Ms. Cora’s Tale … Chapter 3

Elmo continued his long strides down toward Broadway, Cora, once again struggling to keep up with him. When she finally caught him she yelled, “Pops. Will you listen to me?!”

Elmo turned and said, “Yes, I will. Just keep your voice down.”

“Okay. But you just gotta understand. I can’t stand that fat, smelly old witch of a woman and I shore can’t sleep with her. I’ll stay out of the way up above the bar until it closes and sneak into the house with you when you come home and sleep on the floor in yore room. I’ll cook for ya. I’ll clean for ya. I’ll wash yore clothes. And, starting today, you can show me things to do to help out around the bar and I’ll do anything, absolutely anything, to earn my keep, but you just can’t make me sleep with that woman. I won’t do it!”

By the time she had finished this speech, they were almost at the bottom of Broadway. Elmo said nothing but continued striding towards the door to the bar. When Cora started to talk again he shushed her, saying, “Wait until we’re inside.” He unlocked the door and they stepped in. He had barely gotten the door locked back when Cora started.

“So what do you think, Pops? Wouldn’t you like to keep me around awhile? I’ll …”

Elmo cut her off, saying in a very terse voice, “Now. You listen to me. You come waltzing into my bar just day before yesterday completely lost and I helped you to get to where you wanted to go. And then yesterday you burst in and said the man Faulkner was right behind you and was going to kill you and I protected you. And then you told me he raped you and I had him killed! … And now you want me to take care of you? I somehow felt sorry for you but now that you’ve given me an ultimatum about not staying at Gertrude’s … and that doesn’t include in my room … whether on the floor or in my bed! So I’m going to make it real simple for you. Either you are back at Gertrude’s before she goes to bed tonight and you get in the bed with her and you sleep there or you walk out that door right now and don’t never come back. And I mean that. If you walk out now, I never want to see you again.”

She looked at him, tears welling up in her eyes. “How about if I stay up yonder.” She pointed to the ceiling. “I’ll go up there as soon as the bar opens and you won’t hear nothin out of me plum til mornin. I swear. I’ll make myself not be scared up there by myself. I promise I will.” She sobbed.

“Did you not hear me say that I was giving you two choices. Did either one of them sound like you stayin in the attic?”

She just sobbed.

“Then choose. Agree to going back up to Gertrude’s or hit that street out there.”

“Do I have to go right now? Can’t I at least stay here til opening time.”

“Listen, girl. I have to get a little sleep in before time to open. It’s almost noon so Jonny will be here soon. I’m gonna start gettin this place ready to open and as soon as he gets here I’m goin up there …(he pointed)… and take a nap until opening time.

“Okay. That’ll be okay, I … guess.” she said and walked slowly to the back table and sat down.

A little after twelve, just as expected, Jonny and the old man came in. Jonny led the old man to his back stool, noticing the young girl who had come in yesterday screaming murder sitting at the back table. But he knew all about her now. It was, after all, he who killed the man Faulkner who she came to Bisbee to marry.

When Jonny turned back around and reached for his broom, Elmo locked the front door and took the key. He started towards the back, saying over his shoulder to Jonny “I’m goin up to take a nap. Wake me when the iceman comes.”

Elmo had barely had time to reach the top of the stairs when Cora walked up to the front where Jonny was sweeping.

“Hi, I’m Cora. What’s your name.” As she said this, she stepped past Jonny so that she was standing between him and the bright window behind her. Her flour-sack dress became almost transparent and it was apparent to Jonny that she was wearing nothing underneath the flour-sacking except her own skin. In sixteen year old Jonny’s eyes he was looking at a goddess. A grown woman, even though she was only two years older than he. And the word heard among the murmurings around the bar last night was that the man Faulkner had raped her just that morning before Jonny killed him, her intended husband. And now he was standing here with her right there in front of him and he was speechless.

Cora twirled around in the sunlight and said, “Are you gonna tell me your name or just stand there gawking at me all afternoon?”

Jonny, suddenly very self conscious, hung his head. “Jonny,” he said.

“Well, Jonny, what do you think about my dress.” This time, as she twirled around she raised the dress above her knee.”

“Yore dress is right nice I reckon.”

“Thank you, sir.” she said and then lowered her voice. “I need you to help me.”

“Not sure what I can do but I know I have to get this sweepin done fore Mr. Elmo has my ass.” and he put his broom, upon which he had been leaning as he gazed at Cora, back to work, saying, “Just stay next to me and tell me what you think I can do to help.”

“Well, Elmo is tryin to make me go back to where he stays and sleep with an old fat woman who stinks and I can’t do that but I don’t know nobody in this town and I don’t have no money so I was hopin’ you might know somebody that could help me out for just a couple days until I can find somethin to do. I’ll do pert near anythin. Pert near anythin at all.”

Jonny swept for a minute or two and waited. When she added nothing further he said, “I might know a place where a lady will be willin to help you out. Go up thattaway …he pointed up the Gulch … to house number 41. Ask for Lil when you get there. Tell her what happened to you and she’ll find somethin for you to do.”

“ Well. Since we’re locked in and I cain’t leave, can I do somethin to help you so you don’t have to work so hard. What do you have to do, anyway?”

“First I gotta get all this crap on the floor raked up to the front so when the iceman comes I can sweep it out to the street. And then after the iceman leaves the ice I got to chop it up and put it down in the beer cases to keep all the beer cold and if I’m lucky, I’ll have time to sneak a cigarette out of the old man’s pack and have a smoke after I finish sweepin and before the iceman comes so let me get to it.”

“Cain’t I do somethin to make sure you get thru with yore sweepin before the iceman comes? And maybe we could share that cigarette yore goin to steal or maybe you could steal two.”

“Reckon that ain’t no problem but they’s really nothin for me to do but sweep this floor until the iceman comes. Just stay here with me and keep me company.”

“That’ll be fun.” said Cora as she began to dance wildly, suggestively, in front of and around him, leaping across his pile of trash as he continued his slow progress toward the front. When he got the trash up to the door, he stole those two cigarettes Cora had mentioned and the two of them stood huddled at the very back by the small exhaust fan that pulled the smoke to the outside. They had almost finished them when a racket started up at the front door.

Jonny said, “Put yore butt out quick. Mr. Elmo gets pissed when he catches me smokin.” and without another word he opened the door to the attic and shouted up the stairs “Mr. Elmo, the iceman has come.” before turning back to Cora who was still standing there beside him. In a whisper he said, “C’mon” and practically dragged her back to the back table.

The iceman continued his pounding on the front door as Elmo came creakingly down the stairs and toward it.

“Hold your horses, Sam, I’m comin.”

When he got to the front door he unlocked it and Sam came in with a fifty pound block of ice suspended from tongs. It had been dripping on his feet since he got to the door.

Jonny quickly swept his pile of trash out into the street while the door was unlocked.

“Damn, Elmo. Whur was ye?” Sam said.

“Asleep. Had a rough night.”

“Uh-huh.” Sam said just as he got to the big sink behind the bar where he dropped the ice, spying Cora sitting at the back table. As he went back toward the front he slapped Elmo on the back and said, “Bet ye did.” glancing back over his shoulder at Cora.

“She’s my granddaughter, arsehole. Now git.”

Elmo shoved him towards the door and helped him through before locking it behind him.

Meanwhile, Jonny was wielding an icepick to break the ice into manageable chunks that he could transfer to the beer cases. As Elmo passed by he looked at his watch. One-fifteen, forty-five minutes to opening time. “You got everything under control, boy?” he asked Jonny.

“Think so, boss.” Jonny replied as he continued breaking up the ice.

Elmo continued to the back of the bar and disappeared into the toilet.

Cora came over to where Jonny was. “What’s goin to happen now?” She pointed toward the toilet, knowing Elmo would be back out in a minute or two.

“Don’t know. When he don’t get enough sleep, he can be a bear so nobody don’t know what he’ll do in a situation like this.”

When Elmo came back out, Jonny had almost gotten the ice transferred to the iceboxes. Elmo looked at him, “Walk this girl back up to Gertrude’s and then come back here. I expect you to be back before openin time.”

“Yes, sir.” Jonny said curtly but with a big smile on his face. He would be more than happy to walk Cora anywhere she wanted to go. She had made it clear that place was not going to be Gertrudes.

“C’mon, girl.” Jonny said playfully to Cora who looked over at Elmo, realizing he had not even acknowledged her presence since he came down to unlock the door. His expression did not change.

Elmo watched from the door as Jonny and Cora turned up Broadway.

Proceed to Chapter 4

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