Issue 158, Spring-Summer 2001
Around midnight she heard a key in the lock while she was doing the dishes; she thought it was her son Clay come home early, or her husband Jake forgot his umbrella, or maybe she heard wrong with the water running and it was the pigeons who scratched the sill when it rained. That you Jake? she called. You losin already? She looked over her shoulder with soap on her hands and she laughed. Well well. That Chinese girl in my kitchen. Aint I seen you someplace before.
Her hair was wet and the shoulders of her coat and Janie smelled roses. Maybe you did.
On the playground, right? And you forgot your sweater.
No it was Miss Bracey’s, and you wouldnt salute the flag after my mama told you about Carolina times.
May laughed. I forgot about that.
No it was at the back of Mr Dent's wasnt it.
Mr Dent's been gone a long time.
In June. You had a flowered dress on didnt you.
You’re thinkin of a pretty girl. Somebody else.
Not somebody else,Janie said with her back turned. She's standin in my kitchen. 1 Turn around. I got a flowered dress on right now. Janie clanked the last washed plate on the stack. You too busy to invite me in?
You don't need invites. You got a key. May took off her coat and put it over the back of a chair. How’d you know it wasnt Jake in here? ' When's the last time Jake did a dish. She stood close behiqd Janie. It's Monday, she said. Jake's playin cards with the fellas.
What's doin with you? Where'd you get those nice pajama$?
I guess you know. Some sweet mistreater. May put her arms around her and Janie turned the water on harder for the rinsing. Now she's comin around messin up the silk, soakin wet from the rain. 1 I took off my coat. Nothin wet but my hair.
That aint what I heard.
May kissed the back of her neck. Come on Mrs Pink she said. Dont be mad at me.
I got a stack of dishes here.
Smells like you’ re eatin chicken while everybody else got rainwater and grass. Not even much grass. Chicken and biscuits.
That Gallant Fox still feedin you?
Come on, silk girl. Her mouth was soft and she put her hands on Janie's hips. When's Clay comin home?
He went out and he brought his horn. You know how they get. Wont be back till dawn. All right then. Come on. Come dance with me.
Janie took a dish from the washed stack and rinsed it and put it in the drainer. You run out of kitchen boys to dance with'?
I dont want no kitchen boys.
That aint what I heard. She was moving her hands sweet and slow and making the silk move and Janie closed her eyes. But you been savin yourself just for me. Aint that right Mrs Pink.
Janie sighed. Go put on a record then.
You got any refreshments?
I might. Go on.
May took her hands away and Janie listened to her go in the other room with her shoes on and take them off and walk over to the Victrola. Put on Madame R, she called over the water. She aint afraid to tell you how bad you are. But she didnt. Janie rinsed the last dish and wiped her hands on a doth and took in two wet glasses and a bottle of gin; May was standing at the window in her stockings lighting a cigarette, Standin in the rain and aint a drop fell on me, a voice like a thunderstorm in the middle of the night and the cornet trading bars with her and the left piano hand climbing up behind, Standin in the rain and aint a drop fell on me. May was wearing a flowered dress but a different one and she put her arms around Janie's neck, and Janie put out her hands to dance the way she would with a stranger. My clothes is all wet but my flesh is as dry as can be.
So let's see Janie said, he's a Chinese boy and he works in the kitchen. Clay didn't tell me his name. He said, You know Miss May's goin around with some boy in the club kitchen and Mr Victor aint too happy about it.
May put the cigarette to her mouth and blew the smoke over Janie's shoulder. Mr Victor got his own recreation.
Recreation. Huh. Janie kept the hand at May's waist calm and polite, a church hand, her mother's hand writing out a list of errands at the kitchen table. Is that what you call it.
It aint what I call this. She moved close and Janie turned and put the smoke back between them. The only light was in the kitchen and the streetlight that came through the rain and the blinds. Somebody else's music was playing a few walls away and Miss S's thunder made it small, and the bottle breaking in the street outside and somebody thrown up against a grate.
You remember that part in Miss S's short, Janie said, where she's standin at the bar and Jimmy Mordecai comes back, and even though she just busted in on him with some high yella chorus girl and he left her on the floor she goes right ahead and dances with him.
And you remember the next part.
Mmhmm. May danced them over to the filled glasses and put one in the hand with the cigarette and sipped it and put it against Janie's lips, and she drank. Miss S find you, Janie kept thinking. She find you wherever you go.
He just doin it to take the money from under her dress.
Mmhmm. Is that what you think I'm here for.
Business is fine.
What you want then.
I want this. She put her lips to Janie's cheek and kept them there while they danced. Rain rain rain, Dont rain on me all day, the piano coming up like the words you wont let past your mouth, and so much room in every note you could walk around in it for hours with her showing it to you. You could live there.
When the needle ran into the middle she pulled away to lift it and Janie could feel the warm print of where she'd been get cool; she filled the glasses and May looked through the records. God bless this Victrola May said and they toasted.