1. Betty and Johnny
On her third day–or was it her fourth?–she woke before Johnny.
The house was quiet, the women worked until dawn usually,
his mother told her. They stayed out in the Vieux Carre
and came through the back door stealthily, marring the quiet
with their hushed banter, ascending to the third floor,
where only the new whores worked and slept: lived.
There was always a room free for unexpected guests,
not her but him. Johnny lived all over the continent, Canada
to Guatemala, though he always had a home here, his momma said.
Her girls and customers called her Doll. Johnny didn’t know
anyone who knew her real name, and he never told anybody.
It was nobody’s business. She had her reasons for being Doll.
Betty showered first thing and when he heard the sound of water
Johnny got up and came in, and you know, reader, what happens
when a man and woman are just getting to know each other’s bodies.
Downstairs Betty made toast and coffee, three or four days in a row
now of domesticity, she wasn’t accustomed to kitchens. He was.
They returned upstairs, made love again, then went out to walk.
They strolled a long way. Better exercise than riding a streetcar.
Betty kibbitzed how being a whore would ensure you were alive
not only with men but with the madam taking good care of you.
Johnny said she was being romantic, being a whore was nothing
like that. He oughta know, his mama had been one long enough . . .
They reached Canal, where it intersects with Bourbon Street.
2. The Woman by the Door
I was working getting the place swept up, waiting for the tourists.
Ray was stocking his cooler, putting the beer newly arrived on ice.
I was working here only. The lovers’ three or four days had stretched
into weeks, I never saw one without the other. I learned to mix drinks.
I was getting the hang of it all, Ray said, faster than he’d thought I would.
They wanted to know if I’d had any luck. I told them nobody knew
where Gomez was, or if that was his real name. He'd never returned
to the docks, though the boss hadn’t seemed perturbed in the least.
A new guy was there, who started the day before I quit. He was
familiar, I thought, he acted like some guy from the Blue Ridge,
as though I might’ve seen him before, he even talked a little like me,
though I knew he was from the mountains, a far piece from Roanoke.
A weekend or two later I returned to the café where Ruby and Delia
found their musicians, and there she was, the beautiful brown woman,
standing by the door, as she had the first night I had been there already
when she entered and stood by me and I left rather than feel the need
rise in my loins and make a fool of myself by startling her out of what
filled her, and when I looked at her she was still transfixed, it seemed.
I went out the door and walked to St. Louis Cathedral again, this time
packing my own pencil and sheaf of paper. I sat in the pews drawing
the altar, the priest in full frontal view and holding forth solely in the way
I imagined he would cajole and soothe parishioners as a shepherd his sheep.
In the back of the church, standing,I drew the beautiful brown woman
in profile, the only way I’d seen her: I felt like Picasso in his cubist advent.
(8 November 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander