He thought of it as home. The wide Canal was a street. The streetcar
on St. Charles, the black woman with her white charge, a little man
she called him. Juan remembered his mother, himself, riding here.
He knew the house when he saw it. There was a garden in back and
one in front. The place was overgrown now. He sat on the divider,
the streetcar continued on its way, he smoked a cigarette, thinking.
He was remembering how his mother had cared for all four children
while she was working. Since everything happened in this house,
she saw no reason to send them elsewhere, not since she was mother
to many men as well. Juan didn’t want to remember anything more.
He wrote a note and slid it under the door. If anyone lived here now
they would know he was here and where he was staying, the usual,
as he put it. The usual hotel with no name but HOTEL. Down past
the Vieux Carre, in the unlighted section of town, even darker now.
He stopped for gas next on a dark highway going through Texas
somewhere, you couldn’t keep track of where you were in Texas,
it was too big. There were always Texans looking at you and then
staring until you felt the hair on the back your neck begin to rise
and wanted to leave wherever you were, and couldn’t help but go,
always just in time, thinking when you started the car, Got gas now
and might as well pull over and find a motel unless I find a place
to park and lock the doors, go to sleep with the keys in the switch.
He saw the motel first. The woman behind the desk had the nerve
to ask him if he’d like a girl to visit his room. He said no and left.
He could have all the girls in New Orleans, why settle for one here?
He thought that was funny and almost laughed, but he was alone,
he was tired, wanted to get up early and maybe he could get home
by this time tomorrow night, he’d done it before up from Mexico.
His dreams all ran together. There was everybody there, once at least.
Everybody moving through the dream as though he were remembering
how to live it all over again, this time without the mistakes he made
growing up, leaving home, doing what he’d done with his life awake
but now letting it all come together and showing everything he’d done
wrong. Or right? He actually woke himself saying "wrong or right?"
Actually got up early after sleeping through the rest of the night.
Got started, stopped at a truck stop to eat breakfast, hated Texas,
only Austin was okay and that was too far from here, he kept going
and going and going, stopping only for gas and drove through all
the way to Shreveport, then Baton Rouge, and loved seeing the bayous
again, even taking a side road down as far as the water’s edge, alive
again, feeling a rush of memory when he had walked as far as he could.
Then he drove on to the Big Easy thinking, What’s actually easy here?
(6-7 January 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander