Jesse Miller: Dancing (fiction)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I grew in the deepest part of south Georgia where high school was integrated but homecoming courts and year book superlatives were not. This was a quiet, pleasant town but the atmosphere of the town still clung to an ignorant ugly past. We were a generation confused about race, but not about friendship. We were white and black. We were young. That south shaped me in a way no other place could have, for there is no beauty in a place without first clearing out the ugly.


Kimmy and I had been friends since childhood. School friends, never outside the building. Our worlds didn’t mix in those days. White kids and black kids weren’t given much opportunity to hang out outside the confines of the school. At least not without unfriendly stares, unspoken parental pressures and such. Some whites and blacks dated. Dated by passing notes from one friend to another’s friend until a message of fondness was finally delivered. But rarely public. Shit, I remember my buddy being grounded for talking to a black girl on the phone. It seemed odd sure, but it was also how it was there. Just telling you this now, shit. Silly disgusting ignorance. Shameful to have even accepted it. Most of us never felt the atmospheric hatred that drifted around us but we still accepted it.

Kimmy and my friendship never evolved to romance but I caught my share of shit for being ‘buddy buddy’ with her. Whatever the hell that meant. The last class of the day of the last year of high school was Calculus. Calculus in South Georgia wasn’t what you think. It was spoon fed. Simple. At the end of a day, teachers were tired and students lost interest. If we finished whatever minimal work there was, Mrs. Johnson would let us do whatever we wanted as long as we were quiet and as long as we looked busy if someone came into the room. Kimmy and I used that time to joke about black folks and white folks and the shit between us all. We talked about how white girls pretended to be virgins and how black girls pretended not to like oral. Toward the end of that final year, with senioritis and the nature of conversations, the discussions took on a nervous heat.

“We dance different than you.” Kimmy said toward the end of the year.
“No you don’t.”
“What boy? White boys can’t dance.”
“Well true. But we don’t dance. You dance. We don’t. So you don’t dance different. You just dance.”
“You crazy. You can’t dance?”
“You said we can’t.”
“Shit Davy. I’ll make you dance. Or sweat, one.” She always called me Davy, the only person who did.
“When you and me gonna dance? In this town?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But I think we should dance. You can’t graduate this place without dancin’ with me. You might as well be sweepin’ your kitchen as dance with them white girls.” She said with a knowing smile.
“Alright then Kimmy. I’ll dance with ya. Where?”
“Bring you boys out to the Shepherd barn after graduation. We havin’ a party. Be cool though Davy. Don’t be so white.” She winked at me as the bell rang.

A week later was graduation week. Nobody was worth a bag of soggy biscuits. I have never seen a group of teachers so ready to graduate a bunch of kids. I think they had given up on whatever last influence they could apply to us. Eighteen years of growing up was at its peak in our minds and we were as done as baked tootsie rolls. There were countless parties, every night of the week. The parties I went to were all white, with one or two exceptions and Kimmy said the opposite of hers.
“I know you ain’t gonna come Saturday night anyway Davy. Don’t worry about it.” Kimmy said the Thursday of the graduation walk through.
“Why do you think I won’t come? I ain’t scared.” I tried to convince her.
“Cause, y’all white. We black. And this town just don’t let that happen. It’s cool though. I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
“See ya.” I waved.

Our class graduated 130 of 139 that Saturday afternoon. We were a proud bunch I guess. I was. Not because I accomplished anything. I never did understand why folks were so congratulatory about a graduation from high school. I put forth little to no effort and didn’t the law require me to go to school anyway? Didn’t seem like much. But the feeling of being done with that part of life was one of pride. We all felt that feeling, some with pride I should say. Others with fear. And so with that we needed to party. There was a river party later that evening. It was the usual loud bad country music with the occasional Jimmy Buffett or some awful 80s rock ballad. Zima’s with jolly ranchers chugged by stars of the football team. Mike’s Hard Lemonade everywhere. And as usual, Short Keith had a bottomless supply of Busch light. He, AC and I sat around and laughed at all of our drunk classmates, underclassmen even drunker, and the sprinkling of older kids fighting through that same pride or fear they felt the year or two prior. Every damn one of them white. I’d been doing the same thing with the same people for four damn years. I wasn’t a lick better for it. We’d become great at one thing and ignorant to any other.

“Boys, let’s go get into something.” I said.
“like what?” AC says.
“Let’s go to the Shepherd barn.”
“Are you crazy? The shepherd barn? What you want us to get our asses kicked?” Short Keith glared with reddened eyes.
“I ain’t going out there. Hell no.” AC shaking his head.
“It will be great boys, come on. This is our last night like this. There’s gonna be dancin’!”
“Jesus Christ David, you crazier than hell. My dad will string me up if he knew I was at the shepherd barn.” Short Keith exclaimed.
“He won’t know, I promise. I’ll drive. Kimmy said her and some of the girls are ready to show us how black girls dance. Come on man!”
AC’s eyes lit up. “what do you mean dance? Like rubbing up on us and stuff?”
“I don’t know but I’d sure like to find out.”
“Man those girls know how to work it. But shit man, we can’t go out there.” AC was giddy, nervous like.
Short Keith swigged his can empty and threw it in his truck. “Hell AC, you’re right. Let’s go, but I’m driving.”
“Wait, no! I said we can’t go…” AC said weakly.
“Yep, hop in. We going dancin’. Load up boys, Shepherd Barn!” Keith whooped.

We pulled into the lot of the Shepherd Barn with Alan Jackson blaring ‘Gone Country’. I’d never felt so many disapproving eyes on me in my whole life. I slapped the radio off of Keith’s truck and gave my best try at a friendly wave. Four guys I didn’t know started walking our way and they didn’t seem like a greeting party. Thank God Kimmy came out and ran up ahead of them.

“Well hey y’all. I didn’t think you’d come.”
“I think they’d prefer we didn’t.”
“Nah, don’t worry about them. They cool. You know Nate don’t you?” Nate was Kimmy’s older cousin who graduated a couple years earlier. He was walking up behind her.
“Sure I do, hey Nate. How you been?”
“Good man. You still ridin’ them horses?”
“Yep. You?”
“Got me a new one. Name Lightning. Race?” He said with a smile.
“Yeah buddy. I still got ole Hot Lips and you know she ain’t never been beat.”
“We’ll see about that Dave. Y’all come on in.”

Once we got inside there was a spread of food that would put a family reunion to shame. Fried chicken, mashed taters, casseroles and greens, the best southern cooking you could imagine. Two ladies who said they were Kimmy’s aunties ushered us through the line until we were stuffed silly. They gave us beer after beer and we sat chatting with those ladies out of some appreciation, but mostly we were stalling in shear fear of the music and ruckus in the other room. I was as nervous as Baptist in a beer store when Kimmy came in with two other girls. They were laughing and smiling.
“Y’all ready?” She asked.
AC shot out of his chair and ran outside like he had a ghost after him. Kimmy laughed and grabbed me by the hand.
“You ready white boy?”
All I could do was nod.
We all went into the other room where several other kids we knew were dancing.
“That ain’t dancing. Hot Damn!” yelled Short Keith. “That’s flat out sex man. Holy hell, don’t you tell a soul David.”

Kimmy spun me into the middle of the floor and turned around facing away from me. She bent over in the most seductive move I’d ever seen a girl make. And what she did after that is a near blur. Near. She rocked and swayed and looped and pivoted, rode and rocked and God knows what else. I didn’t do a damn thing but stand there and feel her. If it wasn’t for watching Short Keith’s attempt at dancing which was more similar to him trying to ride a mountain lion, she would have juiced me like a stalk of sugar cane. When the song was over Kimmy turned and looked at me and down at my waist. She laughed and hugged me.
“You better tuck that thing away Davy. My aunties won’t like that.”
We danced for hours more, even AC came back in for a bit. Afterwards we had a few beers and laughed until near sun up. Kimmy held my hand and leaned against me all night. When we started to leave she kissed my cheek.
“Thanks for coming Davy. Didn’t think you’d show. Now go to college.”
“Good night…morning, whatever.” I said awkwardly. “See ya soon.”

But I didn’t see her soon. I never saw her again. We were friends in the time we were allowed to be. Or allowed ourselves to be. But that was it. Despite where it sounds like it might have been going I don’t think either one of us needed anything more than that night’s dancing. She showed me what I needed to see I guess. Showed me that there wasn’t a damn thing different about people but their differences. And by God some of those differences can be a damn good time. Maybe I showed her what she needed as well. That some things were worth showing up for. I don’t know. Silly ain’t it?