‘Revival Season,’ by Monica West: An Excerpt

In bed in the middle of the night, I couldn’t stop thinking about how my hands had touched something and made it whole again. But then my thoughts were interrupted by music that wasn’t gospel riding the heat currents through the vent beneath my bed. At first I thought I was dreaming, but the music continued even after I got up and crept downstairs, passing the front window where I saw an empty driveway. Papa had been leaving early a lot more these days, staying gone for hours at a time and offering no explanation about where he’d been when he returned. I imagined long, closed-door meetings with the deacon board as he tried to replace Deacon Johnson, meetings that were too volatile for him to let us overhear. When I got closer to the kitchen, the music slid into my veins—the hi-hat’s tinny tapping was persistent as guitars and drums faded, leaving nothing but a woman’s mournful voice singing about a man who left her, her high notes breaking away from the music and modulating until they landed on a sound more animal than human. A pair of feet padded a syncopated rhythm in the kitchen’s dimness—quick steps that were out of pace with the slow words and music. When I craned my neck around the corner, all of the weight of Ma’s growing body was raised on the balls of her feet. Her eyes were closed, and her right arm was bent several inches in front of her as though she were holding someone who wasn’t there. She looked younger than I’d ever seen her, unencumbered by the heaviness of pregnancy and revival season that had stooped her shoulders. I watched her reflection as she passed the black mirrored pools of the kitchen windows; my eyes slid to her undulating hips that drove her from the cabinets to the stove, buffeting her against the refrigerator and back toward the sink, her face tilted upward. Her limbs threaded together in front of her, swimming their way to the light. Carnal, Papa probably would have muttered if he had been here, but this wasn’t the evil of the flesh that he said was sin. For a moment, I saw the dancer that she’d been before she met Papa.

I leaned against the doorjamb, my shoulder touching the wall. I couldn’t shift my eyes from her, from the smile that tickled the sides of her mouth as her lips formed words to lyrics that I’d never heard her say: “I’ll be your lover. Better than any other. I’ll make you moan and scream with ecstasy.” Her lips should have stumbled over these words, but there was only unfettered joy behind her closed, fluttering eyelids as her languid limbs moved like they were floating underwater. I wondered how many nights she went downstairs while we slept, a thin floor the only thing separating us. The song ended and her eyes opened and focused on me as the opening chords to a new song filled the room. Her mouth widened in shock, and she wrapped her hands around her nightgown as though she were naked.

“Did I wake you up?” She transformed in front of me, jamming the screen of her phone until the room was quiet. Her scared eyes darted as her neck craned around me.

“He’s not here.”

Her shoulders relaxed, and she collapsed in the kitchen chair— all the vibrancy in her face and body slowly left the room. I took the chair across from her.

[ Return to the review of “Revival Season.” ]

“I’ve never seen you dance like that, Ma.” She shrugged.

“Can you teach me?”

A sparkle in the corner of her normally dimmed eyes provided a glimmer of the Ma I’d just seen. She pressed both hands against the table and turned toward the door once more. When she got to her feet, she stretched out her hand toward me. I grabbed it, and she pulled me to a standing position—soon we were in the middle of the kitchen floor. Her phone began another song with a quicker beat like the rat tat tat tat of sudden rain against a windowsill. She crooked her arm around the small of my back and pressed me against the hard, protruding mound of her stomach, flattening her breasts against mine as she collapsed the gap between us with one swift jerk of her arm. Our bodies moved as one, her hips rocking a couple seconds before mine caught up. My clumsy body was off-kilter as it rammed into hers, bouncing us off each other and sending me away from her in a twirl—when I stopped spinning and found her again, she was extending her arm across the kitchen toward me.

She spun me again, all while singing along to the lyrics. We danced until that song ended and then through another few songs until I lost count.

Must Read