Green Fairy DreambyMichaelWest©
"After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are . . . ." ― Oscar Wilde
I. As We Wish Things
My husband held my hand as we walked from the restaurant towards a bar to meet his biggest client for drinks. This was a historic part of town with uneven sidewalks yet to be redone and streets still paved with cobble stones and I sort of wobbled as I walked in my rather high heels.
Admittedly I had chosen a very sexy pair, these had a sort of wide strap that buckled over my ankles and were otherwise just a web of straps with a pointed heel, instead of something practical. But my husband had also implored me to dress to impress tonight, so I did.
"I told him all about you," my husband said in a bragadocious tone as we walked the block from the restaurant we just had dinner for two at to the bar we were meeting him at. "I told him you are the greatest!"
My face always blushes when I am flattered. "What sort of person is he?"
"Well," my husband laughed, "you know the difference between crazy and eccentric?"
"No," I laughed in reply.
"Money," he winked, "and he is eccentric!"
"I see," I pretended to be surprised.
"But I think you will actually like him," my husband said more seriously.
He had suggested that I dress very sexy tonight and had even laid out this particular dress, my cinched waist white silk cocktail dress with a deep v-neck that offered a nice view of my smaller chest and of course my legs, it was his favorite.
"This is his car," he said and gave my hand a squeeze.
We stopped and I looked over the thing that was parked carefully by the Valet right out front. It was all black and glistened like a polished hematite, that shiny black of dark water, it was curved, organic, dare I say feminine, and even sitting absolutely still it seemed to be in motion.
"See the license plate?"
It said: "MWest1".
"What kind of car is it," I asked naively.
"A Ferrari," he answered.
"Ask him about this car and he will tell you the story," he gave a half-laugh, "it is almost unbelievable."
"Okay," I said with laughter again.
"Good evening," the Valet interrupted us politely.
"The bar," my husband answered some as yet unasked question.
"Down the stairs," he replied.
The bar was in the basement of the building at the bottom of a steep stone staircase. Although I love the history and character of such historic buildings, having already had a few glasses of wine with my dinner I was not nearly as amused as I carefully stepped down the uneven stairs in my high heels one ginger step at a time.
The door was a very dark wood with an opaque glass inlay and a tarnished brass handle. Inside the bar was quite dark and had the same feeling of permanence that an ancient ruin does. Dimly lit, only whirling ceiling fans to cool us, and a décor lifted from some slightly dilapidated Chateau, the "Green Fairy" was an oddly Bohemian night spot that felt ripped out of some European city and slipped into our new world.
"We are with Mister West," my husband answered the Hostess. She waived her arm towards the very back of the place. "Thank you," he added. The long bar was made of white marble that seemed to luminesce like soft moonlight in the shadowy lighting. A few patrons sat at the bar that we passed on the way towards the back of the place, deeper into a highly gentrified back-alley atmosphere.
"I think I see him," my husband whispered to me as his hand gripped my arm with a slight squeeze.
My eyes groped through the moody darkness broken only by dim shaded lamps and small burning candles and I saw nothing but private booths tucked into alcoves with tied back drapery that made each booth seemingly completely private and entirely divorced from the rest of the world.
"Michael," my husband called out in a quiet voice.
"Yes," a quiet toned yet strong voice sounded in answer from the end booth.
A man dressed in black tie stood from the booth and casually re-buttoned his jacket before offering that hand to my husband in greeting. They exchanged a very quick convivial greeting and then this man offered his hand for mine.
"This is my wife," my husband introduced me with a friendly yet formal voice.
Michael took my proffered hand in his and lifted it to his lips to place a rather continental kiss at my knuckles without saying a word. His eyes however had found mine and never left them. His was not a stare but it was an unbroken look.
"Very pleased to finally meet you," he said charmingly, "I have heard so very much about you."
His eyes sort of sparkled as he did not hesitate to look directly into mine for another second as if he searched for something, and then he introduced me to his date, lowering my hand without letting go.
"This is Christine," he spoke her name with affection. She was a buxom natural red-head with impossibly pale skin and bright emerald eyes. She looked so very beautiful in her dark burgundy dress and almost too sexy as my eyes followed her marvelous freckles down from her smiling face to her deeply exposed cleavage marked with the same darker spots that filled the deep cleft there. "Please join us," he continued.
Michael directed me to the entrance of the curved booth where he had sat, and I took his lead, moving to sit and then sliding into the booth as he aided me with his hand at mine. My bottom slid over the careworn leather and I moved closer in to sit beside Christine. My husband took the other side and Michael sat in beside me, placing me between him and Christine, opposite my husband.
"Your order," the prompt arriving Waiter asked our host.
"Absinthe;" Michael said almost matter of fact, "and the cheese platter."
"Very good Sir," the waiter replied as he made a mental notation and then excused himself with a slight bow of his head.
Upon receiving the order for absinthe, the waiter disappeared and we continued our trivial exchange of pleasantries and introductions. Under the table I brushed my dress to straighten it after my motions to sit had hiked it up my legs a touch too far. The booth was smaller and we sat tightly in close to one another. I felt Christine's soft hips against mine and our shoulders glanced. Michael's firm leg brushed against mine.
"Have you ever had Absinthe before," Michael asked me pleasantly.
"No," I smiled. "I thought it was illegal."
Michael merely smiled. "It was, and it was feared for being a taboo drink, a magic fairy inside the bottle, full of horrors." He laughed quietly with a pleasant smile. "It was rumored to cause hallucinations and of course unlock the inner demons."
Nervously my lips trembled: "But it is safe, right?"
"After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were," he whispered as if he were telling us a secret. "Oscar Wilde then said that after the second you see things as they are not, and finally you see things as they really are." He just smiled again.
After those few minutes of conversation our Waiter returned with a silver platter and presented us with a deep almost black dark green bottle, four suitable glasses, a bowl of sugar cubes, ornate silver spoons with pattered slots in them, and a carafe of iced water that already sweat in the humidity. A second waiter placed our cheese platter on the table. The Waiter then distributed the glasses and left.
"Traditionally," Michael spoke to us as he opened the bottle and poured a measure of emerald green liquid into the bowl of each of our beautiful glasses, "absinthe is prepared by placing the spoon on the glass," he lifted a spoon to my glass and then pinched one cube, "and placing it like so." Carefully he then set one spoon over each of the remaining glasses and added a sugar cube. "Iced water is then poured slowly over the sugar cube to both melt it and displace it into the absinthe."
He poured the cold water over mine first, the cube began to dissolve and a milky opalescence formed as my glass filled slowly to the top.
"The louche," Michael whispered towards my ear, "the release of the hidden essence coincides with a perfuming of aromas and flavors that blossoms," he continued in a poetic voice. As if told to do so, I leaned over my glass and inhaled.
"You can taste the subtleties that are otherwise muted within the spirit," he whispered a little louder for everyone to hear, "this is perhaps the oldest and purest method of preparation, often referred to as the French Method."
"Go ahead and drink yours," Christine said in a gentle, almost girl like voice, "you will find it a little bitter but quite nice."
The absinthe tasted bitter and not at all sugary sweet like my preferred cocktails. I sipped at my glass as he prepared one for her and then my husband and finally one for himself. We all drank and tasted from the platter of cheese. It also had fresh fruit and clusters of grapes, a selection of crackers and slices of apple. Still full I only nibbled and took a few grapes.
"Do you like it," Michael asked with a hint of curiosity.
"It tastes like licorice."
"Very adult candy," Christine said with a slow feminine rhythm to her words.
"I rather like it actually," I nodded and smiled at him.
"It is an acquired taste," he answered, "but I am glad you enjoy it."
"My husband told me that I should ask about your Ferrari," I sort of blurted out.
He looked into my eyes and began to speak. I sipped my drink again and looking back now I recall Christine and my husband seemed engrossed in a side conversation as they barely glanced at him or me, even as he casually spoke loud enough for us all but focused his eyes only on me. And as he began to tell me the story he seemed to transport himself to another place and another time.
"You are a winner," the words whirled in my head.
And what words to be told, or to hear, or simply to know. To be a winner is what it is all about anymore, but what does it mean to be a winner?
In my case, to be a winner was the Lottery, one of the biggest Powerball jackpots in history to be more precise, the holder of the only winning ticket for over one-hundred million dollars when all was said and done. In that instant I became a winner, a filthy rich winner in the American dream.
My story should be of hard work or talent or other more noble success, I had been successful and I had failed, I have made money and lost money, yet fabulous wealth was simply a wink from Lady Luck. I had once struggled to achieve the Horatio Alger myth, yet in that instant of fate, an oddly American twist to destiny, I was simply lucky.
The great black shark, a grand tourer, the miles pouring out behind me, five-hundred and forty horsepower, six liters, twelve cylinders, a six-one-two Scaglietti by Ferrari. "Costs more than a nice house," I think almost out loud. It is a wonderful machine, and there was no doubt in my mind I was in a superior machine. Even standing motionless at the curb it looked like a jet fighter, primed for flight, yet it is quiet, surprisingly quiet, luxurious, refined, yet I feel like a playboy rather than a gentleman. A carefree playboy when I drop a gear and tap the accelerator it can scream like jet too, that unmistakable high whine, a lustful need for speed.
Now I feel like a modern American zombie, ignorant of travel, barely aware only of the destination. Highway miles disappear behind me as more present themselves before me. The architecture of the freeway is garish and overblown so it appears enticing at seventy-five or more. Another bright yellow "M" and all manner of surreal lighting meant to draw your attention from between the unbroken white lines and flashing interrupted yellow ones.
It all started somewhere on Decatur Street, on the edge of the Vieux Carré, when the scent of coffee began to take hold. I felt a bit lightheaded, that was the Bloody Maries. I had lingered more than an hour and drank several. Old Absinthe House, first thing this morning, and I thought something like this: "Maybe I should drink some coffee." Café du Monde! "And beignet." I said to no one but myself.
Then like a village drunkard in some cliché Irish novel I stepped into some antiquated market. On a lark I bought my ticket. And I made a fateful deal: "If you pray for me to win," I said to the cute girl behind the counter, "I will buy you a new Cadillac."
She smiled at me as she put my twenty in the cash register.
"I prefer a hybrid," her voice lilted with youth and enthusiasm.
"Deal," I said confident.
Of course I was confident that my fickle mistress, Lady Luck, her charms never truly given in full would once more only wink at me teasingly.
It was Fest, I came every year, that day was April 22, Arbor Day. No longer the great tradition I recall from when I was just a boy, the modern day celebration of nature now feels more like a glossy veneer added to that older tradition. Much like the Quarter, a flashy tourist clap-trap called Bourbon Street living on the older city, and I felt like a tourist, wandering over the same paths, gawking at the same sights, enjoying being in this piece of the city no matter that it was just a destination to drunken debauchery for so many others.
"I drink too much," I mused to myself as I wandered towards my coffee. Twice each day at least, chicory coffee, with milk, café au lait, and a plate of beignet buried in powered sugar, first in the morning and the next near or after midnight when I cannot sleep.
Another tourist haven perhaps, crowded even at late hours, but so connected to its place that it remains genuine even in overwrought popularity, gimmicky yet real, artifice yet sincere, like a fiction story, threads of truth hidden in a fabric of pleasant falsity.
Of course I eat that third beignet, after two one can no longer pretend to have a pious appetite. And I finish my coffee, gazing at the wall but seeing past it to the river, my walk along that crescent as the sun rose always gets me ready for the day. "And at least one good bloody," I remind my liver with a jovial laugh.
Big smells, seductive and exotic, zippy zydeco music or more soulful sounds, the energy of the Quarter is always electric, even as you do no more than sip at your iced tea in the shade. Somewhere I learned that Luzianne iced tea is blended just for icing. And in New Orleans the tea is not sweetened as I had learned to adore from my Southern-born wife years ago. I eat six times a day and drink twenty-four. This is New Orleans. "Nawlins," I unconsciously adopt the local ways and speech. If I didn't walk everywhere I went I would be the bloated corpse of Nero Wolfe.
And I drink Absinthe. Writers drink. At least that is the myth, and great writing comes from hard drinking. From Ernest to Hunter, like them my head swims at times, only I prefer the green liquor when I cannot find the prose. My muse is a green fairy. And I write to set my imagination to paper, commit my dreams to substance, and expunge demons.
Perhaps it is the music that I feel in me that inspires my Elvis impersonation. He was famous for giving away more than one Cadillac, and if I had that sort of easy money, so would I. "I want to give away a Cadillac!" I proclaim it to Old Man River, as good a deity as any other in my mind.
II. Things Not As They Appear
"Did you buy her the Cadillac," I asked as I sipped the last drop of my drink.
His eyes grew melancholy: "Sadly my pretty young cashier was no where to be found," he said with a tint of sadness, "sometime between then and my return, somewhere in that year she had grown and moved on, went on about her life as I never once forgot her face."
"It is almost unbelievable," I muttered.
"I hired a detective to search her out but never could find her," he continued, "so I will wander the same path on the same day, Earth Day, hoping to give away a car to a person with more faith than I apparently."
"So you never found her?"
"Only in my dreaming," he said sadly. "When I drink my third Absinthe she will appear again and speak to me."
"I don't understand?"
"She reminds me of the embarrassment of riches," he still sounded melancholy, "and she reminds me that everything is but a dream."
My own mind tried to describe the confused state of my feeling, words flowed quickly to my inner voice but my lips seemed hard pressed to form and announce them. Christine guffawed aloud and threw her head back dramatically, causing her ample breasts to quiver in her blouse and her fiery red hair to dance at her shoulders.
"I am reminded that I should care about the environment," he mused, "being rich does not mean I need to be wasteful." I nodded. "Another," he asked.
Moving my head I agreed and once again he prepared for me another drink. As I sipped upon my second libation, he asked how I felt. He had wandered around in his mind telling me broken fragments of his story, made me another Absinthe and one for him too so we drank and I wondered what he wanted.
"Your husband has told me that you are an architect," Michael broke from his sadness and returned to a more jovial host again.
"Yes," I smiled, "well not yet an independent one, I still do mostly little projects, but I dream of designing something amazing one day."
He nodded as I sipped generously from my glass.
"I want you to design my house," he said more sober, "a truly green one." My mind wandered to my purely dream project as he spoke. "Your husband says you want to build a LEED Platinum mansion that shows luxury need not be wasteful."
Again I nodded and the images of plans formed in my head. We talked of the multi-million dollar house that would be luxurious yet responsible, green and respectful of our environment but also a pleasure to live within. I know that we talked of his annual trip to Jazz Fest over the Earth Day weekend and then Michael asked how I felt in a whisper to my ear. Sitting there engrossed in my attempt to converse with him, I suddenly felt a hand on my knee beneath the table. It was Michael's hand.
His touch took me by surprise; I mean if someone puts a hand on your knee, is it merely to indicate he wants to talk to you? Perhaps he intended to force my attention to something he wanted to say? Perhaps he wished to share a confidence through purely non-verbal communication? Or perhaps he simply mistook my knee for his own?
I should have shot him a covert glance to see if he had, perhaps, some confidence he wished to impart. But I didn't do that either. Instead I just froze in place and watched as my husband fawned over Christine.
My husband laughed at something she said. Something I didn't hear through my haze. And Michael added to their tête-à-tête some quiet joke that eluded me.
It was that moment, on sober reflection later that I had the opportunity to put a stop to what followed. However of course I failed to just then. In fact I had decided to leave the hand where it was and ignore how it gently squeezed the bones under my bare flesh.
Slowly I felt how his fingertips felt the cap at my knee, his thumb pressed at a sensitive hollow behind that and his pinky found its opposite while his palm pressed to the top of my leg there. I turned my head to look at him and he merely glanced sideways to my eyes with a gentle smile at his lips.
Doing nothing about the hand on my knee, the conversation continued another few words before I felt his lower leg against my own. Again, and largely for the same sort of excuses, I did nothing. I left my high heeled foot where it was, my knee where it was, and the calf of my leg where it was, which now, was hard against his.
Both of us stayed as we were. Both of our eyes were on my husband and his girlfriend as they flirted and a certain sensation of jealousy rose in my heart. She was so definitely beautiful, tall and ginger, creamy white and be-speckled, her chest filled out even more generously than the rest of her curvaceous body. Her deep red painted lips moved seductively as did her body.