Last of the whiskey consumed, the butt of his cheap Honduran cigar smoldering in a glass tray, Louis Fortunato staggers to his feet finally and slips the unlabeled videocassette into the VCR. It's what he came for, after all. And Sonny, if not yet drunk, is having a hard time staying awake.
"You sure you want to see this?" Louis says, punching buttons on the machine. "Hey, Sonny? I need to know, man. You sure you want to see this?"
Sonny LaMott, slow to open his eyes, sits up tall on the little Naugahyde sofa by the window. "It's not that I want to," he says. "I need to, brother. We both do."
The audio is poor and she makes more noise than either of them remembers but it's Juliet all right: the great head of hair, the hungry mouth,
the breasts capped with nipples no different in color than the too-pale flesh around them. She's sitting on a corduroy love seat with panties looped around one ankle, a thin gold chain around the other. Her legs are spread open. A mound of expertly trimmed pubic hair, the same golden shade as the hair on her head, holds the middle of the screen.
"Jesus," Louis says with a whistle, then abruptly breaks it off.
A man has entered the picture. He is tall and narrowly constructed, with a mole on his lower belly. It looks like a mole, anyway, although as easily it could be a botched tattoo. When after some encouragement from Juliet the man's penis comes up, Sonny lowers his head and looks away. He has to swallow, and this is difficult. Where on earth do they find guys like that? he wonders.
Juliet is happy and energetic, loud when expressing her pleasure, all too eager to please. Give her partner credit, he doesn't pander. He goes at it, working with concentration so high in his face that he could be trying to solve a math problem.
"This way . . ."
"Come on, you. Give it to me. . . ."
Even louder than in the old days, if that is possible. To end it, Juliet uncorks a cry that sounds like an animal being tortured.
Sonny is about to say something when Louis, leaning close to the screen, snaps his head back and lets go a low gurgle of laughter. "God, man, can you believe the dick on this guy?"
The screen dissolves to bands of crackling white on a black field. The whole room, they're in Sonny's house, buzzes in the sudden silence.
Louis puts a fresh cigar in his mouth and lights it leaning into a burner on the kitchen stove.
Sonny, able to control himself no longer, retreats to the bathroom and weeps at the sink, scooping hands of water to his face.
He isn't there long when the sound of the movie comes again, the sound of Juliet like that.
"Hey, Sonny, does she still have her mannerisms?" Louis says to the empty space, his words mangled for the stogie in his mouth.
When Sonny returns to the living room Louis is crouched in front of the TV, pressing buttons and making the tape squeal in the box. "You want me to leave this with you?" he says. "Or you want me to take it? Better I take it, huh?"
"Leave it," Sonny says. "Leave it so I can put it out with the trash in the morning."
He throws the curtains open, a cloud of sun-bright dust spiraling around him. The effects of the whiskey have dissipated and all that remains is a taste of aluminum in his mouth. Sonny stands looking out past Chartres Street in the direction of the river, eyes drawn to a squint, lips bunched up close. Past the top of the levee and the Pauline Street Wharf the spires and funnels of a freighter move by.
Maybe it was the camera angle that made the guy look like that. What in school when he was a kid they called an optical illusion.
Now Sonny wonders if he ever satisfied her at all.
"Didn't I tell you she went crazy? I believe it now, brother, your girl went nuts."
"Just get out of my house, Louis."
"You remember Adelaide Valentine, right? Well, blame Adelaide for this. Don't blame me. She came in the restaurant the other night and she'd just found out about it herself--"
"Louis, did you hear what I said?"
"Your Juliet grew up to be a head case, brother. In and out of those drug clinics where nobody ever gets fixed. Arrested so many times for possession they named a wing after her in the county jail. Sonny, you have any questions call Adelaide."
"What will it take to make you go home?"
"Sometimes you act like you're the only guy who ever had it bad for a girl. You think you're special that way? Jesus Christ, man, have another look. Look at the little sweetheart you've been pining away for."
"Get out, you sonofabitch. I mean it."
Louis leaves the tape in the machine and limps to the door, his nub sucking and squeaking where it meets the leather sleeve of his prosthesis. It's a noise Sonny has never been able to get used to, even after all these years. At the door Louis turns back around. "Remember I only did this for your own good."
"Yeah? Well, thanks. Do I seem all better now?"
After he's gone Sonny cleans up the room then falls asleep on the sofa and sleeps so hard that when he wakes a couple of hours later he isn't sure where he is. He's a kid again. His father's outside on the lawn with a can of beer watching purple martins cut circles in the air above the birdhouse. His mother isn't dead years now but in the kitchen making supper. If he were to pick up the phone he could dial the Beauvais and hear the voice of Juliet, telling him their plans for the evening: "I was thinking we could start in the Quarter. I have an envie for oysters. Ever have an envie for something, Sonny? Ever get where you have to have it and if you don't have it you feel like you could just die? Do you love me like that, Sonny? Tell me how much you love me, Sonny. Tell me you love me so much that if you don't have me you'll just die. Tell me you have an envie for Julie, baby . . ."
Sonny sits up and lets the world reach him. The noise of ships unloading at the wharf, the stink from the seafood plant down the street. It takes him a minute to understand that he's alone in the Bywater, that he's Sonny at the surprising age of thirty-two: no wife, no kids, no family but what passes as his father in an Arabi nursing home. No birds outside, no food to eat. No nothing, really, but that tape in the VCR.
He watches it again, revisiting the part with Juliet half a dozen times, his face less than a foot from the screen. "Everything," she says. "Give it to me . . ."
Sonny recalls the line from the days when they were together. "What do you dream for us?" he asked her. "I know what I want," he said. "I want everything. Don't you want everything, Julie?"
"Yes," she said. "Oh, yes, Sonny. Everything. Give it to me. . . . Yes . . ."
Now when Sonny cries he doesn't care how loud he is or who hears.
Excerpted from My Juliet by John Ed Bradley. Copyright © 2001 by John Ed Bradley. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.