3am Where St. Charles Avenue And The Ponchartrain Expressway Meet
by Kate Bolin

Light the red candle. Light the red candle, and light the white candle. Light the red candle, light the white candle, and light the candle with the picture of Saint Lazarus pasted on.

Light the candles. Stand at the crossroads with your 50-cent safety lighter, covering the candles from the faint breeze that rises up under the overpass. Stand at the crossroads in the center of the city, with cars speeding over your head even at this late hour, the hour of hopelessness and magic, and light the red candle, the white candle, and the candle with St. Lazarus on it.

The old man with the crutch and the dogs and the gateway between one and the other, between the living and the dead, between all the worlds, stares up at you from the flickering candle, and you look at him as you reach for the piece of red chalk you have in your bag. Red 'x's on each concrete column, and you pause each time a car goes by, whispering his name over and over in an attempt to protect you from tourists, from police, from people.

Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba

You used to believe. Once upon a time. You would sing and dance and hold the chickens in his name. You would drink the rum and beat the drums and everyone around you would sing sing sing to him and to you.

Legba nan baye-a Legba nan baye-a Legba nan baye-a

You've forgotten the words and their meanings now, you've forgotten what it takes, so you make it up as you go along, with the red chalk 'x's on the overpass columns and the red candle and the white candle and the candle with Saint Lazarus pasted on. You begin to chant, but you've forgotten all the Creole you used to know, so you chant in English. It's okay, it's all right, he understands all languages because he's between worlds and between words and "open the door, Legba, open the door, please, Legba Legba Legba, open the door, come to me, save me save me save me. Answer my questions and rescue me from myself, sweet darling Legba who I love and adore and await, oh Legba Legba Legba Legba, my Legba, come to me, be here now, open the door, open the door, open the door."

You keep repeating those words, you're babbling in his name, and you reach into your bag again and pull out the mix of cornmeal and brick dust -- at least you remembered how to make that. You pour it in the shape of the vévé. You don't remember the exact design anymore, so you improvise, again, but there's always that one thing you can't help but remember.

A cross. The crossroads. One line and another line intersecting and it's right there, where one meets the other, that he is and you babble-chant and draw it out and the candles are lit and the red 'x's on the columns get caught in the headlights of passing cars.

Rum. You've forgotten the rum. The rum you picked up at the nearest Walgreen's, not even paying attention to what kind of rum it was, as long as it was cheap. You take a swig of the rum, wincing at the rawness, and pour the rum onto the ground before you spit out your swig over the candles (which flicker briefly at the taste of alcohol) and the vévé and the red 'x's on the concrete overpass columns.

You're at the crossroads and you're calling his name and you hear the streetcar trundle past, drunk college students goggling at you as you stand on the corner, dressed entirely in white, with candles and rum and little red 'x's around you. You close your eyes and take another swig of the rum, because you're still not sure you believe in him anymore, but you have to, you have to, because he has to come, he has to, you've lost nearly everything, you took all your money to come here, and if he doesn't come, you've given up, "Oh Legba Legba Legba, I stand at the crossroads, I stand before you, I give you gifts and respect and love, open the door, open the door, come hear my pleas, come hear me, Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba Legba..."

Your voice gives out. You're crying, big thick tears like a sudden middle of the day New Orleans rainstorm, and you're convinced he's not coming, you're convinced nothing is happening, you used to believe but now you don't, and he isn't gonna come for that, he isn't at the door, he isn't at the crossroads, and you might as well go back to the trashy hotel on St. Charles Avenue, you might as well get on that bus and go back home, you might as well just give up, because you've stopped believing in the loa.

You hear shuffling footsteps behind you, and you turn around quickly. An old man stands there, skin golden brown in the streetlights, walking slowly with a cane, walking slowly with a limp, walking slowly and the scent of rum is strong on him and he's just another drunk on his way to the cheapest bar in town, another damn rummy in a town full of rummys, because you've stopped believing in the loa, you've stopped believing in everything.

He stops in front of you and stares at you with rheumy eyes, large and yellow in the lights. He looks down at the bottle of rum still in your hand, looks at the tears still streaking your cheeks, looks at the vévé and the chalk and the red, white, and Saint Lazarus candles. You're deeply irritated at this drunk for daring to interrupt, for daring to be here when you're waiting for someone you don't think exists anymore.

He leans forward.

He whispers.

"I'm still here, darlin'. And everythin's gonna be al'right."

He takes the bottle of rum from your suddenly slack hands.

He shuffles past you.

You believe.


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