Night of Sound and Light by Claire Christine Sargenti

The air is thick tonight. Thicker than usual. It’s a realization that comes slowly, as if the normal rush of brain waves are somehow hindered by the swollen stickiness of the swamp in summertime. I press my body through the murkiness of night that awaits me as I exit the air conditioned palace of the New Orleans Athletic Club. I take a single deep breath, filling my lungs with moisture as I wait for my body’s feeble attempt to acclimate before walking down Rampart Street and into the French Quarter.

The sky looks thick tonight as well, a deep #27213A that even the stars are having trouble piercing through.

I turn on Bienville and again on Royal, walking towards the now-closed CC’s Coffee House where Charlie will be finishing up his tour. And then a rumble comes across the thick dark sky, bouncing off of the iron-rimmed galleries and cackling over Spanish rooftops built centuries ago.

For a city plagued with violence since its inception, we: the buildings, the potholes, the people – we know the sound of gunfire, and this is not it. I lift my eyes over the rooftops, searching in every direction for a flash of light, a colorful glow reflected off of a third story window, a trail of smoke, anything to tell me that there are fireworks going off nearby, but I see nothing, only the inky blackness of night in an endless row of Southern summer nights.

I pass by several groups of tourists, simultaneously numbed by alcohol and awed by everything that New Orleans has to offer, the sounds of explosions fading into an indecipherable cacophony, an audible gumbo made up of bits of jazz and beads and lovers breaking up.

My eyes are caught by those of a homeless man, new in town but not lost on the realities of the current world that we are living in. We alternate looking up to the East, to the West, towards Canal Street, towards the River, all the while meeting each other’s gaze between each directional search, confirming that we are both seeing the same thing: nothing. His face glows with a sense of wonderment as he sits on his cardboard box – his eyes and ears having two entirely different experiences and relishing in the dichotomy of it all. I, on the other hand, am lost on the awe of the experience as I briskly press on towards Conti Street, slightly irritated that, as a tour guide, something could be going on in my city that I didn’t have previous knowledge of.

I pass St. Louis and Toulouse, taking extra care as I cross each intersection to scour the heavens for any signs of fireworks or lights, only to be left with the same thick nothingness. I consider the possibility of a war playing out on the Mississippi River and wonder what the explosions of grenades and rocket launchers sound like. I envision the ghost of Bienville coming back to colonize Bulbancha for a second time and our famous pirates waging war on Governor Claiborne once again. If the city really was under attack, would we know? Would we just keep walking towards our destinations without ever taking cover as if the things that mattered moments before the invasion were still of the utmost mundane importance?

My eyes meet those of every local that I pass, all of us asking the same question with a quick half-committed glance:

Is this the day that New Orleans swallows us whole?

I reach St. Peter Street and finally, I see it, peeking out from behind the buildings are some shimmers of blues and reds and brilliant whites. Tamale Man is standing in the middle of the street, arms stretched upwards and drunker than usual. He has nothing to say, no tamales to sell, no “I love you baby”s to shout, no songs to sing. His mouth hangs open silently.

I pass Randy at the entrance of Pirate’s Alley. He’s got a small group of five tourists huddled around him and he’s trying to yell his stories over the sounds of explosions. They can’t hear a word he’s saying as he’s sweating and fretting, but I can hear him loud and clear as he stops his story to say hello to me.

I turn down the alleyway to walk towards Jackson Square. And there, right in front of me, filling up the whole stretch of sky between Saint Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo are the fireworks – sparkling ribbons of gold and yellow and electrifying pops of greens and blues. The fireworks are so close now that they’re almost blinding and I wonder if this is what it’s like to walk towards the light in a near death experience. And I notice that I am alone. Not a soul is there and I realize that I’ve never seen the alleyway so empty before.

I begin to wonder if I am the only human in the world who is seeing these fireworks, and if, perhaps, they were being set off just for me. I wrack my brain, trying to remember if it is a holiday, an anniversary of a historic event, if there is a particularly interesting convention in town, coming up with nothing. I emerge from the alleyway into Jackson Square and in between flashes of light, I make out two tarot readers, standing up from their tables and facing the fireworks going off over the River. I overhear one of them say to the other:

“What I want to know is: who has the money to pay for all of this?” 



Claire Christine Sargenti is a New Orleans tour guide, spending her nights telling haunted tales of the city’s historic past. By day, she is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersection of imagery and text. Her work has been seen at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, as well as in galleries, theaters, digital spaces, and print publications throughout America and Europe. Some of her favorite written pieces include the Noble Moon Tarot Deck & Grimoire, Vagina Book, and the award-winning Interludes: A New (Orleans) Play. Follow her on Instagram at @clairevoyantspirit or on the web at