With eyes wide open and sometimes forgetting to chew our food, we got to know Ruby a little better.
“We opened up a few years back,” she said. “Upstairs used to be a cathouse. Aaahhhh! Customers that came from up there was ALWAYS hungry. Ahh! Ahhhhh! AaHHHH!”
Felley had to explain to me later what a cathouse was. It was never clear to me if “used to” meant years ago or minutes. I felt like I was falling down a rabbit hole. Cathouses on Main Street? Everyone else seemed sort of entertained by the notion that a place that interesting might exist in our hometown. I was in shock.
Someone asked her if she was open during the daytime. “Oh yeah,” she said. “All those men that sits on Spit Corner outside the courthouse come in. When I take their order they whispers and stares at ma’ titties.”
“How do you get ‘em to stop,” I asked.
Ruby gave a little shimmy, “Oh, I just push ‘em in real close and yell ‘You like what ya see?! Aahhhh! AAAHHHH! Half of ‘ems deaf, but that shuts ‘em up. AaahH!!”
As we ate and talked she gave us motherly advice about how we should listen to our parents (who would have dragged us out the door by then had they been there) and always go to school. She said she wished she’d stayed in longer. She thought it was nice that our friend’s folks had opened up the “dance hall” across the street for us. We visited a little longer and then headed home.
She gave us a wave and hollered, “Y’all come back and see Ruby.” And we did. Once we discovered her place “clubbin’” on Main Street each weekend took on a whole different meaning.
Ruby’s was sort of our little secret. Only a few of us went there. We never saw anyone in the place but us. Had we not been there together I don’t know that our memories would let us be certain that the place actually existed.
But it was real, just as real as Ruby herself. She always gave us a hug and said how glad she was to see us. Sometimes she would talk about how mean her boyfriend was as if she was describing a misbehaving dog. We would tell her she ought not to stay around guys like that and that she deserved better. “New men are easy to find,” she said. “But good men ain’t! AaahhHH!!!”
After graduation we made it to Ruby’s less and less frequently. One weekend when we were home from college we went back and found her place had closed.
A few years went by before I ran into Ruby at Riverside Park during the White River Water Carnival. One hand held the tatooed arm of a tall, leathery looking bald guy. Her other arm was in a sling. Her eyebrows were drawn over a series of bruises of the same color, tinged with the yellow-grey of a bad summer storm. She gave me the best hug she could manage.
“Oh, I was in a pretty bad car accident. Completely totaled it– and most of me! Ahhhh! AhhhHH! ” I told her how sorry I was. We talked a little more and I asked her what was going on in her world. She introduced me to her boyfriend Mack, who just smiled. “We get around on Mack’s Harley. We’s living acrossed from the airport, and hon you oughta know, Batesville is a little drug den. Planes come and go at all hours of a evenin’ up there.” She assured me she didn’t go out to inspect. We hugged goodbye and headed our separate ways.
The last time I saw Ruby was the summer I worked as a teller at the bank. She was walking through the lobby, all healed with a turquoise scarf around her neck, apricot lipstick and those same purplish-penciled eyebrows.
“You look great, Ruby!”
“Ahhhh! Aaahhhh!! Honey, I’m doin’ great. I moved outta town and I’m just back long enough to take care of some bankin’ business.”
“What are you doing now?” I asked.
She smiled and leaned in to whisper, “I’m tellin’ fortunes to businessmen over in Memphis!” I must have looked confused, “Hon, it’s the only way some of ’em can handle a woman in their life. Aaahh! AAAhhhhhHHH!!”