Cora awakened the next morning still thinking about Jonny. She could still feel his stickiness between her legs. Someone knocked gently on the door and walked in.
Cora sat up in bed, pulling her peignoir up around her.
“I sorry, mees Cora, but meeses Lil say’d I have to show you how to empty the chamber pots. Come.” said Juanita, turning to leave.
“Wait!” Cora called. “I need to put some clothes on.
“What’s that you got pulled around you. Come on.” Juanita called over her shoulder as she continued down the hall.
Cora jumped up and ran after her, trying to keep the peignoir pulled tight.
Juanita didn’t go far. Just a few feet down the hall a chamberpot sat next to a door Fortunately it had a lid on it. “Pick it up and follow me.” Juanita said as she turned and started down the stairs without turning back.
At the second floor she turned towards the bathroom, the only one in the house, and Cora followed with the pot. Cora could hear whatever was inside the pot sloshing around. She was careful not to slop any of it out!
Juanita went into the room where Cora had had her bath the afternoon before. She wallked past the bathtub to the back corner where a door opened into a closet with an open hole toilet.
“Pour that shit in here.” Juanita said, raising the board lid up. Cora did as instructed.”
“Now rinse it out at the sink in yonder,” she indicated the bath-room, “and take it back up to where we got it. You remember what room?”
“Room 10, I think.”
“Don’t never forget. Girls don’t like to have their pots mixed up.” She didn’t bother to tell her that the room number was painted on the bottom of every pot.
Juanita watched as Cora rinsed the pot before turning to leave. Cora quickly asked. “How long do I have to do this, Juanita?”
“What Meesees Lil says is that you gotta do it til you decide to become a whore or to leave this house cause she’s not gonna keep feedin ya and let ya stay here free.”
“No! I mean how long today do I have to keep this up?”
“All day and all night til the last gentleman caller leaves. That means all night sometimes. It’s your job.” Juanita said matter of factly, and turned startyed back downstairs, adding over her shoulder, “Till you decide to become one of ‘em.”
“What time is it?” Cora called after her.
“It was nine when Meesees Lil sent me up here.” Juanita said as she continued down the stairs.
Cora stood on the landing with the empty pot in her hand and watched Juanita descend before turning and going back up to the third floor.
She set the pot down outside #10 and looked down the hall to see if there were any more out. About that time the door to #10 opened and Esmeralda was standing there.
“Oh, hi, hon.” Esmeralda said in her high squeaky voice. “You’re havin to empty chamber pots, ain’t ya. I lasted half a day afore I told Mrs. Lil that I wanted to go to work but I pretty much already knew why I was here, anyhow. How many have you emptied so far?”
“Just this’n. Ain’t no more out. I don’t even know what to do.”
“Oh, hon. Did you get to look around the parlor and dining room when you got here yesterday?”
“No. Just Mrs. Lil’s room and the kitchen. And the bath-room and #12 of course.”
“Well you should go down and check them out.”
“What if somebody puts her pot out.”
“Just check back up here ever fifteen minutes or so.”
Esmeralda just stood there with her peignoir hanging open and her hair in tangles all over her head. Cora became conscious of her own peignoir, although she held it closed and had remembered to keep it that way. For the most part, anyway.
“I think I’ll put my dress on first before I go down.” Cora said, turning back towards #12.
When she went back out there were no pots on the third floor so she went down to the second. Seeing none there either, she descended to the main floor. The bottom of the stairway was just inside the front door. Cora noticed a large key dangling from a length of chain fastened securely to the door handle but didn’t think much about it. She later found out the door was locked at ten and anyone coming to the house later than that was expected to ring the bell outside to get someone to the door, usually Juanita, who opened a tiny peep-hole door at eye level to see who it was. Regular johns that came so late were expected to ask for one of the girls who Juanita would go and get. For times when the door was not locked, a little tinkle-bell hanging over it alerted the house to a visitor. To the left of it was an arched doorway into the parlor. Cora turned and looked over her shoulder down the hallway. It was empty.
She stepped into the parlor. The room was large and, to Cora’s eyes, anyway, exquisitely furnished. Soft couches were spaced around the walls, interspersed with low tables and spittoons. Three round settees occupied the center of the room. The walls were covered with pictures of ladies reclining in various postures and manners of dress. Or undress, as the case might be.
Cora walked around the room studying the pictures. She quickly realized that every one of them had been made in that very room. She turned to see Lil standing in the doorway and reddened.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lil. I shouldn’t be here.”
Lil laughed. “What do you mean shouldn’t be here, Cora, it’s perfectly okay. As long as you’re caught up with your work. Want to see the dining room, while you’re down here?”
“Sure.” said Cora, relaxing.
Lil crossed the room and opened a door, stepping through as she did so. Cora followed. A table with six chairs occupied the center of the room. Cora remembered Lil saying there were ten rooms in the house that were rented to ladies, but there were only six chairs. Lil saw her looking at the table and said. “It’s rare that more than three or four girls are down for dinner at the same time. Dinner is served from 4:30 to 5:30. First come, first served.”
As she was talking, Lil was crossing to the door that led into the hall. As she stepped out of the room she said to Cora, “If you want, come down to the dining room about 4:30 and I’ll introduce you to the girls.
A little after four, Cora emptied her last chamber pot before supper. She knocked softly on Esmeralda’s door. When Esmeralda saw Cora, she smiled. “Hi, Cora. You need somethin?”
“I need a hairbrush,” Cora said.
“Come in and sit down, hon.” Esmeralda said, pointing to a small stool in front of a large dresser and mirror. “Let me help you.” She picked up a hairbrush and began to brush Cora’s hair
“You got a date tonight, hon?”
Cora laughed. “No. But Lil asked me to come down to dinner at 4:30 and I thought I should look as good as I could.”
“You do need some help.” Esmeralda said, continuing to brush Cora’s hair. “What you got to wear, hon?”
“Just this here dress. Lil got it for me yesterday. I think she burnt up that old flour-sack thing I come here in.”
“I guess it’ll have to do then. For now, anyway.” Esmeralda said as she finished brushing Cora’s hair and reached for a small bottle with a spray attachment. Lifting Cora’s hand, and turning her arm over, she sprayed a little of the toilet water on the inside of her wrist. “You should smell good too, darlin.”
Cora smiled. She was beginning to like it here. Never in her life had she been treated like this by another lady. Not by nobody every!1 It felt good.
When she stepped into the dining room at 4:30, Lil was sitting at the head of the table. As soon as she saw Cora she called out to Cooky to serve the food. She beckoned Cora to sit in the chair around the corner of the table at her right hand. The other four chairs were empty at the moment.
Lil hadn’t gotten fully seated when a girl came out of the kitchen with a pitcher of beer and several mugs. She set the beer and mugs on the table and turned to go.
“Thank you, Maria” Lil said. “Let me introduce you to Cora.”
Maria said ‘Hi’ before turning and going back to the kitchen. Lil explained to Cora that Maria was Cooky’s helper in the kitchen as well as a general flunky around the house. She said Cooky, Maria, and Juanita all slept in the basement.
As Lil explained this, three ladies, more-or-less fully dressed, streamed in from the parlor. As they were seating themselves Lil tapped the side of her beer mug with her spoon to get their attention and said, “Girls, I’d like you to meet Cora. Cora’s been emptying your slops all day so you may have seen her.” As Lil said this, each of the ladies smiled. “But she’s probably not going to be doing that much longer, so enjoy it while it lasts.”
About this time, the door from the kitchen opened and Cooky, whom Cora had encountered the afternoon before, came through the door with a platter of beef-roast with tiny potatoes, onions and carrots. Everything on the platter was luxuriating in gravy. She set it in the middle of the table and turned to go back into the kitchen.
As the ladies began helping themselves to the roast and fixings, Lil said, “I’ll let you girls introduce yourselves.”
“Hi, I’m Lizzie.” said the one closest to Cora.
“I’m Millie.” said another.
“I’m Carmen.” said the third, a very dark complected beauty with coal black hair and eyes, and a very smoky voice. Cora would quickly learn that Carmen was the most popular girl in the house. With the customers, that is.
Before Cora had had a chance to respond, Esmeralda came in. She was still wearing her peignoir with the feathered edges and hem. Her hair had barely been brushed.
“Hi, Cora. You look good.” Esmeralda said as she took the last remaining place at the table.
Lil just smiled. She had noticed Cora’s hair brushed and could smell the perfume.
Before long, Lizzie, Millie, Carmen and Esmeralda began drifting away one at a time and were replaced by others just arriving. One by one as they came in and introduced themselves to Cora. They were Mabel, Fannie, Maude, Minnie, and Black Bonita. Black Bonita, who insisted that she never be called just Bonita, was the clown of the bunch.
As dinner was winding down and 5:30 was approaching, Lil stood and said to Cora, follow me and she went out and into her own room across the hall. Cora followed.
As she stepped inside, Lil said “Close the door before you sit down, please.” Cora obeyed.
“Now, Cora. It’s time to choose. Do you want to keep emptying chamber pots for your room and board or earn it like the rest of the girls?”
“I don’t wanna empty no more chamber pots, that’s for shore.” Cora’s eyes were downcast. She shuffled her feet. “So I reckon I ain’t got much of a choice.”
Lil, of course, noticed her reluctance.
“Not unless you keep emptying the pots. Now, this evening. Hang around the parlor and dining room. Watch the girls and how they treat the customers. You don’t have to participate in anything you don’t want to tonight but tomorrow morning you must decide what you want to do, keep emptying the pots, start entertaining customers, or get out of the house.”
“But Juanita, or maybe it was Esmeralda, said I would have to keep emptying pots tonight until after the last gentleman left.”
“Well, normally you would. But tonight I’m giving you the night off to observe in the parlour. Then you can decide what to do tomorrow.
This was not what Cora had expected when Jonny brought her here.
“Is there anything else.” Cora asked, continuing to stare at her nervous feet.
“No. Except. I’ll send Juanita up to wake you in the morning. I’ll expect you down here to give me your decision right away. Go now.”
“Yes’m” Cora said and left the room. She walked into the parlor. The room was empty except for Black Bonita who was sitting on one of the couches in the back corner, furthest from the door.”
“Hi, Cora.” Black Bonita said as Cora came into the room. Come over here and sit by me.” She patted the couch next to her. Cora crossed the room and sat down.
“So, is this your first time?” Black Bonita asked.
“My first time? My first time for what?”
“Your first time to, you know, turn tricks?”
Black Bonita laughed. “Never mind. I’m pretty sure my question is answered. How did you come to be here?”
“Well…” Cora told her her whole story about how she came to Bisbee to find Faulkner and how Faulkner was killed at the bar Saturday night and how Jonny brought her to Lil’s on Sunday morning.
As she was telling it, Mabel, Fannie and Maude came in one at a time but paid no attention to Cora.
About the time Cora finished her story, two men came through the door. One of them walked straight up to Maude and said, “Hi, Maudie. Told you I’d be back.” Maude looked around at Cora and sort of shrugged her shoulders indicating she didn’t recognize him but when she turned back to face him she nevertheless stepped up to him and put her arms around his neck. “And I’m glad, hon. Wanta go right up or have a beer first?” She reached down and felt him and knew what the answer to her question would be. She turned and said, “Never mind. I know the answer. Follow me, hon.”
Meanwhile, Mabel approached the other man and invited him to sit down by her. They sat on a couch on the other side of the room from Cora. Mabel fawned over him, whispering in his ear. He seemed pleased.
Carmen, Minnie and Lizzy had joined them now, dispersing themselves around the room. Minnie picked up a magazine. Carmen and Lizzie went straight to the beer waiting on the diningroom table.
Gentlemen callers came and went, some hanging around the parlor for awhile before selecting a girl and going upstairs with her. Others knew which girl they wanted and others yet just perused the merchandise and left.
Cora began to get sleepy. She wondered when she would she see Jonny again. She was just about to nod off when she looked up and saw Elmo standing in the doorway staring straight at her. She had no idea how long he had been standing there. Before she could respond, he turned and walked down the hall towards Lil’s room.
As soon as he turned away, Cora bolted for the stairway and ran upstairs just as Lil’s door opened and Elmo stepped inside.
“What the hell, Lil. Have you already put her to work?”
“Come in, Elmo.” Lil said although he was already inside. “Sit down and cool off. I forgot this was your night to get your horns trimmed.
Elmo ignored her comment. “I just saw Cora all decked out sitting in the parlor. Have you put her to work already? I thought you said she had a couple days to decide.”
Lil chuckled. “She has until tomorrow morning to decide. After handling everybody’s slops all day, she announced this afternoon she couldn’t do that anymore so I gave her til morning to decide whether she wanted to stay and earn her keep or whether she wanted to go. Why are you concerned? You said you didn’t give a damn what she did.”
“Well. Maybe part of me does. She’s so young.”
“Yeah, I figured you might, although she’s no younger than most of my girls are when they start. Esmeralda’s not much older than Cora now. You want me to go out and see if she’s available? Esmy is the one you like snugglin with these days? Isn’t she?”
“Naw.” Elmo said. “Well, yeah, but I ain’t horny no more tonight. How much would it cost me for Cora to keep stayin in the room where she is now without havin to, you know?”
Lil laughed at Elmo’s sudden bashfulness. “You mean you’ll pay her room and board and she don’t have to do anything at all for it?”
“I guess that’s what I’m sayin, yeah.”
“Well, these girls are a funny bunch. They’re not gonna take to a girl who’s perfectly capable of earning a living being kept in the house for free. But if you’re serious, I suppose I could let her stay in #12 for a buck-fifty a night.”
“Hells bells, woman. That’s mor’n I’m payin for my room at Gertrude’s.”
“Then put her up at Gertrude’s.” Lil said, knowing that had already been attempted and failed. Before Elmo could answer she added. “Oh yeah. Gertrude don’t have any empty rooms. And you don’t get fed at Gertrude’s either so stop griping about the buck-fifty.”
“Okay. Okay. Buck-fifty a night just until I can sort things out.” With that he stood and crossed to the door, stepping out into the hallway. Lil crossed right behind him and watched as he pulled his derby down over his eyes, keeping his head down until he disappeared through the door.