Read My Juliet Online

Authors: John Ed Bradley

My Juliet (8 page)

BOOK: My Juliet
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He smiles in his old familiar way. And she feels a flood of dread wash through her. “All right. Make it a pony, then.”

“I would but if they still make them, we don't stock them.”

She really isn't hungry, but she gives some time to the menu, tracing a finger down the list of sandwiches, then up to one of the house specialties. “I'm sorry to see you lost your limb there,” she says, her eyes on the soups and salads now.

Louis's loud snort of laughter lets her know she never should've come here, picture or no picture.

“I didn't actually lose it, to tell you the truth. After that little Dodge hit me on Tchoupitoulas the doctors just took it without permission. It was more stolen than lost.”

“Could you be a waiter for a minute and go get me my beer?”

“Last thing I remember is me and Sonny having a night at the F&M Patio Bar. This was right after you skipped town, and we went out to drown the sorrows, know what I mean? Sonny insisted on paying the tab, and while he did I ran out into Tchoupitoulas Street for some reason. People always ask me why I'd go and do such a dumb-ass thing and I never answer them. But now I can say it, since you're the one who needs to hear it. I ran out in the road because I was happy. I was happy that you were finally gone from his life. I was happy because I believed Sonny was free of you forever.”

“I order a beer and get a lecture. Jesus.”

“I blame you, Juliet. You took my leg. You and you alone are responsible.”

“Fine. Now use that other leg and hop over there and get me my drink.”

Behind the bar Louis pops the top on a Dixie and places the bottle on a tray. At her table he pours the beer cold and icy in a glass and the head swells up more than she usually likes. She doesn't complain. Some people have to blame everybody else for their troubles. Even the beer foam would be something she did years ago. If he has earwax you can bet that's her fault, too.

“I was told they got my picture hanging in this place.”

“We put it over the toilet in the men's room.”

“Did Sonny remember to put a couple of horns growing from the top of my head?”

He gives another noisy laugh and levels his face with hers. “Juliet, let me tell you something you might not want to hear. Sonny LaMott was never right in the head when it came to you. And he still isn't.”

“Okay.”

“Sonny's got this big old sappy heart pounding away down deep in his chest. Still goes to church, still gets on his knees to say his prayers at night. The boy is pure, now. And it's this pure thing in him that I want to make sure to protect.” Louis lowers a hand to his fake leg and gives it a tap. “I lost a lot on account of you and it's in your power to have Sonny lose even more. I'm asking you, Juliet, and I'm asking nice—stay away from that boy.”

She sits picking at the corner of the menu where the plastic is peeling. “I hate to disappoint you, Louis, especially after that deeply moving testimonial, but I didn't come here today to catch up on the news about Sonny LaMott. Somebody told me last night that one of his paintings, presumably of me, is hanging here in the restaurant and I wanted to see it.”

He glares at her for half a minute longer, then takes a step back as if to let her through. “The door with the frosty glass, then to your right.”

“Anybody in there?”

“Not at the moment, if that matters.”

She walks to the bathroom and turns the light on and locks the door behind her. She wishes she had a missing leg to blame her life on. It sure would simplify everything in a hurry.

“What got you to liking cocaine so much, Juliet?”

“My leg.”

“What made you turn to adult cinema, Juliet?”

“Leg.”

The picture is where he said it would be, and she is unprepared for how beautiful it is. Or how beautiful Sonny made her. “Why, look at you,” she mutters to the face in the image.

He did give her a lot of pubic hair, though, and this is her only complaint. But then she remembers that those were the days before you could find a decent wax job. Maybe she really did look like that—a regular ligustrum hedge.

She brings her face closer to the canvas and finds Sonny's autograph in the corner. “Sonny” is all it says, a name as plain as he was.

Under that he's scribbled something else, but the writing is so small she has a hard time making it out. The room's poor lighting doesn't help either. At first she thinks it's a date, signifying when Sonny finished the thing, but her eyes adjust and she figures it out.

My Juliet
, it says.

By the time she returns to the dining room he's already cleared her table. The menu is gone, the flatware put away.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” he says. “I thought you'd left.”

“You know what I think, Louis? I think you were a cripple long before you ever lost that leg.”

He doesn't seem to be listening. “Leave him be, Juliet. That's all I ask.”

“Cripple,” she repeats in a small voice.

“I'll tear your heart out if you hurt him again. I'll lay it hot and bleeding between some French bread and make me a Juliet poboy. Don't think I'm playing, either.”

“I'm just now remembering something,” she says. “Maybe this was just a rumor spreading around—it reached me way out in California, anyway—but that leg wasn't all you lost, was it? You left something else in the road, didn't you?”

“You got a lot of nerve bringing that up,” he says.

“Too bad. Because even before, you were a little sawed off in that department, weren't you?”

On the banquette outside she stands at the window watching as he moves to the bar and pretends to eat a Juliet poboy. She sticks her tongue out and presses it against the glass, but he keeps munching on the imaginary sandwich.

She shoots him the bird and still he eats.

“How come you peed on the schoolteacher, Juliet?”

“Penis.”

“How come you killed your mama like that, Juliet?”

“Penis.”

In the end she walks off dragging her right leg just as he dragged his, the echo of her laughter bouncing off the old buildings pressing in on her along the street.

When Sonny parks the truck in front of the Maison Orleans Nursing Home Mr. LaMott is already waiting outside with a nurse's aide. The woman holds her arms crossed at her massive chest, rather like a schoolyard bully without an ounce of mercy left. She seems less likely to greet him with a hello than to punch him in the mouth.

“You know I'm always on time, Agnes. Won't you forgive me this once?”

“I don't like being out the air condition.”

“Yes, and I feel terrible about it.”

The woman helps Mr. LaMott into the truck and Sonny thanks her with a pat on the back and he and his father start on their way to the Rigolets. The old man is wearing what he always wears when they go fishing: rubber boots, khaki pants, a golf hat decorated with antique lures, and a navy polo shirt with the name
Paul Piazza & Son
scripted in gold thread across the breast. Until a few years ago when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Mr. LaMott was the top salesman for Piazza, a wholesale shrimp distributor with headquarters near the cemeteries just north of the French Quarter. The last time Sonny asked his father about Piazza, Mr. LaMott said he liked his with anchovies and extra cheese.

Earlier this morning Sonny strapped the rods, tackle box and ice chest to an anchor in the truck bed, and every few miles he throws a glance back to make sure everything's riding okay. “Looks good,” he says, nodding at his father.

“Looks good,” comes Mr. LaMott's enthusiastic reply.

Today the weather is nice and balmy and Sonny and Mr. LaMott drive with the windows down. Music plays on the radio, show tunes from long ago. Sonny tries to coax Mr. LaMott into singing along but the old man is too busy opening and closing the window vent.

“You know this one, Daddy? Let me hear it.”

Mr. LaMott doesn't do so much as hum.

On the Chef Menteur Highway they pass a settlement populated with Vietnamese immigrants and Sonny remarks as to how hard these people work shrimping the Gulf but Mr. LaMott seems as clueless about shrimping as he is about Vietnamese. Besides, he has that vent to fool with.

“I think I've been here before,” Mr. LaMott says as Sonny turns into the parking lot at a waterfront restaurant/lounge called Captain Bruce's.

“Daddy, we were here last week,” Sonny says, glad to hear his father speak again at last. “You don't remember we came fishing here last week?”

Mr. LaMott seems to be trying to remember if he remembers.

“It's okay if you don't,” Sonny says. He steps out onto the lot covered with crushed oyster shells. “The only bites we got were from mosquitoes, anyway.”

The building is uneven sheets of tin and plywood inexpertly applied to a skeleton of two-by-fours. It rests on cement standards maybe fifty feet from some of the best fishing in the southern United States. A sign on the door advertises a 1-800 number for alcoholics and inside fishermen crowd the bar running from the front to the rear of the room. Everybody seems to be drinking the same brand of beer and picking from identical platters of boiled shrimp and new potatoes. Up high near the ceiling a muted TV set shows a home shopping channel and the deal of the day: a ladies' curling iron slashed to more than half the manufacturer's suggested retail price. “I need me one of them,” Sonny hears one of the drunks mutter from the middle of the bar.

“You ain't got no hair to curl,” shouts another.

“Yeah, but at least I can get it up,” says the first man, confounding Sonny but drawing a great riot of laughter from everyone else.

Captain Bruce drifts over and Sonny gives him a five-dollar bill, the fee for fishing rights off the pier behind the building. The captain wears Wrangler jeans a size too small and his shirtsleeves cover tattoos of fight roosters raining feathers. Today the captain has little to say except for how the Saints did themselves no favors in yesterday's draft of college football talent. “Eleven picks and every one a colored,” he says. “You'd think they could find one white boy that can play.”

“Mark my words, they inheriting themselves some serious behavioral problems,” says the man who wanted the curling iron.

Sonny puts another bill on the bar and asks for beer and ice and bait shrimp. No surprise, Captain Bruce gives him a six-pack of the same cheap stuff everyone else is drinking, Old Milwaukee in the can.

“Your daddy don't even know who you are, does he, LaMott?” the captain says as Sonny is heading back outside.

“You're wrong there, Captain,” Sonny says after deciding the man means no harm.

“He's senile and retarded, both. Got it coming and going.”

“He suffers from Alzheimer's. It's a disease that mainly afflicts senior citizens.”

Captain Bruce seems to be sizing Sonny up. “Yeah, well, that's what you say. But he's too young for no Alzheimer's.”

“He's sixty-four.”

“I'm sixty-two and how come I don't have it?”

“I guess the good Lord has given you a pass on that one, Captain.”

The captain shakes his head. “That man, your daddy? I want you to leave him at home next time, LaMott. He's got no bidness coming out here. My insurance finds out I got somebody like that fishing off my pier they raise my premium overnight.”

Sonny stares for a long time. “Thank you for the beer, Captain.”

Sonny loads the ice and beer into his Igloo, his father watching through the back window. Then he lugs the cooler and the rest of the gear to the end of the pier. Lastly he helps Mr. LaMott from the truck, offering encouragement as his father tests his footing and gets his bearings. “Okay, Daddy. Take it slow now. Take it slow. I'm here.”

When they reach the pier, Sonny ties a length of rope around the old man's waist then loops the other end around his own. The distance between them runs about ten feet, but if Mr. LaMott suddenly were to decide to go for a swim Sonny would be able to fish him out. You can never be too safe with people sick like his father. In the news they are constantly drifting off, heading for the woods or the interstate, too lost to know they're lost. By the time the bloodhounds find them it's too late but for the undertaker.

“Hey, Daddy. What say we go catch us some fish?”

After a few hours the lake breeze dies and the air starts to heat up and Sonny and Mr. LaMott drink the beers and suck on chunks of ice as the sun broils their arms and necks. As usual the fish aren't biting so Sonny crowds the time with stories about when he was a kid and his mother was alive and Mr. LaMott was the top shrimp salesman for Paul Piazza & Son. The more Sonny talks the more he is able to recall. He describes the Ninth Ward as it was twenty years ago before most of the old families moved to the suburbs and you stopped feeling safe to walk the streets at night. He names the neighbors, the Irish and the Italians who worked the riverfront, the blacks who played music and staffed the kitchens in the bars and restaurants of the Vieux Carré. He names the coaches who coached him in summer-league baseball at the Saint Roch playground. He talks about Otto's Pharmacy, now a grocery store, and about the year it snowed and how school closed and everybody ran in the streets biting at the flakes in the cold air. He names the meals his mother used to cook: crawfish étouffée, shrimp surprise, ground meat casserole, round steak with rice and gravy, stuffed bell peppers, mirliton dressing, bread pudding made with fruit cocktail, raisins and whiskey or “hard” sauce. Sonny talks about waking up before dawn and walking with his mother to Saint Cecilia and Father Michael saying Mass in Latin and Sonny, an altar boy then, ringing the bells whenever Father Michael lifted the blood or the body of Christ. He talks about how sometimes afterward he and Mrs. LaMott took a bus to the French Quarter for beignets and café au lait and the water trucks washing down the streets and on Mondays the smell of red beans cooking and how his mother would still be in her church veil and carrying a missal. Sonny talks and it comes back and he feels a deep, swimming sadness for all that will never be again.

BOOK: My Juliet
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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