There’d been a bull on top of Aunt Nolie last night and now he was sitting on a bar stool kissing the woman next to him smack-dab on her red lips.
“Cono, this here’s Sunshine.”
I know that song, “You are my Sunshine, My Only Sunshine.” I figured that song was named after her. She has short blond hair and looks like she hadn’t missed a meal in a while. Not that she’s fat, but she has more meat on her bones than most gals I see.
“Well, hello there, Cono,” she says giving me a little wink.
“Hello,” I say, turning back to look at No-Account and giving him my best “you’re a no-account” stare.
“Cono,” he says, “Ye go on over there and sit at an empty table, and I’ll get ye a sody pop. Sunshine and me are gonna talk some business fer a minute.”
No-Account gives Sunshine a pinch on her round butt and she lets out a stupid sounding noise that’s something between a squeal and a giggle.
Sitting there by myself doesn’t stop me from staring, disgusted-like at their carryings-on. She whispers in his ear, he gives her a little smooch, he whispers in her ear, she lets out another harebrained giggle. I get so fed up my belly starts to twist around and I think I might just puke. Standing up I say, “I’m gonna wait in the truck.” And that’s what I do ’cause neither of those fools leave a good Impression on me. They leave a bad taste in my mouth.
I look around the truck, but I don’t see any rope. That sorry son of a bitch never intended to buy me a donkey.
I watch people go in and come out and think about the loser I’m with, the jackass full of bullcorn. My hard-earned-honest-days-work-seed-selling money had gone straight toward something to do with that blonde-hair giggly-eye winker named “Sunshine.”
No-Account finally gets back into the truck and starts jawing again about more things that don’t make no sense. The difference is, this time he’s swerving around the road like a drunk man, which he is.
“Damn” he says when we almost go off the road, “What was that in the street?”
I don’t answer. Even Dad could drive better than this. I just keep sitting and feeling like a stool pigeon, a stool pigeon that has to hold on to the door handle just in case it needs to jump out.
Sadie threw her hands over her ears and rocked back and forth. “Just no jail, no jail, no jail …”
When tears tumbled down Sadie’s cheeks, I caught Louis’s look of compassion—the same as Meta’s, the same as Reba’s. The same as mine.
“I won’t let you go to jail, Sadie. That’s what this is all about,” John said, his voice softer. “But you need to do what we suggest. I have a plan. But we have to find you a hide-away, some place safe other than here.”
Silence slithered around the frank, yet well-meaning posse while the irony struck me as funny. Over the years, the surrounding walls had safely protected politicians, successful businessmen, and Notorious train robbers. Now, they weren’t strong enough to protect my hard working and best girl who felt more like kin.
Reba thumped the settee’s armrest gathering our attention. “Fannie, what we ain’t gonna do is snap a fine branch off this family tree and throw it to the fire. If she gotta leave, it better be a damn good place so’s she can come home when time’s right.”
A moment passed and I felt the soft squeeze of Meta’s hand.
A man, close to the front, pumped his fist. “My wife don’t have time for more learning. We got six kids needing supper on the table.”
A melee of querulous male voices erupted from the crowd.
“Why do women prostitute themselves to the abnormal passion of man?” Miss Fisher continued. “Because they are poverty-stricken, destitute above temptation and driven by necessity. They sell themselves, in marriage or out, for bread and shelter, for the necessities of life. How can we blame them? They have no other recourse but to live in a society that dictates what they, we, can and cannot do. To solve this problem, we demand that women be allowed to exercise their inherent, personal, citizen’s right to be a voice in the government, municipal, state, and national. Then, women will have the power to protect themselves.”
“We men protect our women just fine,” a voice shouted. Other men shouted their agreement.
Mayor Hicks stepped to the podium, his lips pursed. “Enough of your heckling. Save your disagreements for editorials in the newspapers. She has a right to free speech.”
“So do we,” someone boomed back.
The mayor banged a fist on the podium. “These women are invited guests. By God, we will show them our southern Hospitality.”
The raw egg came from nowhere. It narrowly missed the Mayor’s head before landing on the bandstand floor. He squinted, searching the crowd.
Poor Mrs. Fenwick held a shaky hand over her mouth.
Miss Fisher reached below the dais and pulled out a speaking trumpet. “The true relation of the sexes can never be attained until women are free and equal with man,” she continued, her determination thundering above the chaos.
The officer turned to Sadie. “Miss, get up now. We need to ask you some questions. City Hall is only a short walk.”
Sadie gripped the edge of the table as if nailed there. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I found this the night of the meeting. Meta?” Her eyes begged for help.
What could I do besides sit with my mouth open? I forced myself to stand and offered Sadie my hand. “It will be all right. I’m sure it won’t take long to answer their questions. You’ll be home before you know it.” With afterthought, I turned to the officer. “Sir, doesn’t Sheriff Tobin have jurisdiction over this county?” An elected official always had command over a hired police force.
Ignoring me, the officer grimaced at Sadie, his fingers resting atop his cudgel. “What’s your name, Miss?”
Sadie creaked out of her chair like a woman twice her age. “Miss Sadie Dubois,” she said, her voice low.
“And where do you live, Miss Dubois?”
Again, Sadie stared at me for support.
“Sir, we live at the corner of Durango and San Saba,” I said, not giving away the proprietor or Sadie’s profession.
He tilted his head upward as if picturing the city streets. A slight grin crept up one side of his mouth. “I’d say it’s time for us to take a walk.”
I followed behind a slumping Sadie. Outside, the fresh air did nothing to help my breathing. The officer held fast to Sadie’s elbow and pulled her toward the courthouse. The Temperance women, glued to Sadie’s heels, followed behind like a firing squad taking a prisoner to her Final destination.