Gail had lost the bet with herself, an irony not lost on her. Lev’s decision didn’t surprise, but it irritated her the way a stain did when soup was ordered instead of a burger to avoid dripping grease on a new blouse. Still a drop blemished. Had she known how quickly Lev was going to head to the Casino upon arriving in New Orleans, she would have elected to have just gone to Vegas as originally planned. It seemed the more satisfying option of the two cities to her palette and either way she’d end up feeling like she was wearing ruin. It had been six years since she’d figured out his addiction to gambling, but when he won big last year in Atlantic City after losing nearly as mightily, she’d slammed the breaks on his behavior, the freight of their twenty-two years together thrusting hard against them as if they were a sixteen-wheeler on a rain-slicked freeway coming to a dead stop. Either Lev quit it or she quit them. It was simple. And he did, for a time, the gray-sky peril of their retirement dissipating into the clear blue tomorrows Gail had long believed would be theirs. Only she could feel a bigger storm brewing, percolating somewhere just over the horizon due to the El Niño of Gabe’s revelation that he was a homosexual.
Lev hadn’t handled the news of their only son being gay well at all, and as Gail stepped further down Bourbon Street gripping her plastic Hurricaine glass by the waist, she wondered if this was the kind of place Gabe felt at home in. There were men dressed in leather that looked like runner-ups at a Village People audition and several older, portly guys wearing pastel short-sleeve button-ups and wide smiles, their voices lilting in the still air. Everyone seemed happy, and Gail thought of the term, “gay.” It seemed appropriate, at least in this sweaty corner of the French Quarter.
She looked up at a corner to check for a street sign and instead was greeted by a black and white “One Way” sign that had been re-stickered with two G’s; one before the word “One” and one placed over the “W” in “Way.” Gone Gay. She laughed and a tall fella, mid-forties with dirty blond, wind-tunnel tested hair sitting on a stoop one house down with an old gray shnauzer looked toward her, grinning. Gail pointed at the sign and nodded her head and he chuckled with her for a moment before returning his attention to his dog.
Despite the gray of the day, Gail could tell it was getting late and that she should probably head to the Casino to check on Lev. But the thought of him hunched over green felt, nervously sweating while absently stirring a Jack and Coke made her stomach lurch. No. This was better. Rather than take a right, she kept walking down the “Gone Gay,” taking a moment to pet the shnauzer named “Benny” while his master cordially asked where was from. She told him Maine and he mentioned having been to Ogunquit which was South of where she and Lev lived, but where Gabe hung out a lot now with his friends and, presumably, lovers. Lev called it “Fag Town.” Gail had only been through the place on the way to other destinations, but after being here and speaking to the man while running her fingers through Benny’s soft fur atop his head, she decided she wanted to see it. There was something calm underlying the craziness of New Oleans in this neighborhood; a sense of belonging and security. Gail liked it. She thought about Lev in the casino and how he would say this place was an aberration, how it was drenched in sin and sickness. And yet there he was actually sinning and sick, staring at the back of cards, wagering their years together against increasingly bad odds, hungrily trying to recapture the feeling of that first big win.
Gail reached the end of Bourbon where it met the wide spread of Esplanade right as she reached the end of her rope and the end of her drink. She’d braved a one way and decided to leave it that way and not return up Bourbon, back to the bawdy madness that was brewing even at this early hour at the mouth of the street. Instead she wanted to stay down here, in a swirl of humidity, rum and rumination. She wished her son was here with her so she could see the comfort in his eyes being among people he understood and Gail decided they would visit together sometime after she and Lev split up so she wouldn’t have to hear his noise about it, suffer his hypocrisy. She took a right onto Esplanade, studying the lush green trees and small gardens exploding from the gated, postage-stamp yards in front of bold white houses that she felt looked like Colonel Sanders. Somewhere men hooted and hollared, bringing in the night, a sound both drunk and happy. Gail held up her empty glass to them, whether gay or not, and toasted. “To your health,” she said aloud as she continued on her way, deciding she liked New Orleans more than Vegas already.
at Bourbon St, New Orleans