In My Past Life


Chris had dodged one costumed reveler after another as we walked down Bourbon. We’d been in the Quarter since morning and it was nearing midnight.

I was tired.

We’d been colleagues for a brief time in Houston. I hadn’t seen him in ten years or more. He lived on the West Coast. I lived in New England.  Facebook and serendipity had made possible our twenty-four hours in New Orleans.

Throughout the day, I’d detoured into dark shops, peeked down bricked alleys, stepped into courtyards whenever I’d seen a sign for palm readings. 

We were almost to Canal where we’d catch a cab when I’d side-stepped four men in the middle of the street dressed in surgical gowns with their white asses flashing like strobe lights.

In the last five years, I’d been in many such gowns. I wasn’t amused.

A half block before we’d be out of the bass beat of Bourbon, I saw a sartorial looking man at a card table where there was a sign—Palm and Tarot Card Readings. Why him, Chris asked, after I’d turned down so many others?  I didn’t know.  This guy was large and bald and had set up in front of a padlocked wrought-iron gate. I sat down and held out my hands. He spread the left one out and whisked it with the edge of his hand as if wiping away dust. He looked down.

You were a man in your first life, a medical doctor, he said.

In your second life, you lived in the mountains. 

You are pessimistic, in general, though people think you are optimistic.

I gave him twenty dollars. Chris sat down, deciding on a card reading, and I was surprised how serious he became as he listened. 

Behind the fence, a rat zig-zagged across the sweaty patio of the courtyard.

It would dart from one side, then wait some seconds before racing to the other side to hide in the shadows. With each scurry, he got closer to the gate.

I wondered if I should say something to the palm reader.

Someone touched my elbow, and I turned to see a darling, baby-faced twenty- something with black hair and black eyes who held a giant plastic cup of beer. He was grinning, listing to his left and squinting which made it seem as if he were deciding on the angle for painting a portrait.   

You’re skeptical, aren’t you?  His eyes glinted, picking up the streetlight. I grew up with a drunk for a sister so I automatically scan for if it’s worth my time or not.  I determined he wasn’t shit-faced.  

I’m not a skeptic, I said.  I didn’t say I’d just been told I was a pessimist. But I was confused until I realized he thought I was looking askance at the “reading.” 

You look skeptical, he said. 

I was about to explain when I realized he was flirting.  

I’m really old, I said, trying to explain the confusion.  I didn’t say really old and really sick.

So you are old and skeptical? he asked. His friend came up behind him. He had on a backwards baseball cap and looked like a big foolish bloke of a guy. The class clown. The tackle on the high school football team.  

I put my palm on the black-haired boy’s cheek. His grin got goofy, lopsided. 

You are beautiful, he said. 

It’s the lighting, I said. 

I saw Chris stand and take out his wallet. I stepped away from the boy and his friend, and Chris and I headed toward Canal and finally to the the shotgun duplex in the Garden District we’d rented through airbnb; Chris, who’s married, slept on the couch, and I slept on the big double-bed without turning down the duvet, without pitching the dozens of pillows on the floor. For an hour, I’d stared at the ceiling fan, and thought of the time in my past life when I’d lived in the mountains, raised goats and tended roses. 

I didn’t believe I had been a medical doctor in any past life. Or a man

In my past life I am certain I stepped out of my cottage to see the sun rise over the purple mountain. In my past life I am certain I then turned to go back to bed where the black-haired boy waited.