Marie Antoinette and the Morning After Halloween
Marie Antoinette high-stepped down a deserted Ursulines Avenue, each chunky-heeled T-strap daintily lifted in turn, pointed forward, then gracefully touched down on the wet brick sidewalk with a “clack.” The merchants on this block had hosed down the sidewalks in front of their establishments late last night, clearing away the Halloween bacchanalia’s debris so they could open on time this morning.
In the early light, I tiptoed behind her, keeping my distance, matching her pace to better study this rara avis of the French Quarter.
Her white powdered wig towered high above the rest of her outfit. The short, white, ruched skirt barely covered her derriere, and the upper portion of the outfit, in the style of the era of Louis XVI, scooped deeply down the front and laced in the back. I had first viewed her ensemble when she passed in front of me two minutes ago as I walked north down Royal Street. Charmed, I turned left to trail after her, instead of turning right toward the Hotel Vieux Carre, where I was a waiter.
I had lived in New Orleans for seven years and worked at the hotel for five, yet I had never trailed anyone before. But this girl was so incredibly singular.
Her face captured me with its sweet innocence, a counterpoint to her sexy outfit. Her theatrical makeup remained powdery-white, with an adorable black beauty spot which drew my eye to her beautiful face. Enchanted, I gave chase to this dream, this hybrid figurine of sexiness and ersatz eighteenth-century France.
Her perfect legs were squeezed into thigh-high white stockings, each topped with a small white bow on an equally white garter. Beige spots of mud and water dappled the bottom third of her stockings.
I guessed her age to be between eighteen and twenty-five. She must have been one of the prettiest girls of any age during yesterday’s crazy night in the French Quarter.
It had been All Hallows’ Eve, and tens of thousands of scandalously dressed people had meandered up and down Bourbon Street in celebration. The revelers had paraded their brilliant and outlandish costumes for each other and for the hundreds watching from the iron balconies above, stopping their perambulations and sashays only to duck into bars to top up their feelings of camaraderie and outrageous fun. Unlike Mardi Gras, when the cops were always stressed, New Orleans’ finest, wearing their own costumes, were enjoying Halloween in the Quarter.
Even among the myriad of the French Quarter’s Halloween costumes, featuring the brazen sexuality of displayed breasts, naughty school-girl outfits, and hooker costumes for every profession from nurse to judge, Marie Antoinette stood out in her all-white ensemble, bright alabaster stockings, shiny, white patent-leather heels, and snowy wig. The wig soared a foot above the top of her head, then cascaded down in ringlets onto her powdered shoulders.
I closed the gap to study her more closely. The soft, rubber soles of my waiter’s shoes made little sound, while the click-clack of her heels against the bricks echoed like horses’ hooves between the buildings on either side. Other than the sound of her shoes, the Quarter was eerily silent.
I thought about how to approach her, how to get her to stop briefly enough to ask for her name and number without scaring her into fleeing.
I wished I could have seen her last night, but I would not have dared to approach her then. During the Halloween bacchanalia, she would have been swarmed by a phalanx of six-foot-plus Imperial Guardsmen, testosterone and alcohol-fueled and willing to step up to fight for her honor. Here, however, a little past dawn, she was all alone, stepping carefully down the street.
During my first glimpse, I had noticed a wistful look on her face. A lesson learned? An opportunity missed?
Different emotions streamed through me as I saw her lift and step, lift and step, all along the street. My heart tugged with such surprising, deep pity for her. What was her story, this girl out of place and time?
Was she sneaking home from a drunken one-night stand with some lying creep who wouldn’t even hail her a cab, forcing her to do the walk of shame, in costume, after satisfying his Napoleonic pleasure?
Or was she so pleased with her outfit and its stunning effect that she just had to wear it a little longer?
Perhaps the true story was more upbeat: wearing her costume helped her keep the memories of last night’s great party and parade up and down Bourbon Street alive.
I decided I no longer needed to know the truth. Following her and thinking about her story had given me great pleasure. I enjoyed viewing this snowy egret of a girl in the brightening morning. I would remember her for a long time. Any mundane explanation would spoil the memory of her solo royal procession through the French Quarter.
The spell was broken, my pursuit over.
I veered into a café on the corner of Burgundy and, with a delighted smile on my face, purchased un cafe au lait, to go. When I exited the café, she was gone.
Bob Ellis is a retired exec. He has lived and worked on three continents and swum in all the oceans of the world.