There’s an orange light from the window and I see it every night on my walk home. I wonder what’s inside. I can see a silhouette through the matte cedar sill and sometimes the shape, usually still and lithe, slinks back from sight as I stroll past. The loft is a ramshackle Moorish revival affair, wrapped in creeping kudzu, nestled otherwise nondescript in a grove of fragrant gardenia maybe twenty metres off Decatur. Some say it’s been empty for years; others tell different.
There’s an elderly man who lives there with two faces, the plump secretary at my accounting firm says. One that’s normal and another one on the back of his head. He’s gaunt as a scarecrow, and maybe Creole, although no one knows for sure. But don’t knock on his door. He’s been criminally ill for some time. And he sees things behind him.
Madness, I say. No one has two faces.
Oh but he does, she says, smoothing her petticoat. He ate his twin in his mother’s womb. It’s a wretched thing.
Rubbish, is my retort.
No, it’s true, she says. Some say it talks to him at night. Tells him to do terrible things. It even convinces him that he’s other people, from time to time.
I watch her walk away and the sun is going down. I feel its amber heat on my back. It’s a gorgeous spread, Old Sol cradled in the Atchafalaya like that. Not even the fat hen’s morbid tale can ruin it. The abacuses stop clacking and the bellhorn whistles. Maybe work late? the supervisor croons, twisting the greasy tips of his handlebar mustache. I shake my head and crawl into the lurid night that abducts me and drags me down Dorgenois, towards Canal, towards Decatur. The street is pitch, lost in the dank smelly shadows of a French bygone, but as I round the corner a creamy orange hue lays spread out on the cobblestone like a bloody bedspread. The light is coming from his window. The silhouette is absent. I snuff the filterless, pushing away the cautious musing in my head. Surprisingly, the rusted Jefferson gate creaks open, its barbed tendrils pointing angrily skywards at the Orleans overcast. The walkway is long; I stop four times and half-turn. But in the end I knock.
He’s not elderly. Mayhap fifty, but not the hideous deformity I’ve been led to believe. He peers around the faded Macassar ebony door and I realize how wrong the secretary’s notions have been. He’s diminutive, nowhere near Creole, and I think of just how irate this troll would be if he’d heard her erroneous assessment. I tip my stovepipe. Evening, I say.
The brow hanging over his yellowed bulbous eyes tilts. Ayuh? he croaks.
I’m from Covington’s, just up the block, I say, not surprised by his confused look. Just stopped by to introduce myself, and query if you’ve taken the time to rectify your finances? You’re never too spry to get your effects in order, I wink.
He grabs my wrist, puling me inside. Stop that! I yell, slapping his gnarled hand. To no avail. I’m inside in a flash, the musty rank filling my nostrils, and he slams the heavy wood behind us. Just what’s the meaning of this? I shout, standing erect, towering over him. Shh, he hisses, pulling back the heavy curtain. He’s out there, you know.
I would warn you of the repercussions of pulling someone into your home like that! I yell. You can be arrested, you know! The troll shakes his head, never taking his eyes off the street. T’aint my house, he says.
Not yours! I squawk.
No sir, he says. This place belongs to the old man with two faces. I saw him earlier, walking up Decatur.
There’s no one out there, I say. It’s barren as a ghost’s galleon on the street.
He whispers: How can you be sure?
It’s plain to see, I say. Now I’ll take my leave, if you don’t mind.
How is is plain to see? he asks, slowly turning towards me. You’re not even looking out the window.
A chill runs up my spine.
Say, the man says. Ain’t you Creole?
The reflection in the window is winking at me. You didn’t eat all of me, it whispers.