Nighttime in the Big Easy

The moon glowed in a liquid sky freckled with clusters of stars; a balmy puff of breeze did little more than rustle skirt hems and bring with it the scent of green. Scattered grit on the cobbled street created a crunch under meandering footsteps, as though the street were munching chips. Every so often the sound was crowded out by the echoes of an acoustic guitar played by some clothes and hair on a bench. Her skin was cleaner than you’d think, dirtier than you’d hope, and the smell of pot wreathed her like a halo while she plucked Fleetwood Mac with chipped nail polish. Her slackened lips half-mumbled lyrics while her absent eyes roamed the passers-by from under a velvet curtain of smudged mascara. In front of her, lying propped open on the sidewalk, was a guitar case of brown cracked leather and brass fastenings; curled within the soft interior, crumpled bills slept soundlessly, every once in a while stirring when another dropped in to join them. In the Big Easy, music was forever in the air; even lazy musicians received their dues.  

There was an itch in the musician’s side, so she stopped playing for a moment to scratch at a spot under her loose-knit sweater. The ridged calluses on her fingers snagged in the yarn for a moment, then released, reminiscent of a spider’s hooked appendages. A man whistled his appreciation at her youthful shape. She gave him her finger in return. Then, she went back to playing, apparently not noticing how a lock of hair had come loose from her technicolor headscarf and was now dangling in front of her eye. A woman made of angles and clad in bespoke fabric crunched by on slick heels; her red lipstick twisted into a smile as her eyes met the guitarist’s. Their bodies knew each other from the confines of countless hotel rooms. Yet tonight she merely passed by, depositing a cloud of eau de parfum that fought against eau de cannabis.   

A starling was perched on a lamppost above the musician. The revving of an engine on the street startled the bird into taking flight on the evening air. Stormy wings beat against a sudden breeze and feathers slicked back on its tiny body as it turned into the wind. Rounding a building, it burst into the open air among countless others of its kind, forming inkblots that faded and bunched as the evening progressed. 

Somewhere nearby, a clock tower struck the hour. Starlings bled through the air in perfect synchronization.  

Other folks passing by found their steps slowing as—for just a moment—the street held its breath. 

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