The background is that Chenault is Yeamon’s girlfriend. They have accompanied Kemp (Hunter’s character, whose voice carries the novel) and a few locals they met to a local black club. Everyone’s drunk, Chenault a bit more so, and is intent on dancing.
Extract From The Rum Diary, Chapter 15
We went down a dark hall and into a room full of music and noise. It was jammed from wall to wall, and over in one corner a band was playing. Not the steel band I expected to see, but three horns and a drum. The sound was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Then, looking up at the ceiling where the light bulbs were wrapped in blue gelatin, I knew the sound. It was the music of a Midwestern high school dance in some rent ed club. And not just the music; the crowded, low-ceilinged room, the makeshift bar, doors opening onto a brick terrace, people giggling and shouting and drinking booze out of paper cups — it was all exactly the same, except that every head in the room was black.
Seeing this made me a bit self-conscious and I began looking around for a dark corner where I could drink without being seen. My date still had me by the arm, but I shook her off and moved toward one corner of the room. No one paid any attention to me as I eased through the mob bumping dancers here and there, keeping my head lowered and moving cautiously toward what looked like a vacant spot. A few feet to my left was a door and I edged toward it, bumping more dancers. When I finally got outside I felt like I’d escaped from a jail. The air was cool and the terrace was almost empty. I walked out to the edge and looked down on Charlotte Amalie at the bottom of the hill. I could hear music floating up from the bars along Queen Street. Off to my right and left I could see Land Rovers and open taxis full of people moving along the waterfront, heading for other parties, other yachts and dim-lit hotels where red and blue lights glittered mysteriously. I tried to remember which other places we’d been told to go for the “real fun,” and I wondered if they were any better than this one.
I thought of Vieques, and for a moment I wanted to be there. I remembered sitting on the hotel balcony and hearing the hoofbeats in the street below. Then I remembered Zimburger, and Martin, and the Marines — the empire builders, setting up frozen food stores and aerial bombing ranges, spreading out like a piss puddle to every corner of the world. I turned turned to watch the dancers, thinking that since I’d paid six dollars to get into this place, I might as well try to enjoy it.
The dancing was getting wilder now. No more swaying fox-trot business. There was a driving rhythm to the music; the movements on the floor were jerky and full of lust, a swinging and thrusting of hips, accompanied by sudden cries and groans. I felt a temptation to join in, if only for laughs. But first I would have to get drunker.
On the other side of the room I found Yeamon, standing by the entrance to the hall. “I’m ready to do the dinga,” I said with a laugh. “Let’s cut loose and go crazy.” He glared at me, taking a long slug of his drink. I shrugged and moved on toward the hall closet, where the button-down bartender was laboring over the drinks. “Rum and ice,” I shouted, holding my cup aloft. “Heavy on the ice.”
He seized it mechanically, dropped in a few lumps of ice, a flash of rum, then he handed it back. I stabbed a quarter into his palm and went back to the doorway. Yeamon was staring at the dancers, looking morose. I stopped beside him and he nodded toward the floor. “Look at that bitch,” he said.
I looked and saw Chenault, dancing with the small, spade-bearded man we had met earlier. He was a good dancer, and whatever step he was doing was pretty involved. Chenault was holding her arms out like a hula charmer, a look of tense concentration on her face. Now and then she would spin, swirling her madras skirt around her like a fan.
“Yeah,” I said. “She’s hell on this dancing.”
“She’s part nigger,” he replied, in a tone that was not soft.
“Careful,” I said quickly. “Watch what you say in this place.”
“Balls,” he said loudly.
Great Jesus, I thought. Here we go. “Take it easy,” I said. “Why don’t we head back to town?”
“Fine with me,” he replied. “Try talking to her.” He nodded at Chenault, dancing feverishly just a few feet away.
“Hell,” I said. “Just grab her. Let’s go.”
He shook his head. “I did. She screamed like I was killing her.”
There was something in his voice that I’d never heard before, an odd wavering that suddenly made me nervous. “Jesus,” I muttered, looking around at the crowd.
“I’ll just have to bat her in the head,” he said.
Just then I felt a hand on my arm. It was my pig, my squatty date. “Let’s go, big boy!” she whooped, dragging me onto the floor. “Let’s do it!” She squealed and began to stomp her feet.
Good God, I thought. What now? I watched her, holding my drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “Come on!” she shouted. “Give me some business!” She hunched toward me, pulling her skirt up around her thighs as she wiggled back and forth. I began to stomp and weave; my dancing was shaky at first, then I leveled out to a sort of distracted abandon. Somebody bumped me and I dropped my drink on the floor. It made no difference to the frenzied couples that hemmed us in.
Suddenly I was next to Chenault. I shrugged helplessly and kept up the stomp. She laughed and bumped me with her hips. Then she danced back to her partner, leaving me with my pig.
Finally I shook my head and quit, making gestures to indicate I was too tired to go on. I went back to the bar for a fresh drink. Yeamon was nowhere in sight and I presumed he’d been sucked into the dance. I made my way through the bodies and out to the terrace, hoping for a place to sit down. Yeamon was sitting on the railing, talking to a teenage girl. He looked up with a smile. “This is Ginny,” he said. “She’s going to teach me the dance.”
I nodded and said hello. Behind us the music was growing wilder, and at times it was almost drowned out by the screaming of the crowd. I tried to ignore it, looking out over the town, seeing the peace below us and wanting to be down there.
But the music from the house was getting crazier. There was a new urgency about it, and the shouts of the mob took on a different tone. Yeamon and Ginny went in to see what was happening. The crowd was moving back to make room for something, and I walked over to see what it was.
They had made a big circle, and in the middle of it. Chenault and the small, spade-bearded man were doing the dance. Chenault had dropped her skirt and was dancing in her panties and her white sleeveless blouse. Her partner had taken off his shirt exposing his glistening black chest. He wore nothing but a pair of tight, red toreador pants. Both of them were barefoot. I looked at Yeamon. His face was tense as he stood on tiptoe to watch. Suddenly he called her name. “Chenault!” But the crowd was making so much noise that I could barely hear him three feet away. She seemed oblivious to everything but the music and the freak who led her around the floor. Yeamon called again, but nobody heard.
Now, as if in some kind of trance, Chenault began to unbutton her blouse. She popped the buttons slowly, like a practiced stripper, then flung the blouse aside and pranced there in nothing but her bra and panties. I thought the crowd would go crazy. They howled and pounded on furniture, shoving and climbing on each other to get a better view. The whole house shook and I thought the floor might cave in. Somewhere across the room I heard glass breaking.
I looked again at Yeamon. He was waving his hands in the air now, trying to get Chenault’s attention. But he looked like just another witness, carried away with the spectacle.
Now they were close together and I saw the brute reach around Chenault and unhook the strap of her bra. He undid it quickly, expertly, and she seemed unaware that now she wore nothing but her thin silk panties. The bra slid down her arms and fell to the floor. Her breasts bounced violently with the jerk and thrust of the dance. Full, pink-nippled halls of flesh, suddenly cut loose from the cotton modesty of a New York bra.
I watched, fascinated and terrified, and then I heard Yeamon beside me as he lunged toward the dance floor. There was a commotion and then I saw the big bartender move up behind him and grab his arms. Several others pushed him back, treating him like a harmless drunk as they made room for the dance to go on.
Yeamon was screaming hysterically, struggling to keep his balance. “Chenault!” he shouted. “What the hell are you doing?” He sounded desperate, but I felt paralyzed.
They were coming together again, weaving slowly toward the middle of the circle. The noise was an overpowering roar from two hundred wild throats. Chenault still wore that dazed, ecstatic expression as the man reached out and eased her panties over her hips and down to her knees. She let them drop silently on the floor, then stepped away, breaking into the dance again, moving against him, freezing there for a moment — even the music paused — then dancing away, opening her eyes and flinging her hair from side to side. Suddenly Yeamon broke loose. He leaped into the circle and they were on him immediately, but this time he was harder to pin. I saw him smack the bartender in the face, using his arms and elbows to keep them off, screaming with such a fury that the sound of it sent chills up my spine, and finally going down under a wave of bodies.
The melee stopped the dance. For an instant I saw Chenault standing alone; she looked surprised and bewildered, with that little muff of brown hair standing out against the white skin, and her blonde hair falling around her shoulders. She looked small and naked and helpless, and then I saw the man grab her arm and start pulling her toward the door.
I staggered through the crowd, cursing, shoving, trying to get to the hall before they disappeared. Behind me I could hear Yeamon, still yelling, but I knew they had him now and my only thought was to find Chenault. Several people whacked me before I got to the door, but I paid no attention. Once I thought I heard her scream, but it could have been anyone.
When I finally got outside I saw a crowd at the bottom of the stairs. I hurried down and found Yeamon lying there on the ground bleeding from the mouth and groaning. Apparently they had dragged him out a back door. The bartender was leaning over him and wiping his mouth with a handkerchief.
I forgot about Chenault and shoved through the ring of people, mumbling apologies as I made my way to where Yeamon was stretched out. When I got there the bartender looked up and said, “Is this your friend?”
I nodded, bending down to see if he was hurt.
“He’s okay,” somebody said. “We tried to be easy with him, but he kept swinging.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Yeamon was sitting up now, holding his head in his hands. “Chenault,” he mumbled. “What the hell are you doing?”
I put my hand on his shoulder. “Okay,” I said. “Take it easy.”
“That filthy sonofabitch,” he said loudly.
The bartender tapped me on the arm. “You better get him out of here,” he said. “He’s not hurt now, but he will be if he stays around.”
“Can we get a cab?” I asked.
He nodded. “I’ll get you a car.” He stepped back and yelled across the crowd. Somebody answered and he pointed at me.
“Chenault!” Yeamon shouted, trying to get up off the ground. I shoved him back down, knowing that the moment he got up we’d have another fight. I looked up at the bartender. “Where’s the girl?” I said. “What happened to her?”
He smiled faintly. “She enjoyed herself?”
I realized then that we were going to be sent off without Chenault. “Where is she?” I said too loudly, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
A stranger stepped up to me and snarled, “Man, you better get out.”
I shuffled nervously in the dirt, looking back at the bartender, who seemed to be in charge. He smiled maliciously, pointing behind me. I turned and saw a car coming slowly through the crowd. “Here’s your cab,” he said. “I’ll get your friend.”
He stepped over to Yeamon and jerked him to his feet. “Big man go to town,” he said with a grin. “Leave little girl here.”
Yeamon stiffened and began to shout “You bastards!” He swung savagely at the bartender, who dodged easily and laughed while four men shoved Yeamon into the car. They shoved me in after him, and I leaned out the window to yell at the bartender: “I’ll be back with the police — that girl better be all right.” Suddenly I felt an awful jolt on the side of my face, and I drew back just in time to let the second punch go flying past my nose. Without quite knowing what I was doing, I rolled up the window and fell back on the seat I heard them all laughing as we started down the hill.
The horror of the scene creeps down my spine after I’ve shut the book off, and closed my eyes. Nothing more than just a description of what is seen.
In the movie, the same scene goes like this (just the dance part, all I could find on youtube)
Hear the choreographer talk about putting it on screen,
So woefully inadequate. Tch.