I had a moment while stopped in traffic this morning. Motion caught my eye, I think, a breezy stirring that rustled against the exterior of my car and drew my gaze to the left. The entrance to a forest preserve had all the makings of a Tennessee Williams story: autumn leaves in a colorful eruption, hordes of pumpkins lining a dirt path, bales of hay topping a wagon. I wondered how I’d managed to live in my town for so many years, never noticing such a vibrant display when I remembered it was new. New to me at least, since this particular morning I’d been forced to reroute my usual path to work.
A hundred different scents and sounds accompanied the landscape, and with the radio off and windows open I could pick each out as assuredly as I can the flavors in a stew. But above it all was the ringing of a bell. Maybe from a church, perhaps from a town square, but definitely a bell – the Quasimodo kind of bell that clangs with authority in an uneven rhythm. It’s a sound from another time really, but so perfectly suited to the morning.
My guy and I debate over when a city or town is at its most perfect. He prefers the night and all its glowing lights and commotion. And to his credit, there is nothing quite as engaging as the bustle of a cityscape that’s alive with frenetic activity.
But me, I prefer the moments in between.
Dawn is my time, when a place is just waking up and you have the silence of energy spent. There’s a certain wonderment to it, of who is waking up plus a new life, or, perhaps, minus a soul.
When I’m feeling morbidly romantic I like to fantasize about packing up and taking a sabbatical with my guy to the French Quarter of New Orleans. Mornings in the Quarter are amazingly still, the only movement coming from the thick suds they use to wash the streets. It made me laugh the first time I saw the sanitation trucks flushing the pavement – I could just envision the foul remains of Bourbon Street filtering down the sewer.
But with that comes a satisfaction, too. So goes the night, and before the day begins there is only the prospect of what’s to come. And in New Orleans, that could be anything.
We once stayed at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, and like everything in the Quarter, it has a past. Built in 1817, it served as everything from a ballroom to a convent, school and medical ward. Portions of the hotel are brand new, others destroyed by fire, and still others remain as a reminder of what the hotel was in 1817.
Everybody in the Quarter seems to have a story to tell about the Bourbon Orleans, including the lobby bartender, who refuses to enter the original part of the building – the same part where our room was located.
The room was what they called a “townhouse suite.” It had two levels, the main level being accessible by a hallway off the main elevator to enter the room, the other level accessible by the stairs in our room and what we called the door to nowhere. We were perhaps a bit overly fanciful in such a description, but not inappropriate, as that quirky door opened to a winding hallway between floors that led directly to the ballroom.
The story goes, of course, that the Bourbon Orleans ballroom is haunted, just like several other “hot spots” within the hotel. And who knows, maybe it is. My guy and I snuck into the ballroom one night in an amateur Ghostbusters sort of way only to take a few pictures and be chased out by a haunted tour guide on a power kick.
It was a bit of a relief for me – the empty, dark ballroom had all the welcome of a catacomb and even my eyelashes were bristled by the undercurrent of the room. My guy calls my ghostly antennae an absurdity, of course. And being a confirmed atheist, I accept that conceding the existence of the supernatural is a contradiction.
Yet still, it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of science to me that perhaps there is an energy to life that hangs around. Subtle eccentricities of nature don’t have to be divine, despite there being a lack of reason for their reality.
Like the bathroom of our suite. It was located directly opposite of that door to nowhere. I’m still not sure what the purpose of having a hallway between floors was. Logically, it was likely an unobtrusive way for hotel staff at one time to serve rooms. And were it any other city, I probably would accept that explanation as true.
But that wouldn’t account for the man in our bathroom.
There was no spectral cloud, no orb of light darting through the room, only a subtle shift in the air, a hint of movement and the prickling insistence that once upon a time a man stood in the openness behind me at the mirror and was likely still there.
I joke with my friends that he was a polite ghost, and never made his presence known when I was showering or otherwise vulnerable. But without fail, each night as I tended to my hair and daubed makeup on my face, the wallpaper behind me would move.
A similar sort of movement caught my eye in the car today, and as I breathed the colors and the sounds and the delicate peculiarities of the morning, I was for a moment taken back to New Orleans. It made my day.