BIG BESSIE’S PLACE
Originally published in the Green Silk Journal, this might be considered "literary" since it does not contain any spaceships or car chases.
Copyright Marva Dasef
The phrase “the joint was ajumpin’” described Big Bessie’s place to a tee. A jukebox on the back wall was blasting out big band swing. A few couples were jive dancing in a small open area in front of the juke. Everybody was talking loud and laughing. Some were clapping their hands to the beat of Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing,’ with Gene Krupa waling away on the drums.
Marilyn worked at Big Bessie’s and was mighty glad she did. The place was fun and Bessie was a good boss. Bessie didn’t take any guff, but she was always fair, treating her staff better than most bosses. Marilyn got pretty good tips and Bessie always made sure the staff had a full meal on her tab before they left the place.
The jukebox finished up with Goodman and started a slow number, Bessie Smith singing ‘Careless Love Blues’. A few people hooted; they wanted the fast music. The couples who were dancing thought it was good to take a break and slow down a bit. Marilyn turned down the lights as the music slowed. The customers liked some atmosphere. The remaining couple pressed together, the woman laying her head on her partner’s shoulder. The man started rubbing his right hand down the woman’s flank, finally gripping her left buttock as he nuzzled her neck. The woman started to grind her hips against the man. They seemed lost in their own little world, ignoring everybody around them.
Marilyn glanced over at the couple and decided to keep an eye on them. They were getting more friendly than Big Bessie liked her customers to be. True, Big Bessie’s café was a “jivin’ and jumpin’ joint,” as Big Bessie said in her ads, but she didn’t stand for any drugs or drunks, and certainly no bad behavior.
Bessie would be back at ten o’clock and she would would not be happy if she walked in on that. She would be especially p-o’ed that the couple were Tess and Harry, the day manager and another waitress. Marilyn wondered exactly what they were thinking. They knew Bessie’s rules, and they were obviously making a big point of ignoring them.
Marilyn waved at them, hoping they’d see her and take the hint. But, they were oblivious, as they continued what was appearing to be a fully-clothed sex act. Customers were starting to take notice. Some grinned and nudged their friends to take a look. A few looked away in disgust at the display.
The front door opened and Marilyn held her breath. The aspect of Big Bessie loomed in the door. Steam was streaming from her nose (and maybe her ears). Marilyn cringed and waited for the blow up.
Big Bessie lived up to the ‘big’ part of her name. The huge woman was over six feet tall and tipped the scales at close to four hundred pounds. She’d been known to take down two drunk men with a single blow. The whole neighborhood knew Bessie and respected the woman. Big heart, big hands, big foot when needed to kick sense into anyone breaking her rules. Tess and Harry didn’t notice the boss woman’s entrance. Everyone else in the room straightened up quickly, and shut their mouths. They knew what might be coming and they didn’t want to miss a thing.
Bessie stalked over to the jukebox and slammed one huge and meaty hand down on the top. The sound of a scratching record followed by a boinging sound brought the music to a halt. Finally, Harry and Tess realized something was wrong and looked around. When they saw Bessie, they jumped apart like they’d been zapped by a high voltage wire.
Big Bessie glared down at them, her fists parked on her wide hips, arms akimbo.
“And just what do you two think you’re doin’?” Bessie rumbled. “You know I don’t truck with that kind of behavior.” She blew steam from her nose and now Marilyn actually thought she could see smoke pouring from Bessie’s ears.
Bessie stomped one huge foot forward, then the other. The floor shook and coffee cups rattled on the shelves. The crowd gasped, but held stock still waiting to see what happened next.
Tess and Harry started to quiver. Harry took a sliding step to the left in the futile hope that he might escape the wrath of Bessie. She stuck out one big hand and grabbed him by his collar. She slid him back to where he started without his feet leaving the floor. Sheer terror showed in his eyes. He said, “Mm, hmm, ah, mmm,” then gave up when no actual words came out.
Tess hung her head and studied her feet with great intensity. “Sorry, Bessie,” her voice quivered. Her knees buckled and she started to slump to the floor. Bessie reached out with her other meaty hand, the one not gripping Harry, and pulled Tess back up.
Bessie slowly raised both arms until Tess and Harry were dangling from her huge fists, feet barely touching the floor. The crowd watched rapt and held their breath. Would she throw them down and stomp them to a puddle on the floor?
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Big Bessie shook her head. “Don’t you two have any manners at all?” She raised them a few inches higher until they were both on tiptoes. “Now, you two apologize to ever’body here.”
“Yes, ma’am, Bessie, ma’am,” Harry sobbed. He managed to turn his head to the right far enough to see most of the people and said, “I’m truly sorry. I apologize.” Bessie dropped him and he crumpled to the floor. He quickly got up on his hands and knees and scooted out of Bessie’s reach.
Tess saw her chance and spoke up, “Me, too. I’m really sorry.” Bessie dropped her as well. Tess collapsed in a heap and just lay there.
Bessie surveyed the crowd. They were still holding their collective breath. Bessie’s eyes drilled into the eyes of each person, or at least each thought they were the object of her wrathful gaze.
Bessie then reached out with her mighty paw and rapped the top of the jukebox. Glenn Miller started to play ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000.’ Couples slowly got up and began to dance. Bessie stalked over to the counter and winked at Marilyn. “Gotta keep the kids in line, eh?”
Marilyn grinned back. “Sure thing, Bessie. Gotta keep the kids in line.”
Bessie had kept her reputation intact one more time, without a single soul coming to harm. She’d knock the heads of the drunks, but never hard enough to crack a skull. Marilyn knew Bessie wanted to keep it that way.
Marilyn poured a cup of coffee and set it in front of the big woman. Bessie raised the cup in salute and nodded at Marilyn. The queen of Bessie’s palace continued her benevolent reign.