I acquired a new book, similar to “642 Things to Write About.”
“Select a random book from your shelf and turn to page 53. Use the first full sentence that appears on the page as the first sentence of a new story.”
I closed my eyes and randomly picked “12 Years A Slave.” Flipped to page 53 and the first full sentence was as follows:
On leaving, the New Orleans slave pen, Harry and I followed our new master through the streets
On leaving, the New Orleans slave pen, Harry and I followed our new master through the streets. Who was this Leonard LaLaurie fellow? As he kicked at our shins and spit in our general direction I looked at Harry with an assured grin. Harry looked like a bird that had been captured in the night. I knew why he sang as we were marched through the quarter.
“Corn husks green as my heart as master sews his oats. Lawd stood in the shadows instead of on the boats. Hear me Jesus over the drums that are my feet. Chase away the midnight ‘fore we are the drums he beats. Sazerac as bittersweet as the sounds of those bells. Today is the day I done died and gone to hell.” He sang with such desperation I glimpsed a woman who, for a brief moment, looked empathetically in our general direction.
Master LaLaurie did not have an empathetic anything about him. He mumbled something inaudibly but I didn’t dare ask him to repeat himself. Harry was oblivious to the sound of LaLaurie’s voice and as the young master’s head whipped around, I knew he was going to lash out at Harry. What I didn’t know, was that I was the one who would feel the anguish. The harsh hues of the angry sky gave LaLaurie’s face dramatic contrast and as he raised his leg with full force, raising it enough to meet Harry’s stomach, I saw the devil, and this devil didn’t look white nor did he look black. This devil looked like an amalgam of the people in the streets and those who served them.
“You stupid son of a bitch! You answer me when I’m talking to you!” Master’s voice bounced off the building we were now stopped in front of and punctured the ears of all who went about their business on Royal Street. Harry hadn’t yet caught his breath when LaLaurie positioned himself behind Harry’s hunched over frame. With one swift punch between the shoulder blades, master signaled us to keep walking. The sound of Harry’s breath brought the first relief I felt of the day. It was heavy and staggered, not unlike the building master was approaching.
“Well now, let’s see if you dare ignore Madame. You’ll be begging for my fist come morning light.” LaLaurie chuckled while pointing to the building. “Welcome home.”
Harry grabbed his back and his stomach simultaneously as he made his way to the ornate door. I don’t think he knew how to read, even numbers. I didn’t let on that I, in fact, did. I stared for a moment at the numbers above the arched door. This was my new home, and all I knew of it was that it was marked by malignant owners and the numbers 1140.
*Yes, I know the term is actually “sow your oats” however I took the liberty of using a play on words. Google Delphine LaLaurie, it will make sense.
**Sazerac is a cocktail that was invented in New Orleans in the 1830s. It consists of Absinthe, simple syrup, Peychaud’s bitters and rye whiskey. Legend says the drink was born at Antoine Amedee Peychaud’s pharmacy on Royal Street.