Moist Lips and The Sacred MonkeybyDesmondAndromeda©
"Passion rules us all," someone once said. "And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments."
And I know, in my time with Alexandra, these are some of those finest moments. Also, the most terrifying.
Summer. New Orleans. She and I are facing each other, lying on a bed in our second-story room at a small European-like pension. We're here for the week. It's all dark wood but with French doors leading to a small balcony overlooking the narrow street below. Not very elegant. A bit shabby. The building must be a century old. Everything creaks. But then all that is down here in the French Quarter is from another time, a bit eerie and otherworldly.
Alexandra invited me. I am Albert, and I am unable to resist her. We flew down from Newark. She lives in Manhattan. I'm across the Hudson River in Hoboken. We've been friends for months now. And we have been eating and drinking our way up and down Bourbon Street for much of the week.
She is lying on her side in her white slip -- that's all she has on -- her nipples hard and very visible underneath the silk fabric. She wears no underwear. The slip, which has intricate lace at the hem, is hiked up higher than mid-thigh. She knows my eyes are riveted to her slender legs. They remind me of fine English porcelain. She knows that too. She's more than willing to let me look. I just can't touch. It is something I may have to explain in more detail.
But first, she pulls out from the top of her slip, between her breasts, this little curio, attached to a neck chain. It's no more than three inches tall, made of some kind of sandstone, a carving of some sort. I lean in closely. It's the figure of a monkey, crouching down, with a rooster beside it.
"It's The Sacred Monkey and Cock," says Alexandra. It's good luck. A talisman, she tells me. It looks sinister to me.
"You don't buy these, Albert. You have to find them down here. They're usually left beside tombs in some of the old, haunted cemeteries, in high grass or at some crossroads," she says. "And when you find one, you keep it for three years. Each birthday -- that's the exact day you come across it -- you make one wish. It comes true sometime during the year. So you get three wishes while you have it. But at the end of the third year, you have to 'abandon' it for a new owner to find."
Her three years are up. So she asks me to spend a few hours on my own while she finds "the monkey" a suitable new home, where someone else can claim it. I'm not allowed to be part of this. She dresses, opens the door to leave, just as I ask:
"Is this from some kind of religion or something?"
"This is New Orleans, Albert. It's Voodoo."
* * *
I have written of Alexandra before. You need to know what she looks like. It's because she is quite different. Tall, slender, dishwater blond hair that falls to about her chin. It's pulled back behind her right ear, but on the left side is falling down, covering that half of her face, almost to her eye. All of it in finger waves. She may be in her early 40s. I'm only 27.
You'll find her in vintage 1930s dresses, and only in blues and blacks. Add to that a pair of black leather opera gloves that reach to her elbow. Her eyes, set wide apart, are rimmed with heavy kohl, complimented by long black lashes. She wears green lipstick and a large cat's-eye earring in her right ear. Only in the one ear. Her skin is very fair. She speaks softly but with authority. She reminds me of a runway model, albeit a bit older. And her clothes are a bit time-worn.
Oh, yes, and she wears an old brown fedora that looks as if she's retrieved it from a dumpster. She may have. She wears it nearly always, even when in just her underwear -- if she wears any at all. Much of the time she is naked under her thin dresses. Most people can tell. All of it is an extension of her personality. You can see why she draws attention.
She's street savvy and alarmingly smart. Far more so than me, and probably you too. I know almost nothing of her past. She keeps herself secret. She's restless and elusive. There is no way to know her logically. But we have fun, with her leading us on various adventures to keep herself from being bored. This is one of them.
* * *
It's early evening before Alexandra and I rejoin each other in our room. With her back to me, she pulls from a sack something resembling stuffed toys. But I only glimpse before she tucks them in her shoulder luggage bag. As she's taking a pee in the bathroom, I quickly open her luggage and see they are unmistakably Voodoo dolls, old and musty looking, wrapped in rough-hewn paper. I close the bag, cover my tracks. When she comes out, I ask about The Sacred Monkey, but she doesn't want to discuss it. I'm growing concerned.
We head to Bourbon Street as sunlight disappears altogether. We are walking, browsing really, past all the pastel buildings, the clubs and restaurants, wrought iron balconies, old street lamps, now turned on. Small sidewalk tables-for-two and greenery hanging down from just about everywhere. Jazz and Dixieland playing, always within earshot. And, of course, crowds of people. We stop to have a beer. We walk some more.
Suddenly, she takes my hand and steps up her pace, hurries around several people. "See the woman in the floral print summer dress walking ahead of us? I like her. She looks like she could be fun, don't you think, Albert?"
We hurry to catch up, or at least to not lose her as the crowd thickens. Even on this hot, late-summer evening, the street is full of walkers, gawkers and hucksters. From college goths to swinging retirees. Street musicians everywhere, panhandlers, sidewalk artists, roaming white-faced mimes too. We dodge horse-drawn carriages and a cluster of pedicabs. They're all here. After all, it is New Orleans.
In my few past trips here, The French Quarter always seemed like drunken fun, very trashy touristy and a little naughty. Silly ghost tours and women flashing their breasts, teenagers making out in alleyways. This trip seems darker, more forboding. I notice more Voodoo shops and cemetery tours. More creepy characters in the bars. Maybe I'm just a little on edge because of Alexandra's Sacred Monkey and those two Voodoo dolls. But she is not one to answer too many questions. I have learned to go along.
It probably doesn't help that I just this afternoon ran across an odd magazine item: It has been said there are more people reported missing from New Orleans, without explanation, than from any other city. That should tell you something.
Still holding my hand, Alexandra leads us up near the woman we have been following, or about 10 feet from her, as the woman stops to look into a restaurant. She's trying to choose one. We see her face. We step away.
"I don't get it, Alexandra. What is it you want with her? She looks like a nice middle-aged lady?"
"Precisely. That's what would make it fun," she says. "It's the challenge, Albert. I want her for you. She's by herself."
* * *
That brings us to something else you need to know about Alexandra. Once a week, on Saturday nights, she performs with a burlesque group in New York under the stage name of "Moist Lips." She's somewhat of an exhibitionist.
That aside, she's primarily looking for an audience of one, a single person to exhibit herself to, someone she's not sleeping with. That's the eroticism for her. Showing someone, but not doing it with them. Suffice it to say, she chose me.
In private, I get to see her display herself in tantalizingly lewd ways. The trade-off is that I just can't have sex with her. But she wants to occasionally find a woman for me to fulfill my own needs, if you will.
I love our friendship and her perverseness -- the vibrators, the cucumbers, the beads. I've watched her do them all in the most private, intimate moments of her life, the nastiest really. I've written about all of that.
As you've probably come to realize, with Alexandra, you never know what's going to happen. And so it is with this woman we are pursuing.
* * *
Though Alexandra has seemingly selected this woman for me, I tell her this is ridiculous. "She looks like she's 50 years old, Alexandra."
"You have a problem with older women?" she asks, with her eyebrows arched. Her look is stern, unforgiving. Her smile suddenly gone. Alexandra herself is, as I noted, probably 10 years older than me, maybe more.
"No. It's not that," I say, backpeddling as quickly as I can.
"You don't think she's nice looking?" she asks more cheerfully. "I certainly do," she says. "I like her face. She has young skin, very creamy. And I can tell you, there's a body under that dreadful dress."
"She's very nice. But I'm 27. She won't see anything in me?
"Oh, she will. We'll introduce her to so many things," says Alexandra. "We'll make her like us. I have my ways. And that, dear Albert, will be the fun we have. I predict a very memorable evening."
We follow the woman to a narrow, back-alley bar that for some strange reason is called La Trinidad, a few blocks off Dumane. There's lots of chipped brick and mortar on the facade. The alleyway is dank and now in dark shadows since the sun has set. Soft music -- it sounds Caribbean and a bit old style -- flows from the open door. The menu on the outside sandwich board sign is in French. The woman stops to gauge the prices.
"Ces prix sont élevés" the woman says quietly to herself.
"Bingo!" whispers Alexandra, who's fluent in French. It's an opening. She turns to her. "Bonjour!" And then, "Les prix sont élevés partout." They are discussing the high prices, I later learn.
Her name is Mary Anderson. She tells us she's a high school French teacher from Tennessee, here for a three-day conference. By herself. She's on her own tonight, looking for an interesting place to dine. Then call it an early evening. It's her first night in The Big Easy. They switch to English for my benefit.
"Do join us," says Alexandra. "Albert and I would love your company. If anything, this is a town to meet new people. It should be against the law to come here and not get acquainted with at least one new interesting face. Now, don't you agree?"
Alexandra looks at me. And I know. We are about to play. But I have an uneasiness about this.
I see the woman now from much closer. Yes, she's probably early 50s, slender, especially her waist. She has ash brown hair in a short bob, with a sideswept bang above one eye, black Prada eyeglasses. It's kind of fashionable, but not flashy. Dressed casually but, oh so conservative, that floral print dress down to her knees, and nondescript sandals. Not flattering enough to catch anyone's attention -- except Alexandra's. She's very proper middle-class. Very reserved. But overall, definitely nice looking.
The woman is quietly happy. And why not? She's found some people to be with. The French Quarter can be depressing if you're alone in the crowd. She's guarded, though. After all, we are strangers. But once she gives you her attention, how can anyone -- man or woman -- resist the gleam in Alexandra's eyes? It can be hypnotic.
* * *
One inside the restaurant, the three of us see it is not a large place, and there's only a smattering of people, many of them look like locals. We sit along a side wall, scooting into a small, semi-circular booth with red Naugahyde upholstery. We're sitting one on each side of Mrs. Anderson. It's fairly dark. The decor is suspended somewhere in time. But I'm not sure exactly where.
Alexandra ratchets up the charm, looks directly into Mrs. Anderson's eyes. They talk back and forth. She asks Mrs. Anderson a lot about her teaching. And then her hobby, which is collecting conch shells at the beach. They huddle over something called the bio-mineralization processes and crystallisation that help give shells their color. Mrs. Anderson is spellbound. Enthralled by Alexandra's interest and knowledge. My partner's intellect is formidable. I'll give her that.
Mrs. Anderson and her husband are recent empty-nesters. Alexandra empathizes, as if she knows anything about children. But then maybe she does. I know so little about her.
At the moment, Mrs. Anderson is the center of Alexandra's universe. Warmth and affection surround her. It's a first for her, at least in a long time. You can tell she feels it. She's flattered. And thrilled. It's aided by the chilled, pink prosecco we are all three sipping.
Alexandra gives us a short story.
"So, Mary dear. Try picturing me in the shower this morning at our second-floor walkup, a cozy pension. Albert is in the bedroom reading one of those scary Dante Valentine books, "Working for the Devil." I get out of the shower and, without thinking, say quite loud, 'Honey, do you want a quick fuck before we hit the streets?' Just as I say that, I open the bathroom door, and Albert is nowhere to be found. But standing in the middle of it all is a young room service guy who's brought us a couple of vodka martinis."
"Now get this, Mary. I'm naked as one can be. He freezes. I freeze. So he says, 'A fuck? Well sure,' with a big smile on his face. The kid couldn't have been more than 18. 'I've got a few minutes,' he says, bigger smile on his face now."
"I stand my ground. I say, 'Okay, but it'll cost you 500 bucks.' 'I don't have that kind of money,' he complains. 'How about I give you these drinks for free?' So, I say, 'What do you think I am, some ten dollar street whore?' And he says back, 'We've already established what you are. Now it's just a matter of negotiating price.' "
We all laugh, me putting my hand in a friendly gesture on Mrs. Anderson's bare shoulder, Alexandra scooting closer, her thigh up against Mrs. Anderson's thigh, and she lightly touches Mrs. Anderson's knee with one hand, just below her dress hem. Very lightly, nothing more than an act of friendship between two women caught up in drinks and an exciting conversation.
Of course, the story isn't true, just made up in a split second by Alexandra, whose cerebral neurons, when called upon, can interact at rocket speed. And she's recycling part of a time-worn hooker joke. But Mrs. Anderson doesn't know it. And she tries to hide her shock at Alexandra's casual use of the word "fuck."
More stories follow, only one or two of them true. More laughter, and more touching goes on as we move onto our second bottle, a pinot grigio. The waiter brings us file gumbo with chicken and sausage. He lights three candles on the table.
With three glasses of wine, Mrs. Anderson loosens up a little, relaxes, talks a little more. Tells us how amazed she is at the openness and, what she calls the "unbridled pleasures" that go on in this sultry town. She smiles, rolls her eyes as she says it. We think it's cute.
A torch singer comes onto a small stage and begins some French songs. But they seem to have a Creole flavor to them, best I can tell. Songs that are kind of dark and mystical. A bit odd. She's young, pretty, has a kind of Caribbean look to her, and wears a nearly floor-length sequined black gown. But we pay little attention, that is until the third song. She begins taking off the dress. Unbeknownst to us, we've apparently landed in a strip club.
Alexandra takes a tiny black transparent bottle from her pocket. I can see an elaborate glass design and a small cork that she takes out, then dabs something on her fingers, touches behind each ear. It seems curious to me, since she doesn't often use perfume. She leans an elbow on the table and moves her face in front of Mrs. Anderson, still talking, as if she's completely oblivious to what is going on behind her on stage. I pick up a very faint smell, a muskiness, something I don't remember ever having come across. I ponder whether it could be Alexandra's perfume. It's interesting but a little off-putting. Maybe the smell, if it can be described, is akin to some old root or plant that is decaying.
Alexandra has situated her face so that Mrs. Anderson is looking right at her. But just to the side of Alexandra's face is a view of the singer, 30 feet away in the background, now taking off her panties. The crowd oooohs and aaaaahs. Mrs. Anderson is trying to give her attention to Alexandra but is visibly unsettled by the now-naked woman, who is still singing at her microphone. Alexandra's eyes dart quickly to me. That's my cue. She wants some help.
"Do you think she's pretty ... the singer on stage?" I say right into Mrs. Anderson's ear. She turns toward me, her eyes widen with a bewildered look, and maybe a little appalled, as to why I would even ask her such a question. She looks at the singer, then looks down, says diplomatically, "she's . . . striking."
I ask if she's ever seen a strip show before. Her voice is so quiet I can't hear her words. But she mouths a "no." Her cheeks are flushed from embarrassment since it's almost impossible for her to avoid seeing the singer, who's now moving suggestively, very slowly, back and forth. That causes her breasts to shake. Her nipples are big and hard, easily seen by us all. Just about everyone is watching now. Even Mrs. Anderson, though only for a few seconds at a time, before lowering her eyes, then raising them again. More than likely she is surprised that the singer's pubic area is completely shaved. You have to wonder if she's ever seen a woman without hair between her legs.
For me, time seems to pause. The singer's voice, the unusual music and our conversation begin to fade into the background as I wonder more about our Mrs. Anderson.
She's married, we know. She's told us of two nearly grown children and a 25-year teaching career. Her husband is back home tinkering in the garage. I wonder if he ever tinkers with her. I'm guessing not.
From the corner of her eye, she can see me examining her. We're all sitting very close, our faces less than a foot apart. She's even more flushed now, as if along with the singer, I'm seeing her naked too. In a way, I am. Her pink-lipsticked smile is genuine, her brown eyes have a shyness to them. She has a few typical middle-aged blemishes on her face, covered with subtle makeup. Her shoulders, part of them modestly bare in the summer dress, are nice. Her skin delicate. Her breasts, though all but hidden away, have a gradual yet very defined curve to them in the dress, but you can only see it from a certain angle.
You can tell something else. Whatever love life once was there, has faded, probably years ago. She's frustrated, a face in the crowd, one among thousands of middle-aged women. She feels overlooked, ignored, invisible.
But now, after all these years, here on this night in the depths of the French Quarter, nestled between us in this dark corner of a strange little bar, she finds herself wading in a sea of sensuality. She's overwhelmed by my eccentric, bewitching partner who seems to have stepped right from the pages of Vogue in the 1930s. She smiles and laughs, but is quietly unnerved by our off-color tales, as well as the curious Caribbean-like songs, the singer's naked breasts, the refilled glasses of wine, the musky scent, our gently roaming hands.
Alexandra stops talking for a moment, gazes deep into Mrs. Anderson's eyes. They say nothing to each other. Their knees touch side-by-side. They stay there. Alexandra's left hand is now permanently resting on the inside of Mrs. Anderson's leg, just above the knee, at the start of her thigh. Though our light is dim and the three candles constantly flickering, I can still just barely see from my vantage point, looking down into their laps. Alexandra's fingers are lightly caressing her thigh in little circles as she begins chatting again, this time about the file gumbo and how sensuous it smells and tastes.
A wave of pent-up emotions consumes Mrs. Anderson. I can see it in her eyes. Do all women who are good friends touch like this? It's a little confusing to her. But Alexandra's caressing fingers feel sublime. Beyond that, I'm not sure what Mrs. Anderson thinks any more. But she must have a pretty good idea of our intentions.