Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Doll

It’s hard to imagine now. It took three days to listen,
four days to write it down, or am I putting it down?

When I started feeling how odd it was I hadn’t heard
of Anne McConnell before now, I asked her straight out
why. I don’t remember exactly how she put it. Why
not stick to my own story? Adore replied, then went on
saying most of what I just wrote here during these most
beautiful days of California, days fit for an ornithologist,
of whom I’m unaware save that they study the birds,
which provide plenty of music outside Cathleen’s window
in Lagunitas. Adore was saying she didn’t see any reason
to tell Anne’s story when she was probably still alive
. . . last I heard she was back east, recording the bluest
blues people here say they’ve heard since Etta James.
Ira’s death sent her packing. I never saw her again.
I stayed in this house. I did what I could to be alone.
I went on thinking, remembering Ira, without weeping.
When you’re deep as me in gris-gris, ju-ju, with the loas,
you are never really alone. I had not been alone since
Madame Ju-Ju declared I was now a different woman–
Mama never talked much of the men who called horses
in from the air– . . . I was one more woman they rode.

Usually I went back to HOTEL HOTEL to make notes.
I must’ve been in a daze, I wound up at Tipitina’s,
not far from the bar Rocky tended, farther still from
where Adore met Ira. I asked about Anne McConnell.
The bartender mixed me a soda water with lemon twist
and served it with a photograph. If Billie Holiday had
white skin and Anne wore gardenias this would be her.
He said Anne went to Manhattan, lived in Brooklyn.
After that, he didn’t hear more. She got famous though.
How in hell can she help it? he mused. She is a doll.

That was not long before I left New Orleans. HOTEL
HOTEL was back to being ten neon letters at night.
Ray was dead, following Big John, like you already read.
Adore continued sleeping nightly with Mr. Questionmark.
I left The Saloon in Roosevelt’s hands, and he promised
to stay until I found a way to let him return to Arkansas,
which he did when Roberto came to town to take over.
I called Roosevelt to wish him and his son the best I could
in the way of words. That was always the way it went . . .
Mr. Word Man. I looked at the photo and wondered why
nobody ever said her name before. I would like to have
seen her sing. Heard her at least. I called Jazz Radio,
asked if they had anything by Anne McConnell . . . Who?
At least they asked, I told them who she was, all I knew,
most of which I didn’t say, you know, about the loas
and Adore and Ira, and what I could say wasn’t enough
to put in a thimble. I called San Rafael. They’d heard
her name, but they didn’t stock blues records any more.
I called Sausalito, the Trident. The bartender said, Call
Valhalla. I decided to drive down. I might see Sally . . .

She happened to be there and was happy to see me, said
Sally Stanford, ex-Sausalito mayor, retired San Francisco
madam. She was all painted up as usual. I got my face on,
she reported, only twenty minutes ago. I love to look good.
When I was in the business I insisted my girls all paint
their faces. Some even liked to paint their nipples. All,
of course, were required to paint their nails, fingers
and toes. As the city’s mayor she saw no reason to change.
The Valhalla was designed to recall her good old days.
The waitresses were all painted up. She made sure of that.

(9 June 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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