Part Two. Charlene.
Before Geno talked me into going to work at Geno’s Place I had a good position as a telephone operator downtown at Chandeleur County Telephone and Telegraph, Leigh Antsworthy’s switchboard. They say it’s the last of the privately owned telephone exchanges on the Coast, which may be true so far as I know. Anyway, the work was boring, but Antsworthy provided the benefits and the health plan and the retirement and all that. My boss gave me the Most Courteous Employee award in 1991, so I guess I had some respect. Of course I had to agree not to join a union, but so what? The situation gave me some security, which is what a good Baptist (Southern, soft-shelled) woman my age with no family really wants.
It was my first and only husband Frank quitting me that forced me to go to CCT&T in the first place. I swore then that, man-in-my-life-wise, Frank was it and that no man would ever touch me again.
Post-Frank, I bought me a pistol. I convinced myself that I bought it to hide in my purse beside me on the car seat when I was driving back and forth to work late at night. A big thirty-eight. I loved buffing its nickel-plated skin. I had to admit, though, that the real reason I took up shooting was that I wanted to kill Frank so bad that shooting him seemed the way to go.
For a while there, I’d drive out to the Coastal Shots firing range out on Port Sulphur Road and shoot dozens of rounds into targets lined up in front of a red clay bank. I even enjoyed the noise and the gun bucking in my hand and the soreness in my wrist and elbow afterwards. And with every squeeze of my trigger finger I’d say “I sure could do it to you, Frank, and then we’ll be even.” But Frank was gone, so I’m not so sure I would’ve been as brave as I imagined, even if I could have stuffed the nickel-plated barrel up his pock-marked nose. Don’t get me wrong, I was mad enough to have done it. Still am. Ducking out on me was one thing, but that Frank son-of-a-bitch took the last piece of my mother’s silver. A chafing dish with naked angels on the lid. Stealing that heirloom was a creepy thing to do, but later on I found out—don’t even ask how—that he pawned the damned thing over in Mobile and blew the money at the dog racing track in Bayou La Batre.
Frank split six years before I heard from Geno. I had my decent job, my straightened-out head—for a while I was going once a week to a help group called Tranks, No Thanks—and my good gal routines. I was going to church, talking to old people, washing my car, keeping my thumbnails cleaned. I even had enough money left over to send my nephews decent gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Sure, I was sad sometimes. Who wouldn’t be in my place? I wanted kids. I wanted a good man. I wanted the normal things, you see. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t fill up the deepest holes in my mind and, well, I guess I have to say it, in my heart.
Then Geno called when I was on duty one night at the switchboard, and he recognized my voice.
“Hey, doll,” he said. “Christalmighty, what luck! This is Geno! Is that you Charlene?”
“Yeah, Geno, it’s me,” I replied as flat-toned as I could. I had to be careful. The supervisors docked your pay if you were caught engaged in personal conversation.
“Well, Charlene, what luck. Listen, this could be a good time for us to try it again.” Geno’s gentleness and enthusiasm almost caught me off guard. Geno had courted me years ago, before Frank appeared. Courting is what Geno called it. But he was married at time, so adultery is what it really was.
I almost wanted to believe Geno’s surprise and his pleasure, but then I thought, Oh, no. No way I’m getting messed up with Geno Santangelo again. No way. So I said “Do us both a favor and go jump, Geno.” I had my thumb on the release button and should have broken the connection. As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t.
“Hey, Charlene!” he shouted. “Now tell me, is that any way to . . . Listen. This is a good time for us, it couldn’t be better. I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately—really, I think about you all the time—and, well . . .”
He paused. I let it hang there for a long hissing moment. Letting it flow, waiting for something that sounded right.
“Well,” I said. “What is it, then?”
And that was it.
Now, you think you know the plot from here on, but I bet you’d be wrong.
Geno said he must see me right away, so I said he could pick me up after work. He drove me over to Geno’s Place. It was after midnight by then and the dark, empty rooms smelled of stale tobacco smoke and fish grease. We sat at the bar and drank gin and laughed. Geno promised me the moon. He said he still loved me, had always loved only me. He said he would sell Geno’s Place and ditch his wife and we would go live in Apalachicola.
I said “Okay. We’ve got us a bargain. Let’s just put it in writing.”
Part Three, Geno, will appear soon, so stay tuned.
Click here for Part One.
Photograph by DC Young, a Leica M3 image taken in 1987 and printed with a cheap enlarger in the hotel room in New Orleans where we were living at the time.