The Slow Dance: An Excerpt

by Jasmyne Rogers

By the time we made it down the road to our house, Mama was sitting in the front room patching James’ church pants.

“Go wash yourselves. Sunday school in the morning,” Mama said as she stitched the patches into James’ black slacks.

“Yes mama.” James walked a few steps past Mama to get the metal basins from the corner next to the metal chair.

“Where’s the soap?” I asked Mama as James dragged one of the basins to our small room in the corner of the three-room house.

“New bar in the cabinet,” Mama replied, still humming and stitching.

I grabbed the ivory soap from the small wooden cabinet next to the brown icebox. After cutting the soap in half, I gave one half to James and kept the other for myself as I went to our room to bathe.

James would always bathe in the front room in the basin and I would bathe in the basin in our room. The only time I got any privacy was when I was bathing or using the outhouse. This was the only time I really had time to think. Time to relax. Time to realize and recognize that I was a growing young woman. The now cold water felt good against my sweaty, pecan-colored skin. I sat and admired my long limbs with both of my feet planted firmly in the metal basin as my knees kissed my perky breasts that had grown without my acknowledgement. My admiration slowly transformed into a tinge of fright or anticipation of the unknown. The unknown is that of womanhood. The development of my black body reminded me, demanded that I embarked on my journey of young womanhood. Or else, it would be forced.

As my mind began to summon a slow dance with my thoughts, I heard the front door slam. The sudden thud made me jump and water splashed onto the floor as a result. I hurriedly cleaned up the water, put on my nightclothes, and threw the remaining water in the basin out the open window next to my bed.

A loud, raspy baritone voice cackled and sang a little ditty.

I’ll rock you, baby
like a rocking chair.
I’ll make your legs curl, sugar
High, high in the air.
I’ll rock you any way you want, baby
just tell me where.

I opened the room door and saw Papa awkwardly serenading Mama. “C’mon Rose, dance with me baby.” He was not steady on his feet and as he swayed, the bottle of whiskey cupped in his left hand splashed on the floor. James sat in the metal chair and watched Papa intently.

Mama sat James’ folded slacks next to her. She looked squarely at Papa and did not utter a word—her eyes spoke volumes.

“Take your brother to bed,” Mama commanded. I knew exactly what that meant.

James got up and looked at Papa, then Mama, and back at Papa.

“It’s alright, baby. Go on to bed.” Mama assured James.

He reluctantly got up and followed me into the small room.

“I hate him,” James mumbled as he plopped down on his bed.

“I hate him, Ella. I wish he would leave. Leave us alone. We’d make due without that crazy fool.”

“Hey now,” I said, sitting next to James on the small cot.

“That crazy fool is your Papa, boy. Our papa. Don’t talk about him like that. You and I wouldn’t be in this world if it weren’t for him. Be thankful.”

James looked at me quizzically—his nostrils flared and eyes bucked.


In that moment, I knew his ten-year-old mind could not and would not understand why he should be thankful for Papa. His Papa never took him fishing at Jimbo’s lake or showed him how to get a hoe and kill the snakes slithering through our small yard in hopes of finding water in the heat of a summer’s day. James felt neglected because he was a growing boy. Papa was not teaching him how to provide and protect.

James felt like he failed Lena on the night she was killed. Maybe he felt he should’ve protected her from the bullet racing from the Saturday night special that belonged to Ms. Tannie. She held the gun steady while the rest of her being succumbed to its drunken, dual state—drunken with alcohol and drunken with mad passion. Her drunkenness overpowered our living room that night. It destroyed our family. It continues to do so. 

So many aspects of drunkenness pollute our home since that horrible night. Mama dealt with the power of that drunkenness in silence. Daddy danced with it, a hungry hand gripping its very core. But, my dear baby brother, may the Lord calm his trying soul. He did not know how to deal. He wanted to badly. It was evident in his face that was grief-ridden and his constant trips to the cemetery lying on Lena’s small grave. Sometimes I wonder if he wished it was he who stood in front of the racing bullet on that drunken night.

I clutched his hand when I heard the loud thud from the front room.

James and I sat stock-still as we were forced to listen to the drunkenness that overpowered our three-room house.

“Jean, please!” Mama pleaded. I closed my eyes as I listened to my Mama’s soft voice transform into a loud cry for help.

“Dance with me, dammit!”

“You’re drunk, Jean. Go lie down.”

Everything grew silent.

James and I looked at each other. We knew that the silence was deafening. The silence summoned powerlessness. We knew that bright red blood crawled from the corners of our Mama’s lips. We knew that Papa had forcibly invited Mama into his space of drunkenness. She was protecting something and losing herself. She obliged.

The slow dance had begun.

Photo: Shutterstock

Jasmyne K. Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama and graduate of Georgia State University. She majored in English and thoroughly enjoys writing that reflects African American culture, history, and progression. Connect with her via Facebook, Twitter @poetic_jaszy, or email at