Ray showed him the ropes. Juan knew Rocky well
enough to know some strands of braided ropes
were more tenacious than others. That meant
the bartender’s attitude was crucial
to knowing how to mix drinks well enough
to please. Juan had the hang of it by quitting time.
He closed up and strolled across the street filled
with turistas. He was staring at the door
of the bar where a half century ago
the words out front heralded Lili St. Cyr
here tonight! One night only! Once inside
they sat waiting for the famous stripper
to show. He bought drinks for Betty and him
and an hour went by until the waitress
returned with his change on the tray. She started
to pull the tray back but he retrieved the cash,
she exploded with a furious rage:
Leave me no tip? Get out! I hope you die!
As they walked away Betty told him when
a pregnant woman in Manhattan failed
to tip her cabbie, he shouted at her:
I hope you lose your baby, lady!
Juan said, chuckling, Thank god you’re not pregnant.
And a few nights later Betty lay
in her own blood soaking the hotel sheets.
A few months after that, in Seattle
she awoke unable to stop bleeding.
After a day and night he took her home
and two years later, living far apart
by now, she had a hysterectomy
after losing her child, not his. Divorced,
he drove to Mexico City to stay
with Manuela Roma. He sat apart
in her house in Colonia Prado
Churubusco while the young Arturo
and Che’s ex-wife Hilda Gadea
reviewed with the roomful of insurgents
the day’s events and planned for tomorrow’s.
If Betty were there, she would ask to leave
as she had done last year on Hamburgo
in the Cuban embassy where the man
introduced to him as a cultural
attache asked him when he was coming
to Havana and Juan begged off, declaring,
I can do nothing, I’m just a writer,
and the man said, Then you can write, can’t you?
Not a year had passed since Guevara’s death.
In those days young romantics like himself
discussed The New Man. But he just listened,
writers being less loquacious and prone`
to writing on paper, not on the air.
Unlike that New Orleans working class
waitress, he knew too little to lay
a curse at the feet of the haute bourgeoisie.
(14 February 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander