I told Ray I was working already, making more money than ever before in my life. What as? A stevedore, I have broad shoulders. To myself, I said something like Be grateful to find an easier job even if the money will be nearly nonexistent after weeks of what you’ve drawn from working in the hole. I also thought of the Mexican, Gomez (according to Barbara, the Chaplin aficionado). I needed to ask him about that night, find out what he thought he was doing, then tell Big John and his friends Johnny and Betty what I knew. Most of all, I wanted them to find him and do with him what he deserved. My, my, wasn’t I being a Galahad . . ..
It was Sunday so I started working for Ray right then, after telling him I’d have to stay with my present job a while longer, but would like to work weekends until then, when I could afford to end my brief career as stevedore. I told him it wasn’t just the money, but this Gomez and what happened at his house that night. Ray knew all about it from Big John. He understood. He said, Just don’t dilly-dally and leave me in the lurch . . . He did need someone, he admitted, there was a woman he needed to spend more time with, and he added something about how he had to keep his love life a secret from his mother, that Southern proclivity so many families down home suffer from, the children at least . . .
Johnny and Betty dropped by mid-afternoon. They seemed to have recovered their composure after last night. The thunder had struck and they’d been spared the lightning, or at least he had. Yet she looked surprisingly unfazed now . . . When Johnny asked and I told him where I was staying, he offered me a free room in his mother’s house on St. Charles. Betty laughed when I said, She runs a whorehouse, doesn’t she? She seemed happy. Johnny didn’t mention the gang rape, nor did she. They talked about New Orleans–this was her first time here–and when they found out I was new here from the Blue Ridge Mountains, wanted to hear my story. I said, There’s nothing to tell, I was born and reared in the mountains and this is the first city since Roanoke I’ve lived in. I added I was looking for a way to do what I thought I could, and the city was the only place I knew would allow it. Either sing or write or draw, maybe paint, even try acting. Betty was recovering from a divorce, living with Johnny while the papers went through,
waiting for word on the custody of her daughter. Johnny said he wrote. He had a brother who wrote too, who’d just gone to Vietnam. His other brother was already there. Hard to say what he does, Johnny said. I quipped, Everyone does something, so they say . . .
Before they left The Saloon, I thanked him for the offer to stay in his mama’s house, but I needed a good night’s sleep if I was going to do hard work all week and help Ray on the weekends. Johnny understood, Betty was disappointed, and I must say I was too if it meant I couldn’t be under the same roof with this long-legg’d redhead with freckles and wearing no more than she needed to be decent on the street. I caught myself. What was I thinking? Was I all a sudden on some kick of “I’m not surprised she got raped, she must’ve been asking for it” . . . I watched them walk off, her anyway. I was smitten.
(6 November 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander