Love, Cajun Style, page 1
Falling in Love
The Big, Bad Wolf
Gone with the Wind
One Big, Beautiful Pearl
The Birds and the Bees
Statue of Liberty
Queen of Sheba
Antennae and Étouffée
The Swing Set
The Wedding March
A Different Symphony
Garden of Eden
Car Doors and French Quarters
Women in Love
A Midsummer Madness
What a Wonderful World
A Note on the Author
Praise for Love, Cajun Style
and Taylor Littleton,
and, as ever,
for Nate, Seth, and Jake
Falling in Love
I was riding my yellow-and-blue Raleigh bicycle out to the beach to meet my friends, the sweet, salty air of early summer on my face, a warm breeze through my hair, the rhythm of my legs carrying a certain melody to my thoughts. Mary Jordan had called that morning to tell me she was falling in love. “Falling from what?” I’d said.
“Lucy, I’m serious.”
I knew she was serious. I guess that was the part I feared the most.
I rode past the Cove Creek Subdivision, past the Piggly Wiggly. I thought about stopping at the Dairy Freeze to talk to a couple of kids I knew from school, but instead I waved and kept on riding. Before I knew it I was on the county highway that wound its way like a river through the outskirts of town and into the country.
Why did people say they were falling in love? Why didn’t they step into love, or slide into it like a baseball player heading for home? Was it the thrill, like jumping off a high dive, or the fear of not knowing how you might land? It wasn’t that long ago I was sure I’d fallen in love, but by the time I landed, I knew I’d had it all wrong. What if Mary Jordan had it all wrong, too?
I passed a handful of vendors alongside the lonesome stretch, mostly Cajuns who sold baskets or crawfish or vegetables or voodoo souvenirs. By now they’d gotten used to me and always waved back. A couple more turns and I was on a backwash road, nothing more than a thin stretch of hard-packed sand that carved its way between sea oats and palmettos to the turnoff for Skinny Neck Beach. About fifty yards ahead of me was the parking area. Mary Jordan was sitting on top of one of the picnic tables at the far end, reading a book.
“Hey,” she said.
I leaned my bike against the table and climbed up beside her. It was as hot as a bacon skillet that afternoon, but no one could tell by looking at Mary Jordan. She doesn’t sweat. She has blue eyes the color of sapphire and loose brown curls cut just below her ears. Her skin looks like china, and her cheeks are naturally pink. Mama says Mary Jordan won’t ever need to wear rouge. God has blessed her with it already.
“What are you reading?” I asked.
“Poetry.” She proceeded to read about breasts and hearts and wings flying off somewhere as high as heaven.
“You’re either thinking about God or Doug,” I said.
Mary Jordan swatted me with the book. “It’s a poem about love,” she said. She stared off toward the levee. The gulf lay on the other side. From where we sat, we could hear its waves.
“How do you know you’re falling in love?” I said.
“Because I’ve never felt like this before.”
She sat like that a couple more minutes, then opened her book and continued reading. I could feel all sorts of things stirring around inside her, but I wasn’t sure how to get to them. Maybe that’s why she read so much, as if books were the only places where she felt most understood.
I didn’t know names like Pablo Neruda, but I read a lot, too. Not at the library, and not at school. At home, or in the grocery store. I’d stand behind the rack of books that spins around. Sometimes I’d read novels by Julie Garwood, or Catherine Coulter, about exciting men who fall in love with beautiful women. Before leaving, I’d mark my place lightly with a pencil, then stick the copy I was reading behind all the others. And sometimes I’d read adventure magazines about climbing mountains, about people surviving avalanches, about tiny towns in faraway places.
“Where’s Evie?” I asked.
Mary Jordan tucked a pine needle somewhere in the middle of her book and looked up at me from beneath the curls falling over her eyes. “She had to spend the night at her dad’s. Said she’d meet us here.”
Evie’s dad had walked out almost five years before, when we were in sixth grade. He moved into a cabin a few miles west of town, where he managed a catfish farm and drank beer. That was when Evie’s mom started dating every single man in Sweetbay. If she was going to be entertaining some man into the night, she’d send Evie out to her dad’s. Evie said all those men were simply salve on a bad wound, only her mom hadn’t figured out that the salve didn’t work.
Mary Jordan and Evie and I had lived in Sweetbay our whole lives and stuck together like glue ever since third grade, when we started catechism together at St. Marc’s Catholic Church. One Sunday after our class, we got the idea to put an egg in Father Ivan’s chair right beside the lectern. No sooner had he said, “The Lord be with you,” and the congregation responded, “And with thy spirit,” than he sat down, getting the strangest look on his face. The catechism class was sitting together in the back row. Evie and Mary Jordan and I started giggling so hard that Evie let out a snort. She does that sometimes. With all the ruckus we were making, Father Ivan had a good idea who was responsible for the egg he’d just hatched. As soon as the service was over, he had us meet him in his study, but not a one of us would confess. “God knows,” Father Ivan said, pointing a finger at us. “And His punishment is always just.”
About a week later, after Mary Jordan said she was having trouble sleeping, Evie decided we’d write a letter to the priest in the next parish over, confessing our sins. The priest wrote us back telling us to say the rosary ten times and our sins would be forgiven. We did what he said, and sure enough, Mary Jordan started sleeping again.
I was thinking about Evie and her dad and the jumbled up life she had at home when I heard the loud whoop she was good at making. She’d just turned into the parking lot and was riding toward us on her Giant with fat tires.
“Damn! That’s some ride out here.” Her long red hair was soaking wet, and beads of perspiration stuck to her eyelashes. Evie’s eyes are as dark as Cajun coffee. Gold freckles span across her face. She has freckles down her arms, too. She climbed off her bike and laid it in the sand.
Mary Jordan reached into her backpack and tossed a can of Off to Evie. “Mosquitoes are going to suck you dry with all that sweat on you.”
“I lathered myself in Skin So Soft before I left,” she said, tossing the can back to Mary Jordan. Evie smelled more like Coppertone suntan lotion to me. Evie always smells like Coppertone, even in the dead of winter. She says its arom
Evie kicked off her shoes. She grabbed hold of the tail of her damp T-shirt, pulled it over her shoulders, and pitched it onto the handlebars of her bike.
“Let’s go for a swim,” she said.
Mary Jordan and I exchanged glances, both of us grinning. We peeled off our shoes and tossed them next to Evie’s, then pulled off our shirts and shorts and left them on the ground in a heap.
“Race ya!” Evie said. She took off for the levee, wearing nothing more than her black bra and red-white-and-blue panties.
Mary Jordan and I followed. The levee was steep and thick with sand. Trying to run our way over it was about as good a workout as anyone would care to have. The closer we got to the top, the heavier our breathing sounded and the slower our legs moved. Then Evie backfired, and the three of us doubled over laughing, grabbing our sides and gasping for air.
Evie made it to the top first and shouted, “King of the mountain!”—a five-foot-five statue with fists held high. The three of us stripped out of our bras and underwear and ran for the water, squealing like a bunch of five-year-olds.
The water was murky brown and the bottom squishy, sucking at our feet as we tried to leap over the small waves. After making quite a splash, we sailed on our backs, baring our chests to the heavens.
“I just hit a warm current,” I said.
Evie laughed. “That was me.”
“I’m just kidding.”
“How was it at your dad’s?” I asked her.
“You know, it might not be so bad if I had a decent bed. He’s got me sleeping on this cot. Every time I roll over, the springs sound like a gopher with its tail stuck under a bulldozer. Makes me wonder how many other people have done their share of rolling over on it, too.”
Mary Jordan swooped a wave over Evie. “You’re so weird.” Evie just paddled herself farther away, kicking water into Mary Jordan’s face.
Evie and Mary Jordan and I all lived in old houses. Once, we got to speculating about how many couples had had sex underneath our roofs. Of course Evie said they might as well call her home the Love Palace ever since her parents got divorced.
“I saw my parents do it once,” Mary Jordan had confessed.
“No way!” I declared. Mary Jordan’s parents were as old as Bunker Hill. Both she and her brother, Billy, had been a surprise to them. Of course, I wasn’t quite sure I understood the surprise part. You’d think after Billy surprised them two years before, they’d have been a little more prepared.
“They were in the pantry,” Mary Jordan had told us. “I was supposed to already be in bed, but I got hungry and couldn’t sleep.”
From then on, every time the three of us were at Mary Jordan’s looking for something to eat, we’d get to laughing and not a one of us would have to explain why.
I was still floating on my back. Evie floated toward me, bumping my head.
“Hey,” I said. She reached for one of my hands as we continued to drift away from the shore. Then Mary Jordan coasted toward us and grabbed hold of our other hands so that the three of us formed a sort of star. We kicked our legs just enough to keep us on the surface, our bodies riding the gentle currents.
“We ought to try out for one of those water ballet teams,” Evie said.
“I always wanted to be a ballet dancer,” Mary Jordan said.
“Since when did you want to be a ballet dancer?” Evie asked.
“I don’t know. Since I was little, I guess. Ballet dancers have great bodies.”
I closed my eyes, letting the sun bask down on my skin and the water carry us. “Remember the first time we started coming out here,” I said.
“The summer before our freshman year,” Evie said. “We finally talked our parents into letting us ride out to the beach by ourselves.”
“Remember that day we were out here and we got to talking about sex, and how we said we were going to wait until we were married?” I asked.
“I remember,” Mary Jordan said.
“You think that’s changed any?” I asked.
“Why would that change?” Evie said. “You got some boyfriend on the side we don’t know about?”
“I wish,” I laughed.
“It’s because of that poem I read, isn’t it?” Mary Jordan said.
“What poem?” Evie wanted to know.
“She read some poem by Pablo somebody about breasts and love.”
“Pablo Neruda,” Mary Jordan corrected me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Speaking of breasts, can nipples sunburn?” Evie said.
Mary Jordan laughed. Evie let go of our hands and paddled herself away, then rolled over onto her stomach.
“Your buns can burn, too,” Mary Jordan hollered.
She and I were still holding hands and floating side by side.
“I hope we always come out to the beach like this,” I said.
“We will,” Mary Jordan said. “Hey, Lucy?”
“I know what you were saying, about us still waiting till we’re married. But things change.”
“I don’t want things to change,” I said.
“I’m not saying I’m going to have sex before I’m married, but I’m not fourteen anymore, either.”
“I know,” I said.
Evie had been the first one to declare her celibacy, and I knew her decision had something to do with her mom, something to do with the hurt Evie kept all wound up inside like a tight skein of yarn. I kept wishing one day that skein would unwind itself. But knowing Evie, I was fairly certain it never would. And knowing her decision had something to do with what she was feeling, and not knowing how to wiggle myself into that tight skein and make her pain go away, I joined in. Maybe Mary Jordan had felt the same thing as me, because she joined in, too. Now, several years later, I wondered how strong our declarations would be if reality put them to the test.
“Sharks like barbeque,” Evie shouted. She was now a good fifty yards away. “Breast meat especially.”
Mary Jordan and I laughed.
“I love her,” Mary Jordan said.
“Me, too,” I said.
We flipped over and swam toward Evie. As we approached the shore, we remained in the water, making sure no one was around. The closest person we saw was a man about a half mile away fishing.
“Coast is clear,” Evie said.
The three of us stood and ran for the levee, crossing our arms over our naked selves.
“I don’t believe it!” Evie shrieked once we were at the top. “They were right here!”
Sure enough, Evie’s Old Glorys and Mary Jordan’s Hanes Her Ways and my Kmart specials were nowhere to be found.
We hurried down the levee to where we’d left the rest of our clothes. Mary Jordan just stood there with her mouth hanging open. I had one hand spread out to cover my pelvis, and my other arm crossed over my chest, walking around in a panic, searching.
“Maybe the wind blew them in the grass,” Mary Jordan said.
“Yeah, right. The wind just happens to come along and lift three pairs of heavy shoes into oblivion.” Evie was as steamed as a hot iron.
The three of us, butt naked, stormed around in circles.
Then we heard a car. Evie quickly ducked behind the picnic table. Mary Jordan and I crouched beside her.
A gray Eclipse whipped into the parking lot, stirring up dust and sand, and stopping no more than ten feet in front of us.
“Hope you don’t catch a cold!” It was Doug Hebert with a carload of his friends from the baseball team.
Like us, Doug was going to be a senior in the fall. He and Mary Jordan had been going out ever since he took her to the Valentine’s dance last winter. Doug was popular and good-looking, with thick brown hair and hazel eyes. It wasn’t because he was popular or good-looking that Mary Jordan liked him, though I’m sure that didn’t hurt matters any. She liked him because he was smart. Doug wo
Evie sprang up, charging after the car. Doug sped away, kicking dust into her face, all the guys laughing their heads off, a couple of them hanging out the windows, watching her and whooping it up something fierce. I knew Evie would never live it down, her chasing after that car like a banshee on the run, her breasts bobbing up and down.
Mary Jordan and I were still crouched behind the picnic table. “Give it up!” Mary Jordan yelled to Evie.
We could hear those guys still laughing as the car tore off down the road, its tires screeching.
When Evie turned around, streaks of dirt ran down her face from the dust on her wet body, and her hair stuck out in one frizzy mess. “I thought you and Doug were going out!” she yelled.
“We were,” Mary Jordan told her.
“Are we missing some information here?” Evie planted her hands on her white hips, her red pubic hair glistening like copper.
I started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Evie hadn’t moved.
“You are,” Mary Jordan said.
Evie tried not to laugh. She couldn’t help herself.
“Now what do we do?” she said.
“Never rode a bike naked before,” Mary Jordan said.
I felt my face wince. “That’s got to hurt.”
“I’m not riding clear through town naked as a jaybird. I have my limits,” Evie said.
“It’s not all that far to my aunt’s place. Let’s ride out there and get her to drive us back.” Tante Pearl lived a couple miles past the beach in the opposite direction of town.
Mary Jordan and Evie looked at each other, then back at me.
“I’m not spending the night out here,” Evie said.
We picked up our bikes and swung our legs over the seats.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” Evie said.
We eased ourselves onto the road, the three of us riding side by side.
“I want to know why it is Doug swiped our clothes,” Evie flat-out stated.
“I guess he was mad or something,” Mary Jordan said.