Polly Duplessis sat at the small bar of Thibodeaux’s Restaurant sipping a glass of wine and looking out at Carondelet Street. Her shift in the dining room finally over, she was waiting for the streetcar to come by so she could go home. Polly rode the St. Charles streetcar to and from work. When she arrived at work, she got off the car right in front of the restaurant. When she finished work, however, she walked across to St. Charles to catch it so that she wouldn’t have to get off at Canal and then re-board.
From the time the car passed the restaurant on it’s way to Canal it took just under twenty minutes, normally, for it to come back out St. Charles and make it to Lafayette Street just a block behind the restaurant. Polly sipped her wine and watched the street. When the next car came by she looked at her watch. Five to eleven. She should be home before midnight.
As soon as the car passed Polly walked back and opened the door to the kitchen. She called inside, “Manuel, you finished up and ready to go home?”
“Si. Si.” Manuel answered. “Un momento.”
“The car’s already passed.” Polly shouted. “I’ll be leaving here in ten minutes.” She walked back to her seat at the bar and continued to sip her wine.
Manuel Ortega was an immigrant from Panama and the newest addition to the kitchen staff. He did pretty much anything someone else didn’t want to do. He wanted to work his way up to busboy and then cook. He and Polly left together most evenings. It made her feel safer when he was with her to walk to the car stop but if he wasn’t ready she didn’t wait on him. At least a couple of nights a week Manuel, who was gay, would go down to one of the gay bars in the French Quarter after work but most nights he caught the car with Polly. On this night, he came into the bar right at ten of.
Polly swallowed the last of her second glass of wine, said good-night to John, the bartender, and went out into the night with Manuel. The two turned the corner onto Lafayette Street and walked the block to St. Charles. They stepped up to the stop in front of Gallier Hall just as the streetcar crossed Poydras two blocks away. It’s headlight appeared to rock back and forth as the car rolled slowly toward them on the gently undulating track.
– Page 41 –
Perfect timing. Most of the time it worked out like that but occasionally if the car caught every light when it was green and had to make only a few stops she would arrive just in time to watch
the tail lights as they receded in the distance toward Lee Circle. Then she would have to wait on the next one. She was glad this was not the case this night.
Polly and Manuel pressed their way into the already packed car and made their way to the back where they took up a position standing between the lateral seats. They knew that people would start to get off just past Lee Circle and Polly would be able to sit down. Manuel usually preferred to stand.
The old car lumbered along making two more stops before reaching Lee Circle. Biggy watched as it came around toward his stop. He allowed more of the gas that was still building inside him to escape just before he boarded the car. Polly and Manuel didn’t notice when he squeezed his bulk inside but the people at the front sure did. He was pungent with the smell of tobacco and alcohol and body odor mixed with the essence of shit. This was one of the real drawbacks to riding the streetcar when it was crowded. You never knew when the odors were going to be somewhat less than fragrant.
Several people exited at each stop as the car continued up St. Charles. Polly quickly sat down on the lateral bench as soon as a vacancy occurred. Manuel, whose stop wasn’t far ahead, remained standing in front of her. He had told her once when she offered to squeeze over and make room for him to sit, that he liked standing because he might be able to rub against some ‘hunk’. It made no difference to him whether the ‘hunk’ was gay or straight, or even accompanied by a woman. To Manuel, rubbing was rubbing. If it appeared a man was gay and he wasn’t accompanied, Manuel was a shameless flirt, hoping the guy was staying at one of the hotels they passed before they got to his stop at Jackson Ave. His chance of someone inviting him for a drink were slim to none but it had happened once. Who was to say it couldn’t happen again?
Polly hadn’t noticed Biggy making his way toward the back of the car. Every time the doors opened and closed the farty smell that had accompanied him when he boarded dissipated a little. His odors had also begun to mingle with all the others. He certainly wasn’t the only one on the car who had a tobacco smell about him, or a heavy alcohol smell, or even a BO smell. Biggy was able to move a little further back into the car every time it stopped. He was almost back to the area between the rear laterals when Polly found her seat but she still hadn’t seen him.
When the car stopped at St. Charles and Jackson, Manuel said goodnight and started to make his way towards the back door to exit. At the time Polly was watching a man a few years older than she. A ‘hunk’. But he had the look of being her kind of ‘hunk’, not Manuel’s. She had spotted him standing in the aisle as soon as she and Manuel boarded but had only noticed him again after several people exited at Jackson Avenue. He was sitting facing her. She knew it was unlikely he would even notice her but it was fun to think about what might be.
– Page 42 –
About that time, her view was blocked by a very large, smelly man whom she had not previously noticed. The word behemoth came into her head. The man stood so close she couldn’t even tell how big he really was. Her eyes drifted upward to an oversized head towering six feet above her. He was facing the rear of the car, perhaps looking for a place to sit down. The man reeked of
alcohol and body odor. She could even discern, sitting with her nose roughly at the level of his massive ass, the odor of shit. “Oh, god, she thought. Don’t let this asshole fart.” She quickly averted her eyes but couldn’t completely shut him out as he stood right in front of her. She twisted on the seat as much as she could to gaze toward the front of the car. She remained looking out the front, breathing as shallowly as possible, as the car proceeded up St. Charles.
She watched the cars and houses pass. The streetcar didn’t stop at every stop now as they had entered an area that was completely residential on both sides of the avenue and this time of night there were only passengers who, like Polly, worked in downtown and took the car home at night. Polly actually recognized many of these people as they frequently ended up on the same car either going downtown in the afternoon or coming back out at night.
The behemoth she had never seen before. She hoped never to have to see him again.
The car stopped at Louisiana Avenue. An older gentleman, whom Polly recognized as a waiter at Brennan’s in the Quarter, got up from one of the front facing seats at the middle of the car and pushed towards the front door. Polly watched him and hoped she wouldn’t still be waiting tables when she was that old. When she looked back around, the behemoth had shifted his position and his knee pressed firmly against her knees. He could without too much effort thrust it between her legs. She wondered if this were his goal. He seemed not to even notice where his knee was. But Polly would have bet that he did.
She looked up, planning to ask him to please move his knee and found she was looking him square in the face. He was leering down at her. Now she was sure he knew where his knee was and expected to feel it thrust further up between her thighs at any instant. She felt nauseous. His look completely unnerved her. The seat on which she sat was almost empty now. Just she and two others, a young couple. She managed to slide sideways toward the front of the car, squeezing over against the woman and extricating her legs. Apologizing profusely to the woman, she stood up, still not knowing what she was going to do.
The car stopped at Napoleon for a red light but since no stop had been signaled, the doors didn’t open. Polly could feel the behemouth’s eyes boring into her back. Just as the stoplight changed from green to yellow, she practically jumped to the rear doors, thrusting them open, and jumped out of the car. Everyone stared at the closing doors just as the car began to move forward again. She stood beside it as it passed watching the surprised expression on the face of the behemoth.
It was only after the pretty black girl fled the car so suddenly that Biggy realized it may have been because of him. Until she stood up and pushed past him to get out the door Biggy hadn’t realized he was standing with his leg actually touching her knees. He hadn’t even realized he was staring at her. He couldn’t help himself. She was beautiful. Her skin was the color of dark chocolate and had the same creaminess to it that chocolate had. And her hair was jet black.
– Page 43 –
Polly raced across the neutral ground toward Napoleon Bar and Grill, watching the taillights of the streetcar getting smaller in the distance. She went inside and ordered a gin and tonic in a go
cup. As soon as she had her drink, she went back outside and sat at one of the tables on the sidewalk sipping her drink as she waited for the next streetcar to come along.
As she waited she thought about the big smelly man. It was unlikely he had meant her any real harm. She was used to having strangers pressing against her in the streetcar. New Orleans was full of night characters and most of them were harmless. Still, it unnerved her.
When the next streetcar came along a half hour later, she boarded and continued to her stop at Carrollton and Maple Streets just past Riverbend. She watched the parking lot in front of the A&P closely just to make sure the big man wasn’t anywhere in sight before getting off. When she didn’t see him, she got off and quickly crossed to the sidewalk in front of Madigan’s. While still standing in the light of the streetlight at the corner where she could really look around, she got her keys from her purse and made sure she had her door key ready to thrust into the lock of her apartment door before walking the block up Carrollton to Burthe Street.
She turned the corner, glancing back over her shoulder to make sure no one was following, before practically running to the driveway of the old shotgun in the 8100 block of Burthe. She lived in the rear apartment of the old Victorian that had long ago been converted to a fourplex. She was thankful that the driveway was well lighted as she dashed towards her door and thrust her key into the lock.
She quickly stepped through the door, slammed it shut behind her, and locked it. Finally, she felt safe. She knew it would take one or two glasses of wine to put her in the mood to sleep.
– Page 44 –