D. A. Ratliff: Family Remembrance

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Family Remembrance

By D. A. Ratliff

I first saw her leaning against the rough, brick wall about a block off Bourbon Street.

She wasn’t particularly beautiful, but the word lovely kept creeping into my mind. Thick black hair pulled off her face, curled tresses tied with a purple ribbon cascaded down her back. I assumed she was a street performer, her purple and green striped dress and velvet shoes seemed at place in the French Quarter. I’d seen my fair share of burly guys in pink tutus and blue wigs wandering the streets. She was a pleasant diversion.

A large hand grabbed my forearm and spun me around. Liam Bronson, all six-foot-four of him, leaned over so we were face to face. “Listen, mate, we have two whole days before Fat Tuesday. That’s a lot of drinking to do. Let’s go.”

I sucked in the warm New Orleans air, then regretted it. The musky smell of the Mississippi River only a few blocks away, along with the smell of stale beer was a bit overwhelming. I followed Liam but not without a glance back to where the lovely woman was standing. She was gone.

My best friend, Dan Parker, fell in beside me. “Liam is going to kill us all. No one can keep up with him.”

I snickered. “You better not try. Don’t worry, he’s always ready for the game.”

It was Dan’s turn to snicker. “He only plays for the afterglow.”

I laughed as Liam turned, hearing Dan’s comment. In his thick New Zealand brogue, he replied, a huge grin on his face. “Alcohol and all those women, partying after the game.” He spread his long powerful arms out. “It’s why we play rugby, isn’t it?”

Indeed, it was. My buds and I were members of the Los Angeles Rugby club and were in town to play a charity exhibition match with the New Orleans club on Fat Tuesday. We arrived a few days before Mardi Gras with the sole intention to party.

It was humid and unseasonably warm in NOLA as the natives called her, and we hadn’t walked a block before the heavens opened up. Liam ducked into a bar and we followed. Lucky to find a table, along with an efficient server, we had beers in front of us within a couple of minutes.

Liam downed half of his beer, putting the heavy glass mug down with a thud. “I like this town. Got character.”

Dan tipped his mug at me. “Bert, didn’t you tell me you had relatives who lived here?”

“Yeah, where my name came from, it was my great-grandfather’s. There was some sort of tragedy and he headed to California where an aunt lived. I don’t know much about them.”

As he motioned to the server for another beer, Liam shook his head. “You’ve never been here, mate?”

“No. Never had the chance.”

“Foolish not to come here. I like this town.”

Dan was searching on his phone. “Just checked the weather, going to rain for the rest of the afternoon. I was thinking, the chick at the front desk was telling me about a tour of haunted bars and saloons. I just did a search. The next tour leaves in fifteen minutes not far from here. Wanna go?”

Liam smiled. “Got some haunted places back in Auckland, mum and my auntie took me with them once when I was a lad. And my uncle owned a pub, and I grew up in it. I’m in, mate.”

An hour later, traveling in the covered horse-drawn carriage that had been touring us around the French Quarter, we were in front of the third of six stops. Liam and Dan loved the tour. The first two haunted bars were open and provided free beer.

Ducking under the carriage awning as he stepped onto the sidewalk, Liam frowned. “Bugger, no skulls in this place. Better be a ghost.”

Dan turned to me. “I cannot keep up with Kiwi talk. What’s he going on about?”

I slapped my friend on the back. “Skull means drink.”

Dan wrinkled his nose. “Bugger.”

The bar was an old shotgun duplex located on the fringes of the less commercial area of the Quarter. Three sturdy steps with a railing led to a worn porch that ran the width of the house.

“This place could use a coat of paint.” Dan meant his words for us, but the tour guide heard him.

In a lilting Cajun drawl, the guide, a retired history teacher she had told us, responded. “That is part of the charm, young man. But this is the best stop of the tour. Lots of my guests have seen the lady ghost here. Now follow me and watch your step.”

We entered the building to find that the front half of both duplexes had been combined into one enormous room. Like the outside, the place could use a coat of paint. The last color painted on the walls was a teal green, but where the paint had worn off, a creamy yellow was revealed.

An ornate wood bar that looked like cherry to my untrained eye extended across the short side of the room. Behind it was a mirrored wall lined with several dusty shelves containing a few empty liquor bottles. Liam and Dan immediately headed for the bar, along with the twelve other people in the tour group, but I was drawn to the fireplace.

A fireplace sat off-center of the room in one side of the old duplex, the fire brick was old and stained from so many fires over the years. The only other furniture in the room was a straight-backed wooden armchair with one of those woven seats.

As I walked toward the fireplace, the guide began to speak.

“This bar known as Angel’s Tavern was owned by the Cormier family around the turn of the century. Oh … the twentieth century.”

The others were laughing at her feeble joke, but the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. My last name is Cormier.

It was hot and humid in the room, but as I approached the chair, it became noticeably colder. Each step seemed to lower the temperature until at the fireplace, it was downright frigid. I began to shiver but, rooted to the spot, I listened to the guide tell the story.

“Angeline and Bertrand Cormier were descendants of an Acadian family who were deported from Nova Scotia to France in the Expulsion by the British in the mid-1700s. Their ancestors were recruited by the Spanish to migrate to the Louisiana area that they now controlled. Many had family in the western area of the territory, but the Spanish forced them to live along the Mississippi. They wanted settlers to thwart the British from claiming the land. Not much is known about the Cormier family history before opening the Angel’s Tavern, I’ angle in French, in 1898.”

I was mesmerized by the story and only when she took a breath, did I realize Dan and Liam were staring at me, mouths agape. Yeah, mine probably was as well. I tried to take a step to get out of what I decided was a draft, but I couldn’t move. Adrenaline flooded my body as panic set in, but the guide began to talk, and I was lost again in her words.

“Angel’s Tavern was very popular. Only the finest liquors and wines were served, and the place was known for its gin fizzes! Angeline played the piano, and on weekends, the place was packed. Locals in Vieux Carré, as the Quarter was often called then, would pack this place. They were at the height of popularity when tragedy struck. A cotton merchant from New York arrived in New Orleans and took a fancy to Angeline. Bertrand tried to protect his wife from the man, but one night the merchant entered the bar and found Bertrand sitting in a chair next to the fireplace. He demanded Bertrand release Angeline from her marriage vows. Bertrand refused, and the merchant drew a dagger from his coat and stabbed his rival.

She stopped and pointed to the chair I was standing beside. “Some believe that was the actual chair that Bertrand died in but no way to be certain. But many who get close to the chair feel a slight chill which indicates the presence of a ghost. I don’t know if that is true. What is true is that the tragedy deepened.”

The guide turned back to the others. “Angeline, who had been playing the piano at the time, rushed to her husband’s side and pulled the dagger from his chest. Vowing she couldn’t live without her beloved, she plunged the sharp blade covered in her husband’s blood into her chest and died instantly. It is said that her ghost roams the French Quarter looking for her son.”

A woman in the group spoke. “What happened to the son?”

“No one knows for certain. The only mention of him was in the newspaper article about his parents’ death and in their obituary. He was 17.”

My voice quaking, I asked the guide a question that I wasn’t sure that I wanted the answer to but had to know.

“Do you know the son’s name?”

She flashed a smile, phony in my opinion. “Why, yes. His name was Fabien.”

My grandfather’s name was Fabien. I grabbed the back of the chair for stability. The wood was cold. I remember an episode of that ghost-hunting show I watched with a girlfriend. The temperature was supposed to drop around an apparition. No, not believing that. There are no such things as ghosts.

The guide began to lead the group through the remainder of the structure. There was a commercial kitchen, put in by a previous tenant who ran a restaurant here for a while. My friends started to ask questions, but I waved them off. Didn’t want to talk, too unnerved.

As we left for the next stop, I glanced one last time toward the bar and in the mirror was the reflection of the dark-haired woman in the striped dress. I nearly broke my neck looking behind me to see where she was. She wasn’t there. When I turned back to the mirror, she had vanished.

No, I will not believe in ghosts.

Monday morning, we were up far too early to practice on the rugby pitch. I had a hangover, and Dan was positively gray. Only Liam was cheerful. I hated him. I fully intended to go back to the hotel and sleep before we hit the streets to watch more parades. I showered after practice and was getting dressed when the guys joined me.

Dan sat on the bench next to me. “Man, I still don’t understand it. You never had any idea about your great-grandparents?”

“I told you a thousand times last night, I didn’t. Not even certain my dad knows.”

“Just wild, I mean you have the same name as your great-grandfather. That you didn’t know and then them dying like that. Just wild.”

I honestly wished he would shut up. My head was spinning and not just from the alcohol. Something more than coincidence was going on and I was not afraid to admit to myself that I was weirded out. Just wasn’t going to admit it to anyone else.

Liam slapped me on the back. “Come on, Coach is taking us to breakfast and then we can go watch some of the parades.”

I stood and grabbed my bag. “Okay, but after breakfast, I’m going to sleep.”

A hearty laugh roared from Liam. “We’ve got curfew, you can sleep then.”

Afterglow was in full swing. I had played a lot of sports but must admit, rugby players partied like no other. Rivals on the field, now both teams were in the same locker room, drinking beer with wives, girlfriends and random gals. No other guys allowed, just women. I still wasn’t used to running around naked or just in a towel in front of all these women, but it was part of the game. But I was preoccupied with Angel’s Tavern. I kept seeing the mysterious woman in my head and felt like she was luring me back there.

Trying not to attract attention, I got dressed and was attempting to slip out the door when Liam caught me. Towel barely wrapped around him, beer in one hand and both arms wrapped around two gals, he bellowed.

“Where do you think you’re going, mate?” He grimaced. “These NOLA boys are tough. Kicked me right in the acorns but we won and NOLA’s paying for the beer. Get in here and party.”

“I’ll be back.” Before he could say anything else, I left.

I caught the trolley to the French Quarter and walked to Angel’s Tavern. Standing in front of the door, I had to admit, I was shaking. I didn’t want to go inside, but I had to know.

When I first tried the doorknob, it wouldn’t budge, but as I was thinking of course it was locked, it turned in my hand. I swallowed a gulp of air and went inside. As if I had no choice, I headed straight for the chair, the temperature dropping with each step.

I touched the chair, and for a moment, the room became warm from a fire burning brightly, voices murmuring, the tinkling of piano keys, but then it was gone. The room dark, only pale light through the front windows and still cold.

“He let you see it as it was.”

The voice seemed to echo throughout the room. I instinctively looked toward the mirror and saw her reflection. Whirling to see behind me, I nearly fell to my knees. She was standing before me.

“Who are you?”

She reached out to run her fingers along my cheek. I felt the chill but not her fingertips. “I am your great-grandmother, Angeline. I have been waiting for you to return and sensed when you arrived. I know you are not him, but you are of him.”

“You said, he let me see. Who is he?”

“Your great-grandfather. He cannot come into this world as I can. He has joined the other side, but I have remained in this plane to someday find you.”

My voice cracked, and I could barely take a breath. “Why are you waiting for me?”

She smiled, and for the first time, I realized how transparent she was. It was as if she was there but not there.

“I was waiting for you. The tavern is yours. No one has ever known where the deed was hidden but I will tell you, and you claim it. I would hope you would want to open a tavern here and laissez les bon temps rouler.”

“Mine, but how … I can’t run a bar.” I said that, but the wheels were turning. Paid my way through college tending bar. Could I do this?

As if she read my mind, my great-grandmother’s ghost responded. “Bertrand and I loved this tavern. I know you will love it as well. The deed is in a box under that slate tile in the right back corner of the hearth.”

I knelt on the wood floor and pried up the tile. In a small crevice, I found a steel box and inside a wax covered envelope. My fingers shook as I pulled the document from the box and stood up. I turned to her, but she was gone.

A couple of hours later, Dan and Liam found me. I was sitting in the chair. It was no longer cold, and I knew my great-grandfather was gone. My buddies didn’t say anything, waiting for me to speak.

“Don’t ask me how I know or how I found this, but I think I own this place. If I do, I’m going to reopen Angel’s Tavern.”

Dan pursed his lips. “Move to New Orleans. Funny, we were talking about how we didn’t want to leave and go back to the craziness of LA.”

My pulse raced a bit. “You guys would stay here?”

Liam grinned. “I told you, my uncle owned a pub … worked there from the time I was twelve. Besides, the NOLA rugby dudes are begging us to join them, and they could use us.”

I stood up. “Then we do this together?”

The slap on my back from Liam almost knocked me over. “You got it, mate.”

Dan agreed and they started talking about what we needed to do. I glanced in the mirror to find the image of my great-grandmother smiling at me. As her image faded, I knew I would never see her again but her words, laissez les bon temps rouler, echoed in my head.

Yes, time for the good times to roll again at Angel’s Tavern.

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Write the Story: February 2019 Collection

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