Well, as promised, here is another of my old stories. Please just scroll on by, with my apologies, if you have read it before.
The lovely magnolias are vaguely relevant to the tale, but I really wish I could have found some Spanish moss or a white cypress or two ………..
The mighty Mississippi has travelled many hundreds of miles by the time it reaches Louisiana and meanders on down to the City of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Many tributaries criss-cross the marshlands and small communities have grown and flourished amongst the bayous and creeks.
Cypres-Blanc is one such place, tucked away on the edge of the Creole Nature Trail.
Surrounded by olive and pecan trees, willow oaks and cottonwoods, hung heavy with Spanish moss; the small community is almost cut off from the outside world. In this place the Creole ways and customs are strong, the modern world does not venture here. Tourists, on their way to Lake Charles or Lafayette and Baton-Rouge, never notice the bend in the river and the long overgrown trail beyond.
The creek has provided a living for the community for many a year. The Creole folk have merely to sit on the slope of the river bank with their fishing poles and cat-fish and rainbow trout practically fling themselves onto the hook. The little wooden shacks of the village come down almost to the water’s edge and one or two are even built on sturdy wooden stilts and jutt out into the deeper parts of the bayou. Working together, the people have created a decent living, but it is finely balanced, the water is the life-blood of the community.
About 20 miles north, a fish cannery factory has opened. It provides much needed employment for the dirt-poor people in that area. It also spews its effluence into the river that flows on down to Cypres-Blanc ………. contaminating all it touches. But the people in this sleepy backwater know nothing of this …. they are uneducated in the ways of the industrialised world. All they do know is that the fish are suddenly dying, and they think they know the reason why.
No-one remembers when Shelby came to their hamlet ………. It seems as though she has been there for many, many years.
” Mad as a bag of varmints !” murmurs Eulalie, her golden, hooped earrings shaking as she adjusts her ‘tete maw’e‘,
“ Poor white trash …. trailer trash ” she continues and the other women, in their brightly coloured ‘jupe’, nod and murmur and roll their eyes and continue preparing the jambalaya.
It’s true…….. Shelby is a little ‘touched‘ ……. a little different.
She lives in a world of her own and appears to be oblivious to others. She has lived here for over 50 years, begrudgingly accepted by these poor folk, who, at first, felt sorry for her in her tattered clothes and wild hair. She looked as though she had been wandering through the marshlands for days and when she stumbled upon their group of dwellings the villagers had rushed to help her. She had collapsed from sheer exhaustion, at the edge of the creek.
They nursed her back to health and could not help but notice a strangeness about her …………. a madness which made them a little afraid of her.
“Perhaps she has the ‘evil-eye‘” they thought.
“Best not rile her. Let her stay, but keep our distance”
And so she stayed, the mad white woman, living in a little shack and doing no harm ….. until now.
But Shelby cares nothing for this …… knows nothing ……. does nothing. Shelby just loves to dance !
She hears the music in her head and she can create a whole new world, another life, far away from the poverty of Cypres-Blanc.
A distant memory of a grand house, of a white veranda, overlooking bald cypress trees and beautiful fragrant southern magnolias. A fiddle plays a lilting tune in her head and she waltzes with a handsome lover.
In her imagination she is no longer old and wrinkled and in her tattered dress. She has donned a gown of white organza, with many layers of lacy petticoats. She is young and beautiful, she is a bride, dancing on her wedding day.
The women watch the swirling figure as she dances across the stepping stones to the far side of the bayou.
” It’s her, it’s a curse, she has bewitched the river, ” whispers Eulalie, ” The fish are dying because of her, the old witch !”
Deeply superstitious, the Creole women nod and mutter in agreement. They know their menfolk have returned day after day, with barely a fish between them. Life is hard enough without black magic.
Shelby’s memory recalls a ballroom, music, laughter …. and she skips and pirouettes unsteadily across the flat, slippery stones. …………..But …. wait …. what is this ?
A candle flame, a blaze, the world is burning, orange-red !
Shelby falters on the stones, her old legs are no longer strong and, inevitably, she slips. Calling out, she falls into the deep water that lies under the over-hanging trees. She reaches out to the women, but they just stand, stoney-faced and offer no assistance. She sinks beneath the surface and is lost……………..
Twenty miles to the North, the Health Inspector closes the cannery until further notice. They are under orders to ‘get their act together‘ or ‘asses will be whupped’ !
The Spanish moss drapes over the branches of the willow oak. The magnolias are in bloom and their huge, cupped flowers spread their delicate scent across the emerald lawn. The large house is decorated with garlands of flowers and the white, floor-length, curtains float softly on the gentle breeze that blows in through the open French windows.
Gardenias, in huge vases, fill the room beyond and, from somewhere deeper in the house, sweet music drifts on the air.
Two figures, clasped in each other’s arms, dance on the veranda.
A tall, handsome man and a beautiful, young woman.
” I have waited for you for so long “, sighs Jackson.
Shelby smiles and twirls the skirts of her white, organza, bridal gown and they dance across the lawn and into eternity.
Note; I have used authentic Creole names in this story. Also authentic details of Creole clothing. I have included indigenous trees, too ……. The bald cypress is the State Tree of Louisiana.
Cypres-Blanc, however, exists only in my imagination.