Akin to a diamond hitting an obsidian floor, the first tear hits Curleta Mason’s stone cheek. Gliding along its sculpted contours, the same sculpted contours that together in harmony achieve the perfection that every one of her friends and coworkers consider her body to have. She is not moving. Her body is stone. The stone her mama taught her, ordered her to have.
“Do not falter, child… And don’t start, do you hear me? don’t you let them know you’re afraid.”
The stone statue she had to be, this instant. Right this instant. More tears follow, but not in torrents, not as a malignant and morose inundation. That had come and gone. It had happened before everyone’s eyes, before her eyes. Curleta’s lip quivers. She covers the memory in the thick blanket of a redundant question.
“Are we ready? Tell me when.”
Of course they’re ready. They stand around her similar to students of Art misplaced in an English lecture hall, attempting to paint the literature they hear. There’s five of them, six if you count her.
“In five, Curleta. Are you sure you’re comfortable doing this?”
No more comfortable than she was as her home collapsed under her, rushing away in the current of discord traversing once dignified, French Quarter streets. The current was strong, luring the bodies of friends, lovers, poets, musicians, thieves, foes, drifters, the speechless and the haughty, luring them away. Family. Hers was gone. Rushing away in the current of discord traversing her property, her family, her beloved mother, were lured away. Who could have prepared? And would they have? It was an excuse to start over. An excuse for her to be here today.
“Yeah. Uh, sure. Yes. I’m fine. I’m trying to get it straight.”
Two stand as sentries behind the cameras. They guard the view, they preserve it. They’ll keep her here. She’ll be safe, held in the comforting place of the present by the lenses which will allow her to go back to the past, and keep what she reveals for the future. What a magical world she lives in. A world which has to be magical, must be magical, fifty years after the one she knew was swept away by the sea. One person pats thick powder onto her nose, another adjusts the lights and microphones, the fifth one holds a clipboard and wears an ear monitor.
“Curleta, you’re on.”
The fifth one smiles. The memories are unsheathed, the thick blanket is removed. Curleta inhales deep, next she looks into one of the two glass eyes glaring at her. They whir and capture her. Forever.
“August 29, 2025. Today is the twentieth anniversary of the massive submersion of New Orleans and its environs, the wild inundation which decimated the famed city and forever changed many other settlements, including the nearby state of Mississippi. I’m Curleta Mason, reporting tonight, here to detail a scar inflicted on this nation not by a murderer, not by a thief, by but a criminal no less. A hurricane named Katrina was the sole perpetrator in this heinous crime, a crime, one of nature, which destroyed and stole the lives of many, and changed America’s landscape. Everyone is familiar with the facts, the figures, the pictures of misery which are burned onto the film of our minds. The images though, which few of us have a collective exposure to is the experience. Tonight, Katrina is relived, explained, and clarified by those who were there.”
She exhales. Pausing, adjusting her suit, impatient, caressing the thick silk of her charcoal hair, Curleta waits. This is the part of the report where a montage of victims, of flooded neighborhoods, of abandoned schools, of a submerged New Orleans will go. Moving murals of her sunken past. A sunken past which will ensure her future. Tonight she is the star of the network’s main news program. Tonight, she is the sole one seen. Footage of an aged starlet appears on screen. Curleta waits, but forgets where she is. She listens. The old starlet speaks from behind her withered visage.
“It was beyond horrible. I remember it in its entirety. The images I have of it in my mind are clearer in color and emotion, more detailed in condition and pain than any DVD or movie will show.”
The ancient actress vibrates on a resonating wail. Her breath shakes as she coughs and breaks into tears.
“I won’t forget this woman, she yelled to me, ‘My name’s Elizabeth! Thank you! You’re pure and kind!’, she handed me her infant boy—”
She covers her face. Curleta follows suit. Though this has been taped previous to tonight, it hurts, it intensifies, it stings the mind with age. As though it were pain’s wine, on the tongue of thought after continual (ab)use.
“I had taken her baby boy tight in my arms no sooner than she, she was sucked from the chimney she was clinging to. A large, worn tombstone, one of the largest and oldest the city had no doubt, had come hurtling through the waves at her.”
Curleta stares at the monitor glowing beside her, playing the actress’s memory. The actress smiles with doubt, a tear glistens on her crow’s feet. The tragic reminiscence cuts to another. Equal and mournful. A man, but seventeen when it had happened, today a Presidential Advisor, graces the screen. She covers her face, turns away. She unplugs her lapel mic.
“I couldn’t save her. I tried. I did what I could! Oh, God! Why? Why? Why! I’m sorry. Can we redo this in a minute?”
She’s leaving. She’s running, in the rain. A high-heel, one of her own, strikes the windshield of the network car behind her. In no time, she’s drenched. She throws it behind her. The rain loses at the contest to mess up her groomed hair. She tears it, pulls it, screams, runs, cries.
“It’s hard to forget it. The roof screamed. It did more than crack. I was holding my girlfriend, lying in the tub, when the lights went out and the ceiling fell. She whispered ‘I love you’ as we crashed to what was once the basement. It was too dark. I swam, I remember that. My strokes were halted by some material tangled in my hands. I yelled her name, and I realized what was caught in my hands was her hair. She was bloody and floating, face-down. That’s the visual which will haunt me forever. I floated down there for three days, holding her. I can’t do this anymore, I’m sorry.”
She’s breaking down. She’s returning, while they each return, to their neighborhood, today but a neighborhood in their minds. Curleta runs into the street. She runs through it, just as the waves which did the same twenty years ago.
“Um, Jack was three. Yes, three, that’s right. Marlene was seven, and Pete was nine. I remember Pete screaming ‘Nannie! Nannie! There’s water!’, and a telephone pole sped right into his bedroom. I opened the door and it was in there, the electrical current zipped through the water rising on the floor. I held Pete as his body went into convulsions. By the time I got back to the bathroom, Jack and Marlene were lying on the floor, already gone.”
Curleta stops. She’s out of breath and out of her mind. Before her is the open, dark sea. Around her is a city rebuilt. She falls to her knees, which ache as they hit the rough wood of the pier below her. One thought permeates her confusion. One voice resonates in her clouded, stormy head.
“Mama! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I can’t.”
The tears are torrential. They wear the crumbling surface of her stone face down. She’s melting, receding into the nostalgia, and sinking. But perhaps she’ll float once the tears wash the tough exterior away.
* * *
“My daughter was the strongest, the most resilient girl I had. I raised five you know. Each of them were stone. She won’t be forgotten. No way. Believe you me. My daughter will live on, through me, through this interview, through the memories of everyone who will see this. No one will forget Curleta and what she did, she warned over a million people. A million people! It’s unreal. It was her first day of the job too, you know. I told my baby, ‘Do not falter, child… And don’t start, do you hear me? don’t you let them know you’re afraid.’ She had the worst stage fright, but being a reporter is what she wanted, what she worked for, damn hard. Waiting for the National Guard to take me to go search the ruins of the Channel Five building for her and anyone else we could find, was the worst. A mother melts in utter disintegration, when one of hers disappears. You know? My name’s Katrina Mason. Katrina. Imagine. Katrina brought her into the world, and took her away. I won’t stop searching, Curleta. I won’t give up looking for you.”
* * *
KATRINA DORINDA MASON.
1947 – 2025
* * *
CURLETA CHAVELLE MASON.
1982 – 2005