Mama, she'd cried. Only time Daddy ever hit him. Fool boy to sell your soul, ain't nothing worth that price, nothing worth the wrath of Mama Nola, not nothing. Not even no beignet so light it was dreaming about your mouth, so crisp on the outside, so soft on the inside, not nothing worth chicken blood midnight on a bit of hair knotted caught in a fist older than Father Time that moved too fast.
Restaurant sold for nothing in a day, bags packed in a night, packed tight as tears no one had time to let fall into the cheap seats and ten hours later out into the drizzle that still couldn't fall so thick as the humidity had held him all his life. Ran so far, but ain't no such thing as far enough from eyes that ain't seen with their natural ways in longer than he's breathed. Everything, everything, everything different, because nothing worth the wrath.
Everything – boarding school – everything – spells wrapped tight as the rosary around a nun's hand in Latin that don't mean Catholic here – everything – cold that sucks the marrow out your bones – everything – voices that waltz their words without a shimmy or a slide nowhere – everything – sneak to the kitchen in the middle of the night while the critters and the creatures and the classmates sleep – everything different.
Everything except this. Knife come down in the rat-a-tat-tat, wand on a chain link fence lazy summer day too hot sticky to sweat. Holy Trinity sizzle in the pan, hiss to the water spray down the decks of the trawlers. Knob of butter handful of flour, push and stir and the roux tans up like a mulatto baby playing the streets of the lower wards. No need for thinking, no need for wondering what if he's caught this time, rules of this world ain't nothing but pain come to pain anyway, but this pain's come to Jesus on the flares of the cayenne.
Memory potions like these don't know dungeon classrooms. Parsley, oregano, bay leaf and thyme, okra and mirliton missed, missed aching like someone singing lowdown two blocks too far away to care to hear the words, but tomatoes and shrimp they bastardbrit gussy up to call prawns, but the way they pink and curl can't lie. Rice still fattens up if you don't peek in the pot, red beans soaking in their hiding place since he sinned before last night. No andouille, no tasso, no Mama, no friends, no hurricane party even in the heart of the storm. The Saints ain't gonna march nowhere on wings of brass when he dies come June because ain't nowhere far enough to run and no taking back too late. But sizzle and stir and the steam wraps his face in understanding that Fat Tuesday means nothing to them and everything to homesick.
Mercy lets him finish, no chicory in the coffee and this is such a pity poor man's Etouffee but something closer than nothing, two bites of silt between his toes and a hazy moon before there's no running, no hiding. Because smells carry more than memories, and when the door bursts open the levee cracks apart beneath his feet to flood down the Cruciatus in a saxophone wail.
Dirty rice spilled over blue cotton sleeve. Blue means something to the rest of them what wear it around him every day. Means something here he doesn't understand but something back there he does. Fifteen, too young they'd say, too young they'd say behind their dark faces shadowed through the bad years, with their empty mouths gumming cracklings and their full eyes tucked behind webs of lyrics lined in deep, too young they'd say and maybe they'd have been right if he'd kept hands to hisself and stayed clear of Mama Nola. But he didn't, and he ain't too young, and in Nawlins, blues ain't a color, it's a way of hurting. Too young, fifteen too young for blues, but he knows otherwise when the next hit flips him over and even though home's close enough to burn him when the pot knocks over, the only Mama comes when he screams is Mama Nola laughing in the ghost of chicken blood at midnight.