Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Johnny Goes Back

She said she was going, but she didn’t, not right away. She kept the room at Mama Doll’s with Johnny’s mother’s blessing, even knowing her son was thrilled he would get a change of scene where he planned to see his wife and his mistress on alternate days . . . or in some such pattern. Nor did his mother mind when I started sleeping with Betty, especially since I discovered I knew one of her girls already. Blanche was there, had been there, she said, since moving out of “our” hotel room, as she remembered it, more than a little fondly, it seemed. Blanche already knew Betty and had shared her memories of J. C. before I finally visited the house on St. Charles Avenue. I never understood the way women shared their men, if they did. I damn sure never had been shared, so-called . . .

I kept my room in HOTEL HOTEL, just in case. Redhaired women were said to have hot tempers–how could they help it? wearing on their heads hot coals smoldering in ashes and liable to erupt in flames any moment . . . Betty was my first redhead and most likely would be the last, in fact maybe she would be the last of all. I wasn’t exactly Lothario incarnate, Casanova reborn . . . Anyway, I kept drawing from memory and writing letters in my bandbox of a room, and working every day at THE SALOON except one. Ray said he was having a great life with Allison–that was the only name I knew–though he still went to his mother’s house every night, getting in late usually and laying it off to working after hours at the bar. Allison was from one of the city’s better-known families. He was amazed he was getting by with as much as he was. They checked in to the St. Charles Hotel in the afternoon, had dinner and drinks downstairs (where many different languages were spoken casually and sometimes, it seemed, all at once. . . ), and upstairs, as he said, “fucked our brains out.”

After Betty was overdue to arrive, Johnny started calling and his mother set him straight about expecting Betty to put up with him when he’d be living with his wife on California Street, by Golden Gate Park, across the bridge from Betty in Sausalito. Doll had been there, she knew Sally Stanford very well–this was a spell before the retired madam was elected mayor of Sausalito--and her own son wasn’t fooling her one bit. Johnny wrote Betty short, sometimes mournful, always whining letters, or that’s how she put it. I didn’t know, she never showed me one.

After another month Betty said she had to go back. She’d taken more time away than she’d planned. Her roommate would be wondering why; she’d never been gone this long before. Even now, she declared, she wanted to stay. Later on, she wrote to me about her life in Sausalito, living with a man considerably younger than her. But maybe that was another man, a later one, I really didn’t care to know about any of her men after that, and said so, though she kept on writing and I kept on replying. I stayed in New Orleans and when I wasn't here I went back to the mountains to see my sisters for a few days at a time, at most. Sure, I missed Betty, but Blanche and I took up company again, during her off hours.

I worked for Ray another year and then started planning to go back to live at the homestead, where I’d grown up. Roanoke wasn’t far away, and I thought I would have the best of both worlds, and now that I’d lived in New Orleans a while I never knew where I might take a notion to go next. I might even talk Blanche into coming with me.

(12 November 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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