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Frenchmen Street Shotgun & Others (from the collection Red Hours of Damage Inside Nocturnal New Orleans)

By José Torres-Tama.

The myth of his Sisyphus and tears of her sins

When she wept, a subterranean pain emerged from the wells of hidden fear corralled in the crevices of a heart that had forced survival by merely fucking itself to some happier emotion. He had never witnessed such weeping, and he considered the instance a sacred space where sorrow cleanses the soul.

It was that moment that would nail his heart to hers for almost three years to come. It was that moment that sparked his savior persona to rise again, as much as he was trying to give up this imposed role he played from one relationship to another.

Either he was a magnet for the damaged, or his self-meaning came from managing their salvation. Perhaps, the only way for him to accept being loved was to love someone who would need to depend on his love for some resurrection.

He shrouded himself in the cloak of this myth for another twenty-years. It was an inherent calling to protect women, having emerged from a mother’s womb to protect her from a brutal father figure, who was better remaining invisible.

A woman’s tears made him a child again, and he had no protection from their crying. If he did not channel an indifferent pose, he felt a responsibility to make them happy again, however miserable it made him as he tried. It’s not like such a cause was entirely noble because his loving them did come with its many benefits.

Often, the women he loved had not been exposed to such tenderness. Very few gringo men his age seemed to understand the benefits of being gentle with young women. He had learned that tenderness, which came naturally to him, always precipitated dependent bonds that he welcomed, like junkies attached to their dealers.

But her unstoppable tears were flooding the cozy furnished apartment with wet drops that each carried a history of unforgettable grief. Already, three inches of tears swelling to a shallow pool began to jar the kitchen table and chairs loose from their stationary position. Her tears were spilling past the space between floor and door, collecting in the narrow side porch walkway, as they emptied onto Elysian Fields. She was crying a small river onto the wide boulevard that separated their neighborhoods.

Later, he would wonder whether it was the rather classic allure that every boy named José had to fall in love with a girl named Maria sometime. It was the popular tale his mother devotedly watched in the Latino TV soap operas of his youth, and here he was in a scenario with his own sad angel named after the blessed virgin.

He had been destined to love Maria, destined to care for her at this junction in their lives in their adopted city of New Orleans. She was still not the sexual night crawler of the nearby future. She opened up to him emotionally because she intuited he would reciprocate with genuine affection and an absolute love that she would never know again. They would sustain a loving, and sexually playful romance for the next six months, uninterrupted by the forthcoming corruption of untamed libidos.

For now, he had to try to calm her down, and dry her apartment from the deluge of tears that threatened to drown them both.

* * *

Love in the time of plague

“God’s going to punish me. I know it, and my Catholic mother will be there besides him supporting his verdict. She will gloat in her righteousness. I can hear her now with the litany of warnings she repeats once a month when I force myself to call her. ‘I told you not to move to New Orleans because that place is dirty. Only the wicked gather there. It will be the death of you, and if you don’t pray, you will get that sickness.’

She’ll be more put off by my death because it will be an inconvenience to manage from her condominium if she has to ask for my body to be shipped up to Boston. I’m sure she’ll get my sister Rebecca to take care of it, and wash her hands of me finally. How can you be born to somebody that is so alien in mind, body, and spirit?

I don’t know how I turned out to be her daughter. Maybe, I was switched at the hospital, and really belonged to a stripper from Bourbon Street who decided to have her illegitimate daughter in New England to keep from losing her job.

That’s funny, but it’s probably the real truth.

You have to promise me to not send me back up North. I want to die here. No matter what, this is where I feel alive. This is my home. Dead or alive, I never want to go back to her and that stale cold place.”

Her current reflections were rare moments of sobriety, and he remembered how intelligent and profoundly honest she could be with herself when beers were not speaking through her to simply ignite her urges.

She gathered her ruffled dress and tissues and pressed her head to his heart. Slowly moving her head upwards to address his dark eyes, she was a vision of unconditional love. He moved towards her lips, directed by a missing soundtrack for a film sequence documenting the slow motion conversion of their hearts.

“I’m your movie. Be my hero. Love me like I know you want to. Tell me what to do.”

At this moment, he began to realize that there were actually two Marias developing, the daylight maiden seeking romantic love, and the midnight Maria whoring her pleasure as a weapon.

The late night intoxicated Maria was a vagina ready to eat anything in its way. The daylight Maria was a designer of art school training with lady-like manners, demure and shy, in search of an honest love to protect her from all the self-inflicted pain and the unforgettable familial memories of an alcoholic father’s abuse of a mother and her two daughters.

He was infatuated with both Marias because they triggered the savior lover archetype he wore like an albatross around his ex-Catholic neck.

* * *

As a symbolic act of fierce commitment to each other, they both took the test on the same Thursday at the Frenchmen Street office of the No AIDS Task Force, one month into their relationship. They would have to wait two weeks before the results would pronounce them positive, negative, healthy or maligned with the plague of their times.

If she was to have him inside, she wanted all of him with no prophylactic or fear to stop her. For a full six months, they would be a monogamous pair of lovers actually happy in a protective cocoon of devotion and sex at least three times a day. He would remember these days for the simplicity of two hearts converging as one.

The daylight Maria was still more fully in control, having recently arrived in New Orleans. The midnight Maria was still in her developmental stages. Her strength would grow in the years to come with every Mardi Gras season taking her deeper.

* * *

The Monster

The monster was lurking, palpable and stealth curious with periscope eyes, encircling a bed that was queen, royal flush and deuces wild, an island centered and cradled by an anxious mote, saturated with champagne bubbly orgasms of ghost lovers crossing into dawn when bodies rise like awkward questions, after testing the unknown element in a stranger’s bedroom.

A pirate of souls eager in anticipation of blood unveiled to spread the venom, skin conquering everything learned.

The unbuttoning had begun, confirmed with bites and intervals of licking along the contours with tongues that would ache another day inside the jaw, while a half-moon with silver cusps gloated in the ephemeral promises of Southern darkness, smiling sweetly with pointed indifference, edged on by humidity and the animal in every pore, despondent for naked refuge in a warm vagina of death.

It seeks to know soft velvet asylum in a womb to alter the senses, equilibrium rocked with moans that blast into oblivion, forgetting one’s name and inspiring part of the brain that runs electric along the spine from mouth to genitalia.

* * *

Diary entry #6: How do you solve a problem like Maria?

prepared for all hunger and waging sex like war, she never hesitated after a few beers and every eligible boy or girl could play, every orifice could find a filling, all in a summertime’s menu between the Lower Quarter and the Marigny Triangle.

she could wake up with strangers, sober and functional the day was for house repairs. she hated sleeping alone, but hated awkward pauses. if you could not find your socks, you had to leave by noon anyway.

white candles were her favorite, gold silk ropes were a close second. Victoria’s Secret outfits turned a grateful smile, green was her color of an insatiable longing, and her weeping was deeper than her purple moans. her tears were moments of privilege if she trusted you enough to come again and again.

the gun under her bed was just in case. i had a key if a score gave her trouble. i tolerated man after man inside because i loved her more like an abandoned bride. i wanted to kill her while she slept. i wanted to fuck her as she died.

she resembled snow white passed out. her nipples were succulent sad eyes. when she was left alone to her TV reruns without a man to court her, i was always there when she needed a human heart to remind her how alone she really was.

* * *

Frenchmen Street Shotgun & A Damaged Doll Called Maria

The assassin lover

Concealing the knife in the right hand pocket of his black overcoat, he was standing in his own skin, but he had succumbed to a sinister persona: A kind of “loco-ass” vindictive devil lover possessed him. He had morphed into one of the many Gedes, lords of sex and death he habitually channeled in his performances, and he was at the threshold of a bloody underground if he cut these two warm bodies in their dream states.

His perspiring palm loosened the frightened grip, and the humidity veiled the air like a thin blanket of mourning.

It was not uncommon for the heat to deliver you each morning from a womb of sweat if you slept without air-conditioning. It was not uncommon for blood to surface in your dreams of a New Orleans summertime when the living was not as easy as the song proclaimed, but the dying awaited you in the precarious comfort of every stranger’s bed.

“Sex” and “Death” have never been odd bedfellows in this three-centuries-old village of swamp and wanton pleasures. Rather, one is the pimp and the other the whore, dependent on each other’s nightly wagers, with interchangeable roles.

He was in the process of becoming an assassin of desire. An uncontrollable yearning to own her body had walked him unannounced to her doorstep, and in between his thumb and left index finger, the silver key he used to let himself in was glowing in the candlelight.

He was an avalanche of emotions in a scene rife with the perverse convictions of a boyfriend on the other side of reason. It was writing itself. There he was a sordid character of his own making, unraveling in an ill-fated story of noir intent. If he did not land in jail tonight, maybe, he would find release from her carnal spell because she played a better game of promiscuity. She was much better at it than he would ever be.

But here he was trying to solve a problem like Maria. Did he love her enough to kill for her, or loved to kill her before she wrecked him any further? How was it her fault?

Convincing himself that it was, he wondered who this new plaything laying next to her was anyway. Yet another unsuspecting chump in their summertime amusement of who could conquer the most lovers before Labor Day? It was a race she was formidably winning. Her night fishing crowned her victorious on most evenings, and on this early morning, his only defense had inspired a strange revolt inside of him, ready to dramatically alter their worlds if he dared to execute the unimaginable.

This was not a poem. It was not another charcoal drawing from his “heart of darkness” series. He was, indeed, standing in the shadow of her bedroom shotgun on Frenchmen Street with a knife ready to cut her latest catch. Well, at least, he wanted to scare him into never coming back between her legs. His aim was to affect an unnatural fright from this mark, who appeared a less than macho type to offer much resistance. Besides, he should have known that Maria’s body was a minefield. Certainly, their circle seemed to have had some clue.

It was common knowledge that they were lovers, although it was unclear to many as to what kind of relationship they really had. Tortured was a good descriptive, and soon enough, sleepy boy would learn that it was dangerous entertainment that they purposefully sculpted into night. Love and hate was the wellspring combination of their sexual dramas.

But he did love her, like a man loves a woman who plays the wounded heroine for him, and he had the keys to come in and out as he pleased. He loved her with a selfish kindness that he translated as unconditional; he was always there to hear her confessions, especially on mornings when sobriety resulted in penitent reflection for the decadence that consumed her.

What was a nice Catholic girl from Boston doing in Babylon by the Bayou, playing the part of a promiscuous muse for a Latino brujo poet born in Ecuador who proclaimed an exile of volition in the New Orleans he called a spiritual home and a quicksand of his devolution?

This was obviously a question from his own Neruda-inspired book of poetic inquiries: What kind of lover kills the object of his desire to keep others from dreaming of her as they masturbate? What kind of love drives you to kill in the name of true devotion, using a dagger to carve out all the memories in your paramour’s heart of anyone else who entered her?

El Señor in between

Unaware of his presence, their soft snores were rather romantic and seemed to be in sync, but their bodies were not as he expected, draped over each other in the kind of warm embrace that follows pure love making, when sex is actually a sacred act and not the stupid sin inspired by cheap beer.

In their sleep, they had retreated to separate corners with enough space left for another body to join them in between. This was the space of his calling, his duty “in between her and the others”. It was his rightful place, and he had earned this management position, earned the right to kick the others out.

He wondered if they were dreaming of their deaths, and if he was the live incarnation of a vengeful spirit in a nightmare waiting to unfold. Why not? Perhaps, this was his best alibi. They were dreaming him, and he wasn’t standing there at all like the shadow of the pitiable green-eyed “boyfriend” he had become. Perhaps, he wasn’t holding a kitchen knife in a shallow pool of sweat beneath his feet, angered by this dormant stranger. He simply did not have the emotional indifference to endure her other lovers anymore. He tried. He remembered being quite a master once at having sex without any heart involved, attentive to details that resembled love when absolute lust was his sole motivating statute. Caring was not an option then. Fulfillment of his loins was always the primary objective.

José and Maria had these base goals in common and constructed their romantic vignettes with others for entertaining athletic competition, their own sexual Olympics. These were the summer games, but somehow, his heart was a twisted organ again. Possession of her body was driving him to deplorable acts of jealousy. A month earlier, he had confronted another suitor at a backyard costume party with a straight punch to the nose while he was costumed as El Zorro, and the bloody bloke as a Dracula look alike. No one had noticed the quick attack, and he walked away calmly as Maria returned to see her date lying on the grass. All she saw was Zorro’s black cloak disappearing into the horde, his Spanish black hat preventing any recognition. It was a Cinco de Mayo Latino-themed fete, and he had incited Dracula telling him that he was culturally off with his costume while they both finished gulping their beers in what at first seemed like a satirical remark.

“Pendejo” was the word he used before he struck Dracula by surprise. Dracula dropped and was nearly unconscious when Maria tended to him. He was pissed, but Maria managed to calm him with a prolonged kiss and an unexpected enthusiasm for his trickle of blood, which freaked him out somewhat. She dismissed it as her nurse’s intuition, and they walked back to her Marigny house where she lifted her frilly bride’s dress costume for Dracula to easily forget the assault.

Whereas a detached approach kept his heart protected and his hunger curbed, he had volunteered more concern than usual for Maria. Too much of his soul was hemmed in by her luscious mouth, trapped between her hazel eyes, and drowning between her expansive legs of snow.

He had discovered the secrets of her longing, and only he knew the frightened girl she really was. He had been placed in a position to protect her from herself, but he could not protect his heart from her. He had been endowed and cursed with being her guardian and her slave. He was the only one who knew her during daylight hours. He was responsible for making sure that she actually ate some food between her binges of alcohol and men. This was not an enviable position. The others could come and go as they pleased. He was the sucker left to clean up after them, and clean her just the same for more.

Yes, he could have her for himself as well, but she was never his completely. She was borrowed. She belonged to her desires and the desires of other men, and women, too, could play in her thorny garden once a month when the moon was full. He had access a few times a week, but it was making him insane.

So how do you solve a problem like Maria?

The longer he stared the more pure they appeared in their dream state, sleeping deeply after mutual orgasms had exhausted their consciousness. This new one was someone he recognized, another artist in the periphery of their degenerate little clique of New Orleans bohemians, who only partied after midnight and crawled from one bar to another to intoxicate their improbable dreams. He disliked him even more then, remembering he was a “conceptual” artist, which was often synonymous with a bullshit artist, or the type who never learned to draw at all in art school.

He hated posers who often referred to their bad art as “non-representational” and “minimalist” because they lacked any craft, and quoted Duchamp just to get laid by unsuspecting naive art groupies. He revered Marcel as well, but let’s not forget that Duchamp could paint. His “Nude Descending the Staircase” was testament enough of his ability, and when she pranced naked down his stairs, Maria was a futurist Madonna of voluptuous consent. She was every part the innocent Catholic gringa schoolgirl she loved to play for him, and dressed herself in plaid blue and red-checkered skirts for his camera’s eye and subsequent undressing after every photo session. He had amassed hundreds of pictures, sensual and artistic black and white nudes, and colorful playful shots in her girly dresses in their few months of courtship.

All the more reason why he should draw blood from this so-called conceptual artist in his sleep and turn him into a surrealist portrait. Maybe, then, this idiot would learn to express himself better and realize his good fortune in having had a one-night stand with Maria.

His anger was swelling and the mercury of his aim was rising. He had to tell himself to breathe deeply.  He was more than submerged in the dark side at 4AM in a closet of shadows. He had become more than a wolf tonight under a desperate horned moon.  He felt hoofs forming at his ankles. In sharp contrast to the passive rhythm of their exhales, his heart was beating at an alarming pace, and he was panting like a beast.

They were becoming an inescapable triangle, and once he fucked her, he would be swimming in her menstrual blood. He was the only one privileged enough to enter her without contraceptives. He was the gatekeeper, and he knew her cycles.

As he observed their sleeping, he kept hearing that David Byrne song in his head, “This is not my beautiful wife. This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful car.” He had been letting the days go by because he was trying not to think of her. His time was only two days away. They had vowed to lessen each other’s visits, but he desperately wanted to know whom she was courting in the middle of the week.

And Wednesday was as good a night as any to kill lovers in their sleep. The dreadful “Times-Picayune” headline would read: “Murder in a Frenchmen Street Shotgun.” It would have all the ingredients of a tragic love betrayal; a knife, a crazed Latino lover, and two dead gringos.

All that he needed was a Ruben Blades recording of “Pedro Navaja” playing in the background. It was the barrio version of Bertol Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” right there on Frenchmen and Burgundy, in the Marigny Triangle of his nocturnal fires.

But how did he get here, to this insanely jealous state? This was not who he desired to be. He was someone always in control. He played the lead. He was not some mere out-dueled pawn with a weak heart. He never expected to be an envious silhouette of rage with a knife in hand—ready to give her the ultimate orgasm of a death she was always trying to cheat with one more summit in an inebriated condition. Did he want to punish her for simply playing a most formidable competitor?

Keeping up with her was the challenge, and on most occasions, he was up for it because he enjoyed having her when she was only one more beer from passing out. Drunk enough for any games, she was most appetizing just then, and he could pound any fantasy into her. Maybe, it was the swelling of yeast in her stomach that often precipitated an unquenchable desire because the alcohol content was not that high in the cheap domestic beers she favored, but with the right buzz, she transformed into a delightfully degenerate nymph, ready to devour any phallus for pure joy.

It was that crooked smile, leaving a trail across her face after a few beers, which excited him the most. It would change her porcelain face, which had shades of a teen-ager’s innocence, into a carnivorous Lolita ready for the Kama Sutra handbook, yet she could be so remarkably boring when she was sober that he preferred her drunk.

The Bunny bread nymph

They had entrusted each other with spare keys, and he had used his to walk into a familiar scene, where the seduction had been managed with the consumption of Pabst Blue Ribbon beers and an ashtray overflowing with numerous butts of Newport Menthol smokes. It would always take at least five beers to get her into that special mood, and there were eleven empty cans littered on the coffee table by the white wicker love seat. Seven of the cans had her lipstick traces on the aluminum rims.

On this night, her guest had not been able to keep up with her and only had four beers. Obviously new to the game, nuevo lover boy did not know the benefits of matching her further. Each beer was a primer for a higher level of depravity and opened her to more spectacular performance rituals, but maybe he was just turned off by the simply awful quality of beers she favored.

Inevitably, she was a juxtaposition of white trash habits veiled in Southern fashionable dresses of flowery taffeta, a seemingly delicate and educated Venus flytrap with a palette for the cheapest beers, Bunny bread, and Kraft’s cheese slices in protective plastic.

Anything was possible if you filled her esophagus with nine beers or more. Often, she was quite inventive and would make suggestions that even made him blush. Ropes were a favorite, as she transformed into an intoxicated avatar of unfettered cravings. Tie her up hard enough, and you could play for days, as long as you used the green velvet drapes to keep morning and daylight away.

You could understand his self-interest in keeping her alive. He wanted no one else to experience her in this state because, just then, she became a virgin whore, a saint and sinner, and he could love his Santa Maria enough to fuck her for hours just to hear the sweet music of her aching moans when the bed rocked furiously on all fours, as if they were launching into outer space with hinges loosening from the pounding that dented the Sheetrock wall into a plaster labyrinth of tiny cracks.

He would stop only to cook her much loved grilled cheese sandwiches served with Coca-Cola on ice when she asked for food. He would stop only to run her bathwater and clean her house. He would stop only to buy more beers while she rested. This is how they passed the six months of their early romance, when they could actually be called a couple. These thoughts were making him excited.

More than half an hour had passed since he invited himself to this slumber party, and he needed to get rid of this troublesome bozo now.

He had to wake his ass up without frightening him too much and give him a choice. Either he left quietly, or he made the evening news as another cadaver of the summer heat wave. For all the drama José had created, he preferred for mister naked to get his draws on and leave calmly because it was nearing 5AM, and he was tiring.

The naked gringo

However, he wanted gringo boy to be sufficiently spooked by his uninvited presence, and the rather cinematic elements that he had carefully chosen to play the villainous boyfriend, a black overcoat, an ebony Stetson hat masking his eyes, and his right fist concealing a weapon. It should be easy then, for him to organize his thoughts into realizing that he was in a soap opera with a crazy Latino lover, who was volatile enough to make him put his pants on in a hurry.

José really didn’t want much trouble because his ultimate goal was to take his rightful place besides Maria while she slept.

The lazy light from the candle still burning could not reach him, and the wax was forming a thin layer of paraffin strings spilling onto the floor. Maybe, his intrusion was a minor miracle because the candle flame was burning through the wax, and only the wooden night table was awaiting its heat.

Suddenly, sleeping ugly rustled a bit and turned towards the bed’s edge, looking like he was about to fall. The used condom was on her side of the floor, with a hint of blood on the tip. How sad, he thought, that we invoked large quantities of energy just to have our sperm end up in some fabricated elastic, designed to protect us from disease, the burden of responsibility, and the current epidemic that curbed our natural animal lust.

All the same, this score had to be awakened. He cleared his throat with a harsh cough that was loud enough to startle lover boy out of sleep. As always, she was probably passed out until mid afternoon. Once the liters of alcohol in her stomach had naturally been digested, Maria’s eyes would be released from sleep, but until then she was practically a numb mannequin herself.

As expected, he was frightened, and being naked before another man was something even his nightmares had not prepared him for.

“How did you get in here?” he questioned in total shock, as he covered his limp minimalist brush with his hands.

“How the fuck do you think I got in here. I’ve got keys, you moron. Look, pendejo, put your pants on and get out of here before I really lose my mind.”

“She told me you guys were seeing other people, and I was invited here for drinks,” he argued back.

José pointed his cloaked right fist in the direction of naked boy’s gut and began in dramatic Spanish for a greater theatrical resonance with the raspy delivery of Edward James Olmos in Luis Valdez’s iconoclastic “Zoot Suit” film, an inspiring role he had coveted for a real life reprisal. This was his debut moment.

“Mira cabron, me esta comiendo esta furia, and for that there is no translation. If you want to make a B movie out of this, I am more than prepared to make us unforgettable stars. My place is next to her. You had a visit. Now remember it well because if I need to ask you again, my knife will do the talking and your hide will do the bleeding. Are you ready to die on this muggy night, cabron? I’m already dead with anger and your stupid ass is quite naked for this blade to easily carve blood tattoos all over you. Do you want me to carve her name on your chest, pendejo?

Maria does not meant shit to you. You know that. I know that. She knows that. So what the fuck? You had your orgasm. The evidence is clear through the wasted Trojan condom she supplied for you to protect herself from idiots who don’t even have the sense to carry your own rubbers.  You got what you came for, and I am willing to slice you an indelible memory if you linger any longer.


After that vividly expressive mini-monologue, frightened boy dressed in a flash and never looked back at Maria. For greater effect, José exhaled and inhaled like a ranting bull waiting to charge while Señor nervous searched the adjacent living room for his socks, which he sensibly decided to leave behind.  He ran out and left the door unlocked.  Pulling it towards him in a rightful panic, he vanished into the dawn that was rising through the muggy night.

Señor loco, on the other hand, was beginning to regret not marking naked boy even just a smidgen, so that he would remember not to sniff around here anymore.  Most animals claim their territory with their urine, but he was still attached to the poetic simplicity of using a knife to claim what was his.  He romanticized himself as the protagonist of a Garcia-Lorca poem, y la novia no se despierta. “Blood Wedding” was his favorite Lorca tragedy, and he was expecting a page to fly from this novel if he encountered any struggle.  In reality, he was the biggest pendejo on the verge of self-destruction because of his delirium to possess Maria.  He had devolved into a stereotypical Latino caricature from a cheesy Venezuelan tele-novela, but he acted heroic after the conflict subsided and a calm displaced the mounting anxiety.  Good fortune had intervened because had he used the blade he would have been another Latino man at the end of a twenty-year sentence when another one bites the dust.  Only years later, when he recalled this night would he reflect on how stupid lucky he was.  This time he owed the fates one.

Delivered in flames

As he walked towards the door, he dropped his overcoat and the knife caused a thud against the worn floorboards.  With each step, he undressed further, becoming more naked to join her.  His paces were deliberate and his heart swelled with the satisfaction of a well-staged production.  Just then, a hundred little balloons of laughter burst inside of him, a smile surfaced, and as if completely stoned, he surveyed the messy shotgun in a slow motion glance, panning to her naked hips with his eyes riding the contours of her sumptuous breasts.  The tension was more than he had imagined, and the adrenalin rush had caused him to hallucinate.

It was the kind of dangerous live theater he enjoyed.  It was almost over.  He sealed all the locks, three of them.  Finally, he was alone with her.  Returning to the bed, he wrapped around her in the similar fetal position that she always took lying on her left side.  They folded into each other’s bodies, resembling a Salvador Dali sculpture of melting torsos, and instinctively, she grabbed his right wrist and murmured in her sleep as was her habit, “José, don’t leave me.  I hate to sleep alone.”

She was probably dreaming of the many times he had threatened to abandon her.

If only one of them could actually keep their threats to leave each other long enough, perhaps, they could escape the rotting sinkhole of their tormented affair.  It was just last week that he offered her his key copies back, placing them in front of her crying eyes during another one of their regularly explosive arguments.  It was a fleeting moment of courage.  Her sobbing convinced him otherwise, and he returned them to the string silver necklace around his neck for their rightful place as a symbolic albatross.  He never wanted to surrender them in the first place, and he was correct in not expecting her to take them.  She was not returning her copies of his house.  He would have to change all the locks first.

Her tears on that day seem to carry a larger lament than normal.  They were mournful black wails for how inexplicably bound their lives had become.  Theirs had become a love of pitiful addiction.  They were one of the same.  Their reptilian wants controlled them more than they could bare, but amid the mutual maltreatment, they were the only ones capable of comforting one another, like only old lovers could.

And he loved the damaged doll that she was.  Her pain and sex were irresistible.

His fading eyes traced back to the forgotten candle, and it appeared that an unruly flame was transforming the nightstand into wood cinders.  He wasn’t sure if it was the early stages of a dream.  He wasn’t completely sure whether the heat was from their bodies merging, the fleshy warmth of her insides lighting his resolve to claim her from any other man that she invited to her bed.  Meditating on the pure pleasure like a junkie with his fix, his eyelids locked, and he held her tighter as the dreamy fire increased. It was his rightful station, and in her sleep, she guided his hand towards her mouth as she moaned the moans that seduced him into obsession.  He had to cover as many orifices as possible for them to be delivered and absolved in flames.

It was the only way to solve a problem like Maria.

* * *

José Torres-Tama
is an interdisciplinary artist working in poetry, fiction, visual, and performance art.  He explores the Latino immigrant experience, the underbelly of the American Dream mythology, and the legacy of New Orleans Creole culture. A Louisiana Theater Fellow and NEA award recipient, he recently received a Creation Fund Award by the National Performance Network for the commissioning of his latest solo called ALIENS, IMMIGRANTS & OTHER EVILDOERS, a sci-fi Latino noir genre-bending performance that chronicles the rise in hate crimes against immigrants in the USA.  In the visual arts, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans published his first art book called New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy, which documents his exhibition of pastel portraits of 19th century Creoles of Color.  The Ogden publication was funded through a 2008 award from the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New York.  Currently, he is working on a book of essays called From Chocolate City to an Enchilada Village: Latino Immigrants & the Reconstruction of New Orleans, which documents the stories of Latino immigrants who rebuilt the Big Easy.  He is regular contributor to NPR’s Latino USA with radio commentaries on the many challenges of life in New Orleans since the storm.  His short titled “Channeling the Spirits on Dauphine Street” is included in the 2010 anthology called New Orleans: What Can’t be Lost published by University of Lafayette Press.  One story from Red Hours of Damage Inside Nocturnal New Orleans was awarded an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s 2010 short story competition, and three others were published in Andrei Codrescu’s Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Letters and Life. His post-Katrina essays have been published in the Double Dealer literary journal of the Faulkner Society of New Orleans, and Cultural Vistas magazine published by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. (Photo by Ben Thompson.)

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, April 7th, 2012.