A 19th Century Ladies' Afternoon Picnic at the Monster Truck Show — by the Marquis Déjà Dû


he old black carriage wove its way down Poydras Street through a sea of honking cabs full of tourists fresh from wandering the French Quarter, and rusty pick-up trucks from Metairie with howling suburbanites packed tightly in the truck-beds, waving hats, pennants and shirts. The two black mares pulling the jostling buggy seemed to take no notice at all of the cars, bikes and people scurrying across the busy street to get to the show. They snorted and huffed and deftly stepped their way through the tumult and onto the curb, as if by magic, or from another plane of existence. The very sight of the carriage, high upon iron suspenders and bouncing slowly to absorb the shock of potholes and changes in speed, seemed itself a thing from another world. It appeared to have no place in the pressing pandemonium of Poydras Street. One family all the way from Slidell stopped to gawk.

“Maw!” cried a little boy in a New Orleans Saints baseball cap and faded blue overalls. “Whut’s that?”

“Shush dear,” said the mother nervously, rending a fistful of her printed cotton dress brutally in one hand. “…and don’t point,” she said, mildly slapping the boy’s hand down to his side.

“Whoa thar, Nellay,” said Willoughby, the jovial Scottish carriage driver, coaxing the stamping mares to a halt. “Thar’s a goot garl now. You won’t be wantin’ a hot pokair up yer arse now, will ye’?” Willoughby clucked the horses to a calmer state.

“Whut thu hail?” murmured the father to himself under his breath.

“Bo! Your language! The boy!” hissed Mother and tugged her family away from the carriage in a hurry, for the peculiar driver had leapt down and was opening the door.

Against the black velvet interior of the coach, a brilliant white lace glove with cunning mother-of-pearl buttons extended and took the hand of the driver, to be followed by a bright and dainty white satin slipper of the finest quality, and then followed by the rest of the lady, swathed in white petticoats, lace and flounces and cinched severly at the waist. She alighted on the pavement with an airy, “Thank you, Willoughby,” and gently touched her dark and intricately gathered hair in search of errant tendrils. Finding none, she sighed contentedly and awaited the others.

The driver lent his hand to another white glove which proved to belong to a lovely young woman in similar finery and coiffure, though blonde. “Oh, Miranda!” said the Blonde to the Brunette with unbridled glee. Miranda nodded at her and smiled, her happiness sparkling through her bright green eyes.

“Madame?” said Willoughby offering his hand to the coach again. A black lace glove, slender and fragile, slowly made its way out. This belonged to a much older woman, dressed in black lace and petticoats with a single large silver brooch at the neck which augmented her ominous presence. Her head was covered by a black mourning chapeau and a veil over the face. With great difficulty, she was at last delivered, unharmed, upon the street.

“Oh, Mrs. Whithers!” cried the Blonde quivering in her creamed-coloured satin slippers. “This is really just too exciting!”

“Now, now, Lucinda. Hold your tongue. And do stop thrashing about on one leg. Most improper!” Mrs. Whithers’ dry voice cracked out of ancient lungs with the force of the well-bred and self-righteous English aristocracy.

“Yes mum,” said Lucinda demurely bowing her head. Miranda pinched Lucinda’s ear and smiled. The two sisters began to quietly giggle.

“Willoughbeeeeee?” cried Mrs. Whithers, “The basket, if you please.” She took the arm of Miranda, the elder sister, and they hobbled their way up the rampart. Willoughby dutifully rustled about in the back of the carriage and brought out several large wicker baskets which he draped over his arms, and began to follow the three women, leaving the carriage behind as if it had never existed.

This scene had left a good number of onlookers speechless. Large families stood with jaws agape. Gangs of white boys pointed and guffawed. A group of shrill black girls mimicked, “Will-uh-baaaayyy?” and howled very loudly with laughter. A few others went rifling through the carriage, taking little objects left behind. Someone else stole Nelly and led her down Poydras.

As they approached the Superdome, Miranda pointed with her free arm at the structure. “Look, Lucinda … Mrs. Whithers … the edifice appears to be corseted at the base! And we are about to traverse under her petticoat!” The girls giggled and hugged.

Mrs. Whithers sniffed and whispered accusingly, “Ladies! Willoughby will surely overhear your scandalous talk! Most improper!”

“Désolée, Madame Whithers,” replied Miranda still giggling.

Willoughby, silent and emotionless, held the door of the Superdome open and helped each lady through the turnstyle, one by one. The ticket taker, a short black woman, was too stunned to object to the group passing without tickets. Willoughby tipped his hat to her as he finally went though, himself. The woman remained in her slack-jawed stupor for a little while. Others scurried by her until her trance dissolved and she began curtly demanding tickets again.

The party made their way through the lobby and to the escalators, completely unaware of the surrounding people, the comments, the pointing fingers, the laughter, and the screams of fright. One couple, however, became instantly enchanted with the party. A tattooed woman with bright orange hair done up in two pigtails on her head, and decked in a sundry of black leather, tapped the shoulder of a friend. “Jezus Fucking Christ. D’ja see that?”

Her friend, in black vinyl pants and black leather jacket with countless silver things all over it, could not speak for his tongue was hanging out of his mouth as his eyes followed the group now ascending the escalator.

“That’s weird,” said the woman.

“She’s hot,” said the man, brushing long purple hair out of his eyes to get a better view.

“Which one you slut? The blonde?”

“Well, yah, but I was talking about the grandmother, or whoever the hell that was. Oh my god, I’m erect.”

“You’re weird,” said the woman, pulling at her friend. “C’mon. Let’s follow them.”

“Yah, okay,” he said in a daze as they got on the escalator.

The picnic party went up-up-up, as high as the moving stairs would take them, and they made their slow way (due to the pace set by Mrs. Whithers’ great age) to a doorway and into the main ampitheatre. Crowds parted for them out of awe, fright or surprise, as the four made their way to even more steep stairs and continued their ascent nearly to the sky. Willoughby helped Mrs. Whithers up each step with patience as Mrs. Whithers grumbled and complained about the journey.

“To imagine, a woman of my age and upbringing, clambering up these mountainous steps like a young gazelle…”

“Quat sew. Young gazaille,” confirmed Willoughby absently.

“…and with dear Mr. Whithers not dead a year yet. Really, really most improper. Lucinda! Mind your step, young lady! I and all the world can see your ankle showing! Really, really most improper…”

The two in black leather followed the party at an inconspicuous distance, laughing, cooing and clutching each other, though the distance was really not necessary as the party members remained quite oblivious to all who surrounded and gawked at them.

Eventually, the four had reached the height of the Superdome, a good 25 storeys above the arena, and walked along the wall looking for a suitable spot for a picnic.

“Here, Willoughby,” decreed Mrs. Whithers pointing to the ground. “Here is where we shall sup. Ladies, assist Willoughby with the laying out, if you please.”

The two women and Willoughby managed to spread an expansive and intricately embroidered and tatted white tablecloth upon the cement evenly and distrubed the baskets of food and drink about as well. Willoughby laid out a small, thick-clothed mackintosh folded twice over and aided Mrs. Whithers to sit upon it. Miranda dutifully arranged Mrs. Whithers’ skirts in a comely fashion and sat down upon the tarp with Lucinda. Willoughby stood just off the blanket with hands clasped in front of himself, awaiting instructions.

“Oh my god, I’m gonna cum,” said the man with the purple hair. “This is fucking gorgeous!”

“Really? You think?” asked the woman. “We should go talk to them then. Hand me my lipstick.” The man shuffled around in his jacket pocket, brought out the lipstick, applied the bluish-purple tint to his own lips, and passed it to the woman who did the same. They climbed the last few steps and began to make their way towards the picnickers but saw a few people already standing around the party.

“Halloween’s in October,” said a boy with a shaved head, a baseball cap, brown workboots an no neck, to Miranda. “Why’re’ya dressed up like that anyway?”

Miranda blushed and turned away, opening a basket and taking out some delicate ladyfingers.

“Mrs. Whithers?” she offered.

“Really, dear child! What has come over you? You know quite well I take no pastries until tea is poured. Most, most improper!”

“I’ll pour yer fuckin’ tea, honey,” said a girl in a Nike shirt with very high and meticulously sculpted bangs and far too much beige make-up. “I’ll dump it on yer head!” She burst forth in a torrent of disjointed giggles. The boy in the cap laughed a crude kind of laugh with her.

“If you don’t mind…” began Mrs. Whithers and was interrupted by the scream of an engine that even at their remote altitude drowned out all words and thoughts and made the party jump. Down in the arena, two trucks raced around one another, the first painted a neon green with what appeared to be plaster skulls affixed to the hood, the other, a black truck with red flames painted in every direction, defying the logic of a fire in the wind.

Lucinda and Miranda stood up and watched the spectacle, clutching onto each other’s arms and making little hops. Mrs. Whithers seemed to be admonishing them, but her words were drowned out by the engines’ roars.

“It’s fuckin’ Grave Digger!” screamed the boy with the cap. His words were hardly audible over the noise. The girl with the absurd bangs and white tennis shoes grabbed the boy by the shoulders, brought him to her lips and exchanged tongues with him. Willoughby diplomatically stepped between the young couple and Mrs. Whithers who would certainly not approve of such scandalous behaviour.

The race ended. The mammoth crowd screamed and cheered as the winner was announced over the P.A. The woman extricated her mouth and tongue from the boy and said, “God, I love Grave Digger. He always gets me so hot. Let’s find a place and…” the two schemed off behind a wall.

“Mrs. Whithers, did you see?” asked Lucinda taking the old woman gently by the elbow. “Wasn’t it just too exciting?”

“Old ladies don’t need that sort of excitement,” said Mrs. Whithers stolidly. “Old ladies should prefer a cup of tea. Willoughbeeee!?”

The man knelt on the tarp and brought a silver tea service from a large basket, three china cups, a silver sugar bowl and creamer, and began to pour steaming tea all around. Mrs. Whithers took the delicate silver sugar tongs and placed two lumps in her cup and stirred with one pinky erect. When she sipped and nodded her approval, Miranda and Lucinda prepared their cups as they liked them and sipped as well.

“Um, how the hell did they get hot water up in those baskets?” asked the woman with the bright orange hair.

“I have no idea, but I’m touching myself,” replied the man.

“You always are,” said the woman and sighed.

A group of black girls wandered by the party and slowed down, sticking their nose into the setup and sniffing.

“Yo. Y’all gots any Grey Poupon or wut!” screeched one girl as the others howled.

“Oh! I’m not at all sure!” said Lucinda. “Willoughby, have we any … Grey … whatevershesaid?”

“I don’t believe we have ainything of the saorrt,” replied Willoughby eying the girls with distaste.

Fuck all y’all then,” the girl replied as they left en masse howling like banshees.

“This,” decreed Mrs. Whithers, “is a perfectly diastrous outing. Miranda, it was in a moment of great weakness that I said yes to your ludicrous idea of coming … here!” She motioned about the Superdome. “I shall tell your uncle that …”

Mrs. Whithers was again interrupted by the howls of engines. Grave Digger and another car, painted blue with a multitude of Smurfs on coiled springs dangling all about it began another heated race. The trucks bounded over hills and valleys set up in the arena. Leaped banged up, yellow taxicabs. Ran over trees and cardboard signs. Knocked over cones and lane dividers. The Smurf truck, on the last jump, flipped backwards completely and landed on its roof. The crowd gasped as one.

“Oh my god! Didja see the blue truck?” asked the woman in black leather.

“Hell no!” replied the man. “The dark-haired woman is adjusting her coiff. This has to be seen to be believed!”

Miranda was indeed fixing her hair, oblivious to the stares of her admirer. Coil after curly coil fell down her back as she rearranged, rewove and regathered her tremendous curls. Eventually, she had piled her dark hair atop her head again like a Gibson girl, patted it a few times, sipped her tea, and reclined sighing, looking about her as if she were in a peaceful glade.

“Mrs. Whithers, it’s a perfectly lovely afternoon,” said Miranda. “I can’t think of any place more agreeable to spend it. Why look over there! The darling vendor with the box around his neck. See how he smiles at that woman as he hands her a … a … what is he handing to her?”

“A weenie,” said the man with purple hair who had approached the party.

“A … a … ‘weenie’?” asked Miranda perplexed.

“Bits of pig, cow, turkey, and peasant all ground up and stuffed into an intestine. I gather you have better fare in your baskets,” he said, motioning ambiguously to what could have been a picnic basket or Miranda’s breasts.

Miranda cooled. “Indeed, better fare by far, sir.” A silence ensued. Miranda, brought up properly, was at last forced to offer, “would you like to join us, Monsieur?”

“Yes,” said the man and sat down quickly between Miranda and Lucinda. The woman in the orange hair approached the party as well.

“Good afternoon,” she said to Mrs. Whithers.

“Good afternoon, Mademoiselle, and … good LORD! What an absurd colour your hair has become! Why if I’ve ever seen that colour before, I don’t know what!”

Mrs. Whithers, in a fit from the hair colour, had spilled a bit of her tea upon the cloth. The woman smiled and knelt by her side dabbing at the stain with a lace doily.

“Yah, well,” she explained as she cleaned, “it’s just hair, y’know. I’m gonna bleach it out tomorrow anyway.”

“One should hope!” cried Mrs. Whithers indignantly.

“I’m thinking green … but like a mossy green. What do you think?”

“Heavens!” said the old woman, taking out a fan and furiously fanning her face. “One should hope one could find a more … natural colour to cover one’s unfortunate head.”

“Green it is. We are decided,” said the woman laughing. Lucinda giggled and winked at the woman.

“I am Miranda Merrydew. And you sir?” Miranda and the man had been acquainting themselves as the woman cleaned the stain.

“I am the Marquis D…”

Again the screeching howl of the motors roared up in such cacophony that the man could not hear his own voice. Grave Digger, the winner in the first two races, was now racing a truck covered in purple fur that resembled a Muppet. Around and around the track the two monster trucks bounced and tilted, losing bits of themselves as they crashed upon junk-cars and howling with acceleration. Grave Digger won again and the crowd went, as they say, wild.

When the noise had subsided, Miranda gave the man an inviting smile and asked again, “I’m sorry, you are?”

“The Marquis Déjà Dû. And this,” motioning toward the woman, “is the Vicomtesse Cheveux-Chevaux.”

“A Marquis!” squealed Lucinda edging closer. “It is indeed a great pleasure to meet you!”

“Je suis enchantée de vous connaître, Vicomtesse,” said Mrs. Withers to the woman.

“Umm, je ne speak French pas, I’m afraid,” she said. “I am a Vicomtesse-in-exile. Never spent a day in my … er … homeland.”

Too extraordinary!” cried Lucinda with girlish fervour. “Come, you must tell me all about it! Pray, are there pirates involved in the tale?”

“Pirates, yes,” replied the Marquis mischievously. “There are always, always pirates involved.”

“Oh how gay!” squealed Lucinda clapping her hands.

“Contain yourself, Lucinda,” said Mrs. Whithers out of the side of her mouth. “Titled personages do tire quickly of overanxious little girls.”

“Yes mum,” much admonished

“Est-ce que vous parlez français, Monsieur?” said Miranda with a wry smile. The question was met with silence. “Ou peut-être on ne peut pas entrendre un mot que je dit?” More silence. “Tasse du thé?” More silence. Lucinda threw back her head and laughed a sparkling, glimmery laugh that seemed to fill the entire Superdome with delicate silver shards.

Several groups of teenagers from Metairie turned in their seats looking for the source, muttering, “Whut the fuck?”

The Marquis was enchanted. One tendril of her dark locks had unfurled down her back and played along the delicate white buttons of her dress. “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” he asked, not being able to restrain his tongue.

“The dowry!” hissed Mrs. Whithers immediately. “Quick! Tell him of your formidable dowry!” She took the Victomesse’s hand and patted it as an old friend.

“Ah no, Mrs. Whithers, I think I shall refrain from telling this man of my dowry, for he is as false as the day is long. Aren’t you Monsieur?”

“No no!” cried the Marquis. “Surely you’re smoking crack. I am indeed who and what I say I am!”

“Are you!” said Miranda with a bright spark in her eye. “Tell me this then, m’lord, from what bourough do you hail? Who is your family. I confess I am not familiar with the clan of … what did you say … Déjà Dû? ‘Already Should Have’? Très à propos, I wager.” Miranda laughed her magical laugh once again.

“It is, in fact, a self-appointed titled,” the Marquis said importantly.

“Is it! My, don’t we have a high opinion of ourselves!”

“I couldn’t say. Do we?” asked the Marquis slyly. Lucinda blushed.

“I for one would like an explanation of what exactly is going on here!” cried Mrs. Whithers who had dropped the Vicomtesse’s hand and was eyeing her suspiciously. “Are you, or are you not, titled personages?”

The Vicomtesse arose from her kneeling position. “I too am a self-appointed Vicomtesse, Mrs. Whithers,” she said smiling brightly. “I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t think me fit for conversation with you. I’m probably more accustomed to hanging out with the hired help.” She moved to Willoughby and put an arm around his waist. Willoughby flinched, but did not move away. The Vicomtesse’s hands wandered over his shirt.

“Oh, splendid! Smashing!” cried Lucinda with glee. “Oh, this is fun, isn’t it, dear sister? It looks as if we’re to have a show!”

“Fun it was, dear sister,” said Miranda carefully, “but the game is, I’m afraid, quite over. I fear I must ask our guests to leave us to our picnic and find another place to camp. Such a farce can only be maintained for so long before it becomes tedious and I…”

Grave Digger was racing a bright red truck with flames shooting out its exhaust pipe. Once again, the screams from the engine drowned out all coversation. The Marquis, taking this moment of silence as his advantage, grasped Miranda about the shoulders and tilted her back, planting a gentle yet lengthy kiss upon her lips. Lucinda did not see this; she was watching the race. Mrs. Whithers did not see this; she was busy holding her hands to her ears. Willoughby did not see this, for his mouth was busy upon the Vicomtesse’s.

Miranda neither struggled nor kissed back, and though her natural perfume was indeed intoxicating, she was as erotic as a lump of clay. The race ended, as did the kiss.

“Who won?” whispered the Marquis lasciviously into Miranda’s ear.

Miranda smiled indulgently at him. “Not you, Monsieur,” she said and straightened her dress.

“I love you,” said the Marquis.

“That is your misfortune,” replied Miranda with the same maddening smile upon her small mouth, “for I fear I shan’t love you back. You see, you are not real.”

“I am though. I am real! As real as the Superdome and as real as Grave Digger! It’s you whose existence I doubt. You seem to come from another world, a beautiful, beautiful world. Where do you come from, anyway?”

“Why, I come from Mosley Manor, Middlesex!” she explained simply, “And you, and all this … this is not reality. This is an afternoon picnic with my sister and great-aunt. See, you fade, even now.”

And it was true. The Marquis was shimmering – seeming to become transparent. Worried, he slapped his arms which became less and less corporeal. “No! This can’t be! This really, really sucks!” he said, fading into nothingness.

Miranda turned her head with a smile toward her sister who was playing quietly with a branch of a nearby tree. The sun was slanting through the forest at a severe angle as a rabbit hopped through the underbrush. Mrs. Whithers put down her teacup and looked at the blue sky. “The hour grows late, my dears. We must be off or we are sure to catch our death of damp. Willoughby, would you clean up the picnic and ready the coach please? Willoughbeeeeee?”

Willoughby was standing by a large, mossy tree. In his arms was a woman in a peculiar black coat with shocking orange hair. They were still locked in a fevered embrace. Small moans escaped from both of them as they ground their bodies into each other. The Vicomtesse snapped out of the embrace suddenly, and looked around.

“Shit. Oh, shit fuck. Yikes. Gotta go!” she said and stepped behind a tree. Willoughby chased her behind the tree, but came out a moment later. “She’s gone!” he muttered to no one.

“Who’s gone?” asked Miranda hiding her smile.

“The Vicomtesse de … de …”

“Really, Willoughby,” said Mrs. Whithers. “The picnic, please. The coach.”

The women arose from the embroidered tablecloth and moved the baskets so that Willoughby could gather everything. Lucinda looked off into the woods intentely, cocking her head. A faint howling growl came through the foliage.

“Miranda, do you hear?”

“Hear what, my dear?”

“That horrible, horrible noise. Sounds like it’s coming from over that mountain. Sounds like … oh, I don’t know what! Sounds monstrous!”

Miranda laughed lowly. “Yes, it does sound almost exactly like some sort of Monster.”