(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Daniela was written by Darius Sayers.)
November 1st, 2015.
Bywater, New Orleans, Louisiana
Long rows of well-maintained shotgun shacks stretched from one end of the street to the other. Each is the same, yet each one different in some personal way. The directions led to one, halfway down the street on the right-hand side. The sky was overcast. Thick, billowing clouds choking the sky made the gloaming of the evening even darker. Down the streets, lights had begun to come on, turning the ominous into merry.
Off in the distance, just on the edge of hearing, the sounds of the French Quarter, Vieux Carre, reached out, touching the neighborhood with a whispering cacophony of sounds. The shotgun shack that the directions led to, squatted behind the wrought iron fence. Two story, with a tin roof, it all at once beckoned to be entered, and warned at the sorrowful tales it held within. When the iron gate swung open with the wind, a light came on somewhere within.
This was an interesting setting, and Kelly Blanchard moved with caution. It was strange because when she went to these interviews, the person she was supposed to meet was in sight, but Kelly wasn’t sure where she was supposed to go now. She wasn’t familiar with New Orleans or its customs. She headed to the shotgun shack beyond the iron gate with the items Darius told her to bring. She wasn’t entirely sure what all of this meant, but she headed toward the light in the shack. Stepping in quietly, she looked around and frowned when she didn’t see anyone. “Hello? I’m looking for Daniela Rosales…”
The shotgun shack appeared well-lived and well-loved. To the left, a long, oiled banister and staircase lead up to the second floor. At the same angle, nailed to the wall was a stained board of black, iron hooks, held an assortment of hats and coats. To the right, two sliding panels were open revealing what they called in the South, a sitting room. There were three elegant, floral sofas, draped with ancient doilies that appeared to be handmade.
Directly in front was a short hallway that lead to three closed doors. By the decorations, accouterments and belongings, it looked as if someone lived here. Yet no answer came at the question. In the sitting room, on a small table before the window sat an oil lamp, that glowed softly.
Kelly frowned as she meandered through this shack. Someone definitely called it home, but where was Daniela? “Hello? Anyone home?” Maybe she had the wrong place. That never happened in an interview before. “Daniela? I’m Kelly Blanchard. I believe you’re expecting to meet with me.” Kelly hoped Daniela would show up soon because she didn’t have time to explore too much unfortunately, but she looked at the books on the table and pictures. Definitely someone’s home.
Everything in the room held an aura, a feeling of age. The silver picture frames were black and white photos of a bygone time, and the frames held a bit of tarnish, that had been rubbed away at one point, but had now begun to return. Outside the large window that displayed the small yard, the street, and a tall oak tree, the wind blew and swayed the branches.
“Just Dani, please.” a thick Hispanic-accented voice cut the silence in the sitting room. “I see you’ve come prepared for the holiday. Someone must have told you of my silly liking for traditions.”
Kelly turned and saw a woman who appeared young but also old as if life had given her a hard hand. Kelly greeted her with a smile and offered the gifts. “I honestly don’t know anything about the traditions here, but I try my best. Thank you for meeting with me. How are you today?”
Daniela smiled, brushing a lock of her thick, black hair out of her face. She crossed the room and gestured to one of the sofas.
“Please, sit down. Make yourself at home, Kelly? That’s a pretty name.” She found herself a place to sit at the corner of the sofa directly opposite the sliding wooden doors that led to the foyer. “They are not the traditions of New Orleans specifically. It is Dia De Los Muertos… the Day of the Dead, as they say.” Above them, the pitter-pat of rain, slow at first could be heard, as it pinged against the tin roof. “I was well, until it decided to rain. I’d hoped it wouldn’t. How are you?”
“It’s been a few busy day, but I am well as well.” Kelly smiled, moving across the room to take a seat as well. She observed Daniela. The woman seemed like a proper woman but very closed off and guarded, and Kelly suspected that had something to do with her life. “So Daniela, how did you end up here?” She glimpsed around the shack before meeting Daniela’s eyes once more. “I mean, you’ve done a wonderful job making it your home, but what led you here?”
Her dark eyes stared at Kelly as she spoke, and they stayed attentive, unmoving, as many people would do in a situation. Rather than looking away for a time and then back, Daniela stared, as if she were pulling the other woman a part in her mind to see how she worked.
“I’ve been here since the storm. My son, Alex… we broke down as it made landfall. I knew I should have given Marcus’ Goat a tune-up before we left L.A., but I didn’t, and I paid for it.”
Somewhere above them, the sound of movement, a thump-thump, could be heard from the second floor. Daniela glanced at the ceiling, and then back to Kelly. “Do you like it? I cannot take credit for the decor, I’ve never been good at playing Susie-Homemaker.”
Kelly glimpsed around at their surroundings once more and nodded. “It’s a home, and that’s what matters.” She gave Daniela a kind smile and fixed her gaze on her once more. She could tell the other woman was trying to read her and understand her and determine how she thought, and Kelly didn’t try to deter her or be too open. She simply was who she was–let Daniela think of her what she would.
“You mentioned Marcus—that’s your brother, right? Tell me of your life before you headed this way and got stopped by the storm. And you mentioned, Alex…is he here?” Kelly glanced around, not seeing the boy.
She shakes her head, the mane of dark hair, swishing across her shoulders as she did so. “No, Alex… went to live with his grandparents, in Florida, it was a better place for him than here.” She looks down at her hands, toying with a frayed thread on her ripped jeans. “No, Marcus is… was Alex’s Uncle, from Los Angeles. We lived there, it was where Alex was born. A small block of cinder homes in East L.A. Like you said, it was a home, until it wasn’t and we left.” The wind outside of the shotgun house blew harder, the rain picked up, pitter-patting against the tin roof, and suddenly the oil lamp in the window guttered, dimmed and then glowed bright again.
The wind howled, sounding a lot like Kelly own house which had a door that wasn’t sealed. Some said it sounded like the howling of a ghost, but to Kelly it was strangely like home, so she wasn’t disturbed by it. Instead, she kept her eyes on Daniela. Something was amiss. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she wanted to go further into Daniela’s past before settling on a specific topic. “Tell me about Alex’s father, Cristof. How did you meet him?”
Daniela reaches up, first pinching the bridge of her nose, and then attempting to surreptitious wipe a tear away from her eye. At the mention of the name she stared up at the ceiling and then smiled, and returned her attention to Kelly. “Yes, his father. We… met in high school. I was never popular, social, talkative, interested… take your pick. I liked science. I liked knowing how things worked. Like cars. Put me under the hood of anything built before I was born and I’ll be a happy senorita for hours. Cris… was so beautiful, so smart, so outgoing, so… charismatic. My mijo grew up much like his father.”
“Tell me about the time you two met and actually started spending time together.” Kelly leaned forward, resting her forearms on her knees as she watched Daniela and listened. She didn’t know why she decided to go this far back into Daniela’s past, but it seemed to be the natural progression of things, so she wasn’t going to argue it.
She stroked her chin, and then waved her hand, as if she had trouble finding where to begin. “That first day of freshmen year. He was late. I was put in charge of taking roll. I… tried to be authoritative, to point out his tardiness was disrespectful, but he disarmed me with a smile and probably the only true apology I’ve ever heard. From that day… thick as thieves. Until he went to boot camp.”
“Did he know his son?” Kelly lifted her brows as she asked this softly.
She nodded and then shook her head directly after. “He was there for Alex’s birth. Thankfully his school was near L.A. and they allowed him to be there. A few weeks here and there… maybe a month all told, before his deployment to the Middle East.”
“And then he was killed.” Kelly concluded with a sad nod. “I’m sorry for your loss.” She tapped her fingers on her knee and pulled back, sitting back in her chair. “So what of your own family? Parents? What were your dreams before you got stuck here?”
She laughed, that laugh that people make when they are grateful for the change of topic. “I had this silly dream as a girl. My Aunt chided me.. my parents died when I was but a young la chica. I went through magazines from doctor’s offices, the library, anywhere I could find them. I cut out places I wanted to visit when I could finally be free…” She laughed again at a thought, “I went to Vegas before we came here. Alex and I stayed at the Venetian… canals, gondolas, gelato… was as far overseas as I ever went.”
“So you had hoped to travel, and you ended up here.” Kelly took in their surroundings again as the rain came down harder. “In another life, where would you have seen yourself by now?” She fixed her gaze on Daniela once more.
Daniela considered it, pondering long. “Anywhere. I would have gone where the wind would take me. Cris and Alex by my side, traveling the entire world. Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, Easter Island…” She smiled, and looked Kelly in the eye. “But those are wishes, and if wishes were fishes we’d all swim in riches, no?”
“True, but it does reveal something of who you are to me, and that’s why I ask these questions.” Kelly smiled. “All right, so you mentioned Marcus is Alex’s uncle, and you were staying with him but left. What can you tell me about Marcus?” And she watched Daniela closely.
A rueful, almost mischievous look crossed Daniela’s face, as if she remembered something. “Marcus, Marcus. Always longing to be better than his brother, always falling short. I shouldn’t say that. He was there when I needed him. He… helped Alex and I, after Cris… was gone. When the Marine officers came, in their stark white uniforms, to bring the news… it was to Marcus.” She stared down at her hands, wringing them. “We… never married. My choice.”
“You never married Cristof, you mean?” Kelly furrowed her brows, confused. “Or Marcus? Sorry, just trying to understand fully.” She didn’t think Daniela had been in a relationship with Marcus, but she could be wrong.
“Cris asked… I said no. I was… so full of my own mind. Why did I need a piece of paper, a ring, a walk down an aisle to know I loved that man. I didn’t need some priest, some judge telling me we were married, in my heart, there was no one else but Cris. Of course the Marine Corps thought otherwise.” She shrugged, giving a half-hearted smile.
“I see.” Kelly nodded. “Okay, so who’s Etienne?”
Outside of the sitting room, a thump-thump could be heard on the stairs. Daniela glanced through the entryway towards it. “Eitenne… grew up in this house, it belongs to his family. He was… is a balm for my sorrowful soul here. He is a friend… a good friend, who helped me see the lies that I was using to defend myself from the truth.”
“What truth?” Kelly narrowed her eyes, curious.
She nodded, and looked up at Kelly. “That I had to face the things I had done. That I was using excuses and blaming others for my decisions. That I had to take responsibility, so that I could make sure Alex was safe.”
From the entryway, a soft voice spoke up. Smooth like mixed honey and caramel, lilted and tinged with southern twang. “That she was a fool-headed girl a little too stuck on herself for my tastes, Cherie. Are you ladies comfortable?”
Kelly looked up at the sound of the new voice, and she saw a man standing in the doorway. She greeted him with a smile. “Yes, quite comfortable. Thank you. You must be Eitenne. Pleasure to meet you. I’m having a good chat with Daniela.”
Daniela smiled, a different gesture than Kelly had seen across her face. She waved her hand at him. “Go, scoundrel.” A gentle chuckle and Etienne walked off into the shotgun house. “My apologies, he’s incorrigible.”
“Quite all right.” Kelly reassured her. “Nice that he’s letting you stay here though. He seems like a good guy.” And she finally turned her attention back to Daniela. “So, he’s helped you come to terms with truths in your life. And what have you realized about life? What have you come to learn?”
She nodded, her gaze followed Etienne as he disappeared out of sight. “It goes on. That it’s not fair. That it doesn’t owe me anything other than a breath and a death. To make my choices and accept the consequences.”
“Then what is the meaning of your life? You’ve endured quite a few hardships, I can see that. Surely there’s a purpose behind all of it. What do you think it is?” Kelly watched her as she asked these questions. She heard Daniela was logical, and she wondered how she answered these common questions about life.
She chewed on the question, pondered it across her mind. She glanced at the ceiling and then back to Kelly. “To live. To take the time between that breath and death, and make it count. To be kind, to love, to laugh, to live.” She nodded, as if she was confirming for herself what she’d said. One hand lazily pointed out of the room. “We… Etienne and I, argued about this all through the storm. I concede that the universe might have designs, I do not concede on the god part… yet.”
“I am Christian, and I believe in God, but I’m not going to force my opinions on you. I’m just curious to see how you view life. It’s always interesting to hear it from someone else’s point of view.” Kelly gifted Daniela with a warm smile. She decided that she had had enough sitting, so she stood. “Hope you don’t mind me walking around a bit. Helps me think.” She meandered around the room, looking at all the little touches that made this place someone’s home. “What’s your favorite memory, Daniela?” Kelly asked suddenly and glanced over her shoulder back at Daniela.
Daniela waved her hand, a gesture that said to do as she liked. She remained on the sofa,. Her eyes wandered the room from Kelly, the decor and the window. “There was… is, I imagine the city never tore it down, water tower near the house in LA. Cris and I would climb it, in the evening. We could see all the way out to the ocean. I would sit on the edge of the catwalk, and he behind me. Strong arms wrapped around my shoulders. We didn’t talk… we just were, together.”
Nodding, Kelly continued exploring the room, brushing her fingertips on picture frames. Such quiet moments as with loved ones Daniela has shared were to be treasured, and Kelly respected that but had more questions. “And what is your greatest fear?” She finally turned back to face Daniela fully and folded her arms as she observed her.
Each frame seemed to reach back in time, to a different era. A young black boy, then a young man, then uniformed, growing up. A tall, willowy woman, with what might be copper hair, if it weren’t a black and white photo. None of them depict Daniela. From the sofa, Daniela did not appear to even consider. “My mijo hurt, in pain, unloved, bullied, treated unfairly. Isn’t that any mother’s worst fear? Eitenne says that is what holds me, keeps me going… protecting my son.”
“But you’re son’s not here.” Kelly motioned to their surroundings. “How can you protect him if you’re not with him?”
“He will come back.” The tone of her voice sounded defensive, as if she had argued that line of questioning before. “He will. I know my mijo. For now, he is where he can flourish best. I made that happen, I ensured his future would be bright.”
Sensing their time together was coming to an end, Kelly kept that in mind but kept pressing with this line of thought. “Why did you send him away?”
Daniela stared at her hands for awhile, before she reached up to tap her temple. “I’m a time bomb. I have my problems, my foibles and for now, it is best if Alex has a life that is not sullied by those. He will understand. He does understand.”
Kelly furrowed her brows as she regarded Daniela in silence for a long moment, but then she slowly nodded. “You said Eitenne helped you see that you were blaming others and such for your condition in life, and you’ve come to realize you are right. Do you blame yourself now? Is that why you sent Alex away? You might have sent him to a better life, but why couldn’t you go with him?”
She nodded, as she listened to the question. “I do. I blame myself for the choices I made that brought us to this point, this house, in the middle of a hurricane and nearly killed my mijo. For now, with his grandparents, he has a life that is free from my… stupidity. HereI can work on myself and resolve these… fetters.”
“And what exactly are these fetters you face?” Kelly lifted her brows. Yes, they didn’t have much time left, but still, she was curious.
“The guilt we speak of. The blame I place on myself Etienne says that without forgiving myself, I’ll continue to… dwell.” Outside, and against the tin roof, the rain slowed, dwindled and then dissipated altogether.
Kelly sighed, wishing she had more time because it seemed like the conversation was finally just getting real. “Daniela, I have to get going, but let me tell you this. I understand you don’t believe in God, and I’ve been told that you think logically, so I’m going to try to address that. Everything you’ve gone through, everything Alex has gone through with you teaches at least Alex something. He has learned something, and those are lessons he won’t ever forget, and I am certain he will become a very good, strong young man because he won’t take life for granted. He’s aware of the hardships, and he certainly won’t forget you. So, all of this, where you find yourself…” Kelly spread out her hands. “Yes, there’s a lesson in it for you, and that’s for you to discover, but know that it has already had an impact on Alex, and if nothing else, it may help him become a better man because he knows how cold and harsh reality really is. So don’t blame yourself for that. Don’t feel guilty because of it. Use your energy to figure out how to get out of where you are now, and do it.”
Kelly headed for the door. “I wish I could stay, but like I said, I have to go. It was nice talking with you, Daniela, and…for the record, you’re not a horrible or miserable person.” She offered her a warm smile. “You’ve just been through a lot–more than most–and you need to accept it and make your life from here on out better than it has been. Have a good day, Daniela. It was nice meeting you.” With one final smile, Kelly stepped out of the shotgun shack.
Daniela listened, as she had the entire time, focused. She nodded, at Kelly’s words, taking them in and absorbing them. “Thank you.” She said, in a sincere voice. “Be safe. Stick to the Quarter, I hear further north is sketchy.”
“Will keep that in mind.” Kelly waved goodbye to Daniela and left.
Darius Sayers’ ‘Angels Deserve to Die’ is set to be published the beginning of 2017. Be sure to follow Darius on social media for more updates!: