If Only He Knew How to Dance

From where white boy Jimmy Ray stood at the back of the nightclub dance floor he could see the two-tone couple glistening beneath the blue spotlight, dancing slowly, sweating, hardly moving pressed that tight against each other.

In a dress that matched her pale freckled skin, the white woman confused Jimmy Ray by keeping her eyes closed. He couldn’t figure out if she was just trying to be trouble out on another cheap night on the town or was she scared, not knowing what to do to get away from the Black man’s grip?

Jimmy Ray eased his way through the crowd. Close enough now to watch the Black man’s hands, he felt uncomfortable, embarrassed at the way the man held the girl against him with his large palm pulling at the small of her back.

None of this would be happening if the owner didn’t let Black people in the club. Why make normal white folks uncomfortable by mixing races in the first place? Not everybody wanted to mingle. I bet Black people don’t even want to be with white people most times unless you’re a Black man looking for white women. Then you crave it. You need it. You take it the same as heroin or robbing a liquor store.

Jimmy Ray moved closer.

It’s 1945. The war’s over. We won.

Does that give Blacks the right to dance with our women? Go dance with the Germans or the Japs. We got rules here, even laws that say no crossbreed marriage. That includes slow dancing. I was too young to enlist after Pearl Harbor but I would still love to kill some Japs. Just look at them, not even human with their teeth and thick glasses.

The Germans at least look like us except for the pretty boy Aryan blond hair and blue eyes like Swedish pinup girls. Not like guys I work with at the shoe factory. Nobody I pal around with looked like those spit-shined Nazis.

And nobody I know is Black dancing with white women. Who does this tramp think she is unless she’s dancing with him because he’s holding her hostage? Blacks play on white women’s guilt. What, you won’t go out with me because I’m Black?  Somebody better save white women before it’s too late. These girls don’t know better and don’t sense how dangerous it is to be out alone and vulnerable without somebody like me looking after them.

Jimmy Ray would have tapped the Black man on the shoulder real hard and cut in had he known how to dance. His mother tried to teach him when he was about 14, but he felt silly there in the living room trying to learn how to dance with his own mother, holding her at arm’s length moving two steps to the left and two steps to the right like some country clod. Dropping his hands after a few awkward minutes of feeling like a pervert and ducking his head so his mother wouldn’t see him blush, he ran out back to shoot targets with his deer rifle. Now, that he could do. Jimmy Ray sure knew how to shoot. Blasting bullets through beer cans made him feel better than learning to swing and sway with Sammy Kaye.

When the song ended the Black man and the white woman turned and went in separate directions. Jimmy Ray followed the Black man outside where they stood smoking cigarettes at opposite ends of the parking lot. The Black man walked one way up the street. Jimmy Ray walked the other.

The feelings that made him sick to his stomach and dizzy with anger that night stayed with him.

All those years later, for whatever the reason, Jimmy Ray thought about the white girl as he loaded his rifle.

He thought of the Black man as he pulled the trigger.

Fate didn’t care which Black face came to mind, the dancer or the preacher.

As far as Jimmy Ray was concerned, they all looked alike.