Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 18

Our story resumes just after opening time on a day around the middle of the following-August. It was sweltering. The temperature was pushing one-hundred degrees and had been above that mark almost every day for the last three weeks. No one in Bisbee could remember it ever being so hot for so long. The fans hanging from the ceiling in the bar whirred and stirred the warm pungent air around, but did little to cool the place off. Cora had shed as much of her clothing as she dared. While the city had not bothered her in several months now, she knew that she had to be careful in order to maintain her reputation as a business woman, and she wanted to keep it that way. It hadn’t rained since mid-March. The monsoons were more than a month late but the humidity remained low day-after-day and there seemed to be no rain in sight.

Cora mopped her brow with a handkerchief and fluttered it in front of her face to shoo away the flies before tucking it back into her cleavage. She watched as an old man of indeterminate age shuffled through the door with the aid of a sturdy stick upon which he leaned heavily, dragging one foot. His face, covered with a scraggly beard that appeared as if it had been trimmed with the large hunting knife residing in a holster at his waist, showed the accumulated stresses of many years in the desert sun but hid the true age of it’s presenter. He stood just inside the door waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloomy interior of the barroom, scanning further and further into the gloom as his eyes adjusted, finally resting them on Elmo sitting back in his usual spot. He marched forward.

Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Cora saw his eyes were locked on Elmo and wondered if the two old men knew one-another

Arriving at Elmo’s side, he tapped him on the shoulder.

Elmo looked up at him through bleary eyes. And then his old toothless face broke into a seldom seen grin as he drawled, “Well, well. If it ain’t Rainmaker. It’s been a right long dry spell. We could shore use us some rain now, right enough. Ain’t that so, Ms. Cora?”

“Sure enough, Pops.” Cora was surprised that Pops would recognize someone she was pretty sure he hadn’t seen since she had come to Bisbee over three years ago.

“Pull Rainmaker up a stool and get him a glass, darlin. He’s gonna tell us where all he’s been since the last time he was in Bisbee.”

Cora placed a stool under the old man and a glass in front of him. Elmo filled the glass with rye.

As Elmo filled his glass he said “Let’s see. Nineteen and two, maybe. That was the year I brought that big flood, warn’t it?”

Elmo said, “Well, that was nearly bout ten year ago, then, wadn’t it?”

“Yeah. I reckon ‘twas.”

“Where ya been since then?”

“All over.”

Cora was glad when she was called to the front of the bar and had a chance to step away from this fellow, Rainmaker, whoever he was. As the afternoon wore on, more and more hombres came ambling in until the bar was pretty much double deep by late in the afternoon when Rainmaker got up from his stool, tipped his old slouch hat symbolically to Elmo by touching the brim with the fingers of his hand, and started towards the front.

Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. …

“I’m about to go bring the rain.” he shouted to no-one in particular as he went.

Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. … Shuffle, shuffle, tap. …

He disappeared out into the late afternoon gloom. There were reports later that he was seen in various places about town dancing with crossed sticks above his head and chanting something in a strange indigenous tongue that had the cadence of Spanish but was unintelligible.

That night, Cora and Billy lay naked on top of the bed. The air was deathly still except for the occasional faint wafts that came through the window. Those occasional gusts that billowed the curtains were the only hint of relief from the heat all night. They were too hot to make love and too hot to sleep.

Sometime deep in the night, as Cora lay panting, waiting for that next breath of fresh air to come and caress her body, she heard the distant rumble of thunder. Was it possible? Had the monsoons finally arrived. They were more than a month late.

Now she began seeing flashes of lightning followed a few seconds later by the rumble of thunder. ‘Please be moving our way.” she prayed to unknown gods. ‘Please’ she thought… begged.

As she lay there and watched and listened the flash and the rumble became less-and-less separated in time. It is moving towards us, she thought. ‘Please, please rain.’ she begged the unknown gods.

The temperature dropped ten degrees almost suddenly. At the same time the wind picked up.

Then she heard the sound of heavy raindrops. Sporadic at first, as if someone were drumming their fingers erratically on a wooden table.

Spat… … … Spat…Spat … … … Spat … … Spat… Spat.Spat

As she lay there and listened, the Spat … Spat became a steady dull roar as the bottom dropped out of the cloud suddenly sending down torrents of water. It began to blow in through the window. She jumped up and pulled the window almost closed.

Ron pulled up a sheet that had been kicked to the floor. He got back on the bed and sat cross-legged beside Cora, pulling the dry sheet around them both. They sat and stared at the window even though it was so dark they could see nothing but the blur of water falling from the sky just beyond it.

And then, as suddenly as the rain had started it stopped. It was almost like turning off a spigot. And slowly, almost imperceptably, they saw light in the east and knew the sun had risen over Sacramento Hill. It illuminated the north-east slope of Mount Ballard but would not rise over Chihuahua Hill for another hour yet.

No-one was able to sleep after the rain. For a very short while there was a fairly cool breeze. Cora and Ron lay on their backs fanning themselves. But the breeze didn’t last long. The cool wind stopped seemingly coincident with the sun popping up over Chihuahua Hill at 6:15, spreading bright sunlight over the entire gulch. Steam was soon rising from every wet surface. No wind came in through the bedroom window.

Cora and Ron looked at each other and laughed. “Let’s go down and get something cool to drink.” Cora said and they jumped up and dressed. Cora wore a light pink silk blouse that one of Esmeralda’s johns, a drummer, had given her that she didn’t want. She had also given her a long cotton skirt that was not much heavier than the floursack dresses she arrived in when she came from Arkansas. Ron slipped on a pair of his coveralls with nothing under them.

When they stepped out of their room at 7:30 they practically collided with Elmo and Billy who had come to the same conclusion. It was time to go down to the barroom.

Ron made a big pot of boiled coffee and then set it down in the cool water in the beer cooler long enough for it to cool off while the grounds settled. He was able to fish out enough of yesterday’s almost melted ice to fill four glasses. The resulting iced brew was strong and bitter but it was cool. They drug stools out to the sidewalk and sat out there while they sipped.

Cora suggested to Billy that he start sweeping out and cleaning spittoons before it got even hotter than it already was. Elmo decided to walk down to the Copper Queen Headquarters building and while away the morning in the shade. Cora and Ron mostly maintained their vigil outside the bar, going back and forth getting the bar restocked and ready for opening.

As the afternoon crawled on, clouds began to build in the southeast. Everyone that came in the bar that day asked, “Do you think it’s gonna rain.” and the universal answer that afternoon, usually by a chorus of voices, was “We can only hope!”

The Rainmaker had done his dance the night before.

Proceed to Chapter 19

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