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It seemed like a good idea… at least it had at the time. “No problem. I just wasn't serious enough about it before. I am now. I’ve got this,” Yvette told Robert as they danced. “I can quit anytime I want to, but if you want to make things interesting, I’ve got a one hundred dollar bill that says I can do it. I can quit. Do you have a big bill you want to lose?” She laughed. Just then, the quartet stopped playing and the couple made their way through the crowd. Yvette sat down at the table in the hotel ballroom, and lit up a cigarette. Casually, she picked up her long-stemmed flute, took a sip, and waited for Robert to answer her.

"I thought you just said you can quit any time you want to." Her date chuckled as he got comfortable in his chair.

"Well, maybe I don't want to just yet."

“Well, I'll take your bet.  I’ve got a hundred dollar bill, but I’m not going to lose it.  My dear lady, when do you want to start? Tonight? A New Year’s Resolution, perhaps?”

“On no, not tonight! This is a holiday, a party! Besides, I always have a cigarette with my champagne. How about….” Yvette thought quickly. “How about the first day of spring? I promise you I'm going to do it this time. Heck, I promise myself."

To her surprise, Robert had agreed. He kissed her hand and smiled. “A hundred bucks it is!"

Now, here she was, March 19th, standing on the corner or Orleans Avenue and Conti Street looking up at the Conti Hotel. “What a night that was,” she reminisced, “New Year’s Eve and the magical evening I shared with Robert in the Conti Hotel Ballroom.… “I won’t forget that night any time soon.” And she hadn’t. She hadn’t forgotten one minuscule detail….

She was wearing her beautiful Vera Wang gown, the one she had saved her money to purchase over the last 6 months. It was a gorgeous dress, and Yvette loved it. It was a soft coral pink color with a wrapped bodice that stopped at the waist giving her a glimmering silhouette. The bodice featured a chevron beaded pattern and spaghetti straps that met at the back in a sexy crisscross. The floor length skirt was made of chiffon and created a romantic sweep that seemed to float on air as she danced across the ballroom. Her hair had been pulled up into a loose, sexy chignon with a few tendrils of hair left loose to frame her face.

Robert looked unbelievably handsome when he arrived to pick up Yvette. He was impeccably dressed in a black tuxedo with a full tailcoat. It featured a sharp, fitted jacket that hugged his torso and showed off his muscular physique. The front of the tailcoat ended at his waistline and the back had a long tail that finished just below the knee. He looked young, handsome, and virile as they left for the New Year’s Eve Ball.

But that was then…Now, Yvette gathered her thoughts and returned to reality. “What am I going to do?” she lamented as she remembered that damn bet and the promises she had made to Robert and to herself. “I’ve put it off as long as possible, now its down to the wire. Do or die, so to speak.”

Yvette frowned as she pondered her predicament. Perhaps it had been sheer bravado on her part. Perhaps it had been her arrogance. Maybe it was her intense desire to please Robert. Yvette smiled to herself, “If I’m really honest, it was probably all those things, and one too many glasses of Moet & Chandon Champagne.”  

On the streetcar ride home, Yvette continued to ponder her dilemma. “I know I can’t do this on my own. I'm a hopeless chain-smoker. The last three times I've tried to quit, I didn't make it an hour. And the cravings... Oh God! The cravings, they never stopped. They just got worse. I’ve got to have some help. What in the hell am I going to do?”

When Yvette arrived at her apartment, she lit up a cigarette, took a long drag, and blew out a long stream of smoke. She picked up the phone book and thumbed through the yellow pages:  “Jefferson Medical Services: Center for Healthier Living.”

‘No, sounds too clinical.” Yvette continued to peruse the phone book.

She looked at the next listing, “Nadia Lario: Clinical Psychologist and Smoking Cessation Specialist.”

“Oh Lordy, no!” Yvette gasped as she looked at the ad, “That’s way too expensive, $1500 to quit smoking? There is no way I’m going to spend that kind of money. I can’t.”

Then she saw it. “Madame LaRoux’ VooDoo, Tea Leaves, and Tarots.”

Yvette continued to read the advertisement: “We offer sessions and consultations using tarot cards, crystals, palmistry, tea leaves, hypnosis, crystal ball readings, astrology, and general psychic readings. We can help you change your life. $30 per session. No need to call for an appointment. We know you are coming.” 

Yvette smiled, her skepticism showing, “Sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus nonsense, but it’s worth a try, what have I got to lose, 30 bucks?”

 After writing down the street address, 593 Charters Street, Yvette closed the phone book and picked up her purse. “Today’s the day. It’s the first day of spring and there is no way I’m going to lose this bet. I’ve tried to quit three times before and failed. I’ve got to try something different. I'm desperate!”

Yvette rode the streetcar down the St. Charles Line as far as Canal Street, then walked the rest of the way to the French Quarter. She arrived at 593 Charters Street, stopped on the sidewalk for a quick smoke, then entered the small shop.

The air was pungent but inviting. It smelled of patolli and lavender with a touch of something spicy that she couldn’t quite identify. She took a deep, breath and her lungs swelled with air. “Saffron?” she muttered to herself. “I think that scent could be saffron.”

“No, my dear, that scent is sandalwood. Sandalwood is used to calm the nerves and help with focus. You seem nervous, take a few deep breaths.” She paused and Yvette followed her instructions, her respirations becoming balanced and steady. Suddenly, she felt more at ease, more focused. “Now,” the old woman queried, “how can I help you, my dear?”

“Hmmm….” Yvette thought, “I thought she’d know that. After all, she’s supposed to have voodoo powers, clairvoyance, and such.” She curbed her tongue and replied. “I’m here for hypnosis. I want to quit smoking.”

Yvette looked at the woman standing before her. She was wrinkled and her face and hands were old and well-weathered. She was dressed in a red print skirt that fell to the floor in gathers. Her blouse was white with a ruffled neckline. She wore large gold hoop earrings that hung down from below a red headwrap that matched the print on her skirt. Her shawl was black, and her stern grimace was almost as dark as the drape that she wore. Yvette thought she looked like a cross between a gypsy princess and a plantation slave from the movie, “Gone with the Wind.” 

“This way, my dear,” she crooked her finger, motioning to Yvette. The young woman followed her through closed curtains that hung from ceiling to floor. When the curtains parted, Yvette saw a small round table in the center of the room. A crystal ball, a deck of tarot cards, and a gold amulet were placed on the linen-clad table.

Yvette’s heart beat rapidly, her pulses vibrated and pounded into her bones with each word the old woman spoke.

 “Sit down, look, sit here,” the old crone pointed to a chair, and Yvette sat down. Madame LaRoux sat across the table from her and removed the crystal ball and the tarot cards, placing them on the floor nearby. Only the amulet remained.

The old crone picked up the charm and began to move it in concentric circles at the end of its chain. “Watch, my dear, and breathe deeply, in and out, in and out.” 

Yvette complied with the request, feeling herself becoming more and more relaxed. The old woman’s voice was deep and rhythmic. Her words were spellbinding. “Yes, my dear, you are becoming more and more relaxed,” Yvette felt her eyes flutter with heaviness. “More and more tranquil with each breath you take, with each movement of this talisman.” 

Yvette’s eyes closed involuntarily, and her breathing became slow and steady. The soothsayer repeated these same words over and over.

Yvette listened. The soft voice of Madam LaRoux was soothing: mesmerizing and hypnotic when she spoke, “No more shall tobacco touch your lips, no more precious currency shall be spent on nicotine, no more desires or cravings shall plague your soul.” The old soothsayer continued, “No more shall you hunger for the depravity or the vice of cigarettes."

Several moments later, or it seemed like only moments, the old crone snapped her fingers and Yvette opened her eyes. She gazed down at her watch; almost exactly an hour had passed. She looked around the room. Nothing had changed. The velvet curtains still hung, closing off the small room where she sat. The crystal ball and the tarot cards were still on the floor. Madame LaRoux still sat across from her, looking old and wrinkled. As far as Yvette could tell, nothing had happened. Nothing had changed.

“That will be $30, my dear.” The young girl opened her purse and took out a Ten and a Twenty-dollar bill. She paid the woman and quickly left the shop feeling very disappointed.

“Well, that was an errant waste of money. Hocus pocus, just like I thought it would be. Oh well, it’s not the first $30 I’ve blown on nothing.”

Just then, her cell phone rang. She glanced at the screen and didn’t know whether to smile or to panic. It was Robert. “Oh crap, he’s calling about my promise.” She answered tentatively.

“Hi Yvette, where are you?”

“In the French Quarter,” she replied with a quiver in her voice. She was just waiting for him to ask her about her smoking, but he didn't.

“Great, If you can hang out until 6:00, I’ll meet you outside of Commander’s Palace and we can have dinner.”

Yvette agreed to meet him, then hung up the phone. She walked around Jackson Square, watching the mimes and the sidewalk artists for a while. She went into the Cabildo and walked through the exhibit that had just opened: A Photographic Journey, Hurricane Katrina and Beyond. She stopped and listened to the sidewalk musicians playing their Dixieland Jazz. When she looked at her watch, she realized it was getting late, 5:30.

"I've got to get moving. I can't be late!" and hurried down the sidewalk toward the Palace. The crisp spring weather was energizing; the smell of magnolia blossoms and crepe myrtle filled the air. The soft breeze, blowing in from the Mississippi River, was exhilarating and invigorating. The St. Louis Cathedral stood just ahead, its majestic and regal silhouette framed by the sun setting low in the west.

Yvette passed an alley next to the French Quarter t-shirt shops. There was a dirty, smelly dumpster in an alcove between the buildings. She stopped, opened her purse and removed a pack of Marlboro 100’s and a green Bic lighter. She leaned over and tossed them both in the garbage bin before she had a chance to think about what she was doing.

“Wow,” Robert saw what she was doing as he approached her, and exclaimed in amazement. “You did it! You really did it! I’m so proud of you!” He leaned over and gave Yvette a long slow kiss that melted her to her core.

She tried to hide her astonishment. “What in the world am I doing?" She thought, delighted. “I should have smoked at least two cigarettes by now. I don’t even have an urge to light up. And now I've thrown my lighter and a half of a pack away? Is this really happening to me?” She said nothing to Robert about the promise, her three earlier failures, or her visit with Madame LaRoux.

"Hello,Robert, how was your day?" They continued to make small talk as they walked down the sidewalk to the Commander's Palace.

She and Robert sat down at a table in the corner of the Palace dining room. The waiter had just begun to take their order when something caught the corner of her eye. Yvette glanced up and noticed Madame LaRoux standing near the servant’s entrance. She was still dressed in her red printed skirt, white blouse, and gold earrings… only this time, she was smiling.

March 31, 2020 23:53

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