Soul Story

by Jasmyne K. Rogers

Summer 1932
Monroe County, Alabama

Mama met Papa in the middle of a slow dance. Her short, slender fingers barely touched the back of a young man who confidently gripped her hips as she nervously moved them to a ditty by a local group named The Snapjacks. A single light bulb hanging from a loose ply board in the ceiling flickered—not to set the mood, simply because the wiring in the small, wooden building was rigged. That was of no concern to the people who decorated the creaking floors from wall to wall. There was only enough room to dance—two bodies meshed into one.

A singular person could not exist in the small room. Any singular person who tried to line the walls would be bumped into, stepped on, and snared at by the bodies who became one under the music. Rose Thomas had no choice but to share the crowded floor with the young man if she wanted to return to her aunt’s home in one piece. Pearl Jackson, a fast-talking, always switching, smile-as-wide-as-the-Alabama-river, yet as hard-boiled-as-they-come-type-of-woman served hooch at the makeshift bar next to the old speakeasy piano that Joe (pianist for The Snapjacks) played with intense passion. She was the owner of the small juke joint that rested off a back road in Monroe County. 

The isolated wooden building was adjacent to a trench that served as three spaces: where women tripped and fell into when they were not sure of their strapped heels as they walked unsteadily on the loose gravel in the woods engulfed by stark darkness, drunken bodies that found rest after Pearl shut down the place for the night, and where those same drunken bodies, usually the men, relieved themselves since Pearl’s Place lacked an outhouse. Rose had been warned several times to watch out for the trench as she walked the mile down the dark dirt road with her first cousin on her Mama’s side, Jodi Ann.

“Jodi Ann, what’cha got me coming all the way back here for? We could’ve sat on the porch and that would’ve been quite alright,” Rose said as she concentrated on missing the large rocks that scattered the red dirt road.

“You’ll have a fine time, Rose. Trust me.”

Jodi Ann walked the red dirt road with ease. She knew the one-mile path that led to Pearl’s Place like she knew the back of her hands. She frequented the place with heightened excitement every other Friday night. She was especially happy to go tonight since her cousin was in town for the summer. She was sure that once Rose loosened up, she would have a grand ole time.

“We’re nearing the trench I warned you about. There it is, over yonder,” Jodi Ann pointed out into the night. The only thing that Rose saw was darkness and a small building that were surrounded by people. She heard foolish laughter, loud talking, off-key singing all wrapped up into a delighted expression of freedom.

“Rose!” Jodi Ann grabbed her wrist. A minute too late, Rose would’ve fell into the trench. The people who stood about the juke joint would’ve directed their laughing and loud talking towards her if she fell into the trench.

“Thanks cousin.”

Jodi Ann chuckled as the two gals walked arm in arm up the four tattered wooden steps that led to Pearl’s Place.

The music was inviting. It gave the young menfolk the courage to ask the young gals for their hand in a slow dance. It made the young womenfolk feel awfully pretty as they took the hand of the brave young menfolk who allowed the music to direct their moves.

It made Rose Thomas feel the complete opposite. When the young man asked her to dance, she rapidly shook her head yes. She shook her head yes because she felt lonely in the space along the wall as people danced, barely missing her feet as their bodies melted into one. She shook her head because she wanted to experience the oneness the music created. She shook her head yes because she wanted to belong.

As she barely touched the young man who breathed heavily in her ear, she felt even more out of place. She scanned the room and saw her cousin grinning as she caressed the back of her partner. Jodi Ann’s dance partner, rather bold, hungrily clutched her blue, rayon mini skirt. Rose sighed and shook her head as she witnessed her first cousin beaming from the seductive attention. After a deep sigh, Rose attempted to relax and the young man sensed her nervousness.

“Something’s the matter?” He asked, his words spraying out like bullets. He was a fast talker.

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

The man clutched her hips and Rose shoulders tensed up. She would be so relieved when The Snapjacks wrapped up their session and prayed the man would not ask her to dance a second go-round.

Miss lady, why you so down?

Is it because your man gets around?

I can make it better. I can make you alright.

I know what you’re sayin’

and you haven’t even made a sound.
Rose noticed his pearly white teeth first. He walked into the packed juke joint as cool as a Gulf Shores breeze. He gave Pearl a bear hug, as she laughed at him in good humor.

“Good to see ya, Jean. We sho’ missed ya.”

Rose read Pearl’s mouth as she filled a shot glass with liquor darker than the night that engulfed them. The young man thanked her and scanned the room. He slowly bobbed his head as he exchanged a couple pleasantries with the people who merged into one under the music.

Rose had forgotten all about her dance partner who squeezed her hips so tightly that they were now numb. She unknowingly bit her lips as she looked at the nicely groomed and handsome man.

He made his way around the packed room freely. Rose’s heart began to beat faster and slower simultaneously as their eyes met. The sternness in his eyes soften as they met the smiling eyes of the young gal who shared an uncomfortable dance with a local fellow. His first impulse was to save her. Nothing else in that moment mattered.

“May I intrude?” Jean asked as he approached the awkward couple. It was more of a demand than a question. The young man who hungrily held on to Rose’s hips defensively turned around until he noticed it was Jean Calloway.

“What’s up man? Yeah, be my guest.” The young man slithered out of the way as Jean stood in front of Rose.

“Do you mind if I danced with you instead?”

Rose searched his eyes and smiled.

“Not at all.”

Jean returned the smile and they engaged in a slow dance just as The Snapjacks started another number.

Girl of my dreams
God sent you here especially for me
The light in your eyes makes me realize
that you are the girl of my dreams
Truly, my dear.

Jean gently caressed Rose’s hips as they swayed to the tune. “What’s your name?” Jean whispered in her ear. Such a sweet whisper.

“Rose. Rose Thomas.”

“You’re a great dancer, Rose Thomas.”

“You’re not bad yourself—?”

“Jean. Jean Calloway.”

For the first time that night, Rose attentively listened to the raspy, yet soulful vocals of the lead singer, Bo Brooks. His voice resonated throughout the room in the absence of a microphone. It gave Rose the quivers. Jean chuckled as he watched Rose enjoy the music.

“First time listening to soul music?”

“First time listening to it in a juke joint.”

“You’ll have to come more often then, Miss Rose. Get used to it.”

Rose nodded. Bo Brooks continued to sing about the girl of his dreams and Rose melted in the moments that lingered in the dimly lit juke joint. Pearl Jackson had left her post behind the makeshift bar and joined the coupled bodies that were dancing to The Snapjacks’ soulful tunes.

Rose had closed her eyes. Her arms were draped freely over Jean’s broad shoulders. The music guided her. Taught her things about her own body that she did not know. Her hips slowly gyrated and her lips were slightly pursed. She was extremely focused. Focused on the moment. She wanted to remember everything. The way Jean’s hips gently clutched the top of her hips. The way the crowd meshed into one under the soulful music that filled the small place. The way she felt as she took it all in. She felt like she belonged.

“Rose,” Jodi Ann snapped her fingers to get Rose’s attention.

“What?” She opened her eyes. Fairly disappointed that her cousin interrupted her moment.

“Let’s go!” Jodi Ann’s face was flushed red and her bottom lip trembled. She was damned mad.

Rose and Jean let go simultaneously from their tight embrace.

She offered him a genuine smile that was favorably returned.

As she followed behind her cousin who was storming out of the place, Jean’s words melted in her ear.

“Thanks for the dance.”

“What’s wrong with you, gal?” Rose asked once she had caught up with Jodi Ann outside of the juke joint.

Jodi Ann just shook her head like a madwoman.

“Someone bumping their gums?”
“It’s nothing to fry your fish about.”

“Gotta be. You walked out the place like a crazy woman.”

Rose paused a second. Then grabbed Jodi Ann by her arm.
“What he do? What he do to you?”
Jodi Ann bit her bottom lip, released her arm from Rose’s firm grip, and kept her pace down the dark dirt road.

Rose had to skip a bit to catch up with her.

“Tell me now, what did he do to you Jodi?”

Jodi Ann kept her silence as they made it to the end of the dirt road. They made a slight right and kept on walking along the shrubbery that aligned the main road.

About a half a mile down the road, they neared an isolated area that had about four scattered wooden houses along a gravel road that led from the main road.

Once on the gravel road, Jodi Ann grabbed a handkerchief from her brassiere and rubbed the rouge from her face. Aunt Louise would cut a buck if she knew Jodi Ann left her house with a face full of rouge—transforming her nineteen year-old girlish face into a full grown woman who was looking to have a damn good time. By the time they rounded the bend and the oak tree with the tire swing, Jodi Ann had removed the rouge, tossed the handkerchief that was covered in red, buttoned her blouse that temptingly showed the small curvature of her breasts, and tugged on the tight skirt that snugged her hips. By the time Jodi Ann transformed into her nineteen-year-old-self again, they were slowly climbing the cemented blocks. The door creaked a tad while the only light was darkness as they made their way through the front room. Jodi Ann had taken her strapped heels off in the yard and bundled the pair under her arms so that her barefoot could feel the grooves in the floor. Once she felt a slight break in the floor pattern, she knew to veer left and slide the pink beaded curtains back that led to her room. Rose threw herself on Jodi Ann’s bed as she struck a match and lit the waxed candle that sat on her windowsill.

Jodi Ann sat next to her on the bed and it was then that Rose saw her face in the dim lighting.

She had been crying. She had been silently crying as they navigated through the darkness and midnight hour. Rose knew nothing. Only knew that Jodi Ann hurriedly left Pearl’s Place with her fast on her heels.

Rose looked at her and studied her in her silence. She must have sensed it. She shifted her body a little. Rose released a heavy sigh.

“He wouldn’t take me home tonight,” Jodi Ann pouted.

“Why did you need him to? I was with you.”

“You’re so young, Rose.”

“I know that. What’s your point?”

“Not in age. You still have a child’s mind.”


Rose knew exactly what Jodi Ann was getting at. She didn’t want to hear that particular story escape her cousin’s lips tonight. She knew those types of stories were safer trapped. Once those types of stories escaped into the air, they acquired freedom. Freedom to destroy. Freedom to exist. Freedom to invite pain.

“I wanted him to fuck me, Rose.” Jodi Ann’s eyes pleaded for something.

“What you see in him?”

“He’s nice. Gonna make something of himself. Got a gig lined up in New York.”

Rose chuckled hysterically. “You’re trying to tell me that boy is about to leave here and go to that big city?”

Jodi Ann’s eyes glistened with callowness. “Man, Rose. That man is about to leave backwoods Alabama and go make something of himself in that big ole city.”

“What he plan to do?”

“Insurance work.”

Rose toppled over with laughter. Jodi Ann warned her to quiet down. She didn’t want her folks to wake up to their giggles and secrets.

“And you called me childish. You want to fuck him so that you can go with him?”

“No. I just want to see how he feels."

“Haven’t you been with a man already?”

“Yes, but every man feels different,” Jodi Ann’s eyes shifted and her voice trailed off.

“They have the same thing.”

Jodi Ann shook her head at her virginal cousin. She knew Rose would not understand until she experience the hardness, the girth of a man pulsating on her lady parts—awaiting entry inside the softest and sweetest thing on earth. The very thing that drives men wild, especially when it is unexplored. They are then free to physical uninhibitedness and revel in the unspoken victory of taking a gal’s virginity.

“You mean to tell me you wouldn’t have fucked the fella you were dancing with?”

“No. I don’t know him.” Rose faintly smiled. She dreamily thought of the man who had commanded her attention.

“Jean Calloway. He stays over in Chestnut. Heard his folks own some land. So many acres you can fit about three farms on it. He’s very quiet though. Surprised to see you too dancing tonight.”

“Is that right?” Rose asked as she made her pallet on the floor. Her mind drifted back to Pearl’s Place and to the fella that held her gently, yet firmly. Her mind marveled at the idea of him. Jodi Ann kept on talking as Rose fancied over Jean Calloway. Jean Calloway. She only hoped to see him one more time before she traveled back home to Wilcox County at the summer’s end.

Photo: Shutterstock

Jasmyne K. Rogers is a graduate of Georgia State University and native of Wilcox County, Alabama. She thoroughly enjoys writing pieces that reflect the culture, history, and progression of our community. She is a contributing writer for Nu Tribe Magazine. Her writing is also featured on For Harriet, My Black Matters, and is forthcoming in Nia Magazine.