Official State Sign
by Frederick Charles Melancon
“And then, she cheeked me.”
“Cheeked you? What does that mean?” Gabe asked as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.
Louis put the shovel down against the huge oak tree with ancient meandering branches as he thought. “Well,” he finally began, “We had a great night. We were outside her front door. She was smiling. I thought that now was the time for a first kiss, and when I went in for the kiss she turned her head. And I kissed her cheek instead of her lips. That has never happened to me before.”
Gabe shook his head knowingly. “One time I kissed a girl, and she slapped me.”
“So what did you do?”
“What do you mean what did I do? I didn’t kiss her again that was for sure. And I think you could use that advice.”
“But we had such a good time,” Louis protested.
“But did she kiss you back? No. So you need to move on.” Gabe all of a sudden pointed at the sign on the ground. “It is just like the story on that sign and the whole reason we are sweating our butts off out here moving this sign: to keep people from touching something they have no business to be touching in the first place.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know,” Gabe spat, “we are putting up this sign so that people won’t climb, cut, or otherwise damage this historic site because of the story about that woman who chased that man around the entire U.S. to only find him up North before they both died.”
Gabe stopped to look at the sign again. “You know, the Evangeline girl?”
Louis continued to work to give himself some time to think. Within moments, he could no longer contain himself. “Are you serious?”
“Serious as the heartbreak you are about to have if you don’t realize the perfectly clear sign this girl put up for you and find yourself another girl,” Gabe responded without even looking at Louis.
“No,” Louis replied, “not about the girl. I mean, you do know it is just a story?”
“Yeah,” Gabe said, “I just told you the story.”
“No.” Louis resisted the urge to call his friend a name. “You know it is not a real story but a legend?”
Gabe looked at his coworker with stubborn disbelief. “Then why are we planting this real sign by this real tree?”
Louis shook his head in disgust. “Gabe, it is people like you that make us look like illiterate fools.”
“I don’t know who you are calling illiterate because that girl last night spelled it out for you and you still don’t get it. Anyway, I am not illiterate; I just don’t like to read. But I can still see the tree in front of my face.”
“Gabe, the tale is an old short story that was turned into a poem about unrequited love, and this tree will be the fourth Evangeline tree in St. Martinville. The other trees died either from disease or lightening. And if the legend was true, why would we be putting a sign up now? Don’t you think they would have done that a long time ago?”
“I thought we were replacing the sign,” Gabe commented. “There was that storm not too long ago.”
“Yeah,” Louis retorted, “there was a storm that knocked down that old tree where the sign used to be. This is why we are moving the sign over to this tree because everyone thought it looked old enough to fit the part. Not to mention, it was right next to where the other one was before the storm. The tree is still on Bayou Teche, and it would not be that much trouble to move at least the sign without touching any of the fencing, benches, or other features in this tiny park. And, when we are done, we are supposed to plant a new oak tree where the old one was so there will be a replacement when this old one falls.”
Gabe could not comment.
“All this is a story,” Louis cemented his point, “written by the man whose bust is over there.”
Gabe looked to where Louis was pointing to a white bust sitting atop a brick pedestal in the sun. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was emblazoned on a plaque with some other inconsequential details of his life and reason for being on this bayou.
Gabe was not about to be proven wrong by Louis. He thought quietly until he had to work the problem out loud. “So you want me to believe that this official State of Louisiana sign is only an attempt to get tourists to come down here and spend money?”
“No, it is not what I want you to believe. That is what I am telling you.”
Gabe’s brow furrowed. “I really didn’t think they were that smart.”
Louis sighed and laughed at the same time.
Gabe, however, was not going to let him savor his victory for long. “But that still means you are no smarter for liking that girl than some dumb, lost tourist. Anyway, I like the story.”
Being born in this town, Louis would not let the comment stand. “Well, if I am so dumb, why do I have a date with her tonight?”
“Because you like punishment.”
Standing still for only a moment, Louis quickly retaliated. “I do not like punishment.”
“Then why are we friends?”
Louis ignored him, too caught up in his own thoughts. “And mine is not a story about unrequited love. I figure if that girl doesn’t fall for the same nonsense I pull on other girls then maybe there is something special about her, and I would be a fool not to at least find out no matter what happens. What do you think about that?”
Louis really didn’t want him to answer, but Gabe did anyway. “I think you are delusional.”
Moving even closer and getting ready to respond, Louis didn’t get the chance as Gabe threw up his hands admitting defeat. “All right, I don’t want to argue about this anymore. I am hot, and you have already destroyed my view of local government. Isn’t that enough?”
When Louis did not quickly respond, Gabe continued with a resigned wave of his hands. “Go ahead then. See this girl tonight and become another story of unrequited love or prove me wrong. I don’t care. But I fully intend to finish this job, go home, turn on the T.V., and have myself a requited good time.”
Frederick Charles Melancon lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and gained experience in the publishing world as an intern at Pelican Publishing in Gretna. He’s published a book, “The Book of Lost Innocence,” and his poetry recently appeared in Country Crossroads and Avocet. The story above is based on St. Martinville, Louisiana’s, Evangeline Oak, made famous in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline,” about an Acadian girl’s search for her lost love.