The Black Bottom

The following monologue was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Rendezvous: A Literary Celebration of Historical Romance. Please enjoy.

Pearly was a good girl. That’s what everybody around Gramercy thought. She never missed Pastor Mosley’s sermons even when the church was as hot as a coal fire and most the congregation found some excuse to skip.

All ladylike and proper, she would sit in the pew with her knees pressed together and her hair twisted into a tight bun. It looked like a clenched fist got caught in a punch at the back of her head. She had this little cameo broach securing the top button of her white, starched blouse. She touched it whenever she whispered “Amen.” Amen. Amen.

Yes, Pearly was a good girl all right. Until she wasn’t…

That demon of a man rolled into town with the steamy May rains. He wore a fancy hat tilted to the side and a loud suit that scared the chickens silly. That silver tongued Yankee had come to St. James Parish to see to investments for a land development over there in Florida. He talked big and spent money bigger. His name fit him too. William O’Toole Hardy.

Now you have to understand. Dippity do dappishness and smooth hands like his weren’t seen in these parts much way back then. Most men in the Parish were debt plagued farmers who died dirty, broke and unfamiliar with the sonnets and symphonies of talcum sprinkled men. So, you can imagine the ladies were drawn to Mr. Hardy like the moon to water. Pearly waded on in deeper than any of them.

Now Pearly’s sister had begged her to not be seen with that knavish mister. Sophie declared him trouble and filled to the brim with bad intentions. He’ll ruin you, I remember hearing her cry.

But Pearly wasn’t swayed by pleas for good sense. Oh, no. Not Pearly. She stuck to that peculiar religion of so many young girls; that no man with film star good looks and smart ways could be bad at heart. Not when he looked so much like a hero.

Why Pearly thought he looked just like Wallace Reid when he played Dusty Rhoades in those auto racing flicks. And she should know. She saw that Too Much Speed picture six times when it played at the Loew’s in Baton Rouge. Girls like that, girls who attend the picture show on frequent basis and read novels and look at magazines tend to be at the mercy of temptation. They get too many ideas in their heads.

Soon after stepping out with that black-hearted man, Pearlie bobbed her hair. I understand she presented her sheared braid to her Mr. Hardy with a white ribbon wrapped around it. Just the Lord would know if that’s true, but I can just picture her handing him her braid with a sweet smile on her pretty face.

All that summer long, William O’Toole Hardy courted Pearly. Took her for dining and dancing over in New Orleans in his sleek Moon Roadster. Wrote her sweet poems on pretty paper in a bold hand. Somewhere between giving her delicate bonbons and out of season flowers; he gave her Pa some money for the barn door repair. It was suggested by some this bit of charity led her Pa to send Mr. Thackery Landry away when he came calling on Pearly as he usually did after church on Sunday.

Now Sofie protested with fury. She reminded Pearly, as we all did, Thackery Landry was a good man from a good family with a thriving dry goods store. He had plans to add a petrol pump for the motor car. That’s thinking big!

But Pearly told her little sister to hush herself. She could never be serious about Thackery Landry, she said. He was portly and slow moving. He was sweaty even in January with a cool drink in his hand. And his full Christian name was Thackery Bartholomew Xavier Landry. Who could be serious about a man like that?

The scuttlebutt was the sisters ceased being on speaking terms after Pearly showed Sophie the dance Mr. Hardy had learnt her over in New Orleans.

The Black Bottom.

I heard Pearly had rolled the parlor rug right on up and showed her little sister how it was done. She lifted her skirt and shimmied. She whooshed. She wiggled her hips and she flailed her arms and she shook parts of her that a lady should never shake. Especially in the more wicked parts of New Orleans with a man that was less than godly.

Sophie was horrified beyond horror and hid her eyes from the vulgarity behind her apron. She said all she could do now was pray for Pearly. That’s all any of us could do, I suppose.

August came with its smell of burnt sugar, fat magnolias and swamp gas, but no perfumed scent of William O’toole Hardy.

Pearly knew her flashy Bill was gone. He had done skipped town with her virtue and the savings of all the dreamers in the parish. Swampland in Florida. What fools! We have plenty of that right here. No need to go out of state for some.

The wedding was a surprise to most and there were whispers, of course, but Thackery Landry had the biggest smile on his sweaty moon face when he walked the contrite yet beautiful Pearly May Fulbright down the aisle of Pastor Mosely’s church.

“I do.” They both had said. Although most in the church that day knew they already did. At least one of them anyway. And if Thackery Landry had any questions about Thackery Landry, Jr. being big for a premature infant, well, he didn’t ask them out loud.

So the Thackery Landrys lived as they would above the dry goods store in Gramercy. Until they built that big house over in Convent. Poor Pearly got to be a glutton like Thackeray after a couple of years. Got to be a wide as the Mississippi and as broad as the Pontchartrain. But they seemed happy and declared as much to anyone who asked.

Ah, but that day. Years later. When Thackery Bartholomew Xavier Landry, Jr. got arrested in Shreveport for choking the life out of that unfortunate girl, our collective tongues got to wagging once more! Pearly was distraught from all that heartless gossip. She drank lye her careless maid had left out on the kitchen table in the plain view of a desperate woman. I understand Pearly drank the poison from a crystal flute. Isn’t that lady like and delicate?

We all may have been shocked by everything, but not at all surprised. No. Not really.

After all, you can dance the Black Bottom with the devil, but you never really dance away clean do ya?


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