He called to hear her voice. Her phone rang and rang again, then the message machine clicked on. Esperanza’s voice sounded like he imagined, a slight Southern curvature to the educated edge: self-educated.
He left no message: he wanted her to hear his voice, but not this way. He called again and this time got a busy signal. The third time he asked himself, Why did I think it was OK to call her at all, especially now? He was afraid to feel the stirring in his aging loins, but here she was, breathing happily to hear from him while he felt what he had feared he would feel. If he were still imbibing–her word, not his (he preferred throwing down shots with beer back)–he wouldn’t bother fearing what his loins felt; it was her loins he hungered for and wanted to be with his. Her voice was as he had imagined it, he thought; yet he needed to see her, even if only a photograph, but her photographs were gone now, and he remembered them as he listened to her sparkling Southern timbre–again, her word.
All I care about is you, he could have said, but there was Cathleen taking care of him to the point of self-denial, a lovely love he’d known all but twenty-one years of his life and to whom he was married, again. A quarter century passed and here he was, thinking he was in love again and with a different woman now, when it had always been Cathleen during those interims between love affairs, two and then three of them becoming what the society called marriages. Esperanza had told him she’d fallen twice, so being twenty-five years older he owed her one.
He was living alone now. Or so he liked to think. Cathleen was with him weekends she had free from her pimp. He wrote to Esperanza about Cathleen, but he didn’t use her name when it came to her night work. She could have been a Sunday school teacher, but she dug behavior and thought B. F. Skinner had something she could learn from, so she taught Walden Two in the college course that she moonlighted during the week days. Then she saw her lover at high school, where he was football coach hired from the Miami beaches, where he’d learned to sell his body as a kid. She was keeping the wild boys and girls from going batshit, which they refrained from only because they liked her, one and all. One of the big Chicano boys told her out loud in class one day–a non sequitur–he’d like to get her alone some time. She didn’t even blush (or so he said later).
He was living in an apartment he got free with his managerial job, opening doors for tenants without keys (but with IDs), also checking them in and checking them out, and–the worst part of his duties–lighting gas furnaces. Cathleen had been hired with him, and because she said she loved him and didn’t want him to live on the streets, she drank with him and screwed him and blew him and asked him if he wanted to do her in the ass, to which he replied, No, something’s got to be left to the imagination; besides, I’m not paying. She didn’t know he knew her new lover, the football coach, was pimping her until one night in the Radisson Hotel bar he saw the black man sitting at the bar talking to fellow customers like he was a waiter, not a customer. He sidled up to the coach to tell him he’d seen a game or two and because he had been a high school star once, turning down a free ride at a California junior college because he’d only played one year and was more interested in art.
You a painter? Will asked. Poet, Bobby replied, adding, the kind of artist who works for free and sometimes takes the early way out. You mean suicide, Will asked sans questionmark. Yeah, Bobby said. Will then asked him if he’d like to meet a woman friend of his. Bobby said, Sure, knowing she would take the money. Will called ahead and then gave Bobby the girl’s apartment number. That’s how Bobby found out Cathleen was selling herself. She said it was her alternative to a mixed-race marriage, and: Besides, she made a special effort to add, I’ve always loved you, I’m just getting the experience.
(4, 10 December 2013)
copyright 2013 by Floyce Alexander