “and I need a detective.”
“You sure do.”
“I’m looking for someone. I want you to help me find him and I will pay top rate.”
My eyes were on her legs but I couldn’t help notice the wad she pulled out of her purse.
“Will this be enough for forty-eight hours’ work?”
“That’ll be enough for forty-eight days.”
“I only have forty-eight hours.” She gave me this hungry look, as if she was sizing me up for the butcher.
“Okay, who are you looking for?”
“I don’t know his name or where to find him but I’ll know him when I see him.” She tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder and sighed, “I’d like to start right away. On a streetcar. We could ride around. I thought maybe on the streetcar named Desire.”
“I never kid.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I can’t ever kid?”
“No, you can’t take the Desire Streetcar. It don’t run anymore. It’s parked at the old U.S. Mint. But you can take the bus named Desire. Only I wouldn’t recommend it. It goes through the Desire Housing Project.”
She sighed again. “I just thought a streetcar ride would be an easy way to see people.”
“Well, there’s always the Charlie line, the St. Charles Streetcar. It’s the only one left.”
She stood up, deftly straightening her tight skirt with a brush of her hand before moving toward the door. Turning those baby blues back to me, she added, “I’ll need a bodyguard.”
“You telling me?”
I SAT across from her, near the back of the streetcar, going along for the ride. It was easy money, getting paid to watch a good lookin’ dame cross and uncross her legs.
I figured, maybe I’d get lucky. She was gorgeous. Only I wasn’t crazy about the way she leered at every man who came on the car.
Like a predator, she looked hungrily at each man, but only for a moment. Then she’d turn to ice. Women that pretty were born with that look. She reminded me of a cat on the prowl. I kept wondering what she’d do when she found him.
Around three in the afternoon, school boys from the Catholic schools along the avenue began climbing aboard. Several sat by me and sneaked peeks at her, occasionally moaning under their breaths.
A jogger with a Walkman danced on later and sat next to her, giving her a big smile. He was tall, with blonde hair. He was the kind of stiff some women would call ‘good looking’. Desirée batted her eyes at him for a moment, then turned on the ice. Only the jogger was too stupid to tell the difference. He leaned over and whispered something in her ear, which caused her eyes to turn into saucers. The jogger had a wicked look on his face before my penny loafer struck his forehead. Desirée almost smiled.
The pretty boy started to complain until I stood up and started forward. Then he took a quick powder. I didn’t say nothing to him. I just picked up my damn shoe and sat back down.
As the day wore on, she seemed more anxious, watching each man more carefully. Later still, an expression of sadness seemed to come over her face. She was a strange bird. Didn’t eat all day. I had to run out at the end of the line to grab a burger “to go” but she ate nothing. She wouldn’t even get off until it was almost midnight.
“I’d like you to bring me home now,” she told me.
It was okay by me. We picked up my old Ford and headed up Canal Street. She was so quiet I thought she’d fallen asleep until she said, “Just let me out here.”
“Here?” We were at the corner of Canal and City Park Avenue. There was nothing around but cemeteries. When I stopped for the red light, she jumped out. Over her shoulder she called back to me, “I’ll meet you at your office in the morning.”
I had to make the corner when a public service bus almost ran up my rear end. When I got back, she was gone. I looked around but she was gone.
Then I couldn’t fall asleep. I lay awake on the couch in my office, staring at the ceiling, thinking how she was one mysterious broad. Who was she looking for, anyway? A mystery woman looking for a mystery man on a streetcar. If there was one thing I hated, it was a mystery.
I just couldn’t understand where she went. Nothing but cemeteries there. And if there was one thing I hated more than a mystery, it was a cemetery. They were like little cities of the dead. It’d be different if we planted people in the ground like other cities, but no, not New Orleans. “The water table’s too high,” somebody whined a long time ago. So we put them in little concrete houses.
It was sometime in the middle of the night when I realized something about her clothes. They were old-fashioned. They looked new but like they were from another time.
I sat up, flicked on the light and took out the money she’d given me and had to rub my eyes. Silver certificates, she paid me in silver certificates. This was one weird caper.
SHE WORE the same outfit the next day. Same tight skirt, same blouse, same hairdo, only it all looked fresh, like she didn’t sweat or anything. I studied her as she sat across from me at Café DuMonde early the next morning. She was watching the men go by.
“So where’d you disappear to last night?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
God, I hate mysteries.
Staring at each man who passed, her face took on that hungry look again. I didn’t know what she expected to find in the Quarter, except maybe a scumbag or a tourist or worse, a lawyer. But that’s how we spent the day, walking around the rest of the French Quarter, with her leering into each man’s eyes and then frosting up.
By the time we hit the neon lights of Bourbon Street, she seemed almost desperate. She leaned against a light post and searched for whoever the hell she was looking for. By then, the men left on the street were worse than scumbags. I was beginning to feel sorry for her. Her face had lost that man-eater look. It looked sad. She looked like a lost little girl.
I was rewinding my watch sometime after eleven when she moved over to where I was perched and said, “I’ll have to go back now. Will you take me?”
“The cemetery?” I heard myself gulp loudly.
She nodded yes as her eyes began to fill with tears. She never said a word until we pulled up along the Canal Street side of the cemetery. She began mumbling to herself, “It isn’t fair.”
I started to reach over, when she looked up suddenly. Those big blues blinked at me. “It isn’t fair,” she said. Then she climbed out.
I sure didn’t want to follow her, but what else could I do? She headed straight for the front gate. She paused a moment before going in, leaving the gate open behind her. How she got through the lock, I’ll never know. I hesitated before following. Damn, how I hate cemeteries.
There wasn’t a sound inside, like I’d stepped into another world, a world of cold stone and cement crypts, long walls with tombs stacked one atop the other, like ovens. I couldn’t even hear the cars on Canal. I found her standing next to a sepulchre, her head bowed. When I could read the tombstone, I froze.
When she started talking, I almost jumped outta my rumpled suit. “I haven’t found him,” she said. “Can I have more time?” She was talking to the tomb.
“Found who?” I was surprised to hear my voice.
She looked back at me and answered, almost innocently, “The one. The one man for me.”
Turning back to the tomb, she continued, “For everyone there is one. For everyone there is one person who is the one. I’ve never found him. I never looked for him, never even tried until now.”
“And what if you found him?” It was my voice again.
“I would kiss him. Before midnight. And I wouldn’t have to go back.”
She lifted her pale hand and pointed to the sepulchre with her name on it. I looked around for a quick escape route. What the hell was I doing in the middle of the night in a cemetery with a screwball blonde who thinks she lives in a tomb?
But when she started crying again, I looked back. She stepped up and put her face on my shoulder. I wrapped my arm around her as she cried.
Then Desirée snapped her head back and looked around. “What time is it?”
“You got three minutes,” I said, shaking my watch and listening to it, “give or take a minute.”
When I looked back at her face, those baby blues were all over me. Slowly her head leaned to one side and her lips parted as she closed her eyes. I wanted to ask if she was kidding, but she never kids. So I kissed her.
As soon as her lips touched mine, I was a goner. I shoulda known. But I was too busy enjoying it. I don’t even remember stopping until I heard her ask, “What time is it?”
My watch said it was two minutes after midnight. Desirée’s eyes were radiant. She stepped back and began to dance and laugh.
“It’s you,” she cried. “You are the one.”
It was just sinking in when she stopped and bent over as if in pain.
“What is it?”
She almost doubled over. I tried to grab her but my hands could not get a grip. Instinctively, they pulled back from the cold I felt where Desirée should have been.
“But it’s after midnight!” she shouted. Falling to her knees in front of the tomb, she began to fade. “It isn’t fair,” she cried. “It isn’t fair . . . ”
“Wait. Wait!” I screamed. “Time Out! It was real. I felt it. I felt it!”
THERE’S AN old New Orleans saying that women are like streetcars. Just wait ten minutes and another will come along. I used to believe that.
I used to believe a lot of silly things. But I learned one thing from this caper. I gotta get this watch fixed.
This story is for Dana
Text Prepared by:
- Bruce Magee
De Noux, O’Neil. “Women Are Like Streetcars.” Pulphouse: A Fiction Magazine July 1992: 1-15. Print. Used by permission. All rights reserved.