He’s not as tall as Bobby remembers.
Claude says he came down from Purgatory
to street level the night Danny was killed.
He didn’t see the knife. They never drank
unless table stakes got too high to quit,
so that’s the reason tempers boiled over,
Claude says. Still, he knows he’s going to Hell.
Though he never was headed toward Heaven.
At first, Claude says, I won’t say a word about Henrietta.
He’s brought out a bottle of Jameson with two glasses
a little murky around the edges from too many lips,
probably. Old man, Bobby wants to interject, you need
one woman only to keep you company, wash your glasses,
but Bobby knows better: Mind your own business,
laddie, this man is the last of his line, more than money
old age craves companionship, and why not women?
Last I heard she was living south of here.
She was home the night the train crashed that car
her friend Vicky was in, having taken her place
on stage at the club that evening. Vicky could party
longer than your mother, and she was with
three men, all three of them your mama’s beaus
at one time, and they all three knew damn well
Vicky was sad news. You know what she did,
don’t you? better than professionals do . . .
Blow jobs, hand jobs, fucking two men at once.
That’s how it happened, I s’pose, her in back
with two of them going at it, the cat driving
turning around to see what’s happening,
seeing nothing, hearing nothing, nothing to warn
the train in time that car wasn’t about to stop,
and was already on it, crushing it, dragging it under.
Because your mama spent time with all three men,
not all at once, mind you, and all four killed
on impact, they said, ground up like sausage,
little was left to tell who the woman was. Vicky had
most likely taken out her false teeth to do what she did,
but there were dental records for the men.
The cops were like a pack of dogs running after
your mother. She invented the blues Seattle knows.
They thought they knew so much about Henrietta’s lifestyle
they were quick to conclude, without asking around,
that’s where she was when Vicky was singing in her place.
When your daddy took you from her, she went a little crazy,
she started shooting heroin but she could maintain
on stage, not yet slurring words so you noticed it,
and you know, she was too late getting down to loving you,
must have thought it was now or never and took off.
Claude thought she must be in San Francisco.
Henrietta loved California, the northern half.
She said you could saw it off around Santa Barbara.
Bobby chortled but wondered why
she never liked the action in L.A.
Claude said, She loved San Francisco’s steep streets,
reminded her of what she knew of our skid road.
She loved to climb up slowly and come down quickly,
the rush of it fed her music, stoked her passions high
and turned her voice blue. Claude poured more whisky
in his water glass. He lived on his disability.
His war followed him here, his little apartment
across the street from the undertaker.
Christina had said: Bobby, he knows more than anyone.
Your mother saw him like a sister her brother.
She always confided in Claude, he was the only one.
That’s where Cathleen lived now, when she was not in Paris . . .
So why not, come summer, consider San Francisco
their honeymoon? He told Claude of the beautiful woman
in his life. Paula? I like her name. Danny would be happy.
Claude kept going on. Bobby’s mind drifted: What ever came
of sorrow, nothing but sad old shit in your blood
mixing like poison, how can she love me when I’m this way
and she comes from such good people, and she knows it,
she wakes with her pulse full of the original thrill of life
coursing her veins. She says living with me is the only thing.
He was thinking out loud before he was aware of it.
Hell, Claude, she’s still in the shit, only it’s mine now.
Bobby spread one hand palm down. You know that game
you play? Stick the knife blade between all five fingers
as fast as you can go from one to the other . . . well, Claude,
I take my cut to keep a room upstairs in the hotel we play,
nightly, and when I stay there I throw a knife into the wall
and if it sticks, I don’t pull it out--it has no hand guard–
I wait to see it first thing next morning, upon waking,
I count it a blow in life’s favor, call it happiness
if nothing else. I used to see Henrietta’s face
when it stormed, in the rain running down the window.
Now she’s never there, or any woman I loved before
Paula came along and just in time, all my ghosts gone now.
(29 May, 13 June 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander