Saturday, October 29, 2011

Up the Outside Stairs

He didn’t tell anyone his name, said, Just call me The Mexican. I called him el mejicano, and that may be why he wouldn’t let me alone until now, when I said, Sure, hombre, I’ll come over to your house soon as I finish here. I got something to do, he said, I’ll be there about the same time as you . . .

I didn’t want to go, but yet I didn’t know why. I kept thinking about Ruby, I remembered Blanche, I wanted to stay and drink myself to sleep, but they didn’t rent rooms here. In the old days, I hear there were rooms upstairs where you could sleep or . . . and/or, that is . . . Thus the hesitation, the conscience almost mastering desire, getting the better of my inclinations, my need.

When the bistro closed, I bought a bottle of rye and followed the directions quite a ways on foot to a dark street where I could see light coming from inside a courtyard and once inside there was a projector at one end with a Charlie Chaplin movie across the yard, at the wall’s other end. Some people were sitting on couches and on pillows on the grassless ground, overhead the moon ducking under clouds and just as suddenly emerging to check Chaplin’s progress. I opened the bottle and watched the rest of “The Pilgrim.” This guy was a hustler preacher on the move and here he was, in a new small town, taking his measure of the yokels. I sipped and viewed and I dozed off and woke to find “Sunnyside” playing. A blonde-haired girl sitting alone above me on a couch leaned over and asked if I was okay, I said yes and offered her a drink from my bottle but she smiled, shook her head no, and we both returned to watching Chaplin. I thought to leave, maybe Ruby was home by now . . . Maybe she preferred J. C. over that man and his sweet horn . . .

El mejicano came into the courtyard guiding a woman, staggering, to the outside stairs.
She had long red hair and was too much to drink. Once up the stairs he led her through the door and disappeared. About a half hour passed until my host came out of the door and called down to me, Come up here, gringo, and take your turn! My turn? I yelled back, Whatdya mean, hombre? Gringo, he replied, you don’t know what you’re missing. Nobody else seemed to pay any attention. Well, I found out . . . her red hair was real, alright, but she was crazy drunk and this roomful of men was taking turns, which followed me, that image of what I saw and knew was why I’d hesitated coming here just because I was afraid something like this would happen, besides I knew when I arrived that outside stairway didn’t promise anything but misery. I leaned over the railing, threw up, got near the bottom of the stairs before retching and heaving again, and the blonde on the couch looked up at me and beckoned me over . . . I wanted to, mind you, and if I hadn’t taken The Mexican up on his invitation and gone upstairs and seen what I saw, let alone come over to this house in the first place . . . I said, I’m sick, I gotta go home. She said, Can I see you home? I said, I don’t know where I live. She took me to her place. Southern women are the most polite women on
God’s earth, and more polite the farther south you go. She had a car outside and drove to her cottage–no shotgun shack for this lady, she could afford a white girl’s bungalow.

I don’t know what I did but sleep, and when I asked her she said something like, You were sick, honey, I brought you here to get you well. I asked, Where’s my bottle? And she: Here.

(29 October 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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