Monthly Archives: July 2014

Carpe-ing the Diem

fish

The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time – Abraham Lincoln.

Most of us worry about the future. And why not? After all, we’re brought up to believe that what we do as children and young adults can affect what happens to us—and others—in that nebulous place not yet seen. Sometimes we even capitalize it. The Future…and add whatever applies: space travel, education, technology, medicine, the world as we know it. The future lies in being tech-savvy, moving to the right job at the right time…and then leaving that job when a “future offer” seems more enticing. Sometimes, the Future is an edict…as in “your future. Son (or daughter) is in the family business. Why do you think we paid for that education?” Daunting, right? Do we have a choice? Are we driven to make choices based on what might happen?
The truth is…as President Lincoln said so well…that our futures do come one day at a time. Each day is a step forward if we want it to be, or we can make no move at all. The interesting thing is that we can also use that future day to repair or enhance the events of the prior day…or days. We have the opportunity to make ourselves better or worse, to take a minor detour to enjoy some unexpected delight that may never happen again, to decide to put on blinders to hide what happens around us, to create, to destroy, to laugh…even cry. It’s in our power to make our day the best one it can be. Whether we choose to use that power is up to us.
One thing I’ve learned is that focusing too much on what ‘may be’ rather than on ‘what is’ steals our time on this planet. Yes, it’s prudent to take steps to prevent those catastrophes we can and make the good things even better, but it is just as important to recognize what we can and can’t control…or even predict. We too often say “Well, I can’t do anything about that” when in fact we can. One little step forward, one kind act. It doesn’t take much. And we feel better for it.
Mae McEwan never studied Mr. Lincoln…or if she did it was only in passing as the Scots taught History in school. She does however subscribe to his belief that we take things one day at a time. Take the opportunities life gives, deal with the disappointments, do what good can be done. Go to sleep each night thankful for the day and know that the next one will be a clean slate on which to write.

Mae

The sun was up by the time my old alarm clock buzzed to life. One thing I was never sure of in this city was which way was east and which was west, but there was enough light filtering through the stained and dusty window blinds to let me know I needed to be on the move. Sylvain had mentioned taking Drummond to Our Lady to finish doing the yard work, so my mind was easy on that score. Left to himself me brother is a magnet for everything New Orleans flaunts, but work was the one thing that gave him some sense of who he used to be back before the whisky. I bent over to give him a kiss on the brow before I tidied myself up and assumed the identity of Mae McFarland once again.
It took less time to make my trip to the mansion…the Rodrigue mansion if I remembered the name right. Sylvain knew it, that was sure. And if he didn’t like his sister being in the middle of it, well neither did I. I let myself in the back door to find Lila bustling about like a fox in the hunt.
“Mornin’, Miss Mae,” she breathed as she swept by me to put some chopped vegetables in a huge copper pot. “Busy time today. The Missus gave me a menu this morning for the soiree she and the Mister are hosting tonight.”
“Tonight? Isn’t that a wee bit late notice?” I dropped my bag in the coat cupboard and found a clean apron. I would have asked what a ‘swaree’ was but figured I should know that having been in service for the de Villiers.
“The Missus apologized after she told me. Evidently there’s to be an important meeting with some business associates this week. She hasn’t been able to entertain since they moved here, not really. The Mister told her this would be the perfect way to welcome everyone. Some of them…”
“Gossip doesn’t do anything more than waste time and air, Cook.” Neither of us had heard Marie-Therese enter the room. “We have only a few hours to make this place shine.” She looked at me and I knew she blamed me for Lila’s lapse of concentration. “Miss Mae, we will indeed be having guests and some of them will be staying with us for a time. Please make sure that every room sparkles. The tapestries are being freshened this afternoon, so you might tend to the other rooms on this floor first and then do the bedrooms upstairs. All of them. I am sure Mr. and Mrs. Rodrigue will appreciate the extra effort on your part.” That Marie-Therese expected extra effort every day was a given, so I nodded.
“Will I be needin’ additional supplies for the third floor as well so I can tend to those guest rooms?” That would be one way to get up there and see what I could discover.
“No. The rooms on the second floor are adequate for the number of guests, Miss Mae. I had the houseboys carry the area rugs out to the back to hang. They’ll beat them and then let the warm air work her magic to freshen them. If you would be so kind as to buff the wood floor with that soft mop, they can replace them before the dinner guests arrive.” She peered at the watch she kept on a long chain around her neck. “My driver should be waiting. I find I will be gone most of the day so I must trust you and Lila will honor the schedule. Lila, I have your list and will have the grocer deliver what you need in more than enough time for preparation. If you find you find you need something more, please call me. I will see the item is added to the order. In the meantime, you may assist Miss Mae if she needs you.” Having said her piece, Marie-Therese turned and walked out of the kitchen towards the portiere where ‘her’ driver was probably wishing for anything but her company.
I told Lila I’d let her know if I needed help and to do the same with me and then grabbed my tray of supplies and started with the dining room, the absence of those tapestries making the room appear much brighter and larger. I put my skills on autopilot and tried to figure out how I could use Madame Marie’s prolonged time away from the house to my advantage. By the time I had polished and vacuumed and dusted and plumped the rooms on the first floor I had the glimmering of a plan to scout out the forbidden third floor. I needed to do that quickly, so I hustled myself and my tools up the stairs and placed them in the first room to be cleaned. Taking extra care so my heels would not click on the wood flooring, I made my way to the stairs leading to what I hoped would be the answer to Sylvain’s problem; Celine in one of those rooms more than ready to be rescued. And maybe enough evidence to get my temporary employer and his men out of circulation.
I’d learned as a child that old steps tend to squeak. Got meself caught a time or two trying to sneak out to do some mischief and found that staying close to the railings made for more quiet progress up and down. Served me well through the teenage times and when I snuck out the final time to follow me brother. Keeping that in mind, I took the staircase one step at a time and was rewarded by total silence. And a gate of sorts stretched across the posts at the top. No problem. Since the staircase sat at the midpoint of the house, there was a hall on either side, with a railing that stretched from the end of the stairs to the front of the upper level. Doorways, six on either side, beckoned me. Most were open, with the light shining through swirls of dust and…dust. I looked at the floor before me. Aside from a tattered runner stretching toward the rear of the building, there were no rugs. And enough dust on the unpolished flooring to track anyone who stepped off that piece of carpet. Shite. My eyes studied the area and found one room off to the left with a closed door. Close to the rear of the house, my guess was that it sat right above the kitchen-mud room area, far enough away from any activity that sounds would be muffled, or not heard at all. That’s where I’d keep someone I didn’t want free, I decided. Now how to get there.
“Off limits,” a voice growled behind me. Shite again. “Didn’t I tell you not to snoop?” The hand on my shoulder was not as forceful as yesterday.
“Benard,” I whispered.
“The same.” He used his hand to turn me toward him. “And just what are you up to? This wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Opportunity knocked,” I said. “Plus I’d like to find Celine before something happens to her. You said she looked ill. The sooner I’m out of here, the faster you can get back to your own business.”
“You won’t find her if they catch you where you’re not supposed to be, Mae. Let me do what I said I would. I’ll ask Mr. Cameron. He’s a part of this, but he married her because…well, love happens even with the bad guys. I was looking for you when I saw you climbing the stairs. Neat trick that, staying to the sides. I’m supposed to go with him to the airport to pick up some of the associates. You get your work done before that dragon lady comes back and be helping Lila in the kitchen. Poor woman is ready to poison the gumbo.”
What could I do? The third floor was dusty and as quiet as a tomb. If Celine was up here, she wasn’t moving or moaning, and I couldn’t risk being discovered either. That Benard had managed to catch me unawares rattled me. He was right. At least I’d satisfied my curiosity about the place.
“I see your point, Benard. I don’t like it, but for now I’ll back off. I’m no good to Sylvain if I’m fired. This is between us, though. No one else needs to know.”
“Of course.” He stepped back to let me past him. “Just don’t push the envelope. But if you see anything that might help me in my job, I’d appreciate it. I’d like to stop shaving my head every day.” He chuckled. So did I. Just then a door banged open somewhere on the first floor and we both scrambled down the third floor stairs.
“Benard! Kote ou ye? We’re going to be late!”
“Mr. Cameron,” Benard whispered. “On my way, sir!” He patted my shoulder. “Watch for me later.”
“Hurry, man!” Cameron was almost at the stairs.
“Coming!” Benard clattered down the stairs just as his boss stepped on the first one. Crisis averted. “I was having a word with the new housekeeper. About tonight.” Advantage Benard.
I listened until I heard the door close behind them and considered the work that lay ahead. I’d done the guest rooms yesterday, so I concentrated on those in use by the family and then used the remaining time to freshen the air and plump the pillows everywhere else. I soft-buffed the floor, surveyed my work, and caught sight of the footprints Benard and I had left on the stairs to the third floor. I swept them away, figuring a clean staircase was less noticeable than a dusty one with shoe marks. That done, I breathed a sigh of relief and headed down to find Lila.

To say Lila was at her wit’s end would be charitable. Four boxes of groceries had landed courtesy of the neighborhood gourmet grocery and she was trying to sort through them with one hand and stir something pasty looking with the other.
“Miss Mae! You are the angel from God. Might I ask you to stir the roux while I find the filets for tonight’s main course?” She offered me the wooden spoon in her right hand. “It must be done over a very low flame and stirred until quite dark. Please. It will only be for a moment while I marinate the beef and let it rest in the cooler.” The gratitude in her smile seemed more suitable for a knight in shining armor than for my whisking a mixture in a pot, but I took the utensil from her and gently stirred the thickening liquid. I knew what a roux was. We had made them at home, although never to this shade of brown. Lila found the filets and placed them into a shallow glass dish already half full of a burgundy mixture of spices and…wine I think. After turning them several times, she placed them in the huge refrigerator and rescued her roux from my inexperienced hands.
“What else can I do to help you, Lila?”
“Pray for me, Miss Mae.” She softened that request with another smile. “If you would unpack the groceries for me that would be a great help. I tried to ask Madame Marie for an extra hand. It is so short a time to expect so much to be done. And the beef must be prepared just as they finish their first course or it will be dry.”
“No worries, Lila.” I looked inside the boxes. The packer had organized them so that all the cold food was in one while the others held the non-perishables. “It won’t take me but a minute to sort through these things and get them put away. How many are you cooking for?”
“The Missus told me to make enough for twelve. She will be there of course, and the Mister. Mr. Cameron and his wife if she’s well enough. That is four. Benard is to be there. The others are coming in this afternoon. Why?”
“Just me being nosy,” I joked. “Still, that is a lot of work for you. Not that I’ve been asked but I expect Madame Marie will want me to stay and help serve.” That explained the starched apron and cap I’d seen hanging in the cupboard. “But,” and here I paused. My next question was a dangerous one. Oh what was the worst that could happen. Lila could tell Madame Marie but nosiness was no crime.
“But?” Lila prodded me.
“You mentioned that Mrs. Cameron might not be well enough. Is she very ill?”
“I do not really know other than I have had to make her broth and plain custards ever since they’ve arrived. She stays upstairs mostly. When she has come down it is only for a short time. Surely you’ve seen her as you clean?”
“No, but then I don’t know the schedule of everyone in the house so perhaps she is out with Mr. Cameron or the Missus when I tend to their room.” Lilia didn’t need to know there was no indication that Celine ever spent any time in the bedroom she supposedly shared with Cameron.
“She rarely goes out, but that is possible. Perhaps to the doctor?”
“That must be it. I’m sure I’ll see her at some point. Now,” I turned the subject back to the tasks at hand. “Is there something I can chop or shred or dice for you? “ It wouldn’t help to have Marie-Therese walk in to discover ‘her’ kitchen in disarray and me chattering away.

Entertaining in New Orleans is an art. Temporary staff is hired, the liquor cabinet restocked, the linens not only pressed but mildly starched, and the tables in the parlor are filled with unusual delicacies. The Rodrigue soiree was no exception in all but one area. Not a temporary bartender, server, or butler to be found. By the time I had finished my prep work with Lila, Marie-Therese had sent me to lay the table, set small trays in the parlor for the appetizers, make sure there was ice for the drinks, and plump the pillows on the sofa one last time. Then she had directed me to the cupboard to get the apron and cap I’d seen earlier.
“I’m sure you’ve done this in your service with the de Villiers,” she said. “This is a small party, so you should have no trouble. Just do as you did the other evening. Keep the platters filled, offer to refresh their drinks. Benard will be our bartender this evening. You may want to discuss the details with him. He’s also greeting guests, so do not worry yourself about the door.”
I hadn’t seen Benard since our meeting on the stairs. He’d told me to find him, and Madame Marie had just given me the perfect excuse to talk to him throughout the evening. No time like the present, I decided.
“Then if you’ll excuse me,” I said in my best servant voice, “I’ll find Benard and let him know I’ll be staying. And ask him if he needs anything special for the bar.”
“The guests should be arriving shortly, Miss Mae. Please do not dawdle over the details. I’m sure Benard will let you know as he needs things.” She waved me away and turned her attentions to Lila’s creations. I left the room, anxious for the evening to begin. Maybe I would finally see Sylvain’s Celine. The chimes from the front door announced the arrival of the first guest. Benard’s voice echoed in the foyer as he welcomed someone in. A moment later I saw him striding toward me.
“What the hell are you still doing here?” He looked at my new apron. “You’re kidding of course.”
“No. Madame Marie has pressed me into maid service. This must be some dinner.”
“You don’t want to know,” Benard muttered. “By the way, Mr. Cameron assured me his wife is fine, thank you, and she will be with him tonight, at least for dinner. Good news, no?”
“Not when Lila’s been making her broth and custards for the past week. Something’s not right.”
“Just don’t meddle. Once the after dinner cigars and brandy come out, get your butt out of here. I already have enough to worry about.” His voice turned bossy. “And make sure my ice buckets are kept filled. Now go and find the cocktail shakers.”
“Ah, Benard there you are.” The Missus, exquisitely dressed in a floor length sheath of violet and blue, put her hand on Benard’s arm and squeezed it. “Would you assist me for just a moment? In the parlor?”
“Of course, ma’am.” The look he gave me told me that his undercover work was not the only ‘thing’ he had to deal with. Oh how I wanted to be a meddling mouse on the wall. But, I sighed, first things first.

Making my way around the front parlor was like running through the brush. Other than the Missus, who was holding court by the screened fireplace, everyone was male. And big. I’ve never seen so many men who looked like they could lift a bull in each hand. Still, I managed to avoid being crushed. Sadly I could not avoid being pinched. I did step on a few designer shoes in retaliation, always excusing myself in my best Dundee accent. Then above the baseline of male voices, I heard Benard from the hallway.
“Mr. Cameron. Mrs. Cameron. The others are in the parlor.”
Moments later, Cameron Rodrigue and his wife entered through the open doorway. He was clad in black formal attire much like the rest of the party. His hand rested over that of the petite, dark haired woman who clung to his arm, her face as pale as the new moon. Around her neck hung an antique locket. I had found Celine.

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There Is No “I” in Soccer

Soccer
World Cup. Everyone knows what it is even if they aren’t sure exactly what it means. Like the Olympics, it enters our consciousness once every four years for approximately a month of universal competition; that it involves the sport of soccer may speak to only a certain group, but every nation participating has an investment in watching, cheering for the national team, and hoping for victories that will make their team the ultimate best in the world. It’s a team effort, from the people who clean the uniforms to the goalkeepers who contort their bodies in order to make “saves” to the fans who cheer, cry, and travel thousands of miles to celebrate in one of the biggest world parties—this year in one of the world’s premier vacation spots. The party is important of course. Who doesn’t want to have a good time at any sporting event? But the TEAM is the real reason for being there. People from different countries, ethnicities, cultures, all come together in celebration of the sport of soccer. The United States is a relative newcomer to this sport; fútbol is definitely European in origin. Although the ancient Chinese did have a sport which translates as ‘kickball, 900 AD rings in as a possible origin date in modern times. Still, we understand team sports as well as the next guy. It’s called ‘working together for a common goal’. No one person can make a team, although lack of leadership can sink one faster than a leaky dinghy.
“So,” you may ask, “what does this all have to do with anything? My team lost, I don’t care who wins, give me a break. Soccer? Who cares?”
Well, take a step back and translate that to any sport you enjoy. Almost all of them are team sports at some time or another; they require commitment, cooperation, compassion. Still doesn’t make sense? Then let me be blunt. TEAM. Working together. And the confusion as to why, when we can come together as friendly rivals for sporting events and often cheer on other teams as they move forward after our own has been defeated, the word often disappears from our daily lives to the point of us making our own time on this planet less pleasant. Our way is the only way. We’re right and no one else understands that. Any number of expressions used daily from the halls of Congress to our own living rooms. Every nation is guilty. Some call it National Pride. Me? I’m old enough to have seen and heard things that make me wonder. I’ve learned that not all can be taken at face value. Actions don’t always suit words, words sometimes mean one thing in a certain context and have another definition altogether in another one.
I’m not on a soapbox here, although I do believe we can look at life in many different ways and profit from what we see. Working with others, listening their point of view (whether we accept it or not), trying as a group to make things better…to ‘win’ if you will…may enhance our experience and give us opportunities we never would have had otherwise. Mae knows that…and while she’s been thrown a curve again, she’s wise enough to find a way to convert that curve into something other than a foul ball.

MAE
“There’s biscuits in that tin with the plaid lid,” I said. I had the feeling this was going to take more than just an apology to satisfy me and I wanted something to keep my mouth busy while these two recent interlopers in my life cleared the mud from the murk. “Get a plate while you’re standin’ there, Sylvain. If that’s really your name.”
“Keep those hackles of yours down, Mae. I am Sylvain Lionel. No fear on that score. This rather oversized person with no hair,” and here he looked a bit puzzled, “is my second cousin on my mama’s side, Etienne.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” offered up our intruder with a slight bow. “Etienne Besson from Grand Isle at your service.”
“At my service? Maybe you’d better sit yourself down before you say anything else. And the name is Mae, or did you forget that?” The bruise on my shoulder told me different, but I needed to be the one asking the questions, s o I kept going as Sylvain waited for the kettle to boil. “When you tried to push me down the stairs this afternoon?”
“In truth, I meant you no harm, Miss Mae. But had I not acted to stop you…”
“Why did you interfere, Tenny?” Sylvain brought the pot and a third cup to the table. “And where is your hair?” He seated himself, muttered something and went back to get the biscuit tin. I reached for a crisp shortbread cookie and nibbled a bit, quite ready to listen to whatever tale he wanted to spin, as long as he said his piece and got out. I wanted nothing more than to lie down, mull over the day, and make me own plans for that mysterious room before I had to rise and get back to Marie-Therese and her orders.
“It’s my cover, Syl. We’ve been watching Rodrigue for over a year. Trying to tie him to money laundering for the guys up North. Money that comes from drug sales. He looked at me. “This goes no further, ma’am.”
“You don’t have to concern yourself with Mae,” Sylvain said. “She already suspected something after just one day.”
“Then tell me why she’s in there, cousin, and why you’re involved at all.”
“Celine.”
“Beb Celine? Las time I saw her she was all braces and braids, Syl. What does she have to do with any of this?”
“”You don’t know?” The disbelief in Sylvain’s voice hung in the air like a dismal fog. “She’s in that house. And I sent Mae to try and get her out.”
“And that’s why you were jigglin’ at that knob this afternoon? No one in there, not since…”
“Just how long have you been on the inside, cousin? “
“I told you. Since last year. Are you sure?”
“Dead sure. She married into the family. Last I heard from her she was here in New Orleans. Called me from a shop in the Quarter. I could hear the fear in her voice. By the time I got to where we were supposed to meet up…she never came, Tenny.”
“Oh hell.”
I could see by the expression on Tenny’s face that he’d remembered something. Or someone. But I kept taking bites of my cookie, waiting for the whole story.
“Etienne? We don’t have time for this. You know something. Look at me.”
“I never thought….I mean….I knew the boss’s brother had married but…aw merde, Syl. She looked familiar but she didn’t say a word to me. Kept her eyes down mostly. They lived in the cottage next to the main house in Baton Rouge, Syl. I never really saw her after that one time. And it was always Missus Cameron when the staff talked about her. Last time I laid eyes on her was right after the family moved here. She was…she looked ill. Wasn’t my business. Y’know?”
Last time?” Time for me to put myself into the mix. “Just when was that? Today maybe? After you…”
“I told you Miss Mae how sorry I am that I gave you a difficult time. But you didn’t have to make such a noise about it.”
“When did you see her, Tenny? Where?”
“Mr. Cameron was helping her up the stairs to their room. I offered to help but…”
“You didn’t see him take her inside?” Sylvain’s words were almost an accusation.
“No. The boss called me back to discuss an upcoming meet with a “linen supplier” from Tucson. Sounded as though we might be able to actually…”
“I don’t care, Tenny. You and your boss can meet with suppliers from New York to Chicago and back. Not my circus. My sister wanted,,,needed,,,my help, and I let her down. Now I’ve got to get her out of there before it’s too late.” Sylvain banged his mug down on the table.
“Get yourself in check, Sylvain,” I said in as loud a voice as I could without waking me brother. “Tenny here has his agenda and it has nothing to do with yours. Yet.” I took a sip of lukewarm tea to wash down the last of my cookie. “And mind my mug. I can’t just buy a new one every time you want to make a point.” To his credit, Sylvain reddened a bit as he muttered a “sorry” but the anger in his eyes was still flashing. “Now I want you two to listen to me.”
I told you before, didn’t I, that I can’t let a good “meddle” pass me by. As soon as ‘Benard’ warned me off that room, I knew there was something bad going on. Sylvain’s sister probably stumbled onto it and was being ‘taken care of’ in more than one way. Celine needed to be saved, that was sure, but now we had the added complication of Tenny’s involvement as an undercover agent. Sylvain couldn’t see that the two missions could be made into one….good results for all. So I said my piece.
“If you, Sylvain, can keep yourself from verbally beating up your cousin,” I saw him shrug, “and you Etienne can stop apologizing for what you had to do”, a slight nod, then I have a plan.” Sylvain groaned.
“Just wait until I lay my hands on Morales,” he growled.
“Morales?” That was Etienne.
“Never mind,” both Sylvain and I said in chorus.
“Now it’s a rough plan, and we may have to make it up as we go, but if it works, we can get the job done and not get hurt. Any of us.” I had their attention at the last.
“Go on, Miss Mae.” Tenny was the first to speak, Sylvain having calmed himself with a gulp of tea. “I’ll tell you what I can. The sooner we can get enough evidence to stop Rodrigue, the better. And,” he turned to Sylvain, “If Celine knows as much as they think she does, we can protect her too. If she’s willing to testify…”
“Let’s get her out of that house first, cousin,” Sylvain muttered. “while she’s still alive.”
“First things first,” I said, sensing another round of familial fighting in the wings. “Tenny, or I should say ‘Benard’ since I don’t want to let something slip tomorrow, you’re the front line. I need you to find out just where ‘Missus Cameron’ is. No first names, even if you see her in the hall or at table. Obviously she didn’t recognize you or you’d have been contacted before Sylvain here.” He nodded. “Once you find out, give me a signal…maybe mention “that redheaded maid” to Marie-Therese while I’m in the vicinity. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Maybe an insult would be better since we’ve already traded blows.”
“Then what?”
“Wait about an hour or so and then find me. Ask me to do something, tell me to leave the room, whatever seems right at the time. I’ll bump into you, apologize and you can give me the location before you tell me off.” I had to laugh as he shot me a look. “I promise not to kick you again,” I said.
“What about me?” Sylvain had been drumming his fingers on the table as I spoke.
“You wait. Find a Safe place…not here,” I added as he looked around the room. “This is my and Drum’s haven. Do they know Celine’s family connections?”
“I doubt it,” he replied, some sadness in his voice. “Celine didn’t like where she came from, so if anything she made herself an orphan from New Orleans. We didn’t know she was married until we saw the society page in The Times Picayune. Why?”
“I’m think you might take her home. Let your mama take care of her until she’s needed to testify.”
“But…” came from both men.
“It’s as safe, maybe safer, than those blasted secure houses your police are so proud of. Do you trust your bosses, Tenny? All of them?”
“We have to trust someone,” Tenny said. “But I see your point. Sylvain?”
“I don’t see why I can’t just go and get her.”
“First idiotic thing out of your mouth in the time I’ve known you, you dolt,” I said. “All they’d do is tell you she’s not there and if you kept after them, well….things might happen.”
“And if this scheme of yours doesn’t work?”
“It will. Although I’m thinking that Benard may have to get knocked about a bit. Not by me of course. Hate to put his manhood into question.” I chuckled at the possibility he’d have to explain how one little maid could take him down. We’ll get there when we get there. Any questions?” Both men looked at me and shook their heads. “Good. Let’s all get what sleep we can. Sylvain, you and Drum make arrangements with your family. Go see them. No phone calls. Drum can use the time away from the temptations of Bourbon Street. Benard, you go back to your boss and tell him whatever. You followed me home, waited to see if I went out or met anyone, or you stopped for a drink.” I got up and walked them to the door. “Benard? You first. Sylvain? There’s a back way, right?” He nodded. “Good night then.”
After my co-conspirators left, I went back to the table and stared into my mug. What bothered me? Celine hadn’t been in her bedroom when I cleaned. If she was ill, there should have been some traffic, doctors, her husband, even Marie-Therese ordering someone to take up a tray. Nothing. If she wasn’t in that small room, and Benard’s reaction told me she wasn’t, that left either the third floor or someplace not visible to me. No cellar. New Orleans’ water table is so high they bury their dead above ground or weight down the coffins with cement coverings. I’d have to do more snooping than cleaning if I wanted to find Sylvain’s sister before her ‘illness’ became fatal. I checked the hot plate, stacked the mugs in a metal pan for washing later, checked the dead bolt on the door and headed into the room where Drum slept. Saying a silent prayer that we would all come out of this in one piece, I tucked myself in and let the sounds of the night lull me to sleep.

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Not My Circus

circus tent

If you haven’t seen the phrase, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” on Facebook or other social media—it’s an old Polish proverb—then you may not realize the words are just another way of saying, “Hey, it’s not my problem.” Or “leave me out of it”. One way to deal with difficulties to be sure. Ignore them, avoid them, wish them away, but never confront them. Of course it also means “I don’t care. Don’t bother me. I have my own baggage.”
What with all the social commentary so available to us in so many ways, news programs online and on air, sound-bytes exhorting us to do this or give to that, and to get involved in good causes, it’s understandable that some people simply want to tune out. Compassion overload. But the problem is that we do need to be involved in something, even if it is simply ourselves. Compassion and empathy are, I believe, parts of the human condition. We go through life….most of us anyway….trying to make things better; for us, for our children, for the country, and yes for the world as well. We learn this at an early age from our parents, on the playground, whenever we see a person help another person. Helping is a good thing. Right?
As we get older and more self-focused we can lose sight of the bigger picture. We tend to classify people as those who “should be helped” and those who “brought this on themselves”. In the real world that doesn’t always apply; something we discover as we age a bit more and have had to dodge life’s curves and calamities. When we ask for help and someone says “Not my circus” it stings. If we have helped that someone in the past, it stabs us in the back. And it makes us wonder if helping anyone other than “us” is even worth the effort. Not that we expect things in return for our helping hand. Do we? Because wanting credit for doing good things can also be part of being human. Our sense of self-worth thrives on thank you’s and applause. Even just dropping some coins in the red kettle at Christmas gives us a bit of a glow.
So, if helping is a good thing and ignoring the problem is a bad thing, why are there so many problems running rampant without being solved? Solutions take time. Most of us will tell ourselves there isn’t enough time in the day as it is. The thing is, there is enough. Maybe we don’t have time to go to a foreign country and dig wells or go to disaster-stricken areas after every earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, but we can do our part. Donate supplies when we can, offer to spend one evening on a telephone tree, help build or rebuild a house for Habitat. Mentor a child one day a week and possibly change his or her life. There are many opportunities in this world which cost only time and caring. We can all be a part of those opportunities if we look for them. Because, in spite of everything, the world is our circus. It’s up to us to make it the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
By the way, our friend Mae knows this well. Better than most. She gave up her way of life to make sure that her brother didn’t endanger his. With one exception. Mae also gets involved with other circus trains along the way….

Mae
I hadn’t counted on being late back to my new place. Trouble is I didn’t take into consideration what happens in New Orleans after dark most nights. Music and more music, crowds in the streets dancing, and me finding myself caught up in a Second Line going in the same direction I was. Now I was never much of a dancer, though I can do a decent Reel if the music and the whisky are right, but there’s something about the tunes of this city and her people that makes you want to move with the rhythm and strut to the beat. So I did, all the way down Frenchman to where the Old US Mint stands. Then I headed over to the building Drum and I were to call home for a while. There in front of the entry paced Sylvain, his eyes scanning the area, his face a study in worry.
“Dear God, Mae! I was about ready to call 911. Where have you been?”
“Och, man, I’ve been comin’ home from work, that’s where I’ve been.” Telling him I’d been dancing in the streets did not seem prudent. “If ye wanted me here soonest, you should’ve sent me a cab.” I moved past him but not before he’d taken my arm.
“Do you know how dangerous this city can be after dark? You could have been attacked or worse.”
“Aye, right,” I scoffed. “I look like a rich tourist with no brains. I thought you said Morales told you about me. I can handle myself. But my feet can’t handle me bein’ in these shoes much longer. And I want to see Drum’s settled in before we talk.” I didn’t wait for a reply, just took myself and walked into the building. A moment later I heard the thunk of his boots as he followed me up the stairs. “Ye didn’t lock the door?” I stared at the opening to my crib. “Did I not warn you about…?” I slapped his arm just as Drum’s voice called from the main office area.
“That you, Mae? I’ve been waiting to see you before I take my rest.”
“In a moment, dearie.” I looked at Sylvain. “Find me kettle and make us some tea, while I tend to me brother. We can talk at the table. You’ll find some biscuits in the red tin.”

Not long after, I’d gotten Drum tucked in for the night in what now was a combination sitting and sleeping area. Sylvain and Drum had between them managed to acquire two day beds as well as light blankets and pillows and a small table for books and papers. Better than the crates I’d had in Charles City, that was sure, but I missed those crates just the same. I made my own bed ready, since I planned to send Sylvain packing in not more than thirty or so minutes by the old pocket watch on the table in the makeshift kitchen. And I found me slippers, took off my working clothes and decided I needed the other set for tomorrow’s duties, and threw on my comfy chenille robe. Then I padded back to Sylvain.
“Did ye steep the tea right?”
“Don’t sound so skeptical, Mae”. Sylvain’s Cheshire Cat grin should have warned me.
“I’m right particular about my brew,” I said. “It takes a tender touch to get it done to my liking.” I reached for the cup he held out to me, prepared to have the liquid pucker my mouth with the bitterness that comes from over-steeping or too hot water. I took a cautious sip. “Holy heaven!” The warm beverage slid smoothly down my throat like honey from a hive.
“My grand-mere was quite the stickler when it came to tea, Mae. Loose-leaf, never bagged, and always always at the proper temperature. I learned early how to please that palate of hers. So, see? I do have a use or two other than moving man, Drum-watcher, and friend to Alex.” He laughed and then took a long drink from his own cup. “So? How was your first day? Can I hope for an answer to Celine’s location?”
I won’t make you sit through a re-telling of my day, but I didn’t leave anything out, including Benard and that room by the stairs. I had a few choice words about Marie-Therese as well, but that was more to get her out of my craw than anything else. Sylvain sat silent, reacting only when I mentioned my first encounter with Benard outside that ‘storage’ room.
“So you think my sister might be kept in there, Mae? Why else would it be considered off limits?”
“It seemed too quiet,” I said. “No movement, no nothing. And it was the same in the evening as earlier. I’d expect a noise or something, especially when I first rattled the doorknob. Besides, I have my own ideas.”
“Such as?”
“ Patience, man. Remember I was supposed to be live-in help? With a room on the third floor and all?” Sylvain nodded. “Well, once I told them I needed to tend Drummond so didn’t care to stay on the premises, the third floor just happened to need repairs and such and I shouldn’t concern myself about anything up there. So this is what I think. Maybe Celine was kept in that little room by the stairs and maybe not, but now I’d wager a pretty pence or two that she’s somewhere on that forbidden floor. If she’s in the house. And that’s not all.”
“That’s enough for me, Mae.”
“I don’t like the place, Sylvain. Too perfect. Except for Benard. He’s like a square peg in that round hole. That off limits room is hiding something. I want to know what it is.”
“Find Celine, Mae. That’s all I want you to do. Alex warned me about you. A meddler, he said. With a nose for trouble.”
“I told you I can take care of myself. And Drum. Been doin’ it for a fair while…since before I met Morales. And I’ll be doin’ it after we move on from here too. Don’t you want to know what your sister’s messed up in?” I stared at him, wondering if he’d admit to the fact.
“Once she’s out of there, Mae, I don’t care what goes on.” So he said. I could read it in his eyes that he wanted nothing more than to stomp on the people who’d wronged his kin.
“Wrong answer,” I said. “You can’t have it both ways. We can rescue Celine…if she wants to be rescued…” His head came up at that and he glared at me, “Or we can rescue her and make sure she never has to deal with the likes of these people again. That means meddling, Sylvain.”
I poured myself another cup of tea, lukewarm now but still flavorful, and waited in silence while my companion wrestled with his conscience and his emotions. The sounds of the River came in through the partially open window, and there were noises as the building settled down for the night; the creaks and groans of wood and metal and…Sylvain was on his feet before I could put my cup on the table, moving quietly toward the door we’d locked behind us. He held up a hand to stop me from joining him, so I simply stood by the table, ready to do whatever was needed. We both watched as the knob on that door turned slowly from one side to another. Someone wanted in.
Sylvain looked back at me and then moved his hand to unlatch the safety chain and turn the key to release the lock. He placed one hand on the knob, jerked it firmly and pulled the door back. I might have done the same meself I have to say, but watching someone else do the deed sent a shiver up me spine. Because there framed by the door jamb stood Benard.

“What the…Sylvain?” Benard’s words were as much of a shock to me as Sylvain’s presence was to him.
“Etienne?” Okay, so now I was doubly shocked. These two knew each other? Sylvain’s next words did nothing to make me any easier. “Where did you come from? Last I heard you were up in Shreveport. And you had hair!” Time for someone with sense to jump in, so I did.
“I take it you two are acquainted.” Not the best opening, I admit but it was late, I was tired, and Benard had tried to throw me down some stairs not twelve hours earlier. “Care to fill me in? Before I find something to use as a weapon?”
“You’d better come in, Tenny,” Sylvain said. “She means it.” He stepped back to let the intruder in and motioned the chair he’d just vacated. “Take a seat. I’ll make more tea.”
“Tenny?”
“Forgive me Mae. My manners have totally deserted me in the face of this unexpected meeting,” Sylvain replied as he took the teapot and went over to the small double hotplate he’d brought over to replace my elderly one.
“Unexpected?” I couldn’t get more than one word out of my mouth. And that a question. I turned my attention, and a hearty glare, towards our guest. “Etienne?”
“Yes, ma’am. Although I realize you know me as someone else. And for that, and my lack of manners earlier I do apologize.”
I sat back in my chair, feeling as though Lewis Carroll had dumped me through the Looking Glass along with Alice and I was now a guest at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Any second now, I thought, and someone would yell “Off with her head”.

monkey

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