Spring Sparks

     I dreamed I took a gun to yoga class.
     At first I didn’t know I had it. I realized I was weighted down and reaching into the pocket of my winter coat found it. A Smith and Wesson 9 mm, I believe. In fact, it was a Smith a Wesson 9 mm. I know because I held the same model not so long ago. I took it out and put it on the rack alongside everyone else’s.
     The actual yoga part of the dream was more like a Lady Gaga video and I never needed the gun, I didn’t know why I brought it.
     Last October we went to an art gallery in the Faubourg Marigny for an art shoot. The concept was “Choose your Weapon,” but we didn’t know at first.
     Our friend was visiting. When we got to the studio, New Orleans Police Officers stood guarding the door. Inside was a table of weapons -handguns, rifles, semiautomatics, tazers, mace, a large rock and a baseball bat. A giant American flag was draped across the wall. They wanted us to take up a weapon and stand in front of the flag.
     We tested out the guns. The semiautomatic was a bit clunky and I settled for a pearl-handled revolver that matched my pearl bracelet; he took up the baseball bat. Our friend, whose Argentine husband thinks Americans are crazy, picked up a rifle.
     A politician in a suit was being photographed with a rock and we brushed up on our weaponry knowledge. Which weapon, we wondered, was most practical? You know, like if we were actually interested in owning a gun. The cops said the 9 mm is good -it’s lightweight, easily concealed and a straight shot. My friend and I giggled. Never in a million years had we imagined spending Saturday afternoon this way.
     That same day and back at home, our friend -I’ll call him Ted -, came by the apartment. Ted teaches science at a New Orleans public school. Still totally bewildered, my friend and I explained to Ted about the practical gun -the 9 mm lightweight easily concealed sure shot.
     “You mean this one?” he said. Reaching into his pants, he pulled out a Smith and Wesson 9 mm.
     Yeah, like that one.
     We held his gun, timid, it was loaded.
     Still, I don’t think that’s why I had the dream.
     The night before that dream I’d written a letter to Constance McMillen, the lesbian teen in Mississippi whose prom was cancelled because she asked to bring her girlfriend. The letter was on behalf of a group of writers and was sent along with a book of short stories we wanted her to have. I had fun with the letter. It was admittedly high-flown to thank her for her bravery on behalf of the whole world, but it is spring and I get carried away.
     Or, maybe the dream was because for six Saturday nights in a row someone sprayed the street outside our house with bullets -the street I love.
     They never hit anyone.
     The shootings happened every Saturday night for six weeks. Most of them occurred at the exact same time, 12:27 am.
     You heard the bullets spraying, you heard running on pavement, then a car peeling away -that’s what I was told after the first night. I was out, but Ted was over and they were hanging out.
     “It sounded like firecrackers, but so much louder,” I was told later. Ted had just been on his way out. They heard the shots, heard the running, heard the car peeling away and waited 20 minutes. Before Ted left, he took his 9 mm out and cocked it.
     “Ted’s from Mississippi,” that’s suppose to explain his gun.
     The following Tuesday, I went to the bank in the Central Business District and sat down with a banker who said he’s my neighbor. “It’s a nice street to live on,” he said and I agreed. I love where I live. We didn’t talk about the shooting.
     The second Saturday was the day before Valentine’s Day. As I was entering sleep I heard screaming. There’s a new teen club on the corner right there. My mind concocted a quick, dream-induced story about club romance and treachery. The person screaming sounded like he was alone. Then silence. Next came a round of bullets and exactly as they’d said, the sound of running on pavement, a car sped away.
     “It’s someone heartbroken,” I said. We lay there in the dark, our hearts thumping. Lord I know I’d be terrible with a gun and heartbroken. That fit into a rhythm with the heartbeats and I drifted back to sleep.
     The third Saturday, 12:27, the bullets flew again. This time we had company. “It’s over a broken heart,” I said. “They’re not even shooting at anything.” I went to the window and pulled the curtain aside. All down the street, brave neighbors opened doors and came onto porches. Otherwise, no one was there. Glistening under streetlights was a handful of bullet shells.
     Despite the shells, we told the story to each other of how it was the Ghost of Valentines Past shooting up our street.
     This was an unusually cold winter. January’s hard frosts killed the banana trees and elephant ears. First the plants were drooping with cold and frozen. Next, they weren’t just broken but actually liquefied. The shells of former stalks made puddles on dead lawns. Lawns the city over turned hard and brown.
     The mornings after the shootings police investigators arrived to the corner of our street blocking the intersection with their unmarked cars. After a while they’d go. They never came with lights or sirens, just snuck in with their plastic gloves and radios and left without a sound.
     The fourth Saturday made me mad. The round of bullets came at 12:27 am, waking me from much needed sleep. I went to the window but what I wanted to do was tear out onto the street. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? I wanted to scream. I went back to bed.
     The fifth Saturday was funny. The bullets happened again, around 12:27. I went to the window and peaked out. Across the street, a neighbor looked out from her porch. Neighbors all down the street were coming out.
     “Ma’am. Ma’am,” I heard a small voice calling. “Did they shoot up your house?”
     I looked into the street and saw three cops with flashlights rummaging around. In the dark, it actually looked like they had snouts and I laughed, not because of their noses but because of what they’d said. After that, I heard them talking. “Just fireworks,” one said. Awesome, and it made so much sense, every Saturday at 12:27 someone was popping wild firecrackers. I went to bed.
     Spring was in the air. Life was everywhere. On warm nights you saw kids streaming in and out of the club, music pumping. After January’s cold snap I was sure our roses and citrus trees were never coming back. But after a week of sun and warmth there were new leaves. And the magnolias! I know, I get carried away, but the full blooming magnolias you see everywhere are majestic. How courageous and generous they were to come out at all when otherwise the world was cold and grey. You feel like you want to stop to kiss every bud on every magnolia tree.
     The following weekend the shooting happened again. This time at 9:15. Maybe they were accounting for daylight savings. I went to the window and pulled back the curtain. The streaming blue and red of police lights burst through the dark. Several officers made a circle in the street. They wore bullet proof vests. One shouted orders to the others. He was focused and ready, you could see. He was magnificent.
     I went to the balcony and heard the neighbors’ talk: there had been two teens, one shot at a cop. The police dogs were loose. The air was warm and soft, the lights opened against the darkness, and the officers, strategizing, looked as though there wasn’t a kid in the world who could touch them -lucky I guess too the kids do seem to be really bad at shooting.
     The few people I told said the same thing: He shot at a cop? Kind of funny I thought, because in my mind, yes, if the kid was crazy enough to shoot at his friend, why not a cop?
     It looks like the teen club is closed. The art house across the street with the gargantuan tree house is closed, all just as the world was starting to seem particularly lawless.
     Maybe those things together were the reason for my dream.
     A Catholic priest said of a haiku poet from Camden, New Jersey after he passed away decades ago: “He was pure flame in a battered city, a spark in a dark place.” I think of that sometimes, about how I see those sparks everywhere I go.

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