I woke up to the sound of the Captain's voice.
"The time is 1:05 a.m. The weather looks good and with the tailwind on our side we are expecting to land in New Orleans approximately fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in New Orleans is clear, with a high of 80 degrees."
This was it. My nerves were on edge.
I was actually going to meet her.
Remember you will die.
The airspeed and the altitude of the plane was adjusted as it made its final descent.
Just before landing, a maneuver was performed, and the descent rate was reduced, helping us safely touch down onto the asphalt.
This was it.
I anticipatedly waited for the other nine passengers to exit the aircraft before I went to the boarding bridge. The balding gentleman with the white framed sunglasses casually stopped at the fourth row to retrieve his luggage from the overhead bin. He looked at me. His expression was apprehensive.
"Maybe I'll see you around?" I snarled.
He viscously tugged his luggage from the baggage compartment and ran towards the cabin.
I exited the passenger boarding bridge. I immediately smelt Louisiana's open air.
It was stagnant. Thick and hot.
It was the smell of swampy down-winds and wood pulp.
New Orleans International Airport was small, bright and open. Passenger traffic was very light in the early morning. It was easy to get from the terminal to baggage claim.
I was nervous.
A Guest Service clerk pointed me to the doors on the lower level where the taxi queue was located.
I stepped outside. It was unpleasantly warm and humid.
I was disoriented. Unfamiliar with my surroundings.
"Over here!" A beautiful, dulcet voice yelled from behind. It was her. She was sitting on the trunk of a black and white taxicab. Her hairstyle was intentionally messy with bangs. She wore a vintage style nightgown and a black, lambskin leather jacket.
"How did you know it was me?" I asked. I never described myself. I never had a profile picture.
"Because you look exactly how I imagined you." She sprung off the trunk and gave me a hug. Her skin strangely felt wax-like. She strongly smelt like pulping fruits and blooming Jasmine. I properly introduced myself.
"Nice to meet you Phineas, I'm Viola," she softly whispered into my ear.
"Let's go!" she grabbed my hand and pulled me to the backseat of the taxicab.
A woman with espresso brown hair was in the driver's seat. I could see her gazing at me in the rearview mirror. Viola introduced us.
"Nasim, Phineas. Phineas, Nasim." Nasim gestured a polite finger wiggle wave. I silently said hello with a slight nod.
"How was your flight?" Viola asked.
"It surprisingly went well." We talked about the balding ignoramus and the nine passenger flight. We discussed the necessary inconvenience of transportation security, surprisingly pleasant U-shaped neck pillows, and airport conspiracy theories.
"Theorists believe the nation's largest airport hides a secret society of lizard-like people underneath it's runways and terminals."
"Yeah, Saurians," Viola said. "They're totally real. They're an ancient humanoid race with the head of a crocodile. They hide beneath skin-suits and manipulate human societies. I've never met one though."
I briefly wondered if I had gotten in a car with an escaped mental patient.
Nasim began to drive. She exited the traffic circle, and headed east towards the interstate.
"How do you know Nasim?" I asked.
"She's my Angajat. My human servant. Usually Angajats are under hypnosis, but I trust Nasim, and she has no desire to be turned." Viola looked at Nasim's warm honey eyes in the rearview.
"We look out for each other," Nasim said.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"A 183 year old, three story Greek revival," she explained. "In the mid 1800s, a wealthy thief and five beautiful women lived in the house. On a stormy eve the thief and the women were celebrating their stolen riches, when out of nowhere, they were attacked by a group of assassins. The attackers violently murdered the five women in front of the thief. The thief later found out the assassins were sent by his brother, and the stolen bounty of jewels and gold belonged to him. The assassins murdered the thief. They were ordered to write a single word with his blood, 'traitor'."
Viola turned her head and earnestly looked at me. There was an awkward moment of silence.
"Hmm?" I was very confused.
"I was one of the assassins." Viola maliciously scowled.
As always, I was astonished with what came out of her mouth. "And why are we going there?" I asked.
"It's where I live." She said.
We drove past a cemetery. The graves were above-ground vaults.
"The majority of the tombs were constructed in the 18th century," Viola said. "The cemetery spans just one block, but thousands rest there."
"Is there a meaning behind your name?" I asked Viola.
"It's Latin for the flower Violet. Violet was my grandmother's name."
The streets were narrow. The ride was bumpy because of cracks and depressions in the asphalt. Creole townhouses with contiguous arches and cast-iron balconies lined the streets.
"What about you? What's Phineas mean?"
"I was named after Phineas Gage. The guy with the rod driven through his brain. Not because I have brain damage or anything, but because my mom is old-fashioned and liked the name."
"She's alive, you know. Your mum. She is old fashioned. She still has landline service."
"You called her?" I asked.
"Your mum is a heavy smoker, the constant smoking reduced the blood flow to her brain, and that triggered a bad migraine. She took an excessive amount of her medication for headaches, and that caused her to pass out."
"You talked to her?"
"Yes. She wasn't very friendly."
"Did you tell her I was coming here?"
"No. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing where you're at."
We pulled up next to a stacked meringue-colored house with hunter green shutters. Decorative filigree cast-iron balconies surrounded the two top levels. The ground level had half windows protected with cast iron guards. The home was beautiful and massive.
"You live here?" I asked.
She nodded and smiled. We exited the taxicab. Nasim said goodnight and drove off.
"She's not coming in?"
"She's going to go watch the morning drunks stumble down Canal Street while she enjoys her early morning chamomile tea. You'll see her again."
Upon entering Viola's home, I immediately noticed the air being very cold. The house was breathtaking. Five bedrooms, and three full bathrooms. A classic double parlor anchors the grand stoop entry and the spiral staircase is the centerpiece in the main chamber. A large kitchen sits on the garden floor and is outfitted with granite countertops and a center island.
The kitchen looks out to the beautifully manicured courtyard, which is complete with an outdoor fireplace and a rectangle, in-ground swimming pool.
The third floor features two bedrooms and two bathrooms, including the master suite. The master includes two custom walk-through closets, a full-width bedroom, and a spacious bathroom with a mosaic floor.
The top floor is configured with three more rooms and a full bathroom. One of the bedrooms is empty. It only has brick walls and wide plank floors. Another room is Viola's personal library. She has literature that dates back to the eighteenth-century. The third room is locked and she made it clear that it's forbidden for anyone to ever enter.
"The master bedroom is yours," she said.
"What? Oh, no. No. I can get a room somewhere. I saw a budget hotel for $39 a night. It's only a few blocks from here."
"With a price like that, I guarantee it's going to have piss stains and peeling paint. Please. Stay here."
"I don't want to intrude."
She told me to follow her. We went to a small room adjoining the parlor. Inside the compact space was rejected taxidermy pieces.
"It's a guilty pleasure of mine," she said.
I was well aware of her stuffed animal obsession. She had mounted creatures everywhere. Strawberry coyotes and himalayan tahr shoulder mounts lined the parlor walls. The main chamber showcased stuffed ravens, black swans, a 10 foot gator and a 1940s hanging baboon. The bedrooms were decorated with African black back jackals, great horned owls, bobcats, framed dried bats, Catalina goat heads, rattlesnakes in glass displays, and an 8 foot black wolf howling at the moon.
The girl loved dead things.
In the small room beneath an Alaskan black bear hide was a hidden hatch door.
"Follow me," Viola said. She descended into darkness. I followed her down a narrow, rickety staircase. At the bottom of the staircase I could feel the ground compact beneath my feet. It smelt like decomposing, organic material masked with sensuously rich, fruity smells.
"Watch your head," Viola said. She powered on a twin head storm light. We were in some kind of confined crawl space. Hundreds of compressed papers infused with jasmine and honeysuckle were scattered in the area.
"I have to change them every five days if I want the smell to be somewhat bearable," she said, pointing to the handmade air fresheners.
"What is this?" I asked.
She yanked a blue weather resistant tarp off of the ground. Beneath it was a large wooden box.
"This is where I sleep."
I looked around. My mind was filled with confusion.
"Only you know about this. Nasim doesn't even know about this."
"Why me?" I asked.
"Because you're weird— and I'm weird. I am so tired of being alone, but people usually bore me. Being alone is like being suicidal, but unable to die. I just need somebody to share all of my deepest and darkest secrets with. It's a feeling where I don't even know what the fuck I'm feeling, and I'm scared because I've never felt anything like it before."
My brain stalled. I was feeling fear and wonderment. She tossed the blue weather resistant tarp back on top of the shallow grave.
"You hungry?" She asked. "There's a 24 hour grill nearby."