Stephen O’Connor, excerpt from Nobody Here Knows Anything, A Novel

– HOPE –

This scene takes place in a flooded nursing home in New Orleans late at night on the day after
Hurricane Katrina has ravaged the city. Talesha is an attendant in the home and Mrs. Zeisse is a German
Jewish refugee whose legs are paralyzed and who is confined to her bed in single room on the second floor
of the home. The electricity is out. There is no light or air conditioning. Also, the water supply has
become infiltrated by sewage, so there is nothing to drink but canned fruit juice. Temperatures inside the
home go well into the hundreds during the day. Many of the elderly and ill residents are dying. Talesha
and Mrs. Zeisse had no particular relationship before Katrina, but have become friends since.
Talesha seeks refuge in Mrs. Zeisse’s room whenever she has a spare moment. They are waiting
to be rescued, but so far have no indication that help is coming.


Talesha? Are you there?

Shhh. I’m here, Mrs. Zeisse.

I am sorry. You must be busy.

Not now. Not for the time being. Most of them are sleeping finally. Why aren’t you sleeping?

I was asleep. A little bit. But I was frightened.

I had a dream. It was one of those dreams that are so real.

Do you mind if I sit down a bit?

Please. I would like you to. It is so dark.

I know. And everybody’s lying on mattresses all over the floors out there. I almost tripped over Lucy Smith three times. Betty almost fell down the stairs.

I do not think I have ever seen it so dark. And so quiet. Listen. No cars.

I heard someone shooting a little while ago.


That’s what it sounded like. Wasn’t no car backfiring, that’s for sure!

I do not want to know about shooting.

So you had a bad dream?

I dreamed my mother’s dead face was pressed up right against mine. Maybe it is because. You know. We were talking. Her face was cold as a piece of chicken right out of the refrigerator. I could feel it.

No wonder you were frightened.

I do not want to talk about that. Tell me about yourself. Tell me a story.

I don’t know any stories.

Sure you do. Just tell me something that happened. A happy memory. We both need to get out of this place.


In our minds.

Well. I guess there is this one time. I was living with my second foster mother.

You were in foster care?

Oh, yeah. Ever since I was little. Five years old.

You poor.

Nah. It wasn’t so bad. You know.

So anyway. My foster mother’s name was Mrs. Bingham. She weighed like two hundred and fifty pounds. This big, fat woman. And there was this other girl there. Chardonelle. She was a foster child too. Mrs. Bingham was getting paid for keeping us. That was the only reason. She used to make us. You know, when we been bad. She used to make us get down on our knees and thank God she was so generous that she took us in. “Without me y’all would both be dead!” she used to say. “So y’all thank God for bringing you to me!” And she would sprinkle sand on the floorboards so that it was extra painful. And she’d make us stay like that. On our knees. For hours. And after that. Well, I just never had much patience for Christians after that. People start talking about Jesus this and Jesus that, I just. Well, anyway. When it was Christmas, she gave us these dolls. They were white-girl dolls. Beautiful dolls that were almost big as we were. Like maybe three and a half feet. And they had these eyes that opened and closed. And they were all wrapped up in this clear plastic paper. With a little ribbon at the top. And she wouldn’t let us take the plastic off. We just had to look at them through the plastic. And play with them. You know, still all wrapped up. She said we were going to break them. Get our dirty fingerprints all over them. And after Christmas was over, she put them in the top of the closet. She said she was keeping them for us. She said we would thank her for it one day. And then next Christmas, she just gave us the same two dolls all over again. Anyhow. Chardonelle. I didn’t like her. She was a bad girl. She was like, only eight, nine. And she’d smoke a cigarette every chance she got. And she’d steal things from me. My shirts. My earring. That was the only thing I had from my mother. This one little gold hoop I used to wear in my left ear. I lost the other. And Chardonelle, she stole that. Gave it away to someone.

Talesha! That is so! How could she!

She’s just. You know. Well, anyway. She was funny, though. She had this sense of humor. So one day. Mrs. Bingham always had this bath at five o’clock. Just before dinner. She said it was her quiet time. Kept her from going crazy. So one day Chardonelle and I stole all the towels in the bathroom. We just took them and hid them under our beds. And Mrs. Bingham didn’t even notice. She just took her bath like normal. So anyway. She been in there a while. And then Chardonelle, she starts like, “Ooo Talesha! You start a fire! You just gonna burn us all up!” And she was such a good actor! She was just shouting. And you just had to believe her, cause she really sounded like she was terrified. “Oh! Talesha! The curtains! The curtains are on fire! We’re all gonna get burnt to bits! Run tell Mrs. Bingham! Run tell Mrs. Bingham!” I was just running around in circles, yelling, “Fire! Fire! Help! Help!” And then there was like this tidal wave. It happened just like we planned it. There was like this rumbling and this cursing. And Mrs. Bingham bursts out the door buck-naked, cause she couldn’t find any towels to wrap around her. And she’s just flopping all over the place—scared out of her mind! And then she sees the expression on our faces and she’s like, “You little bitches!” And we just laughed and ran out the door onto the street. And she couldn’t follow us cause she was buck-naked. She just yelled at us, “You little bitches!” And we just laughed and laughed. All down the street. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard! That felt so good! Chardonelle and me, we were just falling all over each other. It was like we really were sisters. Oh my! But then. Of course. You know. After that, Mrs. Bingham had enough of us. And I didn’t ever really see Chardonelle after that. Somebody told me she had a baby. She was fifteen. Somebody else told me she run off to California. I don’t know.

That is a good story.

Well, it’s not such a good story. But it was a good time in the middle of a bad time.

That is the only kind of good time there is, I think. That.

I try not to think about it that way, Mrs. Zeisse.

That is why they are precious. Good times.

I try to think it’s always getting better. I try to think, if you work hard. If you are careful. Do the right thing. Things will just get better. They have to.

That is the American way.

And they are getting better. The older I get. My life is just getting better and better and better.

You are a lucky girl. You have to have hope, Mrs. Zeisse.

Hope is good.

Hope is the most important thing there is.

I would rather be strong.