For many years, St. Jude's Parish schools had not had a dance at all. Word was, there was even a rule against it. Then one day, Miss Melissa -- a young lady who had been teaching at the high school for a few years -- asks why. And no one could rightly say, or maybe they didn't want to.
Miss Melissa was not from around here, but being from Arkansas, still a Southern girl. She went to school at LSU, so she kinda felt at home here. She understood religious reasons, and juvenile delinquent reasons, to not allow dancin'. But when she poked around about the question, they didn't seem to apply.
So, last year, for the first time in a generation, we had us a school dance.
There was even somethin' in the paper about it, headline was like, "Footloose on the Bayou," referencin' that movie about a town not allowing dancin,' until one boy changes their minds. Well, folks didn't need convincin' around here; some adults said they might want to come cut a rug themselves. So, there was no shortage of chaperone volunteers. And you know the kids were all excited about it comin' up.
Still, there were a few who didn't seem comfortable about it. Old Mama Amgine always wore a more sour look than usual when the topic came up. Word is, there was one big row when she tried to tell little Poco she couldn't go. Well, even the great Madame Amgine couldn't sway the mind of a teenage girl, and she must have seen it in her cards or chicken bones, because she finally relented -- provided Poco did some things exactly as she told.
Terry Wayne Lacroix, who would do anything Miss Melissa asked, arranged for some deejay to come up from New Orleans to provide the music. When the stranger arrived, something about that man looked... it's hard to say. I don't remember him saying one word. He was thin and tall with ebony skin that seemed to absorb light, his black hair flashed with something woven in the in his braids. His equipment was impressive, but very used, with a pair of turntables you'd be surprised still worked. When he set it up, though, every light came on, every piece functioned.
The kids came in that night dressed to the nines -- even Poco in a fancy dress, on the arm of that foreign exchange boy from Australia she'd taken a shine to. The football boys, the shy girls, the smart kids, the ones with hair in every color nowadays -- everyone came. And Miss Melissa looked so proud at how it all turned out.
The man at his table put on some music like the big radio stations play. Not much soul, but it had a beat, and some shoes started shufflin' around the gym. Then the dark man did that blend-and-switch thing with the sound, and it got that serious machine beat today's kids like. The wild-hairs jumped into the middle of the floor with somethin' between a jitterbug and a medical fit, and the other kids started joinin' them, moving like something had to be shook out of their pants right then -- I guess you could call it dancin'.
After a while, the deejay man looked over the crowd, smiling like when someone knows something you ain't figured out yet. Then he picked up a record, and blew on it. A lot of dust flew off the surface, into the crowd of dancin' kids. He smoothly put the record in place, and a second later switched the tune.
Afterward, no two people would agree what that music was. Most said it had jazz, with brass and banjo and drums. And there were other sounds -- things you wished you could remember, things your mind won't let you.
The grown-ups in attendance, most of them got caught up in it all, left the place and did things they didn't want to talk about after. Some kids did, too, but most just danced in patterns, caught in rhythms like they had practiced them all their lives. And there in the middle was Poco, swaying in a trance. She seemed to almost rise off the floor as she stepped slowly toward the dark man.
Not all the boys and girls took it all so serenely. A couple of football boys just stood there, taking turns punching each other bloody. A few girls cried and clawed at themselves. Then the foreign boy let out a howl like nothin' anyone had ever heard. Then he shot around the room like a pinball, and knocked Poco down before he ran screamin' out of the gym.
That knocked some sense into the girl. She jumped up, pulled a pouch from inside her dress, and screamed, "MAMA!" She then opened her pouch and started flingin' the salts within it all around her. Sparks flew up as they struck the ground, and the kids all stopped moving.
The next thing, Madame Amgine quick-marched down the middle of the gym, shouting in words unknown to the dark man, who stood his ground, eyes glowing and flashing. Before the old voodoo woman could get close enough to really teach the stranger a lesson, everything on the deejay table suddenly caught fire. As the kids gained their senses, they either helped put out the flames, or got the hell out. The stranger disappeared.
It took some time before things got back to what answers to normal around Oubliette. Something changed in Miss Melissa, and we somehow weren't surprised that she later went missin.' Terry Wayne became even more nervous and secretive than usual. Poco seemed OK after, but that Choctaw fire in her dark eyes showed a hurt she wasn't about to let go of.
Another thing: When the sheriff looked through the van the deejay left behind in the school parking lot, he found a driver's license with the name of the man Terry Wayne said he's hired. The face on the license was white.
Now, this was going to be the story of how there would be no dance this year. But that's now how things will turn out. Naturally, Principal Stout had declared that the school would have no dance, but his grandma in Florida took ill all of a sudden, and he's not here to say no.
And none of us say no to Mama Amgine. The full moon is comin,' and Poco's been in the kitchen all week, and we've been real careful about who calls the tune this time. When the music calls, you obey; and as Mama once said, once you start a dance, you don't just end it -- you've got to see it through.
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Entry for LJ Idol: Season 9, Week 21, Topic: "the music made me do it" and a return to the (fictional) town of Oubliette, St. Jude's Parish, Louisiana.