News of the riots came on. Rantelle pulled the bed covers back up to my waist ("It'll keep") and reached for the remote. Cops in riot gear were leaning plexiglass shields against young black men, and a news anchor was rehashing "the situation in Detroit" with a panel of experts.
Our TV was on a shelf unit hung from the ceiling with chains painted white. A plant dripped from the top shelf. Our eleventh-floor window was open because it was ninety degrees, and the loose chains at the bottom of the shelf unit swayed. City Hall, according to the Sunday-morning news, was responding to the past series of "urban conflicts" in an "unprecedented way."
"Ha," Rantelle said calmly.
A strap of her floral, raisin-bran colored negligee fell off her shoulder. I peeked at her breast. It was small and pert but kind of sad, too, in a raw, expectant way. Rantelle pretended the fact she couldn't have children didn't hurt anymore. Her skin was a dusky olive, pale in places. She hugged one knee and absently flicked the remote under her chin, as if she were using an electric razor. Her dark hair was cut short, buzzed at the back, two feathery horns curling down just past her cheekbones. It was very attractive, very funky, even under morning distress. I tucked one dark horn behind her ear and whispered, "Morning, Baby."
Waving me away, she turned up the volume, then turned it back down.
"I'm sorry," she said a minute later.
The official response to the crisis was the offering of temporary Project Citizen jobs to people who came down today from noon until six and turned in guns and drugs, no questions asked.
I got out of bed.
"Jarrett, you going to do the shopping today?"
I did a backflop, my head at her feet.
"You didn't see my list?" I asked, stroking her calf muscle through the sheet. "I left a new list for you on the kitchen table."
She aimed the remote at me. "Mute," she commanded. "Stand. Get dressed. Make money. Buy me things."
I threw a pillow.
She blocked it.
"Seriously," she said. "We need to go shopping today."
"I know," I said.
For the next hour, Rantelle monitored the news while I talked nonsense to baby Byron. Rantelle's sister died during childbirth, and Byron became ours, our two-month-old baby. After Ginny's funeral, we allowed ourselves to say out loud that Byron had become the best thing in our lives. Today I dressed him in a white jumpsuit with booties. The basketballs on it were blue and red, the old colors of the Detroit Pistons.
"Oh, no, you don't," Rantelle barked from the bedroom, addressing the television. "You don't know. You don't!"
"Mum, mum, mum," I said to Byron, mouthing his little shoulder as we rocked in the living room.
the riots, there hadn't been any in twelve days. Twelve days was almost enough
for people to forget, and I expected we'd get one soon. Gangs would be involved.
There would be fire and property damage. Rantelle would still set out her
work clothes the night before, and I would have to get up extra early to stop
Rantelle had an overconfidence about city life. It was a political statement. She criticized me for being too cautious. Once, on a riot day, I locked her in the bedroom for her own good. I was afraid she'd haul back the TV set and send it smashing like a Yugo against the wall, but she never even threatened it. She did freak out in a hateful, stand-still-and-vibrate way because me being overprotective could've gotten her fired from Bennett's Grocery.
Bennett's had a twenty-four-hour security guard, which pleased me more than it did her, although I knew that secretly, she liked feeling safer. Rantelle was a cashier. She was too proud to sneak food or money from Bennett's, and I didn't encourage her. She appreciated that because she had various experiences with boyfriends in the past.
We lived beyond our means in River Towers, a high-security apartment building where I had to lean out of my limousine for the retina scan that opened the gate. August was convention season, vacation season, night-on-the-town season, but because of the riots, work had been slow. We were behind in rent. Buying a lottery ticket from Bennett's was a joke we were finding it harder to laugh about.
"We need more milk, don't we, big guy?"
Cradling Byron, I was tending a pot of milk at the stove.
"Are we out?" Rantelle asked, getting the checkbook out of the junk drawer. "Put it on the list."
"How's the city?" I asked. I was scratching "milk" onto our grocery list which Rantelle kept stuck on the refrigerator door with magnets from Bennett's: corn cobs, eggplant, tomato with a smiley face.
"People aren't too confident," she said.
"They interviewed some people downtown." Rantelle punched numbers into the calculator. She was going to pick up her check later today, when we went shopping, but was adding her usual hundred-and-two dollars and sixty-eight cents into our account ahead of time. It made her feel better, but also, it didn't. "Nobody knows what the hell they're talking about."
With one arm, I poured milk into a baby bottle. Steam curled off the milk's surface.
Rantelle was biting the corner of her blue plastic checkbook, preoccupied with something out the window. The Detroit River stagnated down below, a chocolate swamp, and to our left was Belle Isle and across were the steely buildings of Windsor. All the structures were still divisible and differentiated at this height. Not until you got up around the twentieth floor did property become checkered and nihilistic. On the eleventh floor, you still felt pressed for time.
"You know what I heard once?" I asked, bouncing Byron and clanging pans. "Maybe on TV. I don't know. Politicians are gamblers. You ever heard that? I heard that. Campaigns are gambles. You gotta have money to play, and most everyone loses, by definition. The winner just gets lucky-only he doesn't see it that way. He only sees the winning, figures it's him. He's the reason. So he thinks he can't lose. He gets there in office, and first thing, he's gotta make decisions. Here's a guy, a gambler who thinks he can't lose. So how's he gonna make decisions? That's why I ain't ever surprised."
"I want sweet-potato pie."
"You know whose I mean."
"Sweet Potato . . . Something Something."
"Sweet Potato Sensations. That's it. I remember. You love those pies." I capped Byron's bottle. "You want the honors?"
Rantelle was gazing out the window. Clouds, those wispy ones that looked like stretched-out wires of steel wool, were scratching across the sky. I thought of the words "scraped" and "thermal." I thought of the hollowed-out drums of fighter jets, the drums where the fire comes out. These were the thoughts I had when I looked out above where we lived.
I was awkward when it came to news and politics, but I gave my two cents because I liked Rantelle to feel she could talk to me about what mattered to her.
Her fingers had worried half-moons into her cheek. I touched the warm bottle to her neck. When she reacted, I handed her Byron and then I gave her the bottle whose numbers I could feel on the sides.
"How's my baby baby?" Rantelle talked with her lips pressed into Byron's pudgy cheek. "Who's my sweet-potato pie? I'm a eat you up. Mum mum mum."
That evening, insulted by the low-paying and temporary nature of the Project Citizen jobs, people climbed on cars to complain.
A scuffle between the police and the instigators erupted into the ninth riot in two months. There were no exchanges of gunfire, but there were acts of vandalism and looting. Cars were overturned. Store windows were smashed. Men tried to pry axes off fire trucks driven in to disperse the rioters.
A particular scene was replayed by all the major television stations and was even picked up by stations across the country. The scene was captured one street away from Detroit's City Hall.
Fending off a mob with two broken bottles, a young white man crouches on the hood of a black limousine. Behind him, flames engulf the entrance to a casino. The windows of the limousine are all smashed, and as the camera zooms in on one of the shattered frames, viewers may glimpse in the back seat a short-haired black woman clutching her baby.
* * *