On the Ferry

Posted on June 5, 2011 by

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There was no one swimming in the Mississippi that I could see from the deck of the Algiers Ferry. The Mississippi River at New Orleans is not something to tangle with, least of all during a flood, when it can carry whole trees ripped from its banks in Minnesota and transport them to the sea. No, everyone was keeping their distance from the river, except for those of us on the ferry, and half of us were drunk.

Curt might have been the drunkest, celebrating his return to his home city with too much of that drink called the hurricane, sipping it from a neon plastic glass resembling a femur. He kept talking about how I was going to see the Voodoo Loa, Papa Legba, at the crossroads to get me in touch with the sprit world.

“You just wait. I’ll getcha Papa Legba. We almost dea, at the crossroads.”

“What cross roads, where?”

“Right where da ferry cross da riva is da crossroads. Here it come, we comin’ to the middle.”

He leaned over the rail, peering down at the water as if Papa Legba was an old, wise catfish that would rise from the depths. I had drunken one hurricane to Curt’s three or four and the world was rolling even before I stepped on the ferry, but I still had the sense to know that he might fall in if he peered out too far.

“Careful.”

He chanted “Papa Legba, ouvri bay-a pou mwen. Pou mwen pase. L ma tounen, ma salyi lwa yo.

“Curt, careful.”

Curt smiled a sly smile, winked, and climbed up on the rail. He lifted his glass as if making a toast.

“Papa Legba, open de gate for me so dat I can come in.”

He looked at the river in a way that made me look, too; as it held the answers to all his questions, though Curt never seemed to have any questions. I had the questions. I looked at the river as if it had the answers.

The ferry lurched and he toppled overboard.

A bouquet of bubbles marked the spot where he went in and his chartreuse hurricane glass rose to the surface. It bobbed in the waves as if the river was returning the toast.

“Man overboard!” I yelled when I finally gathered some presence of mind. Someone threw a life ring to where I pointed. The captain cut the engine. The current dispersed the bubbles and carried the hurricane glass away. Curt never came up, not alive, not dead. The others began to question whether I had seen what I thought I did. They didn’t see anyone climbing on the railing. How much did I have to drink?

I kept my eyes on that spot while the ferry resumed the crossing, while it docked at the far bank and returned to the same location. I had forgotten all my questions by then and was only looking in the river for Curt.

It might have been a piece of floating trash or a limb from a tree tore from Minnesota, but I thought I saw Curt come to the surface when we passed the crossroads. I thought he waved and smiled his sly smile at me. It also could have been the alcohol, but by the time the ferry returned to the New Awe Lands landing, for once in my life, everything seemed to make sense.

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