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Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night

“How do you feel?” asked the man in the tweed suit.

“I’m thinking about my mother,” said Vincent.

“What of her?”

“She’s getting old. Sometimes she feels so bad. If I was rich, I could buy her a house, somewhere on the Island, and she could take it easy.”

“What kind of house?”

“Big windows. Lots of light,” Vincent said, and he spread his hands, describing a shape like a globe. “Space. Chickens in the yard. A grand piano. Grass,” he said. “My mother likes grass. And blue sky.”

Down below, without his presence to keep control, the order was beginning to fall apart. Around the fringes, some of the dancers had broken away from the mainstream and were dabbling in experiments, the Hustle Cha, the Renaissance Bump, even the Merengue. Vincent looked pained. But he did not intervene. “Chickens,” he said. “They lay their own eggs.”

A fight broke out. From outside, it was not possible to guess exactly how it started. But suddenly Gus was on his back, bleeding, and a Face in a bright-blue polka-dot shirt was banging his head against the floor. So Joey jumped on the Face’s back. Then someone else jumped in, and someone else. After that there was no way to make out anything beyond a mass of bodies, littered halfway across the floor.

Vincent made no move; it was all too far away. Remote in his darkness, he sipped at a Coca-Cola and watched. The band played You Sexy Thing and one girl kept screaming, only one.

“Is this the custom?” asked the man in the suit.

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“Sometimes people don’t feel in the mood. Sometimes they do,” said Vincent. “It just depends.”

In time, the commotion subsided, the main participants were ushered outside to complete their negotiations in private. Those left behind went back to dancing as if nothing had happened, and the band played Fly, Robin, Fly.

John James, the Double J, appeared on the terrace, lean and gangling, with a chalky white face and many pimples. There was blood beneath his nose, blood on his purple crepe shirt. “Mother,” he said, sitting down at the table. “Eff,” said Vincent.

“...The guard dogs went berserk; they hurled themselves full force against the gate...”

So the night moved on. The Double J talked about basketball, records, dances. Then he talked about other nights, other brawls. The music kept playing and the dancers kept on parading. From time to time a girl would stop and look up at the terrace, hoping to catch Vincent’s eye. But he did not respond. He was still thinking about his mother.

Somebody threw a glass which shattered on the floor. But the Faces just went One, and Two, and Tap, and Turn. And Tap, and Turn, and Tap.

“I was in love once. At least I thought I was,” said Vincent. “I was going to get engaged.”

“What happened?”

“My sister got sick and I had to stay home, waiting for the doctor. So I didn’t get to the club until midnight. Bojangles, I think it was. And by then I was too late.”

“How come?”

“She danced with someone else.”

“Only danced?”

“Of course,” said Vincent, “and after that, I could never feel the same. I couldn’t even go near her. I didn’t hate her, you understand. Maybe I still loved her. But I couldn’t stand to touch her. Not when I knew the truth.”

Around two, the band stopped playing, the Faces grew weary, and the night broke up. Outside the door, as Vincent made his exit, trailed by his lieutenants, a boy and a girl were embracing, framed in the neon glow. And Vincent stopped; he stared. No more than two yards distant, he stood quite still and studied the kiss in closest detail, dispassionate, as though observing guinea pigs.

The couple did not look up and Vincent made no comment. Down the street, Joey was honking the car horn. “God gave his only son,” said John James.

“What for?” said Vincent, absentmindedly.

“Rent,” replied the Double J.

It was then that something strange occurred. Across the street, in the darkness beyond a steel-mesh gate, the guard dogs still snarled and waited. Gus and Eugene stood on the curb directly outside the gate, laughing, stomping their feet. They were drunk and it was late. They felt flat, somehow dissatisfied. And suddenly they threw themselves at the steel wires, yelling.

The guard dogs went berserk. Howling, they reared back on their hind legs, and then they hurled themselves at their assailants, smashing full force into the gate. Gus and Eugene sprang backwards, safely out of reach. So the dogs caught only air. And the Faces hooted, hollered. They made barking noises, they whistled, they beckoned the dogs toward them. “Here, boys, here,” they said, and the dogs hurled forward again and again, in great surging waves, half maddened with frustration.

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