• Keri Heath

Sweeping Beads


She particularly liked walking through Mardi Gras at dawn. About 6:15 a.m., just as the light was beginning to soften the sky over the top of the Victorian buildings, the street echoed with the celebrations and memories of last night.

Lizzy pulled the zipper of her jacket up a little higher under her chin. The February fog materialized over the ship channel a block to the north and dampened the sunrise air. Gulf Coast Februaries were always colder than Lizzy expected them to be. She'd end up under a pile of blankets in her drafty apartment with only enough skin showing to hold her page in her book. She'd disappear under those blankets. Hours could go by. Days. And she'd still be there, reveling in the fuzzy warmth of her blanket hut. That was where she'd been when Claire finally called her last night. So are you coming or what? It's already 9:30. She'd feigned a cough and descended farther into the covers. She'd been too far in and there was no clawing her way back out - not even for Mardi Gras. There had been Friday night and there was next weekend.

Lizzy nodded good morning to the street cleaner in his bright yellow vest. He swept discarded beads into a bucket at the end of a stick. The sea of plastic beads sparkled in the fresh sunlight. In an hour, they'd look trashy but for now, they seemed like strings of jewels. Lizzy passively scanned the ground, keeping an eye out for anything gaudier or more ostentatious than her Friday night collection of standard-sized strings. She dropped them all in a shoebox when she got home, the pinks, golds, purples and greens clacking together.

When Lizzy got to the end of the Strand, she stopped in front of the big, gray railroad building. The museum and office building had always looked more like a hotel, to her, with is towering face that gazed down the rest of the street.

"Excuse me."

Lizzy turned her head toward a tall woman with a graying bob cut and a purple feather boa around her sliver jacket. For a second, Lizzy just stared at her until she realized she was standing directly in front of the passenger side of a blue sedan.

"I'm sorry," she said as she moved aside.

The woman shook her head. "No problem. Would you mind getting the door? Hands a little full." She nodded down to the pastry box in her arms. Through the clear film, Lizzy could see a bunt of a king cake smeared with white frosting that dripped down the sides. Where in the world had she gotten a king cake this early?

"Getting into the spirit early?" Lizzy said, pulling the door open for the woman.

"It's never too early for a boa." She gave the feathers a ruffle with one hand as she leadened into the car.

Lizzy laughed. "You're all ready for a party."

The woman arranged the cake on the seat. "As you should always be. You never know when the opportunity may arise."

Lizzy thought about her blanketed night. This woman her mother's age was a million times cooler than she was. Oh well. Lizzy didn't really mind.

Lizzy watched the car drive away onto 25th Street. The sun was getting higher in the sky now. The corner coffee shop was probably open by now. Lizzy could do with some caffeine. She started to turn around and as she did so glanced down where the blue sedan had been sitting. A string of huge gold beads with purple and green stripes lay under in the parking spot, among a pile of smaller strands. Lizzy picked it up and looped it over her neck. It was just what she'd been looking for.

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