I met Willa Jean at the Zulu parade. A few hours later we were at patio party in the lower Garden District, our necks laden with Mardi Gras beads. We were engaged in a friendly disagreement about how to make gumbo when out of the corner of my eye I noticed Willa Jean’s hand approach my face. For fun I snatched her wrist. In my post parade state I teetered on my heels like one of those wobbly punching dummies.
I had considered kissing her all afternoon as I attempted to pull her close. Unfortunately, her arm evaporated from my grasp. Her hand separated from her wrist and fluttered next to my ear as if anticipating its reattachment. I followed her handless arm as it circled around my empty fist and reconnected with her floating hand.
With her index finger she outlined my lips and then touched the inside of my ear.
The din of the Mardi Gras revellers began to fade as Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way entered my consciousness. It was as if I were receiving a musical transfusion from a benevolent IV–Willa Jean’s finger. I have no idea how I knew it was In a Silent Way. I had never heard the piece before and had only a passing knowledge of Davis. I later bought the album and have since listened to it many times.
As the music flowed through my veins, I basked in the glow of Willa Jean. Everything around me slowed down, and I noticed Willa Jean’s other hand as it set a drink she had been nursing on the arm of an Adirondack chair. She brought it toward me in a caring, comforting move. I did not attempt to stop her this time. Instead, I awaited her touch with anticipation as Miles Davis played on and on.
Willa Jean placed her hand on the side of my face like a warm compress. I closed my eyes. The heat of her hand spread down my neck, into my shoulders, my chest, my spine. My knees began to weaken. I needed to sit, but didn’t.
As I revelled in the excitement of Willa Jean’s advancement, I felt a tugging at my clavicle, as if a cosmic puppeteer were lifting me. I wasn’t sure if this was simply the thrill of being seduced, or something altogether different. I did not care. It was Mardi Gras and I was grooving in Miles Davis’ living room.
With her hand full of my beads, Willa Jean pulled me close. My feet lifted from the ground, and I hovered before her like a human drone. She pressed her lips against mine and explored the far corners of my mouth with her tongue. I immediately tasted and knew each distinct ingredient of her Sazerac: sugar, rye whisky, Peychaud’s bitters, the hint of Herbsaint.
I pulled back, found her eyes, held them. I moved in for another kiss, but she raised her free hand between us, palm out, to say, “Wait.” I obeyed and then noticed a guy shucking oysters in the corner of the yard.
He was frozen, in mid-shuck, his knife stalled in the eye of the bivalve. I glanced around the yard, and it occurred to me that everyone at the party was frozen–mid drink, mid conversation. Crystallised words dangled in front of faces, over drinks: “Zulu,” “Quarter,” “you wish,” “Tchoupitulous,” “Donna does.” Willa Jean turned and looked over her shoulder at me. She exited past magnolias and through the wrought iron gate onto Camp Street. I floated after her on a vapour trail of her scent, the lingering taste of Willa Jean and her Sazerac on my tongue, and Miles Davis in my soul.
I awoke the next morning with Willa Jean spooned naked against my back. She was rubbing concentric circles between my shoulder blades. She kissed my neck. I turned to face her and slowly rose off the mattress, suspended above her. The blanket draped over half my body formed a tent over us. I looked down and found Willa Jean’s eyes, her smile, her breasts, and have been in love with her ever since.