Preservation Resource Centre of New Orleans
Irene could feel the heat of his skin mingle with hers. They’d walked the short distance from the arrivals terminal to baggage claim without saying a word. It was the oddest sensation. How is it possible, she thought? We spent 14 hours on a flight together without a hint and now I'm weak at the knees!
Billy boy, Billy, Billy boy...it felt familiar, and rolled off her mind the way a sensual word rolls off the tongue. Yet the only Billy she’d known of, was the convict Billy Blue. It had started in primary school and Mr Reilly’s Australian History class. All the other kids loved hearing stories of Ned Kelly, but Irene preferred the lesser known convicts. The ones that had been shipped for life for stealing nothing more than a handful of sugar. She was determined not to let time forget the lesser known ones. She had a plan to take all the Billy Blues’ footnotes out of history books, and write their stories above the line.
He noticed by the way she said her name she was thinking on something. He hoped it was him. And then he remembered, Irene, Irene, oh Irene, they murdered her. When he’d first told his mum he was applying for theology, she assumed he was entering the priesthood. The pride in her eyes didn't last long. “Don’t be stupid”, he said, “The micks don’t accept heathens”. It was the blood and bone, and the myths of theology he craved; not the monastic life. The story of Irene and her sisters was one of the stories discussed in the first lecture he went to. You don’t forget your first lecture. Irene refused to tell Dulcitius (Roman governor of Macedonia, 4th Century) where the books were. Billy couldn't remember much more about the lecture. He left the lecture hall that day, feeling despair for Irene and her sisters - murdered for a bunch of books. What a fucking joke.
“Is this your first time in New Orleans, Irene?” The moment he asked the question he knew it was a lame one. He watched the baggage carousel churn, and thought how easy it would be to jump onto the conveyor belt and disappear into the opening in the wall.
“No it’s not my first time, it’s my third. “And you, Billy?” Irene felt her cheeks betray her. She poked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, and wondered why she was never cool. Just once in my life, I want a straight spine!
Irene felt her spine straighten and her lips move without her permission.
“If you need a tour guide, I’d be happy to show you around”
Billy left all thoughts of the baggage carousel to its own looping.
“I'm staying in the Bywater”
Irene smiled and thought about her favourite Bywater haunt, Vaughan's Lounge.
“Do you drink, Billy?” This straight spine thing had conjured a flirty devil. Shapeshifting in New Orleans was not entirely new to Irene.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” Irene couldn't control a high-beam grin; her brother Paul also used the pope idiom. She didn't know it at the time, but that was the only thing Billy and Paul had in common.
Next thing: bags are thrown into the back of a cab, and Irene is giving the driver directions to Vaughan’s Lounge.
They spent the entire day talking and drinking artificially coloured cocktails.
Jet-lag started to take a hold as the band set up. Billy gave Irene a look that meant there was no way she'd be checking into her Treme B&B any time soon.
The door of Vaughan’s banged shut behind them. “It’s only a few blocks” Billy said. The yellow shotgun house was a welcomed sight; it took a few fumbling minutes for Billy to get the front door key working. It didn't take Billy long to find the bedroom.
Irene didn't hesitate, or fumble, when Billy ran a finger down her spine.