Blues Dancing A Novel Chapter One This night air was filled with low-hanging clouds. The kind that softened everything they covered with a smoky blue haze that felt like a dream. Like this neighborhood way west of the river that had declined over the years from a place of majestic three-storied rows to intermittent blocks of good and bad and devastated; like the too-young boys in too-loose clothes hanging on these corners doing deals that would make the devil beam; even memories of a time when a girl becoming a woman had thrown away her promise as if it were a tattered rag, and descended into a drain lined with syringes, bent spoons, and long-sleeved shirts dotted with her innocent, middle-class southern blood. It all took on a floaty, shimmering effect inside these clouds and became appealing in a way that was both sultry and safe. Especially through the back window of this yellow cab. Especially to Verdi as she gave in to the softening powers of the fog. She nestled against the cracked leatherette seat as the air swayed in and out through the window. Two-faced March air, chilly yet impatient for spring, so it had a filmy warmth to it, she picked it apart for the warmth rather than close the window, siphoned through the myriad aromas trapped and kept close by the low-slung clouds as the cab rolled past the gone-to-bed homes and businesses of West Philly: someone had liver and onions for dinner here, turnips there; she could smell chicken grease from the take-out wings place on Fifty-second Street; curry from the Indian restaurant as they got closer to the University City section where Verdi lived with her life mate, Rowe; nutmeg, thyme, from the House of Spices. And there it was. Butter. No mistaking it, the smooth milky aroma concentrated under this fog. It went straight to her head, swooned her because her aunt Posie was superstitious about things like that, said that a whiff of collards on a Wednesday means you're getting ready to get paid, or the scent of lemons when it's snowing means somebody close is pregnant, the hint of fish frying on a Thursday means you're having overnight guests for the weekend, and the smell of butter on a foggy night means you're getting ready to fall in love. "You smell that?" she said excitedly to the back of the cabdriver's head. "I don't smell nothzing, my cab clean, lady." She yelled at him to stop then and she rarely yelled at people like cabdrivers, elevator operators, the ones who vacuumed the carpet at the special-needs school where she was principal. Figured she'd be working thus if Rowe's large hands hadn't rushed in and broken her fall when she'd tumbled from her heightened station in life. Told the cabdriver to stop right now, let her out, she needed to get out. "You sure, lady? Here? That lady who tip me said I wait till you in your door." "She worry too much, I'll be fine," Verdi said, talking about Kitt, her close first cousin, her aunt Posie's daughter with whom she'd spent the evening, who'd walked outside with Verdi and stuck her head in the cab as it was about to pull off. "You call me if that arrogant pompous professor you shacked up with gives you any shit about staying out so late," Kitt had said. She'd waved Kitt away like she was trying to do to the cabdriver now. But he just sat there reluctant to leave her out here like this. She didn't know what it was about herself that made people want to watch over her, thought maybe it was her eyes with their downward slant, or how she wore her hair relaxed bone straight and cut close the way Rowe liked it, or her thinness, he liked her thin too though she preferred herself when she'd had a curve to her hips. She leaned into the cab window, whispered into the driver's face, "My aunt says if you smell butter on a foggy night you're getting ready to fall in love." She made her eyes go big, lowered her voice even more the way her aunt would do. "And if you're walking alone when you smell it-" "Yeah? Yeah? What happen?" Verdi didn't know the rest, when her aunt got to this part her face would glaze over in an oily sheen, she'd start fanning herself and shaking her head. Lord have mercy is all her aunt could say after that. "It's just better that's all," she said to the cabdriver as she turned and started walking toward home. She took measured steps though she knew she should be rushing if she were going to stick to the story she'd fed Rowe earlier. She hated that she'd lied, such a harmless thing too, spending the evening at Kitt's house. But Rowe despised her cousin so. Went on and on about her lack of degrees and couth whenever Verdi let on about her Visits there. So rather than hear him rant about her first cousin with whom she felt closer than a sister, Verdi told him that she was going in town to get her nails done, to get chocolate-covered-coconut eggs for the baskets she was doing for the younger ones at her school. Not Godiva but better than the Acme brand; ran around after work then to at least get the eggs, then begged Kitt for a manicure after they'd pushed back from another one of Kitt's culinary masterpieces. This air was too creamy to rush through anyhow as it settled on her forehead now, stroked her, slowed her steps even more. She needed to walk, not for the sensation of the buttery aroma swimming around in her head, nor for falling in love, she'd been in love once, loved Rowe most of the time now. Right now she walked because, because why? she asked herself. Because. She just wasn't ready to go home yet. Blues Dancing A Novel . Copyright Â© by Diane McKinney-Whetstone . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Blues Dancing by Diane McKinney-Whetstone All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.