|Girl Walking (Elevated), 1945|
By Ron Scheer
Geraldine gets off the subway at 103rd. It’s a bright afternoon, and she looks for her reflection in the storefront windows along Lexington. She thanks the Lord who gave her the nearest thing to a woman’s body—flat chested under a well-padded bra, yes, but narrow shoulders and legs like rose stems.
She’s a knockout in a short skirt and heels, and she knows it.
At 107th she ducks into a bar, where Sam’s pot of coffee will be thick as bilge water by now, but her day is just getting started. Cup of joe is all she needs. Eating makes a girl fat.
Sam has the look of a dog that’s been kicked around. His Cuban wife won’t put out. Geraldine gives him a little service now and then just to put a smile on his face. He returns the favor by not throwing her out.
Today he’s pouring her coffee and nodding toward the rear of the bar. In the gloom there, she can see the back of one beefy shoulder and a big cowboy hat.
“What’s Tom Mix doing here?” she says, resting one haunch on a bar stool.
Sam shrugs. “Been here hours. Trying to run me out of Canadian Club.”
She takes her coffee and wanders over for a better look.
“Sweetheart,” the cowboy calls over to her. The single word has dust devils and Texas tumbleweeds in it.
“Me?” Geraldine says sweet as anything.
For an answer there is the slow beckoning of a pair of fingers.
She hesitates, like a step closer requires thought. Then her heels click on the tile floor between them, and she gives her hips a swing.
“You are just about the purdiest thing,” he says as she starts to glide into the booth, opposite him.
“No, no, no, little lady,” he says making room for her beside him.
She sizes up the guy. Smooth shaven and sunburned. Barrel chested. Easily fifty. Canvas jacket and stiff new Levi’s. Flash of teeth between chapped lips.
“If you insist,” she says and tucks her skirt under one thigh as she slips in beside him.
In a minute he’s got a muscular arm around her and she lets her head tilt for a moment under the broad brim of his hat.
He calls out to Sam for another whiskey and a beer. “And something for the little lady. What’s it gonna be?” he says in a soft voice, like he’s talking to his horse.
She shakes her head, as if a mere sip of alcohol would render her legless.
“Champagne,” the cowboy says to Sam. “Your best.”
Sam has come to the end of the bar, wiping his hands on a damp towel. “Ain’t got any of that,” he says.
She’s insisting that coffee is all she wants and waves one hand in a blur of ruby-red fingernails.
After more debate, the cowboy orders her a brandy.
“I’m Lou,” he says.
His calloused hand takes hers, holding the bones of her fingers in a tight grip. Then it drops between them, settling on her knee, just past the hem of her skirt.
A little squeeze there, and she feels the blood rush between her thighs.
“You from around here?” he says.
“Originally?” she wants to know, and she pauses. Would he like some place south of the Mason-Dixon or would it be California this time? She loves the sound of “Santa Monica.”
He shakes his head. “I was wondering, you got a place near here you could offer a lonesome cowpoke?”
She offers an embarrassed giggle instead. She’s easy, but not that easy.
“You got class,” he says, like she wandered in here by mistake. Instead of some smart little café down on Fifth.
The hand moves one finger at a time up her thigh. She leans away from him like she might get up, but his arm is locked around her shoulders. He tugs her slender body closer to him.
The drinks arrive. Sam gives her a dubious look.
He knows these things have a way of ending badly. A black eye and bruises. A loosened tooth. And the times the rough stuff doesn’t stop at that, which she’s never told him about.
“You gotta let them know about Gerald before they get you alone somewhere,” Sam has cautioned her.
Sam doesn’t understand. All he knows is his own pathetic life, not what it is to be taken for lovely and sexy. Even if only in a stranger’s eyes.
The hand has slipped further up her thigh and the cowboy stops to knock back Sam’s cheap whiskey, then a long quaff of his dishwater beer. A man drunk enough, she knows, can get lost in his own delusion—and never discover Gerald at all. She only needs to keep him from tearing her clothes off.
Sam decides to sweep the floor, like he’s not watching them. She’s seen him use a broom handle before on a customer he didn’t like.
Drunker, the cowboy is massaging the inside of her thigh, a nose and beery lips now pressing into her neck. Crushed against him now, she feels a sharp pain in her shoulder, where a man once threw her against a wall.
She is pushing at the cowboy’s hand, inches from what his fingers don’t expect to find between her legs. But his strength is beyond hers. Strength enough to break bones.
“I’m not what you think,” she says. The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. “I’m not a girl.”
The hand, now grabbing at her, stops.
“What the hell?” he says and freezes.
She can feel his fingers tighten there around the amplitude of extra parts the Lord in a fit of irony has also bestowed on her.
“If that don’t beat all.” He pulls back his hand.
Sam stiffens, gripping the broom.
“Truth is,” laughs the cowboy, lifting his big hat. A shock of graying blonde hair, tucked up inside, falls to his shoulders. “I ain’t no cowboy neither.”
Image credit: www.vanderbilt.edu
Coming up: Decision at Sundown (1957)