The neighborhood women sit in the kitchen comforting Leona Perry, whose baby has just been seriously scalded. "I was only out of the house for 20 minutes," she cries. But Allie McGee knows that she was gone for at least 45. "The last thing I said to her . . . keep an eye on the kids," Leona howls. In fact, 9-year-old Patricia had conscientiously looked after her three younger siblings, until she decided to scrub the floor. After all, Patricia thought, why can't our house be as clean as everyone else's? Why do we have to be the laughing stock of the neighborhood? So she began to boil some water for scrubbing, as she had seen other women do.

Baby Benny was 18 months old, but "Bram" was one of the only words he could say. This was the name of the scissor-sharpening man who came around every week. After Benny dies, Patricia maintains her composure, in the face of Leona's hysteria. Patricia seems to be putting the incident behind her, until one day she sees the scissors man coming down the road and she begins to scream, "I hate him! I hate him!"


Leona and her family are white trash. All the neighbors look down on them, although when the catastrophe happens, they rally behind Leona and take care of her kids. Leona scapegoats Patricia for being negligent, but everyone realizes that Leona and her drunken husband are negligent parents. In fact, Patricia seems mature for her age. Her mother brags about Patricia's wonderful singing voice, which might turn into the family's ticket to success.

Like a good girl, Patricia absorbs her mother's rage when the baby dies, and also absorbs her mother's praise when she is given the opportunity to sing in a concert. But Patricia is a steam-filled boiler ready to burst. When she sees Benny's scissors man again, she goes hysterical. The neighbors cluck their tongues-obviously Patricia is just as unstable and unreliable as the rest of the family.


This collection of stories was first published in 1968.

Primary Source

Dance of the Happy Shades and Other Stories


Vintage/Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count