Louis Bourgeois

The Coward

And he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette…
—Bob Dylan

Outside the window was a procession of Mardi Gras going on: huge papier maché faces from Anne Boleyn to Nixon, screaming topless women with tattooed breasts, a boa constrictor wrapped around a hippie’s neck, adultery in a second room flat, hand-clapping, a lot of green stuff, heavy jars of whiskey, a dozen real Indians…

Inside the house, Lucas and Kramer were not looking out the window. Lucas turned down the television and said, “Throw all the cats back in the boat.” He made himself comfortable in the worn plaid chair and stared tight-faced at the television, as if he were trying to ward off some unaccountable fix on his mouth. On the television, the two of them were watching what was going on out in the street. Kramer had an awful grin on his face because Jim Beam wouldn’t stop burning at his stomach. This was due to the fact that, during Fat Tuesday, Kramer made no apologies for taking big sucking gulps. Kramer sprawled out on the bird brown ripped up sofa and said, “How is the value of cat quantified anyway? Is a cat intrinsically worse off than a dog? Or does it have something to do with how a cat perceives life, thus making cats so detestable?”

Lucas, in a low voice said, “Cats are God’s children.”

There wasn’t anything left between Lucas and Kramer. This was due to the fact that Lucas still worked at the banana loading dock and continued his weekly consumption of acid every Friday night. Kramer didn’t do that anymore, as if he’d just found out it was illegal. And not only did Kramer go off and get a college degree, but he was to be married in a week, and in a month’s time, he and his wife were to settle down in the subdivisions of Metairie. Kramer’s visits to Lucas had dwindled over the years until they became something of a duty, done only for some distant respect for childhood.

Lucas, becoming rather nervous, said, “A cat is worth, at a minimum, ten dogs easily. I know you don’t like cats anymore, but that’s because you don’t look at things like you used to. Dogs don’t mind if you throw them overboard. They’ll keep coming on back with a full grin, licking you all over while they’re shivering from the wet. If you do that just once, perhaps twice, to a cat, he’ll hate you for life. Cats are moral. Dogs are too stupid for that, always forgetting, forgiving, neglecting. They’re always wet, too, a cat only gets wet once or twice.”

Kramer, liking Lucas less and less, said, “Well, my dear old friend, maybe cats need to change their ways. More people like dogs because dogs are obedient. They savor love, not morality. Cats need to loosen up.”

Lucas often thought of hurting Kramer with a lead pipe. He had one too, he called it Itchy. But during Kramer’s few visits nowadays, Lucas was overpowered by Kramer’s presence. Kramer had gained so much more than Lucas in life that Kramer had a tyrant’s rule over him. For instance, even though Kramer had told Lucas about the wedding, he had not mentioned if Lucas was invited. Lucas felt sick, sick, sick when Kramer said he was getting married, for Lucas was foolish enough to believe that a boyhood promise could be kept.

Kramer, with his insides burning, looked out the window and compared the parade outside to how it looked on the television screen. The camera held all the important context of Mardi Gras in the right perspective. It seemed to leave out anything mundane, superfluous, or disgusting. There was one important thing that Kramer had learned that he thought served him well, which was that you can never beat all the negative elements in life. Therefore, it was best to ignore what you could and hope that much of it wouldn’t come your way.

Kramer said, “I agree that dogs can be a little stupid at times. I mean, they can be a little silly, but I still prefer them to cats. Cats are just too goddamned mean and selfish. They get lost in themselves without thinking about anybody’s feelings.”

Lucas said, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, a few times and then he said, “Maybe they don’t want their own feelings hurt, so they just keep to themselves, because they’re smart, they know how cruel everyone else can be. You know, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish.”

Kramer, thinking of his fiancée, smiled and chuckled like he was the most satisfied accountant in New Orleans. He said, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever thought of cats as cowardly. Cats aren’t noble or smart, they’re cowards. Dogs are brave and honorable.”

Lucas, grabbing at his eye, and dealing with a twinging lip, said, “Dogs are much bigger than the largest of cats.”

Kramer laughed and laughed and kept thinking about how good it was going to feel when he got home to his soon-to-be wife.

Lucas kept messing with his eye and sweated a lot.

Outside the window, creatures of various types crawled under a street light.

About a hundred yards from the house, and barely out of the frame of the television, six New Orleans policemen were hand-cuffing several rowdy, immoral, calamitous people from St. Bernard Parish. The trouble-makers were exposing themselves and shouting Maurice! Maurice! for no apparent reason. The police had no objections to either act. What did the St. Bernardians in was when one of them begot a contemptuous finger gesture intended for an extremely oversized horse-riding New Orleans police officer. Before the hand-cuffing was finished, several St. Bernardians had broken ribs and black eyes. A couple of them had very bad headaches.

Not long after that, a bare-footed and shirtless ten-year-old boy from Kenner had his foot crushed by a tractor pulling a float. The name of the float was What God Has Wrought, which featured twenty of the blondest blondes in the country. They, the blondes, were known as the White Goddesses. Each blonde had in her possession some form of technology never before seen until the White Goddesses gave their performance.

Nobody knew how this float got into the Krew of Eros, but it was by far the most popular. The closest runner-up was a float called Paraguay. It was an alternative that everyone forgot about when What God Has Wrought made its way following.

The ten-year-old boy from Kenner acquired a permanent limp.

When Lucas and Kramer were growing up in the suburbs of Kenner they swore to be different from their parents. They were to be real individuals. Lucas and Kramer were from divorced families and out of defiance, promised, with blood from a needle, that they would never get married, so as to stop the ugly flux of untruth. Kids from broken homes are often mad. When they were in high school, they still maintained this outlook on life and only went out with girls for ornamentation and primordial needs. They read only Existentialist literature and in their senior year started an underground press, but they were chided by their peers and got in trouble with the school and the cops.

Nothing had worked out. They were taught that it wasn’t in their nature to change their environment. They were beaten down and told that somewhere in their education they had misinterpreted the signs of what a decent human being is, according to the curriculum.

It wasn’t quite midnight on Fat Tuesday. At about twenty minutes till, the crowds outside were getting displeased. People were becoming careless and rude. A fat woman with a neon head bow was so drunk that she slipped on a small rubber ball and broke her leg. She was stepped on many, many times. Behind a dumpster a deranged man who had clear objectives went beneath, between, and behind an unwilling and very conscious woman. Right before she got into this mess, she had been looking for a corridor to the hotel. She missed it by what might have been miles. And Lucas had swallowed his last two hits of double-dipped coseismal acid. He sweated and sweated and sweated.

Kramer was indolently drunk; he turned from the television and caught site of Lucas having a hard time with the acid. Lucas had been eating acid all day long. He made little birdie noises, and thought his hands were God’s implements of creativity; then he started slapping himself.

Kramer said, “Another thing about cats, they can’t be trained to do anything. That’s why people hate them. They can’t be taught to have any fun. They’re so connected to their natural predisposition that it’s sickening. Cats are the loneliest of all things, next to the South American sloth. I hate cats.”

At midnight the crowds outside the window did not want Mardi Gras to be over and about twenty people decided they were not leaving the street, despite the police.

They were quite serious about it.

A black man from Algiers lost all his front teeth when he kicked the shin of a policeman’s brown stallion—a nice magnificent three-year old. When the black man got off the ground, he was a rabid, toothless, black man from Algiers (whose ancestry included cowboys from California) with a long-handled, thick-bladed knife. When the knife went in between the stallion’s broad shoulders, a bovine, blonde-headed, New Orleans policeman from Bunkie, Louisiana (whose ancestry consisted of stump grinders and root diggers) knocked the man from Algiers out of consciousness forever and forever with his gunmetal-blue club.

During this event, Lucas watched from the window and cried, “Get all the cats back in the boat. Dogs will kill you.” Lucas then sulked in the corner, trying really hard to thwart a bad acid trip, murmuring Oofish.

Kramer, reclining passively, and comfortably drunk out of his mind, watched all of this live on the television. The black man, in a body bag, was eventually carried off; passing right in front of the window behind Kramer’s back.

Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, an arts and education non-profit group based in Oxford, MS. He also the Director of the Prison Writes Initiative, a literacy and creative arts education program established for Mississippi inmates.
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About Posit Editor

Susan Lewis (susanlewis.net) is the editor of Posit (positjournal.com) and the author of nine books and chapbooks, including Heisenberg's Salon, This Visit, and State of the Union. Her tenth book, Zoom, was awarded the Washington Prize and will be published in 2018. Her poetry has appeared in such places as The Awl, Berkeley Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Cimarron, Gargoyle, The Journal, The New Orleans Review, Prelude, Raritan, Seneca Review, So to Speak, Verse, and Verse Daily.