The Gentlemen’s Lounge

Contributor: Chris Sharp

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I was resting in the Gentlemen’s Lounge when she came in. By resting, I mean I was doing what we do when we’re not herding cattle. The Gentlemen’s Lounge was at that time the only bar in town before she came and changed the name into “Ladies and Gentlemen.” When she got it going it was no longer a bar, or a saloon, but a “club,”
At that time there were over a hundred cowboys in town. At any given time, about a third of us were with the cattle, moving them here and there and trying to keep them perky and healthy so they could feed the entire Western Territory with good beefsteak. We had the only cattle for hundreds of miles, so we were all flush, with a lot of new greenbacks and not very many places to spend them.
She sneaked in on a coach. One of the regulars happened to be gazing out the window seeing nothing when suddenly the coach landed in from of him. “It’s a wo-man,” he said. “She’s a coming off the coach with a bag in both hands. Now she’s a putting one bag down, and she’s a giving the driver a tip of money. Now she’s a looking at us. She’s a looking right at me. She’s a got her bag again and she’s a stepping toward here, boys.”
“Why would a woman come here to see us hellhole cowboys?” I said, to no one especially, because to be honest I hadn’t dressed and washed to see any woman that day. The only one at my table was Whitey, and he had been tending to a nosebleed. “Fix your nose, Whitey,” I told him. “We got some kind of company, the female kind, without any warning.”
There had never been a woman in our town before, at least none that I had ever heard of. But the town was less than six months old, and if something stands around even for a few days, the odds have to better that it would be found by a woman. That’s why you could never hide anything from your mother even for just a few days, but we boys all assumed our mothers were two thousand miles away.
The woman burst through our swinging vintage-pair doors all covered in a heavy purple dress that rustled and flounced all over her. She looked around at us even as she was still stepping in. Then she eyed the mysterious piano that had just recently been mysteriously carried in by four big boys. Those big boys carried the piano in from a wagon and mysteriously left it here.
“Hello boys,” she said at last, smiling and looking at every one in a sisterly manner. “You try out that grand piano yet?”
“Ma’am, is that your piano that was left here?”
“It is my piano,” she said. “Now I intend to try it out after it’s been bumping over the prairie for so long.”
At first she touched the keys real carefully like she was picking up some rattlesnake skin but wondering if there was still a live snake inside it. Then for the first time in our town’s six-month history living music came out amongst us. It was good. It was real good.
“The song was written by a man named Stephen Foster, boys,” she told us. “He was a genius. He wasn’t a German genius or a French genius. He was an American genius.”
We boys just looked at each other.
The next song was another good one.
“Ma’am, who in tarnation are you?”
“I’m the new owner.”
“The new owner.”
We boys all looked at each other again.
“In the next couple of days, my husband will be coming in on the Pullman. He’s an official with the new railroad. Until then you’ve got me.”
“We’ve got you, huh.”
It was like we caught some strange new hiccup that kept us repeating her last words.
“Now I’m going to tell you about the new rules.”
“The new rules,”
We sat there and listened to “the new rules.” That was all that happened, us boys just sitting there, period. Our brains could only take in so much in one day. And right then, our brains were still taking in “an American genius” and “coming in on the Pullman,” without us taking a breath in between them.
So the woman in the big purple dress kept talking.
We just sat there, thunderstruck.

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In addition to five other stories in Yesteryear Fiction, I have authored “Dangerous Learning: The New Schooling in California.” I am a public school teacher in Menifee, California. My wife Debbie and I have two children in the form of a Persian cat named Dr. Spooner and a talking parrot named Dr. Shana.
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