Constantly Constantine

—Gio Bradley

Constantine, Constantine, Constantine.

Oh, what are we going to do with you?

 

The sky was depressed that morning, hanging heavy over Chattanooga, Tennessee. Down below, at the train station, a young lady boarded an express to Nashville. Her name was Constantine. “Constantine the Shy,” as some liked to say.

She glanced out of her cabin window. What did she find? Energetic people streaming in all directions.

“I wish I could be that. At least, I wish I could for my family’s sake.”

The family wants their dear daughter to loosen up. Her rash mother is at odds with Constantine for not assimilating into her own image of womanhood. Previous parental scoldings began to reverberate through her mind: “Have some spirit, Constantine. Do something. Smile, Constantine. Why can’t she be more like Victoria? She’ll never get a man like that. Confidence, Constantine. Ambition! Why are you like this?”

Why am I like this? she wondered. The train began its slow jog out of Chattanooga.

“Ticket, Miss?”

And so the ticket was passed over.

“Nashville,” said the ticket collector. “You must be going to see yourself the gran’ ol’ Tennessee Centennial Exposition?”

Constantine’s face culminated with indifference.

“Um, yes, sir. Yes, I am.”

Something snapped. Something snapped hard in the man’s temperament.

“Well, by golly, for the sake of the fair, for the sake of Nashville, and for the sake of Tennessee, please cheer up woman!”

She dozed and daydreamed, dozed and daydreamed her way to Nashville. Her parents told her she was going to this fair. Oh yes, and she was going alone.

For most nineteen-year-olds this would have been a dream come true. All expenses paid to stay a night alone in a large city—complete freedom. Instead, Constantine viewed the trip as a temporary exile that would test her levels of anxiety.

“Next stop, Nashville. Nashville, next stop.”

The sky appeared happier on this side of the state. She gathered her belongings with absence. A familiar numb, blank stare was plastered on her face. Here goes nothing. Constantine continued to repeat these three words from the station to the hotel room.

It was a grand hotel. That’s what Constantine decided while turning the key to her room. Far too grand for me. She dropped her bags on the floor. She dropped her body on the bed. The shades were drawn leaving the room in a dark haze. Constantine tossed around on the bed’s tightly tucked sheets attempting to escape reality by burying her face in the down pillows.

“Time to go to the fair. Oh, I don’t want to . . . all by myself. Ugh.”

This continued for some time until Constantine sprang up and off the bed.

“Fine I’ll go. But I’m not changing, I’m not freshening up, and I’m not going to smile.”

Later, in the lobby, she asked for a doorman to procure her a stagecoach. And so it was done. Constantine was ushered out and into a roofed stagecoach. She was embraced by velvet and smelled stagnant fumes of tobacco. A bearded, boxy coachman turned around to see who his charge was this time. His tan and weathered skin encircled a pair of hyperactive eyes. He smiled.

Constantine found him rather interesting. All the coachmen drivers are usually so crabby, she thought. This man seemed strong, yet warm, and inviting. She thought of her father—her uninterested, distant father. I’d switch him with my father any day.

“Good afternoon miss. Where to?”

“Oh, to that fair . . . that little fair.”

“The Nashville Centennial Exposition?”

“Yes, sir. That.”

What a dim girl, observed the coachman. Although, not the dimmest. Coachmen, like hair dressers, have seen all human personalities more than once. The coachman’s verdict: She’s a rich, shy, oversensitive girl with an arrogant family. A pair of parents that make much noise and want her to do the same. They’ve probably been at her for so long. So long so that remaining dull and unresponsive is the only form of rebellion she knows. Poor girl.

“Ah . . . Miss. I have a story . . . a good yarn. I think you’ll enjoy it, Miss.”

A pause with no response.

“May I miss?”

Finally,—“Oh, yes, please do.”

“Alright, there once was a young lady named Lorelei—a sweet, timid, girl. Lorelei’s parents never gave her a chance to explore. To discover what she liked, and what she didn’t like. They never permitted her to develop her own personality.”

“How dreadful.”

“Yes, Miss, quite.” He scratched his beard and continued. “Well uh, Lorelei didn’t have any friends. She was about twenty and still hadn’t even held hands with a boy.”

Constantine blushed with recognition.

The stagecoach was nearing itself to numerous large structures. The area was full of commotion.

“Yay, the fair,” she spat.

Time was running out. The coachman decided to cut his yarn short.

“Lorelei didn’t break free from herself or her family. She became an ‘ol’ maid’ and continued to live with her parents. They had forgotten her. Lorelei never married, never did anything intimate. Once her parents died she moved into a bleak apartment. Then she died. Lorelei never found satisfaction in life.”

“So this was the ‘good story,’ the ‘quaint, charming yarn’?”

He ignored her. The stagecoach stopped. They were there. He stated his fare. Constantine persisted.

“Well what’s the meaning of all this? I deserve an explanation, don’t I?”

The coachman put away the money then paused. One more thing had to be said. He turned to lock eyes with Constantine. A dead-on, inescapable gaze.

She froze, unsure of what was coming . . . “Miss, unfortunately there are many, many ‘Loreleis’ in this world. Don’t be one of them.”

Constantine’s eyes dampened. She forced a weak smile followed by a nod that let him know she understood completely.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you for sharing.”

She began to open the door and added, “I’ll try my best to kill the Lorelei within me.”

“Atta girl! Keep your chin up.”

She nodded once more, stepped out, and closed the coach door. The coachman smiled as she walked away. Then he began to chuckle.

“Oh lord, I bet she’s got the biggest knot in her throat right now.”

Constantine marched onward, dainty tears dripped down her cheeks. She was having quite the conversation with herself. You know the worst part? I just met my “real dad” on a stagecoach for only ten minutes, as he criticized my personality and now he’s gone. She beamed for a second, finding her own interpretation amusing. Constantine looked around herself and saw a swirl of confusion. This fair had people from all over the South, all over the U.S. All of them eager to see, eager to promote.

The fairgrounds appeared to be a city itself. Constantine began to wander. There must be at least a hundred buildings! For me, they got a bit carried away with the classical influences. Oh, that’s right, you’re alone. I hope it seems like I have direction. Why is everyone always so happy? Smiling, Smiling, Smiling.

She continued to drift around. Certain things appealed to her. If she wasn’t by herself she might even visit a stand, or go into a building. But no, she must not draw attention to herself. If she lingered too long people might notice her and become concerned. The last thing she wanted was cheap sentiment.

She smelled fried chicken here, fried Catfish over there. Constantine saw pecan pies for sale next to an assortment of brandied peaches and pears. Her mouth watered. Cornbread stands, Praline stands, and anything and everything could be washed down with some sweet tea.

Constantine’s eyes caught the colorful dresses of confident, flirtatious women. She watched their effortless conquests, their premeditated anecdotes, their head tilts, their smiles, their giggles; everything rehearsed to perfection.

Will you all stop that? Are you all happy with the overrun routine? Yet . . . how can I blame them? Men don’t seem to mind, no, keep em’ coming for all they care. So must I, too, act like that? Does that have to be my future?

As she was tossing these thoughts around something made her stop dead in her tracks. Before her stood a giant pyramid.

“Isn’t she a beauty?”

Constantine jumped. A man standing in front of the pyramid was to blame. She calmed down and walked over to him. Now control yourself Constantine. Don’t mumble. Poise! Where’s your poise?

“What’s this for?”

“Why, this building and I are here to represent the wonderful city of Memphis.”

“I see. Are all buildings in Memphis this grandiose?”

“Oh, no, Miss. It’s more an association . . . an homage to the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. However, I can assure you that Memphis is a grand place to be! What a pulse it has! What youth. The young adults, I must say, are different there. They seem to be gradually breaking away from Southern tradition.”

“Well, that’s very interesting. Thank you, Sir. Have a good day.”

“Likewise, Miss, likewise.”

Constantine thought one more thing was necessary before she left. She wanted to take a ride on the Ferris wheel. She soon reached the the front of the line. A man guided her into a compartment and then commented,

“Are you waiting for anyone, Miss?”

“No, it’s just me, thank you. You see, I travel alone now.”

“Ah, very well, Miss. Enjoy!”

The big ol’ wheel began its gradual ascent into the sky. Once Constantine reached the summit, she was overcome by a sense of hope.

“Look how high I am. I can’t believe it. I can see the whole fairgrounds, and much more. Everything, all the colors all jumbled together. The buildings, the pyramid, the food stands, the ‘fast women.’ All from up above! And look at that horizon. The horizon seems to stretch on and on. To different people, different places. If only the coachman could see me now!”

Back to the hotel. Once again, alone. It was time for dinner. She ate by herself. Oh, how aware she was of this. She hardly ever looked up from her plate. She assumed that all parties present were discussing her tragic state of isolation.

Once back in her room she felt safe. Not happy, but safe. She kept the lights off. This dark space withheld judgment. Constantine leaned onto the wall opposite to the bed and oozed her way down to the floor.

The stagecoach driver was right. I’ve got to make a change before it’s too late. Lorelei is not me. I am not Lorelei.

As she continued to whimper and sob, a couple on the other side of the wall began to make their own noise.

What’s that? Oh, it’s just people talking in the room next to mine. Although, I wonder what they’re discussing?

Constantine pressed her ear against the wall. The darkness amplified her sense of adventure.

It was hard to hear what the other people were saying. Words traveled through, muffled, some louder than others. Each understood word felt like a burst of color spreading through the shadows of her room.

“Edward . . . now? We . . . still . . . the party!”

“Don’t care . . . the stinking . . . come here. Just . . . to . . . love.”

“All right . . . wait.”

“What? . . . scared people . . . to hear?”

“No, Sir . . . no prude . . . hell the world! I need . . . off outfit . . . too expensive . . . you . . . rip-up.”

What followed was more sounds than words. Constantine was glued to that wall. A steel bar wouldn’t have pried her away. This was the first time she had ever heard such sounds. These sounds.

“My, how strange. I always imagined that making love would be soft and gentle, like kissing. It sounds like they’re playing a game of tug of war. All this screaming, groaning, and movement of weight. I mean really, are we animals? Centuries of refinement, yet the affairs of the boudoir remain truly primitive!”

Constantine realized she was shouting. She gasped and grabbed at her mouth. Did they hear me? Oh, please goodness no!

That was the surface state of Constantine. However, within her, something else was beginning to happen. The “activities” of the couple made a warm, bubbly feeling spread throughout her body. Her heart quickened.

“Oh, no, . . . not tonight. Just because the two of them . . . nope . . . doesn’t mean I have to empathize that much . . . No, no. Absolutely not. I’m going to the bathroom to cool myself down and get ready for bed.”

“Well, that didn’t help.”

And it didn’t. The age-old human feeling was still there. Hormone levels increased. Constantine’s will power decreased. It was stronger than her and she knew it.

“Boy, don’t I know it!”

Constantine gave in and slipped under the covers. Unlike the couple, she was in solitude. She completed her one-woman show. A familiar feeling of emptiness followed. Constantine didn’t care. Sleepiness presented itself, too. She soon forgot all about emptiness.

The next morning, the rude sun awoke her. She readied herself. Chattanooga was waiting. The image revolted her. A whole city anticipating with open arms only to judge her attempt at becoming a different woman.

Why do I have to go back? I don’t want to see my family. Just as I was beginning to forget them. Such thoughts chased her to the train station’s ticket booth.

“Where to, Miss?”

“Chattanooga, please,” her eyes on the floor.

“All right, Miss, one ticket to Chattanooga.”

While he prepared, folded, and ripped her ticket, something snapped. Something snapped hard. Constantine smirked. She looked up from the floor and stared directly into the man’s eyes, her spirit on fire.

“Actually, Sir, make that a one-way to Memphis.”

She grinned.

He grinned back.