For two weeks Cora was too weak to get out of bed. Every day she mourned the loss of the only part of Jonny she had had left. Now she was truly all alone again in a strange place and almost all the people she knew besides Pops were whores. During the two weeks, Cora still slept in Lil’s room and Maria brought her her meals so she didn’t even have to go to the dining room. Very slowly, she began to feel herself again. The dull ache left after the stillbirth of baby Jonny began to fade slowly. And then one morning she snuck back up the stairs very early. At 10:30, Corky came down to breakfast.
The news spread rapidly through the house and a minute later Lil, who always had breakfast in her room, came rushing into the dining room.
“What do you think you’re doing young … Lil was about to say ‘young lady’ but her words trailed off as she looked, once again, into the face of Corky so she simply said, “You must be feeling much better.”
“Yes, I am, thank you.”
“Come and see me when you finish your breakfast.” Lil said, turning to go back across the hall.
Corky finished his breakfast leisurely as various ladies came and went, all remarking how good it was to see him, before he went across and knocked on Lil’s door.
“Come in, Cora, and have a seat. I was hoping to get to talk to you today but didn’t expect Corky.”
Cora spoke, “I’ve been thinkin about it for over two weeks. And I started thinkin what life as Cora would be like. I figger the only thing Cora can do, besides be one of yore ladies, would be to go to work in a kitchen or shop somewhere’s and I’d much rather be hangin out at Pop’s place pullin beers.”
“What about if you… Cora that is… stay here as my paid companion. You can run errands for the house and take care of other little inconveniences, just like you did while you were still pregnant. As I said before, Juanita does an OK job with some things but then she misunderstands what I want her to do and gets herself, and me, into trouble. I’ve had to explain to the sheriff about a couple of situations she created.”
“It’s not like I don’t like bein yore companion Ms. Lil and I sure do appreciate all you’ve done for Cora and it’s not like I don’t like livin my life as Cora, exactly, but Cora cain’t work in Pops’ place and Corky can and I’m really beginnin to miss the hustle and bustle of the bar. Why, I’m the only female woman in Bisbee who spends every afternoon and most of an evenin in a saloon.”
Cora/Corky paused momentarily before adding, “No’m. I don’t think that’s for me. That few weeks that Corky went down to Pop’s and helped out were the only weeks I’ve really enjoyed since I been in Bisbee. I wasn’t lonely, and hardly thought about Jonny, except to hope that one day he would come walkin through the door and not know who I was. I know now that that ain’t goin to happen.”
Lil recognized when she was beat. What did she have to offer this kid but companionship. Elmo could offer her so much more. As long as the world thought she was a boy, that is.
“Well. What does Elmo say?” Elmo, of course, had been told of the stillbirth. He’d even stopped by once to see how Cora was doing as soon as Lil would allow him to go into her room.
Corky said, “I don’t know. I ain’t been down there but I sure will be this mornin.”
Lil just laughed and shooed Corky out of her room.
Corky checked the big clock in the parlour and realized Pop was likely already at the bar. He hurried out the door and down the gulch. When he got to the door of the bar, he stood there with his face planted against the glass. Soon, Pops came from the back with several bottles of booze balanced precariously in his arms which he almost lost when he saw Corky’s silly face plastered against the glass of the door.
He just managed to get the bottles set on the bar without dropping them and continued to the front to let Corky in.
“Well bless my soul, if it’s not Mr. Corky. What did you do with Miss Cora?”
“I killed her!” Corky replied over his shoulder as he strode to the back for the broom. Cora was not mentioned again for months. She had, for the time being, virtually ceased to exist.
Corky quickly became primary bartender. Elmo found he rather liked spending the evening drinking rye whiskey. He found he rather liked watching someone else, especially Corky, tending bar. He preferred sitting on the last stool at the end, the one formerly occupied by Jonny’s old man who disappeared when Jonny did. He liked sitting back there in the shadows, where he could sip his rye, and not have to deal with the riff-raff.
That only lasted til about ten, however, because of his own fear that a young, vulnerable boy … especially one who was actually a young woman … should not be out alone later than that, so he would run Corky out at ten to make his way back up to Lil’s. Corky had no choice but to obey but if he had his druthers he’d stay at the bar til closing.
The walk back up to #41 took Corky less than ten minutes but during that time the kernal of an idea began to grow in his mind. A few weeks passed before he felt the idea was perfected and it was time to pitch it to Pops.
It was a slow afternoon. Pops sat on his stool sipping his rye. Corky came back and leaned on the bar across from him. “Pops, I got a proposition for ya.”
Pops just eyed him but said nothing, so Corky continued, “What if you and me both started livin up there?” He pointed to the ceiling. Elmo said nothing, just waiting, knowing there was more.
“We could clean out some of that junk and build a couple of walls so you can have a room and I can have a room. And maybe a bathroom? You know, Corky can’t stand at that urinal back there and pee. He’s got to become Cora for that and some day I’m gonna get caught with my pants down even though I latch the storeroom door when I go in there to use the pot.” The single toilet in the back corner across from the storeroom had no door.
Elmo still just sat and listened, although he didn’t appear to be completely uninterested.
“And another thing. If I don’t have to go back up to #41 at night, I can stay and help out here in the bar til closin and help you get things shut down before we go up to bed”.
Corky had no idea how much his plan would cost. Neither did he know whether Pops could afford it.
Corky paused and waited. Elmo kept his eyes on his drink, not speaking.
“Just think what it’ll be like not to have to climb all the way up to Temby to that stinky woman’s house before you can go to bed. Yore bed’ll be just up them stairs yonder.”
Once again he paused and, once again, Elmo kept his eyes down but this time Corky was prepared to wait him out, until he couldn’t stand it any longer.
“Aw, com’on Pops. Ain’t you gonna say nothin? Least you could do is look at me.”
Elmo finally looked up. “Aw, hell, Cork. A body’s got to think about it. People would talk, you know.”
“Why? Everybody thinks yore my grandpa and what’s more normal than a boy livin with his grandpa?”
“Get’s kinda rowdy around here after ten. That’s one reason I’ve so far insisted that you not stay later. You’ve seen some of it but it often gets much worse. These guys get even drunker as the evenin wears on. You shore yore up for that? I’m a little afraid you’ll get yoreself hurt or killed.”
“You’ve seen me put the fear of god in a few of these old codgers with that little pool cue you fished out of the beer cooler. And if I have to, I’ll get myself a pistol. I can protect myself.”
“Well,” Elmo said at last, “All I can do is think about it, just think about it. I allow it wouldn’t cost a whole lot just to put up a partition to make two rooms, but the bathroom part … there ain’t no plumbin up there … that’s another thing. Might cost a lot to do that.”
“Well, while yore thinkin, remember that you’ll be savin what yore payin to the stinky woman for yore room and yore also payin for my room and board at Lil’s that you wouldn’t have to pay no more.”
That was something to think about.