After they finished their supper, Miss Sophronia and Biggy moved back over to the living area, she on the end of the sofa and Biggy in the chair at the corner. On the end table between them was a large bowl of ice and the rest of the bottle of Jack Daniels. As they sipped their drinks, Biggy finally got up the courage to ask, “How long have you owned this bar, Miss Sophronia?”
“Since 1958, the year my daddy died. He left it to me. He lived in this apartment from before I was born until he died.”
“You didn’t live with him?”
“No. You see, my mama was only half-white. She was called a mulatto back then. My Daddy was a white Irish Catholic. Back in those days – I was born in 1937 – they would both have been lynched if they had openly lived together so mama and I were kept women. We lived in a small house in Treme that Daddy rented for us. That’s where I grew up.
“As the years passed, mama kept putting more and more pressure on Daddy to come and live with us full time. She wanted him to get us a bigger house where we could live together as a family. He always said no.
“The Corner Spot – that’s what this place was called then – was closed on Monday’s. Every Monday afternoon daddy would come to the little house in Treme with a half-gallon bottle of whiskey. He and Mama would start drinking in the early afternoon. A pot of gumbo or red beans was always simmering on the stove. By the time dinner was over both of them would be completely schnockered. That’s when Mama would begin to nag Daddy about moving in. He always said no. That was my cue to leave. When I was little I just went to the bedroom and closed the door. Later, when I was in high-school, I wouldn’t come home at all. Lot’s of my friends knew what it was like at my house so I could always find somebody’s couch to sleep on.
“On one of these Monday’s I just gone for a long walk and came back to the house late. It was quiet so I figured they had finally gone to bed. When I walked in I found both of them dead on the kitchen floor, a bloody knife still clutched in mama’s hand. The police ruled it a murder-suicide.
“I was twenty-one. I called Mr. Irvington, Daddy’s lawyer, who had a copy of Daddy’s will. The Corner Spot now belonged to me.
– Page 123 –
“I had no idea what to do next. The bar had meant everything to Daddy. It was like having a part of him left. But I wasn’t ready to take it over and run it. I was too close to getting my degree at Xavier. I would graduate in just six weeks. And a business degree would help me immensely if I were going to run the bar myself.
“Daddy’s funeral was Wednesday morning at St. Alphonse Church. Mama’s was that afternoon at her black AME church in Treme. After Daddy’s funeral Mazie Millard her daughter, Willa Mae and Willa Mae’s husband, Jacques, and right here with me and discussed the future of The Corner Spot.
Mazie had been doing the cooking ever since I could remember but, as Daddy frowned on me coming to the bar, even after I turned eighteen, the legal drinking age back then, I didn’t know her very well. Mazie was as much a reason The Corner Spot had been so popular over the years as Daddy was. Despite the rather generic name of the place, it had a reputation in the neighborhood for having good, down-home Creole cooking, just like Miss Sophronia’s does today. Mazie’s shrimp creole was praised by all who ever tasted it.
“In 1958, Mazie was getting up in years and could hardly see. Willa Mae had taken over in the kitchen a year or two before with Mazie acting as overseer. Willa Mae’s new husband Jacques, a cab driver, came in every morning to help clean up the bar from the night before.
“Anyway, when the bar suddenly became mine it made sense for me to ask Mazie and Willa Mae what I should do. We decided that Mazie and Willa Mae would continue to run the kitchen as usual. Jacques would come in at five every afternoon and tend bar. I continued my classes at Xavier and took care of the business end of things. This arrangement continued until I graduated.
“My graduation was on a Saturday night in May. Beginning in March, not long after the tragedy, we posted signs in the bar announcing we would be closing for remodeling beginning the day before graduation and would not reopen until late summer, right before the fall semester started at Tulane. The majority of the bar’s customers were from Tulane – students, faculty and staff – so I wanted to make sure to re-open before the fall semester started in late August.
“On the Sunday after graduation I arranged for about fifty of my classmates and their families and other guests to come to The Corner Spot for a feast and night of partying. When they arrived, they discovered a brand new sign posted out front. Miss Sophronia’s it said. Closed. Opening in August was printed underneath. The party went on all night. It was seven the next morning when I finally went upstairs to bed. Miss Sophronia’s as well as ‘Miss Sophronia’ was born.
“And that’s about all I can tell you. Pour me another Jack.” she said as she moved to the opposite end of the couch, swinging her legs up to stretch them out in front of her. Her peignoir fell open but she didn’t bother to pull it back together this time. Biggy handed her the glass of Jack Daniel’s and sat back in his chair facing her.
“I’m really sorry about how your mama and daddy died.” Biggy said.
– Page 124 –
“Thank you, Hon, but it probably happened just at the right time. The night I found them I wasn’t real surprised. I knew Mama was getting completely fed-up with him. And, if it hadn’t happened when it did, I probably wouldn’t be in New Orleans today. I was planning to leave as soon as I graduated and go to New York. I hadn’t told Mama or Daddy about my plans.”
“So. One other thing I was wondering. How did you meet Jake?”
“I got to know him when he was a young man coming of age. He used to come in here and drink right after he turned 18. Seemed like a nice kid. He was looking for a job, would like to have come to work for me but I didn’t want anyone else behind my bar and Willa Mae and Jacques did all the other work. I introduced him to Peggy who had just the year before disbanded her stable of girls and bought her own bar. She took him on and taught him how to tend bar. And you know the rest of the story. Jake eventually bought most of the bar from her, renamed it Jake’s Place, and that’s where we are today.”
Miss Sophronia looked down at herself, realizing, maybe for the first time, that her peignoir was completely open. She looked up at Biggy and noticed that he was looking intently at her. She remembered what she had seen when he stood before her dressed only in his wet boxer shorts and wondered whether he could ever be interested in an older woman.
The next morning, Biggy was awakened by Miss Sophronia getting out of the other side of the bed and padding silently to the bathroom. The electricity was still off and the he couldn’t hear rain on the roof but despite it’s being daylight the room was still in almost total darkness. Biggy had dozed back off to sleep when Miss Sophronia crawled back in bed beside him, snuggling up next to his corpulence.
At some point the night before, after they had finished off the first bottle of Jack Daniels and made a hefty dent in the second one, Miss Sophronia had asked Biggy if he thought he could be interested in an older woman. When he said he was pretty sure he could if it was her, she asked if he wanted to sleep with her in her bed and he immediately accepted. And that was all they did. Sleep. Although Biggy had no problem being interested in an older woman, that particular night he couldn’t demonstrate his interest in the same way he would have on some other night. Now, after sleeping for several hours, he was ready to show her just how much he could appreciate an older woman. And did.
Afterwards, they both lay on their backs, uncovered, side-by-side each fondling and caressing the other.
Biggy spoke first. “I wonder how bad this place is flooded.”
“Is the street flooded?” Miss Sophronia asked.
“I’ll go see.”
– Page 125 –
Biggy stood up and pulled on his boxers. Despite the fact that it was mid-morning, it was almost completely dark in the apartment. Biggy stepped over to one of the tall dormer windows that opened onto the tiny balcony. He pulled it up and ducked his head as he stepped through it. The lingering mist was cool on his body as he stood there and surveyed the scene in front of him. The street was flooded and water came up a foot or more on the bottom of the house across the street. When he looked over at Broadway it looked like a placid lake. Even the neutral ground was submerged.
“I’m not sure if it’s up in the building or not, Miss Sophronia. Want me to go check? And maybe get some breakfast started?”
“Come over here.” she said, motioning for him to come back over to the bed.
He bent down and kissed her. “Yes, ma’am? What did you want?”
“I wanted to say that I think you know me well enough to call me Sophie now.” She stood up and pulled her peignoir around herself.
Biggy chuckled, “Jake said he was one of the few people who could get away with calling you that. Was he initiated in the same way?”
The pillow she threw at him hit him just as he was putting one foot into his jeans. Fortunately for him the blow knocked him onto the bed and not to the floor. “Don’t ever bring that up again, Big-Un. Jake and me have never been anything but friends. You just keep knowin’ what happened here last night ain’t somethin’ that happens often. Never has. Got it?”
Biggy hung his head in mock remorse. “Yes’m, Miss Sophie.” It would take him awhile to drop the ‘Miss’ in front of Sophie.
“I’m goin’ down and see just how bad it is. You comin’?”
“You go on. I’ll be down in a little while. Last night’s gumbo is beginning to wear off. We might as well fire up the griddle and cook us some eggs and bacon. Too bad we won’t be gettin’ a bread delivery this mornin’.”
As soon as Biggy left, Sophie went over to the telephone and picked up the receiver. To her astonishment she heard a dialtone. She dialed Willa Mae’s number but got no answer. Either Willa Mae and Jacques were already out in the cab, likely on the way to the bar, or their phone didn’t work. Sophie hoped they were okay. She was worried about them. Although she considered her older, regular customers friends, Willa Mae and Jacques were the only real friends she had. Besides Jake, of course.
– Page 126 –
Just as she put put the receiver back on the hook it began to ring. She picked it up and discovered it was Jake. He was without electricity too but there wasn’t quite as much water at Riverbend as there was at her place. She let Jake know she and Biggy were alright and would be alright there until the water went down some. Jake offered to come over but she told him not to. She said she didn’t want him to get stranded somewhere. Best if he stayed put. Truth be told, she was perfectly happy with the thought of she and Biggy spending at least one more day without interruptions. She was hoping Willa Mae and Jacques were not on their way over, either.
The smell of bacon frying wafted up through her open door from below. She stepped to the door and called down. “Big-Un. How much water’s inside?”
“Almost none.” Biggy called back. “I’m not sure there’s any more than there was when I came down that last time last night.”
“Good. I’ll be down in a few minutes, Sweetie.”
By the time Sophie made her appearance, Biggy was just taking up the eggs and bacon and toast. They ate as if they were starved before going back up to the apartment. They saw no one that day or night. They spent the day in bed. Despite their ages and difference in them, they acted like a couple of teenagers alone together for the first time.
– Page 127 –