Saturday, January 19, 2013

Two Women

It was her long black hair, her chiseled nose and lips, her “shell ears,” as she said her father called them because the tops of them seemed to fold. At work her legs looked longer in the hose revealing their shape, her breasts uplifted in her uniform’s top, so that Bobby was by far not the only man undressing her mentally, though he was the only one now, he thought, who knew what she looked like without her body in her bar duds. During her cigarette break, she sat with him at a table near the door, in the corner shadow where someone entering would not see them first thing if they sat at the bar or at a table closer to the middle of the room. She smoked one cigarette and depending on the conversation, its content, its tone, its direction, she lit one from the other as long as they kept talking and nothing was resolved. She had lived with the bartender, the one whose name he could never remember but knew occupied the distinction of being the hotel’s co-owner. But it did not take long for his father to find her and take her away and become a bigamist in Reno when she promised she would look after his son, who was thirteen and she twenty-one. Now he was twenty-one and she twenty-nine and his father was dead, ten years after the train crash that had cost his mother her life. Or so they said. Cristina had known him intimately from the first, as street kids frequently learn about making love from their slightly older elders. Now he knew some rubber lips who had known his father and her together once, and her wearing the ring his father had won last thing one night before the game folded, might charge her and the son with incest, which would only betray their own unmitigated ignorance. Unmitigated, that was no word for a poet to use, much less think, better to say unrelieved, like Faulkner would, or maybe Hemingway would stretch it out to a phrase, but what phrase? And what would Fitzgerald say? Cristina sat with him a little longer than usual, ordering him black coffee, cup after cup until he had to go to the john, whereupon she kissed him lightly on one cheek and hustled back to work.

Bobby was still drinking coffee and Cristina filling his cup when Paula arrived and sat with him asking how he was and he told her he was in mourning and asked her if she remembered that film she saw with her friends one night he decided to stay home and wrote the poem for Miguel Hernandez, that Spanish Loyalist who died in a Franco prison, followed by the visit from those people from New Orleans he’d met here one night he sang . . . She didn’t. She said, You were mourning a poet who fought Franco and died in one of his prisons? No, he replied, softly, I was thinking about Chicago, which happened when I was in Mexico City the time before I knew you, when I was in love with a Russian woman who later went to Cuba before returning home. He was thinking, I don’t know if I got the chronology right but the facts were all there regardless of their sequence, and what does it matter, I never talked about any of this when we were married . . . She reached over and took one hand in hers, saying, Don’t be sad. That was all: Don’t be sad. He changed the subject and asked her about herself and she told him about the songs she was writing and the music Tony was making to go with her words, and how patient Laurie was, taking the time to listen and give them her take on how it sounded, as well as inviting her to dinner every night she could stay. How’s Clark? he asked and she told him what he already knew: They were through. Then she said, It’s not good to be lovers with a co-worker, and smiled with her almond-shaped eyes, with her top lip folding a little over the bottom one as she spoke. He replied with the predictable, You’ll find the man of your dreams, be patient, and she said nothing, squeezed him on one arm, and excused herself. Tony was here, she had to go. They had a new song they wanted to go through before Clark and Sanchez arrived. Come listen, she turned to say before going through the door to what she liked to call the music room. Pretty soon, he replied, as Cristina brought him a refill for his half-empty cup.

(19 January 2013)

copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander

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