The Saloon was now mostly Roosevelt’s,
Juan deposited the take and paid bills
and kept track of young Jason at Adore’s.
Adore took Juan in and hauled his ashes:
he let her, and gave as good as he got.
And Adore was as randy at eighty
as she was at forty, telling Juan all
about it: I took on any damned man
who looked good to me, but only one time
if he didn’t try hard to please me right . . .
I was a beauty . . . didn’t need no man
hanging around who couldn’t keep it up . . .
There were not that many who could put me
to sleep for the rest of the night. In bed,
honey, I was a wildcat, pussy wild . . .
Juan loved to hear her stories: She was still
a handful forty years later. Adore,
as he never tired of hearing her say,
loved her body: I kept it looking good,
sleek as a panther, wild mama lion
I liked to say . . . lioness with pussy
out of control, O no, honey, I kept
it safe for what I wanted . . . So Adore
wanted Juan at dawn, noon, dusk, day or night . . .
Young Jason slept on the day bed out front
and left the house early so he could find
a corner to cadge his daily tribute.
Juan dropped in on Ray at the hospital,
no longer raving but far too quiet.
Juan talked to him and he seemed to listen.
Doctors said he might not live long, which spurred
Juan to feel like going off, getting drunk,
but if he did he might die before Ray.
He had the fear from the old days out west.
And not only in California
but Mexico, Sea of Cortez, inland . . .
Each time he went to Mexico City,
while mama Nell was married to Manuel,
Juan stayed in Mazatlan, dined on smoked marlin
at Mama Muchis uphill from the beach,
always at sundown, and after drinking
going to Matilda’s to spend the night,
she who always recommended the girl . . .
After a week or two he had no need
to stop in Guadalajara, Morelia,
or Toluca, he drove relentlessly, all
the way, without stopping to sleep, a long
trip to D.F., but he had cojones . . .
He left the hospital and went to work
mixing drinks, uncapping bottles of beer,
whatever Roosevelt took for orders
from the paying gentry, the loud tourists
and the quiet ones, few and far between . . .
But The Saloon kept going, Roosevelt
took over when Juan needed to go off
to think about what to do when Ray died,
which happened a few days later. Juan came
to his room and found him flat on his back,
rang for a nurse and Ray was pronounced dead.
Juan delivered the news to his widow
by Western Union. She came to see him
buried, no funeral march, second line,
or death notice in the Times Picayune.
She was there to hear the will and angry
when she heard The Saloon bequeathed to Juan.
Yet she said nothing, pursed lips holding firm.
She had the house, which was what she wanted
most of all. Juan moved his car to Adore’s,
parking in the weather, taking a chance
until he could find a garage for it . . .
At Madam Peggy’s he told Paolo
he might leave town soon. Would Paolo want
to share the driving . . . Only if Georgia
can go, his brother replied, if she wants . . .
She’s still getting paid for it, isn’t she?
Juan asked. Paolo answered: Only if
I say she can. Well, Juan barked, you’re her pimp
then, you can’t afford to leave New Orleans . . .
Don’t get testy, said Paolo . . . Madam
Peggy stopped Juan on his way out. I heard,
she said, If you go to San Francisco,
say hello to my dear old friend Sally
Stanford, who retired from the trade, was mayor
of Sausalito, then retired for good
but she never slows up, goes stronger now,
she says, than when she was her own madam,
but no one knows how much longer she has . . .
She owns a restaurant called Valhalla
a short way up shore from Sausalito,
great place to eat and drink, Juan, and what else
only God knows . . . She likes to talk to men,
holding court nightly until closing time . . .
You must stop in and see her when you’re there.
I will, Juan assured her . . . Adore was here
in New Orleans, where Mama’s coffin
must be gone for good, somewhere out at sea . . .
Yes, Adore was here to stay, she declared . . .
that would be the rough part, leaving Adore,
even for a while . . .Paolo could have Betsy,
maybe Georgia already had him trained
to do cunnilingus while they performed
fellatio on him, one at a time . . .
He went off to work, told Roosevelt
what happened, asked him if he would take care
of The Saloon . . . If, that is, I leave town . . .
You can depend on me, Roosevelt said.
I do depend on you, my friend, Juan said.
Roosevelt declared, You can count on me.
At HO HOTEL he called Irish Cathleen.
She sounded happy he was coming home,
and home was what she called San Francisco . . .
(1 April 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander