"Hey, boy. Hey!"
Clair followed Jay's eyes to a pock-marked face. The man's
long gray hair and dull blue eyes made him seem made of metal,
a tin man.
"Dutchy, hey," Jay responded, rising, reaching an
open palm in greeting.
Dutchy wore a stiffly starched white cotton dress shirt, its
French cuffs rolled twice, flaring rakishly in mid-forearm.
"Who's the lovely little one?" Dutchy asked without
"Well you should ask," Jay said, reaching for Clair's
shoulder and grasping a handful of hair. "I told you about
Clair thought for a moment the man would kiss the hand he
now reached to shake. He seemed almost, he almost did seem to
"Of course, of course. This is Clair."
"Hi," Clair managed, still unsure of what she was
expected to think. And thinking that perhaps she preferred his
rude entrance to his now solicitous handshake.
"And what's a lovely like you doing with this bum of
"Dutchy?" Clair asked.
"Dutchy, Dutch, Pops. For that matter, you can call me
Frank. I answer to anything."
"Sit. What'll you have?" Jay asked, but Dutchy was
already seated, angling in his chair and sitting back to get a
clear look at Clair.
"Same old same old. Whatever you're buying," he
Jay squeezed Clair's neck, a gesture of confidence and encouragement,
and walked toward the bar.
"He's a good kid," Dutchy said to Jay's back. "Good
"I think so," Clair said.
Dutchy smiled, tapping a Picayune against his thumbnail.
"Don't they all," he said.
"Do they?" Clair ripped a Marlboro from the flip-top
and lit it quickly, cupping her hands about the match like a sailor
at sea, flapping it to smoke before Dutchy finished his tamping.
He pulled a brass Zippo from his shirt pocket.
"Sure. Don't they?" He thumbed the lighter open
and into flame noisily. "So what's your business besides
Jay?" He snapped the Zippo shut.
"He keeps me busy. My full time job. I dance in the off
"Ah. That's a talent. I'm not a dancer anymore. Not since
the Boogie-Woogie went West with the music. Used to dance at the
Blue Room. Saturday nights."
Dutchy shifted his chair ever so slightly toward Clair. She
wanted Jay to return.
"He tell you much about me?" Dutchy asked.
"What about you?"
"I don't know. Anything."
"Jay talks a lot," Clair said.
"Yeah. And most likely not about me. Well, what can you
say? I mean. Well. You're okay, Clair. I hope you stay for a while.
Boy could use the good influences. But then who couldn't, right?
Don't tell him I said so, though. He wouldn't like that."
"You friends long?"
"Well. Damn. Yep. Say so. Way back."
"This man bothering you, miss?"
Jay stood above them, three shots of mash wedged among his
fingers. Clair reached for the forward most. Jay placed the second
before the smiling, puffing Dutchy.
"Ah," Dutchy said.
Jay sat, leaning toward Clair, smiling what Clair thought
was an idiot grin. He either likes this man or can't abide him
and I can't decide which, she said to herself.
"To the remainder of our days," Dutchy said, raising
his shot in the hand holding the smoke. They drank, sat in silence
for a moment. Dutchy picked a fleck of tobacco from his lower
"It's been a while," said Dutchy, to no one in particular.
"Yeah. It has."
"You still seeing Virgie?" Jay asked.
"No, no, that didn't pan out, you might say, way of all
spilt milk and such."
Clair tried to catch Jay's eye, to ask him who the fuck this
old fuck might be. What are we doing here, she wanted to ask.
But Jay was looking down at his drink, thinking of what to say
next to the old man, Dutchy.
"So you been okay anyway?"
"Sure. Sure. Been seeing Rosemary. Remember Rosemary?
She's a good woman and she likes me. Virgie never did like me,
really, I don't think. You think? I don't really think she did."
"I like Rosemary."
"Dumb as a brick but twice as solid, you know. Good blood
there. Lots of heart, lots of good heart there."
Dutchy sucked a last drag on his stubby, filterless Picayune.
Clair wondered how he held the butt without getting burned. Dutchy
slowly ground out the flaring ember. Clair noticed his thick fingers,
the nicotine stains and smooth callused patches that might well
have been burn scars.
"Well," Dutchy said, rising, "Time to hit it."
Dutchy drained his glass and rose and turned his gaze full
"I'd bet cash money, Clair. God took the rest of the
week off after he made you. Sat around thumbing his nose at Lucifer.
A definite and delicious pleasure it has been. Don't let him snow
you too bad."
His eyes, more gray than blue now, seemed clouded, by the
drink, by the smoke, or by Virgie, Clair could not tell. He tipped
an imaginary cocked hat and grabbed a pinch of Jay's cheek between
thumb and crooked forefinger.
"Treat her better," he said and was off down Rue
Jay's smile faded as Dutchy strutted out of view.
"Who the hell was that?" Clair asked.
"My father," Jay answered. Clair's eyes narrowed
with anger. "My dad. Dutchy. The one and only."
"I hope you enjoyed that then."
Clair crushed her smoke into the ash-tray, setting Dutchy's
butt to smoldering, trying to remember his eyes and hands now.
Were they Jay's hands?
"Watching me. Not telling me. Watching me not know."
"I figured you figured. I mean, I didn't think. I thought
you could see it."
"I'm not psychic."
"But the way he, I don't know, the way we are."
"You're full of shit. You know damn well I couldn't.
I mean. Shit. That was your father, your father and you let me
sit here with my fist up my ass treating him like he was fucking
my head and fucking yours."
"You didn't like him?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"I think he liked you. He got that look about him."
"I thought he was a Quarter bum."
"He is. Sort of. In addition to being my father he's
a track hound. Plays the horses, follows the ponies, throws good
money after bad. That sort of thing. Nice guy, actually, long
as you don't have to eat with him too often. Good to drink with.
Good for a laugh. Good heart, bad karma."
"Shit, Jay, sometimes you make me just want to spit green."
"Go ahead, doll. Won't scare me off."
Jay drained his shot and stood, turning toward the bar for
"Sorry. I was surprised. You'll get another chance for
a closer look. He turns up this time of year. You'll get another
Jay drove in silence down Esplanade Avenue. Clair watched
the passing mansions. The oak-shaded boulevard, its wide azalea-lined
median peppered with beer cans and soda bottles, seemed exhausted.
Clair wondered why the oil money hadn't come this far from the
river. She wondered why Jay wasn't pointing and telling stories.
They turned off Esplanade and entered a sleepy neighborhood
of Craftsman cottages, un-curbed streets and clam shell driveways.
To the north Clair could just barely spy, at the top of the side
streets, the marble cornices and angels of St. Louis Cemetery.
Jay turned again and parked the Beetle across from the racetrack.
A tractor raked the moist soil smooth.
"Dutchy'll be back here somewhere," Jay said. "Hob-nobbing
with the jockeys. Looking for a tip."
Jay hadn't been to the track since high school. That was in
the last years of his parents' marriage. His father was always
gone, always with the horses. Every Saturday he would invite Jay
to come along. Jay knew his motive was to pain his wife, not enjoy
his son. But occasionally Jay went, hoping to learn how to help,
how to listen, how to tell his father how sorry he was their marriage
was falling apart. Now on this crisp fall mid-day he was once
again headed for the Fairgrounds to humor and attend his father.
The smell of manure and the sound of fidgeting thoroughbreds
came from the row of low, deep green buildings. Jay scanned each
entry, every gathering for Dutchy's solid, familiar frame.
"There he is," Clair said.
Jay turned and followed her eyes toward the main entrance
of the race track. Dutchy stood restlessly, hands in his wind-breaker,
"Hey, y'all," he called when he caught sight of
"Hey, Dutch," Jay said, accepting his half embrace
with a half hearty pat on the back.
"Happy Turkey Day, boy. Hello, Clair." He leaned
in and almost kissed Clair, letting their cheeks brush.
Clair tried to see what precisely had changed in Dutchy. Or
was it only her own vision of him that had changed now that she
knew he was Jay's dad? He seemed frailer, older. There remained
a crooked charm in his gray eyes.
"You ever been to the races, Clair?" he asked.
"Not at a for real racetrack. Down by Dulac they run
wherever they can find a field dry enough."
"Well, I guess that's so," Dutchy said, pleased.
He ushered them through the gate for all the world like a Duke
guiding guests into a chateau.
This was opening day for the Fairgrounds. The lower level
was rank with old age and rotting wood and anxious track hounds.
Clair had never seen so many hopeful people. Everyone expected
to win. She wondered what these same faces would look like at
the day's end.
"Here's the menu," said Dutchy, handing Clair a
"My daddy used to say reading about a horse doesn't help."
"Boogalee logic. Leave it to luck," Jay said.
"We don't believe in luck. We believe in miracles."
Paint peeled from the green and white columns supporting the
grandstand. Snack bars sold franks and burgers and syrupy soda.
Clair reached for Jay's hand. She wished he would smile. The tote
board flickered numbers Clair didn't understand. She followed
Jay, following Dutchy up a ramp to the clubhouse. A guard nodded
The clubhouse crowd was better dressed, less openly anxious.
There was a wall of tables, though no one was sitting. Clair preferred
the noise and enthusiasm of the lower level. At least there, she
thought, there was no veneer covering the avarice and fear. These
people, dressed in pinks and greens, pretended they were somewhere
else, pretended they weren't gamblers throwing money upon chance.
She could not understand caring so little, or so much, about money
as the well dressed crowd surrounding her.
Clair had never had money. Her family had survived week to
week, never impoverished, never without need. Her father understood
investments and commodities about as well as an Aborigine understands
refrigeration. As a child Clair imagined Wall Street as a magical
kingdom, like Battle Creek Michigan, where a closed coterie of
elves manufactured money.
"You want a beer?" Jay asked.
"Not yet. Thanks."
She wandered over to the wall of windows overlooking the track,
overlooking the grandstand. She watched as the field for the first
race paraded past, some calm, some prancing, some wide-eyed with
nerves and terror.
"I'm going to get us down for the first," Dutchy
said. "Who do you like, Clair?"
"The brown one."
"Not a chance," Dutchy said, running a finger down
the brown one's stats.
"Okay. Two dollars on Not A Chance."
"No, that's not . . ." Dutchy started to explain.
He stopped when he looked up and saw Clair grinning.
Jay almost smiled at their banter. She was holding her own.
He'd never felt this particular pride in Clair. It was just like
his father to seem an old and trusted friend, partner in good
time, family, to a stranger. And it was just like himself to not
give an inch, not forget for an instant the years of anger and
bitterness and contempt, not forget this was his younger self's
father. It might be, Jay thought, that I'm the one who refuses
"Pops. You place the bets. I'll buy the beer." He
held a wad of bills toward Dutchy.
"Your money's no good here, boy."
"It isn't betting if it isn't my money."
Dutchy couldn't argue with that. He took the bills.
"I like eight," Jay said.
"Good. Good choice."
"And put two on your pick."
"I still want Not A Chance," Clair said. "The
DUTCHY HAD WINNERS
Dutchy had small winners in each race. Jay wondered how he
managed. Clair stood at the buffet, piling a plate high with turkey
and French bread. Jay watched her.
"She's a lovely girl, Jay," Dutchy said, his voice
"Yeah," Jay said, "she's a caution. A beautiful
caution to me."
"How y'all fixed for money?"
"You make enough on the pictures?"
"Enough to eat and drink and that's enough isn't it?"
"I suppose so. I wonder sometimes how you manage is all."
"Pretty much the same as you, Pops. I'm a gambler just
Dutchy flinched. He knew what Jay said was true. He had tried
overly hard to steer Jay toward a plain and solid career that
would point a smooth path through life. Perhaps then his son could
avoid the disappointments. And in the end Jay had framed his own
form of hustle. And he hadn't done a very good job of it.
"Not like me, boy. I like better odds than your game."
"Yes, well," was all Jay said.
"And Clair. She dances, right?"
"Yeah, she dances. She told you that? She dances."
"I know it's none of my god-damned business but I don't
know how you take that. I couldn't take that."
"You don't have to take it."
"Seems sort of odd to me. True. I don't. She doesn't
look like a stripper. I guess that's what throws me a bit. Nice
girl. Really. I wish you lots of happiness, Jay. I really do.
Now, come on, son. Don't get all tight about the mouth like that.
I didn't mean to piss you off. Just wanted to say it. That's all.
Just asking how you were doing, that's all."
"I'm doing great. Better than great."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it. I am."
"Oh my god," Clair said, her free arm akimbo on
a thrust hip. "Can't leave you two alone for a minute. Now
look at the oyster mouth. Both of you. Go bet money, Dutchy."
"Sit down, Clair," Dutchy said, "and tell me
"What story you want to hear?"
"Any story you like, darling. Any at all."
Clair woke feeling nauseous. She held herself very still and
tried to breath evenly, trying to calm herself. Jay lay next to
her, very asleep, his face scrunched into the pillow, sleep creases
across his forehead, his left arm entwined in the sheet, his right
fist tight above his head. He slept so hard, Clair thought. He
lives lightly, then dreams all his worries. Clair envied Jay his
heavy, cathartic sleep. Especially now, her stomach knotted and
She could barely stand. How odd, she thought, trying to place
the dull pain. She couldn't recall feeling this kind of cramp
before. It was like the bad first minutes of a body stone: head
heavy and swollen, unable to focus. She leaned against the white
tile of the bathroom, slid down to the floor. She was so dizzy,
as if she'd been clobbered on both temples. What is this, Clair
asked her pale and shaking hands.
She sat there. She caught her breath. Her head cleared slightly,
but the nausea got no better. A spasm of dry heaves relieved some
of the pressure but none of the dull thud.
I'm pregnant, Clair said to herself. Christ. I am.
It was as if saying so made some difference. She stood, hands
on the porcelain basin, and stared into the mirror.
"Yep," she said out loud, no doubt about it.
She ran the water slowly, hoping it would not wake Jay, holding
her hand under the lukewarm flow to break the harsh splatter.
She turned off the fluorescent light and slid into the tub before
it was a quarter full.
I can't be, Clair told herself. And oddly, for the instant
she believed it, she felt suddenly disappointed. As if a great
new light, in which she'd just begun to see the world anew, had
been shut off.
Jay was still wound tightly amongst the sheets, deeply asleep,
dreaming furiously. His brow was furrowed with concentration.
He shook his head. He clenched a fist into the pillow. Daylight's
first glow filtered into the room from the floor-to-ceiling high
She curled back down into bed, snuggled up to Jay's back and
pressed her cheek against his shoulder blade, against his neck.
She entered his dreams. He thrashed for an instant.
"There was no story. I told you. Story," he said
in his sleep and then fell silent and still.
Jay hadn't invited Dutchy to lunch in years. He must be suspicious,
Jay thought. Waiting for bad news.
Jay got to Mandina's early. He ordered coffee and waited.
It was a good choice: a neighborhood restaurant, a family restaurant.
There were no tables for two. It occurred to him now, looking
at the long bar and the old black waiters carrying steaming bowls
of red beans and rice, that the last time he'd been here with
Dutchy was before the divorce.
Gazing out at oak-lined Canal Street, Jay rehearsed the purpose
of this meal. What did he want Dutchy to know? What did he want
from Dutchy? There was a punctuation here, some kind of ending.
And he knew the most likely result would be disappointment.
He recognized the rumble of Dutchy's Cadillac convertible
before he saw it swerve to the curb and stop. Dutchy was proud
of The Chariot: a large and luxurious, pre-catalytic converter,
boisterous and automated, winged, solid, certain car. Dutchy bought
it used the year Jay's mother left. The horses were good that
year. "Lucky at cards," Dutchy would say. "Unlucky
at love," would hang in the air, unvoiced.
Dutchy barreled into the room, nodding familiarly at the bartender
and a waiter, and headed for Jay.
"So what the hell's the mystery, boy?"
With an affectionate grip on Jay's neck Dutchy coaxed him
back into his chair in mid-rise, pumping Jay's offered right hand
in greeting, and seating himself with a solid, settling sprawl.
"So come on. Give. What's the bad news?"
"I'm glad to see you too."
The waiter re-filled Jay's cup and placed a Dixie in front
"What's today?" the waiter wondered. "Oh. Friday.
Special's fried catfish. You know what you want?"
"Give us a sec."
"You wave at me, Mr. Dutchy."
Dutchy looked tired. He looked old to Jay, older than Jay
remembered. He was an old man now. His gray eyes seemed unfocused,
loose, covered in a film of anger and regret. He took a long sip
of Jay's coffee, tapped out a Picayune and flipped open the menu.
"Clair's having a baby," Jay said.
Dutchy looked up, startled. Whatever news he had expected,
it hadn't been this.
Dutchy blinked, it seemed to Jay, oddly, almost the eye's
idea of a stammer.
"Well. Damn. I suppose I'm old enough by now to be a
Dutchy stared at Jay, trying to read his son's confusion of
joy and terror, trying to read the questions there and alter his
own attitude and posture to the appropriate.
Jay fidgeted. He looked across the table at Dutchy and saw
a shift happening. He was no longer only son. Dutchy was no longer
The Father. The only father. The years' difference between them
"How do you feel about this?" Dutchy asked.
"Great. Just great."
"You bet. How the hell'd you do it?"
"Beat's me. Haven't a clue."
"Well, I thought you should know."
That's it? Dutchy thought. Go ahead, boy, ask me all those
questions I see floating around inside that muddled head of yours.
Ask me about love. Ask me about money. Ask me how I did it. Ask
me again and again until I tell you the truth.
"I never would have thought it. I like Clair. She's a
tough lady, good head. You all'll do fine. Just fine. I thought
you'd die in that rat trap by yourself. My hat goes off to that
girl. She got you good and solid."
Memory clouded Dutchy's eyes.
Tell me, Jay thought. Go on, old man. Tell me those secrets,
tell me how it felt to fear my coming, how you loved her, how
you wanted it, how you want it, how you feel, how you fear. Tell
Dutchy crushed out his smoke and shook himself into a big
"Well. Damn. I'll be damned. What you gonna do now?"
"You mean money wise?
"Yeah. Money wise. All wise."
"I haven't figured it all out. I'm still a bit, you know,
a bit cross-eyed by the whole deal."
Dutchy chuckled and leaned back, wanting to howl with pleasure
"Kid won't be a bastard, will it? You're going to marry
"Yeah. Sure. Soon," Jay said.
"By law the kid's hers and hers alone until a paper says
otherwise. You want to be a father, be a husband first. Do her
"Not yet. No. They don't speak. She left home and, well,
they don't speak."
"Take her home. Take her home and marry her on the front
porch. Say, Seymour. Come over here."
"Yeah, Mr. Dutchy. What you want today?"
"My son's getting married."
"Ain't that a good thing."
"Sure as hell is," Dutchy said, his eyes sharp and
posture more powerful than when he arrived.
"Dutchy's treat," Dutchy said when Seymour propped
the limp bill against the salt cellar. "Save your shekels,"
he said, waving Jay's money away.
Dutchy stood and stretched and straightened his French cuffs,
checked his pockets and pleats and seemed to be waking a sleeping
foot with a slight jiggle. He plucked a tooth pick from a jigger
on the bar as they sidled out onto the street and headed toward
"Still kicking, unh?"
"Yeah. It gets me from here to there."
They stood, chilled, underdressed for the always surprising
bite of New Orleans' brief, humid winter. Dutchy stamped at a
divot in the grass near the curb. Jay watched his father's unease.
Neither knew how to end this meeting.
"Well," Dutchy finally said, looking up and holding
out a roll of bills bound with a red rubber band. "Here."
"What? What's this?" Jay said, looking at the tight
tube but not taking it.
"Some bucks. It's not a lot. I've got more. I want you
to have it. You'll need it soon enough won't you? I don't have
a lot, but I have some. And it's yours if you need it. Here."
"Is that what you think? You think I asked you here for
"It's not a loan," Dutchy said.
"You think I want your money?"
"Don't get all god-damned holier than thou."
"I don't want your money."
"It's only money."
"Precisely," Jay said.
"What?" Dutchy was still holding out the wad. He
looked down at his hand. It was shaking slightly, from the cold
or anger or sadness Jay could not tell. Dutchy pocketed the money.
He held out his empty palm in surrender and farewell.
Jay felt bad. Felt he should have taken the gift. Wondered
how much he had refused.
"Sorry for snapping. I don't need it now. If I do I'll
"Suit yourself. That's fine. It'll be here. Forget it.
I'm proud of you. I'm pleased for you. And if you find yourself
strapped, we'll talk. We'll see what we can see. You know?"
"Right," Jay said, crouching into the Beetle. It
sputtered and started and idled like a cartoon car. Jay looked
up again at Dutchy. "Say," he said, "Tell Rosemary
"Hey back she says I'm sure," Dutchy said, waving
and refusing to budge until Jay had pulled away from the curb.
Jay wondered how much he had refused.