Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Johnny Goes Back

She said it but she didn’t do it, 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 could 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 had never been shared, so-called . . .

I kept my room in HOTEL HOTEL, just in case. Being a redhead, women known to have hot tempers–how could they help it? wearing long red hair a lifetime--wearing it short might make them more a handful. 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 except one at THE SALOON. Ray said he was having a great life with Allison, 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, as I recall, everyone seemed to speak a different language . . . ), and upstairs, he said, “fucked our brains out.”

And after Betty was overdue to arrive, Johnny started calling and his mother set him straight about expecting this woman to put up with him when he was just across the Golden Gate from her in Sausalito, and his wife living by Golden Gate Park, on California Street. 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 off more time than she’d planned. Her roommate would be wondering and 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 didn’t see either one because I never went to California, I stayed here and when I wasn’t here I went back to the mountains to see my sisters for a few days. Sure, I missed Betty, but I enjoyed Blanche’s company again, during her off hours.

I worked for Ray another year and then I 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, in addition to a world I already knew and now that I’d lived in New Orleans a while
you never knew what you might take a notion to do next. Hell, I might even talk Blanche into coming with me.

(12 November 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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