She Called Herself Shannon
The small metal table, topped with a heavy mug of chickory coffee and a beignet, bordered the French Quarter sidewalk. Scattered about my body were $2,200 in cash, product of my first real contract as a writer. Midnight had passed and the weeknight crowd was sparse but active.
She walked up to me in a roundabout manner, heading away from me, then back, then away, only to return and make a beeline for my table. She was young, a few years older than me, slim, in jeans and boots, with a light jacket covering a sheer yellow blouse. She was blonde. Mostly.
“Are you waiting for someone?” Her voice was soft and insistent.
I shook my head.
“Would you like company? We can find a room nearby.” She walked closer and her perfume was flowery.
I sat up straight and waved a hand at one of the chairs. “Not interested. But I can pay you for your time just to chat.”
She stared hard. “You want to give me money just to talk?” she said harshly.
I smiled. “Sure. You don’t waste your time and I get conversation.” I placed a twenty on the table, under the coffee mug. “We can talk until you get bored.” She looked at the bill, then at me. She grunted—a nasty sound—and sat down. She grabbed the bill and put it in a jacket pocket.
“What do you want to talk about?” she grated.
I asked her about other cities she had visited and how they compared to New Orleans; about good restaurants and bad; about magazines she’d read recently; about movies from Hollywood and foreign movies that didn’t make sense; about fashion and how it seemed to be aimed at making women look ugly or foolish and other unlikely topics. Every 15 minutes or so I’d place another twenty under the mug. By the fourth bill, she was asking me questions: why was I in town, where did I live, what job did I have, was I really a student, where did I grow up, did I have a girlfriend. I placed a bill under the mug and she waved it away.
She accepted coffee and we talked on. We discussed our families, or at least I discussed mine. She told me about tragedy and abuse that seemed smooth and vague. I nodded and murmured at the right moments. When she finished, I asked her what her name was.
“Shannon,” she replied immediately.
I waited. She got fidgety. I waited some more. “Is that it?” she demanded. “Are we done?”
I shrugged. “Do I owe you any more money?”
She was disdainful and started to get up.
“I enjoyed it. Hope it wasn’t boring.”
She paused, then looked around. We were now surrounded in the French Quarter. She sat back down and suddenly looked 10 years older. “It was nice.”
“Good to know.” I sipped coffee as she just sat there, a deep and unnerving sadness in her eyes. Suddenly she jerked her head around and got up. “I gotta go.”
She didn’t see me nod. She adjusted her purse, straightened her jacket, readjusted her purse, glanced at me as if taking my measure, then leaned over a bit to get closer. “Brenda,” she said softly and walked away quickly.
I quelled the urge to say Goodnight, Brenda as she left the café. For once I had the wisdom to let someone else have the final word.