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fiddlers wife

by F.R. Duplantier

Breaux Bridge is about five miles out of Lafayette, on the other side of the Vermilion -- which, if you ask me, is more of a bayou than a river, 'cause it goes upstream about as fast as it goes down. But, whatever you call it, it's the dirtiest damn thing you ever want to see (my bath water ain't half that bad). And it's a dark road going out that way, not made for bike riders; even sober drivers have trouble seeing you, but then there's not many of them. The point is, only an idiot would ride a bike out to Breaux Bridge at night, like I do every Sunday.

Now you may think there ain't much to do in Lafayette any night of the week, much less Sunday, much less in Breaux Bridge, but then what do you know?

There's a dance hall out there called BooBoo's, 'cause Boo-Boo's the guy that owns it. He named it after himself. It s a long building with a big shell parking lot around it. There's a bar at the far end, and the rest is a dance floor, with tables on either side. It doesn't cost you anything to sit at the bar -- except for drinks, that is -- but it takes two bucks to get into the dance area. It used to cost one dollar, but you know how that is.

However, for two dollars you get to dance to the best music in Acadiana and, needless to say, the whole world. The band is called "Coteau," which means "hill" or "high point." And Sunday night is the high point of the week for all who come to hear them play. Now some people are inclined to style the band "Couteau," but if they don't know the difference between a hill and a knife, what can you do?

Once past the bridge, I can outrun any car on the road. You see, there's this German shepherd waiting to greet me as soon as I cross the river. And I've had a certain aversion for those beasts ever since one, which we had formerly felt secure in intimidating, broke out of his yard at the end of our street and chased my little brother and me all the way to the nearest neighbor's house.

I don't need to describe Louisiana weather in the summer time. Let me just say that by the time the front wheel of my Western Flyer hits the shells in front of Boo-Boo's, I could wring my shirt and start another Vemilion. Now I'm not complaining about the distance: when my father was a young boy in New Orleans, he had to walk twice that far just to get to school, and snow was apparently much more common in those days. Anyway, I usually try to get there a half hour early so I'll have time to dry off. I hate to smell like a goat before I even start dancing -- it's expected after the music begins -- but the Cajun ladies are too polite to complain.

A cop who looks too young to come inside directs parking. He just laughs when I ask where to park my bike -- and I'm not sure whether he's laughing at my question, at me, or at the pair of plastic dice hanging from my handlebars. I get a Dixie at the bar to wet my insides while my outsides dry, and wait for the music to start.

Guitars, fiddle, accordion, drums, and washboard combine to produce a sound both distinctive and irresistibly danceable. And there are several schools of dance represented. You have the Cajuns, the Cowboys, the Crossbreeds, who adhere to both the Cajun and the Cowboy schools, and then you have those who exhibit a rhythm which refuses to be labeled. As an outsider, by circumstance rather than design, I am not legitimately a member of any one academy, but I find the Cajun approach most to my liking. Now there ain't a lady in the place that couldn't make Ginger Rogers just a wee bit envious, but the best dancer by far is the fiddler's wife.

''Jolie Blonde" must have been written for her. I once knew a red-haired Georgia girl just as pretty, but she was already taken too. Now the fiddler can't very well dance with his wife when he's playing the fiddle; but me, I never could play an instrument.

I only dance the fast songs. During the fast ones, everybody laughs and smiles; but they just smile during the slow ones, because the slow ones are for lovers.

My favorite song is the longest one, called "Mardi Gras." Because she's the best dancer in the place, I always dance this one with the fiddler's wife. I wait all night for that song, while she, when it begins to play; lifts her head with that "Here he comes again" look in her eyes. But she never says no. Instead she says she had blisters all over her feet after last Sunday night. You'd think I could take a hint.

The floor is crowded with people shuffling and spinning. I swing on the left, then swing on the right, ducking under her arm, then turning her around, back, and around again, switching hands to turn once more. One trick turn I haven't perfected yet, and every time I try it I whack her on the top of the head with my forearm. She apologizes for being too tall -- which, if you ask me, is a pretty polite way of suggesting that I drop that particular maneuver from my repertoire. We cover the floor, and I get a couple of shots in the face from swinging atms. But I step on my share of feet, so I can't complain. I rub my sopping forehead on my arms, which, when we turn again, slide from her hands like wet bars of soap. I rub them dry on my shirt then, sticking my tongue out like a dog, and she smiles.

A slow song starts up and the fiddler sets his fiddle down and comes to dance with his wife. I get a beer and sit down to watch. They dance slow, real slow, hardly moving -- nothing fancy, but somehow my twirls and trills pale by comparison.

The band knocks off about 1:30. The slow dancers go home together; the fast ones go alone. The ride home seems shorter, 'cause I'm drunk. After I cross the bridge and leave the German shepherd behind, I slow down and entertain idle dreams. Some day -- yes, some day I'll dance the slow ones. But, until that time, I'll enjoy putting blisters on the feet of the Fiddler's wife.