Jovetta earned degrees in medicine and languages, and at 20 years old she returned to Louisiana and rented an apartment in the heart of Storyville. When she wasn’t cooking and singing at Jazz joints, she gave the call girls medical attention treating scabies, getting care for the girls with herpes or gonorrhea or syphilis and she tended to their broken bones and bruises inflicted by the rougher trade. Spanish Flu was sweeping the nation but, somehow, the Red-Light District had been spared. A little grace that was welcome in that nowhere land.
She had been around for four years and had earned her street credentials and the respect of every musician, hustler, bartender, doorman, and everyone else who made their living after the citizens went to bed. And then she fell into Tom Anderson’s nightmare and everything turned to shit.
By E.A. Cook
Scarface Billy saw me before I saw him. “Hey Roll-Yer-Own. What’s up, tramp?”
I said “Hi” with my chin, and set my duffel down by his park-bench.
I didn’t expect to see a familiar face in Portland when I crawled out of the boxcar that morning. Night Eyes was sleeping off a drunk under an over-pass when I slipped away and hopped a freight out of Seattle the night before. She wouldn’t cry when she woke-up. Citizens cry. Tramps just move on.
Scarface aimed the neck of his bottle of Thundebird at the other end of the bench, and said,”Sit and light. Chief’s sittin’ there, but he went on a wine run. Been gone awhile.”
I took out the makings, rolled two smokes, and flipped one at Billy. He caught it with his left hand, his right was lifting the bottle to his lips.
“Drink?” He offered in a wine-whisper between swigs. I nodded, reached for the offered bottle, lifted the bottom to the cold, over-cast sky, and let the medicine burn it’s way past my cold heart, into my damaged stomach.
Scarface looked sharply over my shoulder, said”Chief! No!”, when the ham-sized fist found my temple. I half-turned in time to get a glimpse of the big indian before the grey washed over me.
On the way to the ground, I heard “My spot!”. Then the blackness came.
It was dark when I woke up on the ground, right where I fell. Cold rain hit my exposed cheek, while dried blood glued my other cheek to the grass. I hissed the pain through my gritted teeth as I peeled my head from the ground. A young couple on an evening stroll down the bike-path stepped wide and away as they saw me rise from the shadows. Their arrogant, dis-approving eyes watched me closely until they were safely away. “Nasty.” I heard her say. Bitch.
Citizens cry. Tramps just move on.
My first memory is of a big man in a white T-shirt named Babe, telling me to pick my own switch for an ass beating. I remember going out into the humid Alabama night, chickens at my feet, to pull a branch off of a bush. My five-foot-two mom was fighting for me, and Babe’s parents jumped in the middle of it. My next memory was of me and Mom sitting on a bench at the Greyhound Bus station in the early morning darkness. Babe was begging her to stay. We didn’t.
We went to the South Side of Chicago from there that summer and Mom got a job making triggers at a Smith and Wesson gun factory. When she worked, the downstairs neighbor family babysat me. There was a little girl my age with her afro tied to look like Minnie Mouse. Her Father grabbed her by those tufts once while we were playing, picked her up, and flung her against the wall over my head. I was three years old
The picture in this piece is of me on a tricycle that I got for my third birthday. It got stolen the same day.
We moved to Mom’s homeland then, Minnesota, and things got better.