by Louis Gallo
Back in town, recently divorced, old friends scattered, I’m longing for feminine affection as I take to the streets and head in the direction of Jambalaya headquarters in this abandoned warehouse on lower Decatur, third floor, up three flights of wretchedly steep stairs. It’s a seedy, shady patch of Decatur near Esplanade where the Quarter abruptly ends with the old U.S. Mint on Esplanade. There’s a rough gay bar with bears in chains and leather spilling out onto the sidewalk, motorcycles and fights breaking out all the time. A bunch of junk and used furniture stores, some head shops operate by mind-blown freaks. Panhandlers prowl the area and shriveled bums sprawl in doorways and sometimes right on the sidewalk, spread-eagled and deflated. Once someone ahead of me on the banquet pulled out a pistol and shot in my direction; I dropped to the ground; he wasn’t aiming at me but someone behind me. The victim dashed off screaming. I don’t know whether he was hit or not. Then I fled too, ducking between parked cars as more shots rang out.
It’s after hours, just about dusk, maybe only the typist will be there if anyone at
all. I want to drop off this note to the editor Phillipe about an idea I have for a future
issue of Jambalaya. The note could have waited until tomorrow but I am restless, out
of sorts, horny, sad and also craving some mellow weed. I trudge up the stairs, open the
door and the place is dim and spooky looking. No typists, nobody . . . so why is the door
open? I hear a noise in the stock room, a cubby hole at the street end of one massive
room with wooden floor boards and ancient brick walls. The office is nothing if not
venerable and charming in a kind of Pompeiian way.
“Hello, somebody there?” calls a female voice from the stock room. And then she
appears across the room holding a box of manila envelopes. I can make her out only
dimly but as she sashays my way I note the camera slung around her neck, a Pentax
K1000, the voluminous curly hair, the short shorts, the cupid lips, the easy glide
“Hi,” she gushes, now closer to me, “I’m June. And you are?”
What ho, I wonder. Seek and ye shall find—but then just as often seek and find
nothing. Immediate attraction is one of God’s great gifts. And sometimes all you need
to do is turn the corner.
“I’m Marcus Cecci,” I say. “Call me Cecci, everybody does. I just got back into
town and I write for Jambalaya. Who are you? I haven’t seen you around?”
Ah, the magical moment when male meets female and both succumb, when the
hormones sizzle, when nothing else matters. She flows to me liquidly like Ingrid to Bogey in
that Casablanca bar, one of the most luscious scenes in movies. Speaking of movies, what I’m
after is the high theater of “Elvira Madigan,” Sixten and Elvira eating
blueberries with fresh cream in the forest as the troops come looking for Sixten, who has
deserted to be with Elvira, that great Mozart piano concerto (0r was it a sonata?)
resonating in the atmosphere.
“I’m the staff photographer,” June laughs. “Well, my boyfriend is but I do some
of the work for him. He’s teaching me. He’s over in the Ninth Ward photographing the
Chicken Man who bites their heads off.”
I am of course ever cautious. This girl looks young, maybe too young.
“Uh, how old are you?” I need to ask because she could be either fifteen or
twenty-five. You can never tell with young women. And sometimes they lie.
“Does it matter?” she laughs. Does she always laugh? “I’m old enough.” She
plops the box of envelopes on a desk and takes my hand to shake vigorously. “Don’t
worry, they won’t send you to jail over me.”
I still suspect she might be lying but she is definitely old enough even if not.
“What are you doing here, Cecci? ” She has moved very close to me.
“Just dropping off a note to Philippe.”
“I love Philippe, isn’t he a great guy?”
Ok, the darkness surrounds us, June seems to shine, so what the hell— “Hey,
wanna get a drink somewhere?”
She latches to the crook of my arm, rubs herself against my flesh, a maneuver no
man can resist. She smiles sweetly—“Let’s go, daddy-o.” The sweat of her palm turns
And thus I meet June, the first woman after my divorce aside from a few
extramarital flings after Rosa and I no longer felt any urge to grope for each other-
June, ever cheerful, happy, mercurial, intense and eager with no hang-ups, no weirdness
(well, plenty of weirdness but not the disfiguring kind), no demands. She reminds me of
a twenties flapper, thin yet curvy, the art deco stance, the look of insolence, but there is
no insolence to June, no pissed off I-hate-men bitterness. She loves men and is
liberated enough to act upon it, to admit it.
Didn’t she mention a “boyfriend”?
We’re in the Abbey, another dark spot, a bar across Decatur the Jambalaya office
on Decatur. A smoothly lacquered booth, I on the wall side, she moving her chair from
in front of me to the side, and right away, the hand upon my thigh. She lights up a
Salem, flick its ashes into a glass ashtray. She’s looking directly into my eyes and I into
hers. I take her free hand and kiss it.
The Abbey is a narrow place, the bar itself on one side then a skinny aisle then
about ten booths each equipped with a Tiffany-like chandelier that hangs from a twenty
foot embossed metal ceiling. Suddenly, POOF, a soft explosion and our twenty-watt
light bulb dies. An omen? It’s now darker than ever and the shadows make June’s face
more mythic, archetypal, more dreamlike. Time for the martinis. Soon we are both
rather lit and thus more willing to disclose.
“Now really,” I ask once we’re settled, “how old are you. You’re beautiful but you
know . . . .”
“You worry too much, Cecci. Suppose I said I was twelve. Would that change the,
er, boner I suspect you’re sporting at this very moment? How about thirty? Is that way
too old for you? Put your mind at ease—I make twenty-two tomorrow. Tomorrow is my
birthday. And what about you? How old are you? About a hundred? Worry makes you
Ah, she’s got my number. Twenty-two. Where did it go? To June, that’s where. I
do feel old now but not old enough to escort her home to her parents’ house, for as it
turns out she lives half the time with this boyfriend and half the time at home. She has
obviously packed in more experience and worldly wisdom than I will ever have if I do
make it to one hundred. My age doesn’t bother her but I make no haste no reveal it. I’m
still old school about such issues. June is NOW, immediate, contemporary,
spontaneous. She will do what she damn well pleases and that’s that.
“So who’s the boyfriend. And if he really is a boyfriend, why are you with me
She veers off the subject. “You should meet my sister. You’d want to fuck her.”
Uh, what? It’s not often I’m at a loss for words, but well . . . how do you respond
to such a declaration? I leap for the bar and order two more vodka martinis. The
matronly bar tender frowns at me and shakes her head as if to say I’m robbing the
cradle. Her face is eroded with judgmental solemnity. No doubt she would trade places
with June in a heartbeat—not because of me but because June has youth, joie de vivre,
happiness, freedom. Hell, I’d trade places with June if I could.
Is she into some taboo, incestuous kink? Is she offering her sister to me? The
ramifications swirl in my mind.
I’m after long term, high passionate romance, Poe’s love that is more than love—
though who can pass up a serendipitous fling? I have no idea what June is all about so I
must get a little more drunk soon, loosen up, pry congenially. Believe it or not, I am not,
never have been nor ever will be an alcoholic. One drink and I’m on my way, especially
with vodka. Gin martinis are an abomination. I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I drink
merely for the buzz, and I don’t usually drink much to avoid fuzzy, groggy, painful
hangovers. Same with weed. Just enough to unbolt the old character armor a bit.
Usually. I’m not saying I don’t indulge go whole hog every now and then, more often
than I’d like, but I know the price will be steep. I am always aware of what lines never
to cross and feel lousy when I cross them.
“So . . . the boyfriend.”
“Jeeze, Cecci. What are you, some throwback to the era of high school proms,
corsages, class rings? You wouldn’t be here if you cared much about him. But don’t
worry—he’s a good guy, a supreme photographer, about your age maybe, and I call him
‘boyfriend’ because we hang out a lot together and, yeah, I know you want to know, we
screw. He’s bi-sexual. That interest you? We don’t keep each other in chains, no
strings . . . it’s an open relationship. God, I hate that word. Relationship.”
“I hate it too. Sounds sociological.”
“So what about you? Surely you’re not without sin.”
Disclosure time. “I’m recently divorced after about five years. I don’t know many
people in the city these days though I was born and raised here. Mostly everybody I
knew moved away or got married with kids or . . . who knows what happened to them?
You are the very first woman in this town that I’ve met and liked. I teach at the
Lakefront campus. I write for the paper and do interviews and I’m starting a literary
June smirks, takes my hand, rotates my thumb. Why rotate? “I know who you
are,” she says. “I read the paper too. I know people who know you, like Philippe and
your old friend Jim Hazel. I’ve sort of had my eye on you without having my eye on you.
I liked those book reviews you wrote. And I like your eyes.”
“Yeah, twenty bucks a shot for the reviews. I’m rising in the food chain. Jim,
now he’s the one with the money. Lawyer, natch.”
She now clutches my hand tightly in her warm fingers. “I would say, your place or
mine, but you probably don’t want to woo me at my parents’ house. Besides, my father
is dying of brain cancer and it’s not a pretty sight.”
“She’s in Baton Rouge for a few days, but don’t worry. You’ll like her.”
“I don’t get it, why . . . forget it. My place, how about now? It’s about six blocks
“Let’s go, daddy-o. Can I call you ‘honey’?”
“Possibly, we shall see. Let’s go.”
There is this sarcastic edge to everything June says which I like and don’t like.
She’s an impetuous puzzle, another mystery, one generation (well, not quite—ten years
does not a generation make) after mine and already gender politics have mutated, for
the better I’d say. No more awkward, uncertain approaches to women—they now seek
you out with open arms and make the first moves. Is this good or bad? A Zoroastrian
dilemma or great good fortune?
I study June’s face and upper body—the rest covered by a crumpled sheet–as she
sleeps naked after what I must characterize as epic sexual shenanigans. She looks so
peaceful, satiated, at one with herself and the world. I am never satiated, never peaceful
and certainly never at one with the world. The world and I are at odds, a double
exposure I somehow got flung into. I guess this is what the philosophers call alienation.
Not that I much mind—it’s the given, what Henry James called the donne, my deck of
cards. I slide out of bed, move to the upholstered arm chair and stare at June as my
mind drifts back to the fecund, soybean weary Midwest and Anastasia, my fellow grad
student, she brilliant of mind, purity of soul and perfection of flesh. The difference
between June and Anastasia . . .apples and oranges or something fundamentally and
cosmically divergent: baryons and leptons? June, photon; Anastasia, proton. June is a
free spirit, an Ariel, an urban sprite; Anastasia was an anguished young woman, a Verdi
aria, a living tragedy who strove to remain cheerful and light-hearted despite the load
fate had thrust upon her shoulders. The wreckage of my marriage to Rosa was a matter
of course, a rite of passage, two people whose union had fizzled in natural attrition.
Anastasia’s husband, whom she loved, had been reduced to paraplegia after suffering
some horrific industrial accident. I suppose my question to her on the matter was
“Does this mean he can’t . . . ,” I trailed off.
She shook her head sadly as single tear fell from one of her eyes and slid down
her cheek. I hugged her hard and kissed her lips, salty from that tear.
So I allow myself to drift into a cloud of nostalgia, back to one of the last times
Anastasia and I consoled each other over our marital woes, back to one of the hidden
spots where we secretly consorted—the misty, dark, aromatic, chlorophyll-pungent
greenhouse of vast Midwestern U. One of the countless greenhouses at any rate, always
at night when we were supposed to be researching and working on our dissertations in
our communal offices of the English Department. We met every second night, in empty
classrooms of the Liberal Arts Building, in my or her car parked on camouflaged
wilderness roads, in, as I’ve said, the greenhouse or one of the greenhouses upon soft
mattresses of straw, under remote bridges, in secluded park like areas of the campus, we
met wherever no one would discover us and where we could indulge our passion without
detection or consequence. We did indeed love each other, a love perhaps doomed
precisely because it had no future, a love defined and exalted by brevity, unsullied
because so illicitly impure. Anastasia would never leave her afflicted husband and at that
point I doubted whether I could ever find the courage to leave Rosa. But with Anastasia
I knew, however ephemerally, Elvira Madigan, though no Sixten I. Ah, what might have
been! Is lust recollected retroactively greater than immediate on-the-spot arousal and
So naturally I wrote a poem about Anastasia:
I assume I’m finally getting somewhere here at massive Midwest U where I’m grinding toward a grad degree and teaching comp which no one can really teach anyway or learn – either you’ve got it or you don’t – and I’m taking this useless class in Victorian Lit where right beside me up front sits Anastasia, doing the same thing I’m doing, trying to get somewhere, and she is freaking gorgeous in an old-fashioned Debbie Reynolds way, modest, reserved, shy, sweet, all those ancient virtues, and still the prettiest girl in the entire Midwest (that I’ve seen anyway) but I spot the wedding ring right off and that’s a bummer but I’ve learned in my meager twenty-four years that everyone is hungry, all the time, everyone craves, everyone breaks the rules because rules disfigure the spirit, so of course I flirt with her, and I do all the talking in class (so much so that the lisping, rotund professor takes me aside one day and in effect tells me to shut up) and as we’re walking back to our cubicles she says she’s impressed with my mind, imagine a beautiful woman telling you that, it’s double-edged, I’d prefer body, but mind’s ok though I have never thought much of mine because I can’t come close to grasping math of any kind and that’s where the real geniuses tread, I even had to memorize the text book in calculus at Tulane to pass the course . . . well, she is the one with mind, I swear, and that makes it all the better, and I sometimes think I must be afflicted with that Stendhal syndrome: beauty inducing tremors, full body sweats, vertigo, panic . . . because I feel them all when I see her, and we’re reading in class Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came and it stuns me as well, the emaciated horse, the absurd journey, Childe tooting his paltry horn when he finally reaches the squat dark tower, the desolation, the horror and futility, and the professor tells us it’s an affirmative piece of work and I shudder at his ignorance, but that’s all beside the point because all the while I’m dreaming of Anastasia without clothes and we go out for coffee a lot at the student union and she tells me the sad story of her marriage to a guy who five years before was injured in a trucking accident that paralyzed him from the waist down and when I ask if that means what I think it means she starts to cry and nods and I see that this poor women is dreadfully unhappy and wonder how she can always pull off the cheerful routine which she does immaculately because with me I can’t hide it, it erodes my face and spirit, it consumes me and there’s no way to disguise it and I see no reason to . . . so of course we start meeting at night sometimes in dark empty classrooms on the third floor of Arts & Sciences, sometimes in my car on the edge of lonely mud roads and sometimes in the university’s greenhouse at night when no one is around, its glass walls awash with condensation, the sleepy plants effusing chlorophyll, and believe me she is into it and always intense and I’m confused because there must be some immorality going on here and I wonder who’s the guiltier, so I just assume me since I’m always guilty, which doesn’t ever stop me because I can’t resist, I have no self-control, I’m low, man, low . . . confusing me most is that Anastasia is so decent, ethical, moral, god-fearing, good, reliable, punctual, faithful, etc., a succulent, sexy Betty Crocker, none of which tallies with what we do in the greenhouse or the back seats of cars or those empty classrooms . . . and I wonder too about the paralyzed husband, what a lousy fucking break (literally), and if Einstein asks right now “Is the universe friendly?” I’ll kick him in his e=mc2 ass, friendly? to deprive a young man of his splendid hormonal woman for a despoiler like me? and oh yeah that lispy professor starts to call on me in class because no one wants to discuss Childe Roland and I refuse to say another word, and no one says another word, and the class dies and he doesn’t get tenure and winds up selling insurance . . . and in the end when I’m about to move back to the Deep South and Anastasia and I must part, it’s not so smooth and she too decides never to speak another word to me, and I don’t get it, nobody’s talking to anybody, it’s silent as outer space . . . and before that she once asked me why I didn’t call her Ana which is what everybody calls me, and I say that I will never call you Ana, only Anastasia, because you’re the lost Romanov, the empire, the Faberge eggs, the heir – and just pray another Lenin doesn’t come along or something worse than Lenin. But then, that’s already happened.
I must wonder as I sit here watching June and remembering Anastasia—June
now, Anastasia then–if love is myriad and monogamy fraudulent (Bertrand Russell said
it’s unnatural) or whether I am merely another shallow Don Juanish playboy, a fickle
rake, a slut. Not that I love June yet, and given her flighty disposition, seems unlikely I
ever will, but I like her well enough and we click and she has soothed me and she too
likes me well enough and for the moment we’re together. Throughout history Alpha
males who have garnered enormous power and wealth establish harems. Is this the
reality or the dream? Can we all, women included, love not merely multiple partners
(today institutionalized as serial monogamy) but love those partners with equal
devotion and passion simultaneously? Simultaneity is the key term here, obviously. Is
I must have dozed off. From some chthonian depth I register a chime, a feathery
“Cecci,” an echo or tender ricochet.
“Cecci? Daddy-o? Are you alive?”
I’m down deep so my eyelids feel ponderous, anvil-like, as I struggle to open
them. The room comes into focus blurrily, June a sort of smudge, waking reality less
substantial than the noble realm of oblivion. I’m rubbing my eyes, rotating my head,
yawning . . .
“Ok?” asks June. “You look kind of murky,”
“I’m all right,” I say, “I went under for a while, I guess. Didn’t feel it coming on. I
was looking at you, delicious you and then, well, nothing.”
She laughs. “So that’s the effect I have on you? I put you to sleep?” She cups her
breasts and thrusts forward. “Come on, you like, don’t you?”
I stand and stretch and flop over onto the bed atop her. “I loooove! Yum. You are
something else, June the photographer. That was great. It exhausted me. So what’s on
the agenda? What time is it?”
She’s purrs and tickles her fingers across my chest. “It must be morning. See
that light outside the window? Sunday or something. I rarely know what time it is. I
hope you’re not one of those anal-retentives.”
“Me too. Let’s walk over to the Hummingbird Grill and get some scrambled eggs
and grits and toast and bacon. Hmm, we need fuel.”
And that’s what we do. On the way, arm in arm, the word “hummingbird”
repeats itself in my mind. June, the perfect hummingbird!
“June,” I ask, “is past lust recollected retroactively superior to immediate
consummation in the present?”
“Can we have multiple lovers at the same time and love them all equally?”
She punches my upper arm. “Of course we can. What, you love me now? Be
afraid. I tend to disappear from time to time.”
“Did I say I love you?”
“No, but you do, don’t you. And I love you too.”
“Sure, I love you. Why not? Why the hell not? Or are we confusing love and
“Have you ever known the despair that does not know it’s despair?”
“I’ve got an upcoming interview with William S. Burroughs. Wanna do the
She stops short, spins me around and plasters a wet, monstrous kiss upon my
lips. “I would love to. I’ve read everything by him.”
The Hummingbird Grill is a New Orleans fixture, a hole in the wall that caters to
all–the uptown elite out slumming , artists and every unsavory species of humanity on
the streets, an eclectic clientele some of whom pass out at the counter from over-dosing,
desperation, disease, drunken stupors. It’s cheap, the food is greasy and probably
contaminated but people stand in line to get in. Just a counter, the always smoky grill
and stove, something always frying, three short-order cooks—one of the cooks who
reminds me of Eliot’s young man carbuncular wears a black pirate patch over an eye,
has four fingers missing on his right hand—, a harried waitress, the smells, the never
empty barstools. We lean against the wall for a while until two adjacent stools empty.
There’s a mangy guy with leaves and twigs in his hair slurping cup after cup of coffee
with his I guess skeletal girlfriend, also mangy, wearing rimless glasses. She’s talking to
herself non-stop, a serious doper no doubt. Suddenly the guy reaches over and slaps
“Shut up,” he growls. “I’m drinking coffee here.”
“Fuck you, Freddie,” she grunts and slaps him, harder. “Hit me again and I put a
knife in your kidney.”
Freddie storms out of the place and she follows in a rage. “You motherfucker,
come back here. Nobody walks out on Marie Dastugue. Where you going? I’m gonna kill you!”
Thus June and I glide onto their still warm stools.
“Think we’ll catch something? I mean, they looked filthy and contagious.”
“Cecci, stop. You worry too much. If we catch something, we catch something.
Nobody gets out alive. That question about retroactive lust . . . what does that mean?”
The waitress shoves two greasy plastic menus toward us and asks wearily,
“What’ll it be? Coffee?”
June does the talking. “Yes and scrambled eggs and grits and bacon and toast.
Two plates, one for him, one for me.”
The waitress is defeated by default—the hours, the lowly job, the riff raff, the
assholes, the slummers. One front tooth missing, a bruised eye, gauze wrapped around
her wrist, leaking a bit, I note. TShe hobbles away, snatching the menu sheets out of our
“She’ll probably poison our coffee, June. Never offend such people. They live for
June looks at me and rapidly blinks her eyes, shakes her head. “Ever get tired of
being you? All that angst and paranois. I’m going to teach you how to live for the
moment and never fret over anything. And right now I’m not even hungry anymore.
Let’s get out of here. Your place or mine?”
So we’re back at my apartment repeating what transpired here a few hours ago.
I’m still hungry.
But when I awaken after a profound, luscious snooze, she’s gone.
She’s gone. The note reads Call Me. I feel a sudden, tempestuous urge to howl
and weep—though that’s too easy.
About the Author:
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.