Ruby laughed at the slurred stupidity.
“Hey! Don’t be shy sweetie,” the voice called again, somewhere above her head. “Let me see your tittays!”
Ruby looked up and saw a young man in a University of Colorado T-shirt spotted with sweat stains shouting down to her. She still wasn’t sure so she looked around her and found herself surrounded by men. Not another pair of ‘tittays’ in sight.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “You” he pointed down at her.
Ruby felt the point like a small knife in her chest and put a hand there to hold herself together. She opened her eyes wide and felt a deep blush start in her neck and crawl quickly upwards like rising mercury in a glass thermometer.
He screamed, “WHOOOO!!” as if she had agreed to his proposition, shaking a hand full of beads in the air, clenched in his fist like plastic pirate booty that had tumbled out of a piñata. “Yeah! Show me your tittays!!”
Ruby shook her head and tried to wave him off. People were starting to look at them. “No, please don’t shout like that.” She held her finger to her lips.
He untangled a string of blue beads and dangled them over the edge of the balcony, waiting like a hyperactive child, hopping from foot to foot. “WHOOOOHOOO!”
There was no way in hell Ruby was going to take her damn top off. Not for this geek, licking his lips and clapping his hands like a perverted jester, not for a million dollars, let alone a lousy string of plastic baubles she could buy herself. She had no interest in amusing a street full of tipsy tourists, no interest in becoming a spectacle. She backed away from the balcony, off the sidewalk and into the street.
“Awww,” he pouted, teetered and then leaned the upper half of his heavy body dangerously over the edge of the railing, beads dangling, sweaty t-shirt pulling up over his prematurely flabby belly. “Fine, have'em anyways.”
He half-heartedly threw the blue strand down to her as she turned on her heel towards the other side of the street.
In that moment, both the boy and Ruby would have sudden intuitive leaps of understanding - unexpected epiphanies. Theirs were diametrically opposing visions, though both involved Ruby standing in the middle of Bourbon Street and a set of scuffed blue plastic beads.
Those beads looped through the air like a Mardi Gras lasso, spinning around and around with the precision of a drunk’s aim , descending towards Ruby as she turned away. She saw them out of the corner of her eye and immediately wished them away, didn’t even want the acknowledgement of them glancing off her shoulder and clattering to the ground with the tiny tinkering of hollow plastic.
She waited for them to hit. Instead, she felt the warm steam of a halted engine when the waxed string hooked onto the curves of an inconspicuous cranial universe. The diamond cut beads, like two-dozen blue disco balls, fell into the orbit and became a garish milky way that inexplicably hung above Ruby’s head.
Almost immediately she could smell the stench of burnt plastic, an invasive smell that made her think of old curling irons and hot August days when the rancid garbage on residential curbs keeps kids from their hockey. She reached above her head, perfectly aware of what had happened and not at all surprised. She grabbed a handful of beads before it got too tightly wound like a shoelace in a bicycle wheel, and yanked.
The beads snapped along the thin string and fell to the ground. She looked at them, lying in a puddle of spilt beer at her feet instead of being draped gracefully around her collarbone like the other girls she saw making their way, arm in arm, up the street. And although she didn’t want them to begin with, there was a part of her, a hard lump of Longing that burrowed through Envy’s wake, that did. Why was she never the beautiful one? Why did all the flattery, all the attention get caught up in the turning of a dozen planets and fall at her feet, broken and forgotten? She blinked three times and walked away, stepping over the broken beads.
The boy on the balcony almost looked away from the pretty girl in the black skirt. It was clear she wasn’t going to take her top off; it was obvious he wasn’t going to see any boobs. He’d been throwing these damn beads all night with not one lousy nipple to show for it. Unless those ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos lied, he’d been having an unusually slow night. And they couldn’t be lying. He’d gone through too many bottles of baby oil in his dorm room by himself and now his summer job savings on the ideology they espoused. But something made him hesitate, arms dangling off the balcony after his heroic throw. And just before he stood straight, intent on getting to the bar to grab another Bud, he saw something miraculous, something that would haunt him even as he slept fitfully, hung-over beyond all recognition, on the plane back to Colorado, even years later, lying in bed beside his quiet suburban wife in their red brick bungalow with the extended back sunroom.
The beads spun towards the girl as she turned away. He grew excited, thinking that he may have just made the perfect throw with an aim that might garner him a quick flash of skin. It looked as though the necklace was actually going to make it. How awesome would that be? He raised his arms as the necklace descended, falling straight over her head. He filled his lungs with warm Louisiana night air, ready to scream it back out in victory. But instead of falling around her shoulders, the beads just hovered there, blurry as if they were being viewed through an unfocused lens.
Before his inebriated mind could wrap around the phenomenon, she reached up and yanked them down, not once looking back at her dumbfounded spectator. The string broke and the beads floated like hardened wontons in a puddle of spilt beer, but still he stared. She walked away, up onto the sidewalk on the other side, and he continued to stare, arms still raised above his head, warm night air still trapped in his lungs.
He knew the girl was pretty, that’s why he’d propositioned her. But he never would he even have guessed that she was an angel, a real live angel. How else could he explain the beads caught up in a halo just above her hair? With the beads hanging there, as ordinary and astounding as planes in the sky, she was rendered beautiful, became inconsolably heartbreaking. It was a miracle, a bloody miracle. He, Jonathan Davidson from Littleton, Colorado had seen an angel in New Orleans. It was amazing, it was historic and he would never forget her, even if he didn’t get to see her tittays.
Ruby walked under a green and white striped awning on the other side of the road. “C’mon now Miss,” a tall man holding a leather bound menu in one hand ushered her into a smoky doorway. “Best jazz in New Orleeens.” She allowed herself pliancy and was ushered into the club.