whiskey and water.

“How long you plan to stay for?”, Therese asked.

“Until the odds tell me otherwise.”, Carver replied.

he got up from the bed, scratched his lower back and

walked the few feet to the beat up dresser drawer. on

the top rested a pack of Merits. he took one out, put

it in his mouth and lit it with all the casual motions

of someone waiting at a bus stop. Therese looked at him,

eyed the sinews in his back. she gazed at his skin that

shone even in the dim light of the room. she lay there,

naked with the covers at her feet. Carver turned around

and despite herself, she couldn’t say a word. he had

that control over her. she knew it. it was the same

thing every time. he had been by this same joyhouse

for a good two years runnin’. it was the only one

that serviced Black men in this part of Louisiana.

at least, the only one with mostly white women. ever

since he walked in the door that one Thursday evening,

he had his hooks into her. and he knew it.

“When are you gonna give up the sportin’ life, sugar?

It wears everyone down.” she said, slowly leaning into

the headboard behind her. Carver looked at Therese. her

hair was a chestnut brown beehive. it framed a face

that was full and soft. her eyes were eggshell blue

and still held a trace of innocence. her body was

plump im the right places, mainly her breasts and her

thighs. Carver came back to the bed and laid beside

her. “It won’t get me. I got a way out. You plan on

being a social worker?” he asked, his sharp grin in

effect. “I…I just worry. The last time, when you

told me about the game and how they tried to ambush

you after you won – well, I just don’t want you hurt.”

Therese said, turning her body towards him but not her

eyes.” Carver ran a hand over his low cut. “I got away.

That’s part of it all…I’m a hustler. Been that way

ever since I learned the best adding and multiplying

wasn’t in school. What else I got?”

“You’ve got a mind…you’re smart.” Therese replied,

finding herself back in that same taut spot again.

Carver wasn’t a usual customer. she entertained him

his first time to Madam Louselle’s. even fixed him a

drink. whiskey and water. that first night lit a fire

in her, one she hadn’t had since being a young girl

in St.Louis. she had been a hooker for ten years, ten

years of sex, martinis and muggy nights all running

together. and here she was, with a Black man in her

bed. and her feeling as if she’d die if she never

saw him again. “C’mon Therese…I’m a Black man. I’m

still looked at as a second class citizen. Yeah, you

got college kids brighter than me sitting at lunch

counters. Getting their heads beat in. Not me baby.

I’m gonna overcome all right, but I’m gonna get a

whole lot of bread doin’ it.” Therese laid her hand

on his lower abdomen. “Honey…please. Don’t go to

that pool hall. I’ve got money…you can have some.

We’ll stay here, right here in this room-”

Carver jumped up. “I gotta split.” he grabbed his

navy blue shirt and yellow slacks and began to get

dressed. Therese felt her lips quiver. he snubbed

out his cigarette in the dull green ashtray on the

nightstand and sat to put on his shoes. she moved

and laid her bosom on his back. a tear left her eye

and seeped into his shirt. Carver stopped briefly;

he turned his head slightly to see Therese’s hair

on his shoulder. “I’ll…be by ‘fore I leave town.

Gotta head over to Natchez.” he rose and walked to

the door quickly. before opening it, he turned to

look at Therese. “Make sure my drink’s waiting for

me.” he said, flashing the same grin. “Of course.

See you later sugar.” she said, grinning as she

knelt on the bed. Carver glanced at her for another

few seconds, then swiftly opened the door and left.

the door swung back but didn’t close. Therese could

hear the blues being belted out on the piano down

in the great room. “I…love you.” she said gently.

raucous laughter danced up from below.