He got so he liked to go in and out
the back door, It’s always open,
he liked to say, and to himself
only. It was his avenue.
He liked to dream. A room of dreams,
he christened his quarters. Boudoir,
Betsy called the corner their bed
occupied. The rest was all his.
And she came by invitation
only. She sure had her work cut
out for her, keeping him happy
when she knew his head was elsewhere.
He started drinking at Rocky’s.
Twenty years sober and then this
Jax beer, just to see what it was
he remembered, if anything.
Rocky wanted to talk. Big John
was ill. Rocky said he could stay
at his place in the Vieux Carre
if he could find his way down here.
Rocky said John had the Big C,
liver most likely, way he drank
and never got drunk. Well, Rocky,
whatever it is he will die
happy if he gets back down here
from Alabama. He had one
more. Check you later. He walked out
in sun against his shielded eyes.
He had two beers and that was all.
He didn’t need to be in love
to be happy. He was alive
and intended to stay alive.
Betsy was making clam chowder.
She dished some up for him. He sat
at the kitchen table, spooning
one spoonful after the other.
She said, Honey, I have to work
tonight. She meant an all-night john.
He could use the time. He was back
writing Calle Tchoupitoulas.
He stayed in his room with his pen
and pad of paper, and he wrote
this to Lisa Alvarado:
Where I am is Mama Nell’s place
You know how I loathed Chicago,
the wind off the lake, snow and ice
I hope you got with him again.
He wrote that and wadded it up,
threw it on the bed. Soon the night
of festivities would commence.
He didn’t need to see the girls
who were women under their skin,
everybody had to get by
and he was one. He loved Lisa
Alvarado but so did he
who went with her to Oaxaca.
That was what he wanted to say
and refused to say it straight out.
Besides, he had other worries.
If he wrote to her, and he would,
he would tell her exactly where
to find Carlos’s manuscript,
ask her to send it C.O.D.,
if the p.o. still delivered
waiting at the door for the cash,
only then handing it over,
Rum and Lemonade, that would keep
him busy: two books, one his own
and the other his dead brother’s,
plenty to do till the next storm.
He sat down writing it out straight
and telling her the truth this time.
He left out Betsy’s name, the room
he called her boudoir, and the bed
Betsy wanted to call Boudoir
because it was the only bed
she could call her own. The madam,
Peggy, Doll’s old flame, was happy
to put up her dead lover’s son,
happy to let Betsy love him
if she could still do customers
especially her regulars
and work as always the night through
and begin again the next night . . .
He found an envelope and stamp
in Betsy’s desk and went out the back
and began walking all the way
to Canal, mailed Lisa’s letter
and walked down to Tchoupitoulas
to order rum and lemonade,
and the lass taking Rocky’s place
asked him, How do you make that one?
(17 January 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander