Love in Detroit
Love in Detroit by Sabra Waldfogel Copyright ÂŠ 2014 by Sabra Waldfogel. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted without the written permission of the author.
Cover image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Love in Detroit Dan hadn’t been in this building since his bar mitzvah, but it hadn’t changed. The marble entrance was as grand as ever. The building smelled the same, like old masonry, floor wax, and flowers. The murals were still there, Jacob wrestling with the angel, Moses parting the Red Sea. He wandered down the wide corridor, recalling how much he had always liked the way his footsteps echoed on the tile floor. This corridor had once held display cases full of Torah scroll covers, menorahs and Sabbath candlesticks. In their place hung portraits of black leaders. Frederick Douglass. Marcus Garvey. W. E. B. Dubois. Martin Luther King. He stopped before the portrait of Dr. King, feeling the familiar sorrow and guilt at the familiar image. His synagogue was now the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. Billy Steinberg, president of Temple Zion’s youth group, had called him a few days ago to invite him to a meeting at Zion AME. “What for?” Dan muttered into the phone. He hadn’t been to a Temple Zion meeting for months. Billy was a cheerful, extroverted boy, a salesman like his father. “For the Freedom Seder,” he said. Every year since the riot, the youth groups of Temple Zion and Zion AME had planned and celebrated a Freedom Seder together. “Who else is coming?” “I’m calling lots of people.” He had to know. “Laura?” There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Finally Billy said defensively, “What do you care?” Reminded, embarrassed, Dan said quickly, “I’ll be there.” Now, as he stood before Dr. King’s portrait, he heard a decisive contralto voice say, “Young man, is there something you’re looking for?” Startled, he looked up. The speaker was a well-dressed, middle-aged black woman whose presence was as commanding as her voice. He blurted out, “I used to belong here. When it was Temple Zion.” “Is that so?” she said, implying that he’d better have a good reason to be here now. He apologized. “I’m here for the youth group meeting. I’m looking for the library.”
“I’ll take you there,” she said firmly. The library had changed too. The Chagall lithographs were gone. So was the photograph of Theodore Herzl. Martin Luther King presided here as well, an enlarged, ghostly image, a secular saint. The Zion AME representatives walked into the room together. The boy was tall, tense and light-skinned, with an Afro like dandelion gone to seed. A heavy steel hair pick protruded from his pocket, the kind of comb that could double on the street as a weapon. The girl was brown-skinned and long-legged. Her dress was navy blue, too long for current fashion, and her hair was fiercely straightened. Billy looked hard at the girl and said, “Maddie? Maddie King? Do you remember me?” She looked equally hard at Billy. Then her face flashed recognition. “Of course I do.” Billy said, “Maddie’s family bought our house. The one on Curtis.” Dan asked, “When did you move?” Maddie answered, “1968.” The unspoken words hung heavy in the air: Right after the riot. In 1966 this neighborhood had been Jewish. A year after the riot, every block had been busted and every Jewish house had been sold. They sat down, Dan and Billy on one side of the table, Maddie and Roy and the other. Dan discovered that if he looked up he met Maddie’s eyes. He put his fingers on the edge of the table and stared at them instead. Billy said cheerfully, “Are you folks all set to start planning the Freedom Seder?” Roy folded his arms over his chest. “I don’t like the idea of a Freedom Seder,” he said. Still cheerful, Billy went on, “There’s no reason we have to hold a Freedom Seder. What else have you got in mind?” Roy shifted in his chair. He stared so hard at Dan that Dan felt it bore into him like a bullet. Roy said, “Why don’t you folks come to a Panther meeting?” Maddie said sharply, “Roy, these folks are going to think you’ve got no manners at all.” Equally sharp, Roy said, “Don’t call me Roy. That’s some slave’s name.” She faced him. Sassy, mocking, she said, “What are you calling yourself this week? Roy X?” Billy said nervously, “I don’t think the rest of the group will like that idea.”
Dan looked up. Maddie was looking at him with interest. He said, “Invite the Panthers to Zion AME and we’ll come down to see them.” Roy tensed his hands on the edge of the table. He said, “You say that like you’re going to the zoo. See the Panthers!” His voice changed, a mockery of the way he thought Jews talked. “Good thing they’re on 12th Street and we’re safe out in Southfield!” Maddie looked at Roy in disgust. Dan leaned against the table, trying to control his irritation. He said, “I was just trying to be helpful.” Roy unfolded his arms. “You don’t have to patronize me.” It was like the game of racial chicken that tough black boys played on the street: “Say! You! You looking at me?” There was no way to answer. Either you were a sucker or a liar. “I didn’t mean to patronize you.” Roy leaned forward. “I didn’t come here to listen to a lecture on having the right attitude because you drove out here from Temple Zion.” The needling was as bad as his father’s. It played on his guilt in the same way. Dan felt anger rise in him like a temperature. “Why did you come out here?” “You don’t know, do you? What it’s like to be done to. Done to because you’re black. We’ve been done to for hundreds of years.” Anger surged through Dan and he didn’t care if Roy knew it. “I’ll tell you about done to,” he said. “My father was in Auschwitz. He survived the Holocaust. What they did to him was so bad he can’t talk about it. So bad he’s never been able to tell me. My claim is as good as yours. So don’t tell me about done to.” He rose from the table and strode from the room. In the corridor, his face burning, his body shaking, he began to regret his outburst. He breathed deeply to calm himself, feeling more and more ashamed. I should go back, he thought. Apologize to everyone. He heard footsteps. He expected Billy. But it was Maddie. “Excuse me,” she said. “I wanted to apologize for the way Roy talked to you.” Taken by surprise, he said, “You don’t have to do that.” She insisted, “I wanted you to know that Roy wasn’t angry at you. I know he’s angry about a lot of things. Being black is just one of them.” It came to him in a flash of insight and he blurted it out. “You used to go out with Roy.” He was unprepared for the emotions that raced over her face. Surprise. Embarrassment. Shame. His own cheeks burned. She met his eyes and asked, “How did you know?”
He suddenly understood that she was too dark to show a blush, even if she felt it. For the first time since they’d met, he let his eyes linger on her face. Her skin was clear brown, with yellow highlights. She had high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. She’s pretty, he thought, as though she were any girl he’d met at Temple Zion. He said, “I’m good at guessing.” Her eyes met his. He saw a rebellious gleam in them, at odds with the demure dress and the tamed hair. “I bet you are,” she teased, as though he’d belonged to Zion AME all his life. After the meeting he apologized again. He invited the group out for pizza. Roy wordlessly shook his head. Billy excused himself and left. Maddie smiled. “I’d love to,” she said. He could remember coming to the pizza place on Saturday nights before his family moved. His parents had met synagogue friends here. Now the black customers in the place stared at him. When he sat down with Maddie, the curious looks turned to disapproval. He said to Maddie, “I used to live around here. But I haven’t been back since we moved.” “When did you move?” she asked. “’66.” “You guessed right,” she said. “Got out in time.” He shook his head. From the safety of the suburbs, he had watched Detroit burn. As far away as Birmingham, he saw the sky glow red, night after night. “I never saw anything like Detroit on fire,” he said. Maddie said matter-of-factly, “Our block burned. Our house was all right but my folks panicked. They gave that house away, they were so eager to get out.” Dan felt worse than he had about Roy’s racial needling. Her old neighborhood was burned out beyond repair and his old block was a place he couldn’t come back to. Best to put it away and talk about something else. “What does your father do for a living?” he asked. “He’s in the insurance business. He owns an insurance agency and he does all right. My mama works too. She teaches English at Central High School. What does your daddy do?” “He’s a doctor.” “What does he specialize in?” He shouldn’t have underestimated her. “A neurosurgeon.” “A brain surgeon!” she said, laughing. “How come you don’t live in Grosse Pointe?” “We’re well-off,” he said. “We aren’t rich. Not the way the Fords are rich.” “What does he want you to do? Be a doctor too?”
She’s smart, he thought. He met her eyes and said, “After I graduate from Harvard, I’m supposed to get my MD from Columbia. That’s where he went to medical school, so he can get me accepted. And then I’m supposed to get into the best residency program for my specialization. Then I’ll be all set to move into a good private practice.” “He’s got it all mapped out,” she said. For the second time that night he told a black stranger something he hadn’t confided to his close friends. “I can’t stand it when he starts to talk like that. College, that’s fine. But I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I haven’t planned that far ahead. I can’t bear it when he starts to press me about medical school.” She nodded. “I know just how you feel. My folks go on and on until my head aches.” Surprised, he said, “Do you get it too? What do they say to you?” “They got it all planned. Law school. My law degree. My law practice.” She mimicked her mother’s voice. “You study hard and bring home all A’s again, Maddie. You come home early from that youth group and write your National Honor Scholarship essay, Maddie. You stay away from that boy, he’ll drag you down so you’ll never go to college, Maddie.” She said in her own voice: “That’s all I hear.” They looked at each other. He smiled at her and she smiled back. He leaned forward and rested his hands on the table, so close to hers that their fingers nearly touched. He looked into her almond-shaped eyes and asked, “What do you want, Maddie?” She let her hands stay there, close to his. He saw a rebellious gleam on her face. “Just a little room.” His breath caught in his throat. “So do I,” he said. “Could I see you again?” “Call me,” she said. He thought hard before he called her. But a week later he called her. When she picked up the phone he said, “It’s Dan. Dan Kahany. Remember me?” When she spoke her voice was friendly, but guarded. “Of course I remember you.” He took a deep breath. “I’d like to see you again.” There was a very long pause. I’ve made a mistake, he thought. She didn’t mean it. Finally she said, “This is Detroit.” He was so relieved that he blurted out, “What’s that got to do with it?” She said, “I’m black and you’re white.”
So that was it. “I know.” “I didn’t say no,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you understood.” He began to recover. “I’ve lived in Detroit all my life.” “I’d like to see you,” she said. “What did you have in mind?” That Saturday, he picked up Maddie in the parking lot at Zion AME. He recognized her navy blue dress from half a block away. He had forgotten how tall she was. Even in that unfashionable dress, her legs were as long as a colt’s. As she got into the car, she said defiantly, “I lied to my folks. I told them I was going out with my friend Carrie.” “Good,” Dan said, exhilarated. “Where are we going?” “Southfield.” She laughed. “I should have brought a Panther along.” Trying to sound light, he said, “You’re bringing yourself. That should be enough.” Suddenly she looked worried. Worse than that. Frightened. She asked, “Is it going to be all right?” He felt her fear. He wished he knew her well enough to take her hand. “Of course it is,” he said. “We’re going to a party at Billy Steinberg’s house. You know Billy.” “I won’t know a soul,” she said. “They’re all your friends.” Dan realized that he would see Laura tonight. Of course Billy would invite her. He was still trying to persuade her into his Corvette. He shook his head. “They’ll like you,” he insisted. “It will be fine.” Inside Billy’s house they could hear the music from the basement: Aretha Franklin, singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ Tell me what it means to me...” Maddie relaxed a little. “Do your friends dance?” she asked. “Of course they do.” “Then it will be all right,” she said, briefly slipping her hand into his. He felt an adrenalin rush at the touch of her fingers. He said, “Can I get you anything, Maddie? Something to drink?” “Vernor’s? Do your friends drink Vernor’s?” He nodded. He found Billy behind the counter in the kitchenette, pouring drinks. He asked Dan, “What can I get you?”
Dan said, “Vernor’s. One for me and one for a friend.” Dan smelled the familiar perfume before he heard the voice. Laura said, “Who is the friend, Dan?” Dan turned. For a long, painful moment, he remembered everything. The smell of sweet clover in the fields around Pontiac. The crackle of aging vinyl. The feel of her damp skin under his hands. “It’s none of your business.” Laura reached across the counter and took Billy’s hand. She said, “We’ll have to come over and meet her. Won’t we?” Billy’s face went soft and foolish. Dan remembered feeling that way and his face flamed. So she fell for that ’Vette after all, he thought. Shaking with anger, he picked up both glasses of Vernor’s. Maddie stood in a corner, where the shadows darkened her skin to black. He handed her the glass of Vernor’s and asked, “Do you want to dance?” “Not yet,” she answered, and she tightly gripped the glass. He said, “If you aren’t having a good time, we don’t have to stay.” “I’m all right,” she said. They stood together in the corner, not talking, watching the party. She made her body small and still. Her face had gone dark and blank. He’d seen that expression on the faces of many black people in Detroit: None of this really touches me. I’m not really here. Someone put on a familiar record. When he heard it he felt the knot in his stomach ease. Nothing could destroy his pleasure in the voices of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: “Ain’t no mountain high enough…” “I like this song a lot,” he said. Some of the tension left Maddie’s face. “So do I.” “Do you want to dance?” She relaxed. She smiled. “Yes, I do.” They danced to “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and to “Good Loving Ain’t Easy to Come By.” When the music slowed, to “Your Precious Love,” he held out his arms for her to invite her to slow-dance with him. She shook her head. “Got to catch my breath,” she said. He understood and he didn’t like the insight. Not here. Not now. This is Detroit.
Back in the corner, drinking Vernor’s, she laughed and said, “You dance all right for a white boy.” Her ease put him at ease. “Got rhythm,” he teased her. As they stood close to each other, feeling close, wanting to touch, Billy and Laura walked by. Maddie looked up. She smiled at Billy. “How are you?” she asked. Laura threw Maddie a venomous look. Billy turned his head and snubbed her in silence. Dan called after them—the words were for Billy, but the message was for Laura— “Steinberg? You still got that Corvette?” Billy turned around. “Yes,” he said, blushing brightly. Dan felt drunk on malice. He raised his voice. “Have you taken her out to Pontiac yet?” Maddie’s face showed her discomfort. She put down her glass. “I’m ready to go.” Dan said, “So am I.” He drove her home along Woodward. She said, “Dan, how fast are you going?” He looked at the speedometer. “Too fast.” He slowed down. He said, “I’ve lived in Detroit all my life. I should have known better.” Her face had tightened again. “I know you meant well.” He didn’t miss the patronizing hint. “I just wanted to have a good time with you.” “I wish it were that simple.” He stopped the car. She was twisting her hands nervously in her lap. He reached for her hand and clasped it. The touch of her dark fingers made his heart beat faster. “It is that simple,” he said.
Two weeks later he picked her up to meet some of her friends for barbecue. As he turned onto Woodward, she said, “I thought Jews didn’t eat pork.” “I’m not religious. I eat everything. What’s this place called?” “Fat Daddy’s. It’s got the best ribs in Detroit.” As they drove there, going south on Woodward, the neat, well-kept lawns disappeared and dirty sidewalks took their place. The single-family houses gave way to apartment buildings and storefronts. “Tell me about your friends we’re going to meet.”
“Carrie’s been my best girlfriend since we were little. She knows all about you.” “What did you tell her?” “That you’re smart and you’re good-looking and you’re Jewish.” Pleased, he asked, “What did she say?” Maddie hesitated, but she said, “She asked me why I wasn’t dating a brother.” “Thanks a lot,” Dan said. “Dan, you can’t let her politics put you off. She plays around at being a Panther. She gets her politics from the boys she dates. She doesn’t care about politics.” “Who’s the boyfriend?” “Jamal. He plays at being a Panther too. He goes to Wayne. His daddy’s an accountant.” “Where should I turn?” “Right here. 12th Avenue.” The riot had started on this street. More than half the buildings on this block had been razed. The empty lots were filled with urban debris: bottles and cans, old newspapers, discarded pieces of clothing. Weeds grew in the rubble. The next block hadn’t been as badly scarred. It was still a commercial strip, busy and brightly lit. Dan winced to see the names on the neon signs. Feinman’s Liquors. Goldberg’s Pawnshop. Kaplan’s Corner Store. Maddie said, “We never bought groceries at Kaplan’s. Kaplan’s overcharges something terrible.” Feeling guilty, Dan said, “His overhead probably kills him.” Two old women walked slowly down the sidewalk, carrying Bibles. One was tiny and fragile. The other was huge. “Saturday night prayer meeting,” Maddie said. “See that storefront? Everlasting Life Baptist Church.” Women in blonde wigs and ass-short skirts eyed their car. “Hookers,” Maddie said matter-of-factly. “Looking for white johns.” A group of young men gathered outside Feinman’s Liquors, talking, laughing, gesticulating, drinking from bottles in brown paper bags. “How much farther?” Dan asked, nervous. “Next block.” “Where should I park?” “Under a streetlight.” “For us, or for the car?”
“Both,” Maddie said. Fat Daddy’s wasn’t a big place. It had ten tables and no frills. Fat Daddy himself stood behind the counter to take their order, and a plump middle-aged woman worked in the kitchen beyond making sweet potato pies. The place smelled of roasting meat and barbecue sauce. It was a neighborhood joint. Tired men and women stopped by to take home some ribs after work. Whole families came here. Fat Daddy greeted many of the customers by name. When Maddie stepped to the counter, Fat Daddy said, “Maddie, honey, how you doing. I haven’t seen you in a while.” “Just fine, thank you.” “Tell your daddy I’ll feed him ribs at a discount if he’ll come by and sell me some insurance at a discount. Insurance goes up and up.” “I’ll tell him,” Maddie said. As soon as they walked in Dan had realized that he was the only white person in the place. When he and Maddie sat down he began to feel it. He began to understand how Maddie had felt in Southfield. “Is it okay here?” he asked her. She tensed. Shame flickered over her face. “You’ll be all right,” she said, reminding him. As soon as they sat down the door opened and a tall, angular girl with an Angela Davis Afro walked in. Behind her was an affable-looking boy in a tri-colored Panther cap. “Carrie! Jamal!” Maddie called out. “Come over here and meet Dan.” Carrie asked him, “Are you a White Panther? Or is that button for show?” He looked down at the button he wore to irritate his father. “I hang out in Ann Arbor and I know what’s going on.” “Is that where you go to school?” she asked, taking in the denim jacket and the long hair tied with a leather thong. “I’m not in college yet.” “Planning to go there?” Like Roy, she had a chip on her shoulder. “That’s what my father asks me every day. Where I’m planning to go to college.” “I suppose he wants you to go to Harvard,” she said, trying to needle him. He burst out laughing. “Right on. How did you guess?”
Carrie said, “Maddie, did you write that application to Wayne yet?” Irritated, Maddie said, “You and my mama. Maybe I’ll apply to U of M too.” Dan suddenly thought of walking down the Diag holding Maddie’s hand. “Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s both apply to U of M.” “I will if you will,” Maddie said to Dan, her face animated and pleased. “Go to U of M,” Carrie sulked. “See if I care.” Jamal sighed. Dan liked him for it. He said, “Take it easy, Carrie. Let’s have some ribs.” The ribs were smoky and succulent. Maddie was right; these were the best ribs in Detroit. As he ate, Carrie talked and talked. He concentrated on the food and tried to ignore her rudeness. “Maddie, I saw your sister in Hudson’s the other day. She was buying baby clothes. Sure enough, there’s another baby on the way.” “I didn’t know.” Dan asked, “Your own sister and you didn’t know?” “She doesn’t come to visit anymore. We never talk to her.” “Why not?” Carrie said, “Maddie, you didn’t tell him about your sister?” Maddie looked distressed. “No! And don’t you tell him, either.” “Tell me what?” “Carrie, shut up! I’ll tell him as much as I see fit.” Dan put down the rib he’d been chewing and said, “What are you two talking about?” Meddling, taking pleasure in it, Carrie said, “She used to be wild. Used to fool around.” “Play the fool is more like it,” Maddie said, hurt and angry. “What did she do?” Dan asked, thoroughly baffled. Carrie said, “She got a baby. Got no husband to go with it.” Furious, Maddie said, “Carrie, you shut your mouth.” Being malicious, enjoying it, Carrie said, “Why shouldn’t he know?” Dan forced himself to keep on eating. He got no more pleasure from the food. He was relieved when Carrie and Jamal finished and excused themselves. As he and Maddie walked out the door Maddie said, shamed, “When you meet my folks you can’t let them know that you know.” “When am I meeting your folks?”
“How soon can you come over for dinner?” He shook his head as they walked out the door of Fat Daddy’s. He felt uneasy on this block. He walked down the street alert for trouble. A group of boys in leather hats and platform shoes loitered on the corner. Dan recognized them; they’d been there earlier in the evening. They were an hour drunker now. Dan watched them from the corner of his eye and thought, Don’t show any fear. Look like you can handle it and they’ll leave you alone. He knew not to make eye contact. That invited a response and a response was likely to start a fight. “Say!” one of the boys called out. Don’t turn your head, he thought. Walk on by. “Say! White boy!” He felt Maddie tense up at his side. Don’t take her hand. Just keep going. “Say! You! I’m talking to you!” Dan thought, There are four of them. If they start something it won’t be a fair fight. Look tough. Don’t turn your head. Don’t say a word. “Say! Don’t you hear me? You think you’re too good to talk to me?” Dan didn’t dare look at Maddie, but he knew that she was trembling. He didn’t like to think of what they’d do to her if they came after him. “Say! You! You honky motherfucker!” From the corner of his eye, Dan saw the cop car. The black and white. He slowed. So did the cop. Dan stopped, and the patrol car pulled up to the corner. The cop got out. He was tall, gaunt, stern, and black. He strode toward the young men on the corner, calling out, “Break it up, boys. Break it up.” “We ain’t doing nothing,” said the young man in the leather cap. The cop put his hand on his hip, not reaching for his gun, just reminding them that it was there. “Go on home, boys.” “You ain’t my daddy!” another of the young men jeered. The cop reached to grab him by the shoulder. “Don’t you disrespect me.” The young man twisted away. “Fuck you,” he said.
The cop said, “You go on, all of you, or you’ll be spending the night in Wayne County Jail.” The young men hesitated. The cop reached for the handcuffs that dangled from his belt. The young men dispersed. The black cop turned to Dan. He was older than he looked from a distance, with a dark, seamed face. He scrutinized Dan and he took in Maddie. He said, “Son, don’t you know better than that?”
Several weeks later Dan was on his way out of the house when his father asked, “Dani, who is this young lady you’ve been spending all your time with?” “Her name is Madeleine King.” “How did you meet her?” “Through the youth group at Temple Zion.” “Does her family belong there?” “No.” “Another synagogue? Shaarey Zedek?” Dan said, “No. She doesn’t belong there either.” “She isn’t Jewish?” Dan said, “Her family belongs to Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Detroit.” His father said, “You’re seeing a girl who is black?” “Yes.” The silence was thick and humid, like the air before a bad summer storm. Josef finally said, “Why do you think we moved to the suburbs?” “You’ve told me time after time. Because the schools are better here.” “And why are the schools better here?” “The standards are higher. The teachers expect you to go to college. Why are you asking me? You know.” His father’s voice rose. “Because your classmates in high school are the daughters of doctors, lawyers, executives at General Motors. Girls from good families. Jewish girls.” White girls. Even in Birmingham, he was still in Detroit.
“Do you think we moved out to the suburbs so you could go out with some girl you met in Detroit?” “She goes to Mumford. Her father owns an insurance agency. They live in the Steinbergs’ old house on Curtis. Her family wants her to go to college. She’s applying to good schools.” “How are you going to Harvard with this girl around your neck?” Dan folded his arms over his chest. “Who says I have to go to Harvard?” “I want the best for you. Harvard is the best.” “Why don’t you ask me what I want?” “Because I know. To drive a red Camaro on Woodward Avenue fast enough to kill yourself. To run around with some shvartza from Detroit.” “Don’t call her that.” “It’s a shande,” Josef said. The Yiddish word meant scandal, disgrace. Dan said, “I’m going into Detroit to see Maddie. And I’m going to college where I please.” Before his father could reply, he walked out and slammed the door.
When he came into Detroit to meet Maddie’s parents over dinner, he turned to drive down his old block. He idled the car in front of the house his family had left behind just before the riot. The exterior was unchanged. He remembered the summer his father had the house painted white. He remembered watching his mother plant the crabapple tree by the front door. He suddenly ached to ring the bell and ask to walk through the rooms. All the faces on this street were black now. Black men washed their cars in the driveways. Black children played jump rope and catch on the sidewalks. Black women stood at the kitchen windows. As he gazed at his old house, the neighbors stared at the Mustang and the white boy in it. This wasn’t home any more. He didn’t belong here anymore. Heavy-hearted, he drove away to Maddie’s house. Maddie answered the door. She wore her navy blue dress and her hair was painfully straightened. When she saw him her face fell. “What’s the matter?” “I don’t care about your clothes. But my folks will think it’s disrespectful.”
Shamed, he remembered the last time his father had needled him about the jeans and the chambray shirt. To Maddie, he said stubbornly, “You’ll have to take me as I am.” Everything in the Kings’ house was new. The carpet was thick and plush, the curtains were heavy and stiff, and the sofa was overstuffed and buried in pillows. The recliner, upholstered in leather, had pride of place. In it sat Maddie’s father, a dark-skinned, heavyset man with a deeply pitted face. When he stood up to greet Dan, something about him made Dan say, “How do you do, sir?” Maddie’s father asked, “Where do you go to school? Ann Arbor?” His voice was deep and his Detroit accent was thick. Dan put on his polite voice, regretting the impression the jeans and the long hair were making. “I’m still in high school,” he said. “I live in Birmingham and I go to school there.” “How did you meet my daughter?” Maddie said nervously, “Daddy, you know we met at Zion AME at the youth group meeting. I told you, Dan came down to plan the Freedom Seder. You know, the one we have with Temple Zion.” “You’re a Jew?” Dan tensed. “Yes, I’m Jewish.” Maddie’s mother, a thin, tired, stern-looking woman, asked, “Are you planning to go to college?” “Yes, I am. I’m applying to the University of Michigan.” Maddie broke in. “He’s applying to Harvard University, too.” The severe face relented a little. “That’s very impressive.” Maddie said, “His daddy got an MD at Columbia University.” “Your father is a medical doctor?” Maddie’s mother wanted to be impressed. He impressed her. “He’s a neurosurgeon. He’s affiliated with Detroit General and he has a private practice too.” This is for us, Maddie, he thought, and he added: “He developed a new procedure for reconstructing the spine. Neurosurgeons all over the country use it.” He’d told Maddie that he ate everything. He’d been wrong. Mrs. King’s dinner was ham and scalloped potatoes. At the Kings’ table he was suddenly a Jew. His throat closed up and he couldn’t eat.
After dinner Maddie asked him, “Would you like to see the house?” “Give me the tour.” She led him back into the living room where he saw something he’d been too nervous to notice before. Over the mantel the Kings displayed portraits of the public figures they admired. Next to President Kennedy’s picture hung Dr. Martin Luther King’s. Looking at the familiar image, Dan said, “They should practice what they preach.” “Do you want to see my room?” She led him up the stairs to the room that had once been Billy Steinberg’s. It was odd to see the flowered wallpaper and the pink bedspread in it. Over her bed she’d taped a portrait of her own hero. “Marvin Gaye!” Dan said, delighted. Dropping her voice low in her throat, she growled, “Marvin is my main man.” Dan leaned against her dresser in an imitation of Marvin Gaye’s sexy stance. “How do I look?” She moved so close he could feel the heat of her body underneath the demure dress. When she replied her voice was low, husky, straight from the street. “You look fine,” she said. Downstairs, as she helped her mother with the dishes, her father took his place in the recliner. Dan sat warily on the sofa opposite. Maddie’s father said to him, “I don’t want you messing with my daughter.” Dan heard the heavy Detroit accent: “messin’ wit’.” Taken aback, he said, “Of course not.” “She’s going to college. She’s applying to Howard and Fisk. I don’t want anyone to stop her.” He doesn’t approve of U of M, Dan thought. No more than my father does. But he waited to hear the rest. “If you mess with her, I’ll come down on you so fast you won’t know what hit you.” Maddie’s father was more than six feet tall and he weighed over two hundred pounds. “Yes, sir,” Dan said. He called her not long after his visit to her parents’ house. He asked, “Maddie, is there someplace we could meet without any trouble?” “Wayne State,” she said.
Wayne was a few blocks from Detroit General. It was an unprepossessing campus, gray concrete buildings that looked like bunkers. Nearby Cass Avenue was less forbidding. Head shops and health food stores jostled all-night groceries and package stores. On Cass, Maddie led the way. Her friends went to Wayne the way his went to U of M in Ann Arbor. She knew where to buy records, where to find used books, and where to get a hamburger. As they walked warily down Cass, Dan and Maddie saw another interracial couple. The girl was tall, blonde, so pale her blue veins showed through her skin. The boy was so dark the highlights in his face looked purple. The girl’s blue eyes were all pupil. Both of them smiled at Dan and Maddie. After they passed, Maddie leaned close to whisper to Dan, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” He tensed all over at the intimacy of her breath against his ear. “She’s stoned, that’s all.” “Do you get stoned?” she asked, in the same low rush of breath. “Yes,” he said, in the same low voice. “Can we get stoned together?” “Yes.” They stopped in a coffee shop on Cass. Another interracial couple sat at the corner table. Dan glanced at them and Maddie saw him do it. “It’s all right here,” she said, as they sat down. As they drank Cokes, Maddie said, “Your visit wasn’t as bad as I thought.” “How bad did you think it was going to be?” “My mama liked you. She’s still talking about the fact that you’re applying to Harvard.” “If I go to Harvard I can’t see you very often.” “What did my daddy say to you when I was in the kitchen?” He could still hear the deep voice. “He told me not to mess with you.” “He did not!” He let himself remember the heavy threat. “He told me that if I touched you he’d beat the living daylights out of me.” She sat back in her chair, shocked. “I didn’t think he’d like you. But to threaten you!” “That’s what he said.”
“All my life they’ve told me about tolerance. Brotherhood and love. How you can’t judge people for being white or being black. How you’ve got to take them as people. Now I see how much they meant it.” “Does it surprise you?” “Yes,” she said, upset. “I never thought they’d be such hypocrites about it.” It hurt, but he had to ask her. “If I were black, would they be so upset?” She answered quickly. Flippantly. “Doctor’s son? Harvard bound? Sugar, if you were black they’d be planning my wedding.” She’d never called him “sugar” before. “Does my being Jewish make it worse?” She couldn’t answer fast enough. The tears made her voice catch in her throat. “Being white is bad enough.” Helplessly, he said, “When my father found out I was seeing a black girl he hit the ceiling.” The tears gathered in her eyes. “What did you think he was going to do? Congratulate you?” Why did it hurt so much? “Maddie, the Nazis wanted to murder him for being a Jew. He spent a year in a death camp. I thought he’d be more tolerant.” The tears spilled from her eyes and streaked down her face. “Now you know,” she said. “It would just about kill some people to be tolerant.” He didn’t care how dangerous it was. He lifted his hand to her face to wipe away the tears. Before his fingers touched her face, she grasped his wrist and pushed his hand back to the table. “Don’t be a fool,” she said, the tears coming faster than ever. “Not in public. Not even on Cass Avenue.” He had never felt so much pain. He said, “I love you, Maddie.” Her face wet, her voice low, she said, “Then do the right thing. Find us a place to be alone together.” For two long weeks he ached to remember her tears. And he burned with the dilemma of where they could be alone together. The next time he picked her up, she said in a low voice, “Let’s go to Palmer Park.” “What’s in Palmer Park?” “Roy and I used to go there.”
He knew where he wanted to go. He turned the corner to drive northwest along Woodward. “Where are we going?” she asked. “Pontiac.” “Who else have you taken there?” she asked, teasing to cover her fears. For the first time in a year, it didn’t hurt to remember. “I used to have a car with a back seat. I took my first girlfriend there.” “What happened to your other car?” She was from Detroit, all right. He laughed. “I totalled it. Ran off the road and tore off the front bumper. I can show you where it happened, if you want to see it.” “Was she with you?” “God forbid. I nearly killed myself. I’m glad I was alone that night.” It was a balmy night for late winter. In Pontiac the stars seemed far away in the dark blue sky. “It’s so quiet here,” she said, and they listened to the quiet together: no shouts, no traffic, no sirens. He pulled off the road onto a grassy area. As he stopped the car he said, “There’s no one here. We’re as alone as can be.” She looked nervous. “I can’t believe we’re here like this.” Tenderly, he said, “Come here. Sit close to me.” “Is it really all right?” He held out his arms. “Of course it’s all right.” She moved close. He cradled her against his chest and laid his cheek against her hair. “That’s nice,” she murmured. She turned toward him and he began to touch her face with his fingertips. The soft brush of her eyebrows. The skin over her cheekbones. The swell of her lips. She kissed his fingers, then his palm. When he stroked her cheek, she put her arms around his neck and kissed his lips. He felt the familiar heat and the familiar craziness. Painfully reminded of Laura, he let Maddie go. “What’s the matter, Dan?” “It’s nothing.” Shamed, he said, “I shouldn’t have brought you here. It reminds me of that other girl.”
She touched his cheek. “What happened?” The humiliation and the pain flooded back as he talked. “I brought her up here and I told her how much I wanted to make love to her. I thought she wanted it to. But after that she never wanted to see me again.” She cupped his face in her hands and said gently, “It won’t be like that for us.” She caressed his cheek. “Because we love each other.” He put his arms around her and hugged her tightly. “I love you.” “I love you too,” she said, smiling. “You aren’t afraid?” “I’ve got a secret. I’ve been meaning to tell you all night.” He wiped his eyes. “What is it?” “Last week I went down to the Teen Clinic, the one that’s close to Wayne. Carrie took me down there. They prescribe birth control. So I had them put in an IUD.” “You did that? For me?” “For us. So we can do this right.” He surveyed the cramped interior of the Mustang. “We need a better place than this.” “I’ve got something else to tell you.” “Tell me.” “Carrie has her own place on Cass. She’s with Jamal half the time. She told me that when she’s not there we can use it.” As he kissed her he felt the familiar fire in his lower belly. He also felt an unfamiliar ache of tenderness around his heart. He drove slowly back to Detroit, his judgment clouded by joy. A few miles from Woodward, he looked into the rear view mirror to see the glow of headlights. Maddie saw them too. “I thought no one ever came up here,” Maddie said. “Anyone can drive up here.” The headlights drew closer. Maddie twisted to look behind them. “Are they following us?” Dan checked the mirror again. “They’re tailgating us.” “How far is it back to Woodward?” “Two-three miles. Not far.”
The car behind them came closer. Irritated, he said, “Empty road for miles and they’ve got to hang on my bumper. Maybe I can shake them.” He sped up, from thirty miles an hour to forty. After a few seconds Maddie said nervously, “They matched your speed. They’re still tailgating you.” “Damn, I hate that,” Dan said, and he gave the car gas. Sixty was too fast for this road but he heard Maddie’s worry and he knew why she was worried. They matched it. “I think they’re following us,” Maddie said. “They’re just joyriders. Probably drunk. As soon as we turn on Woodward we’ll lose them.” Maddie turned around to look. The driver behind them turned on his brights and shone them in her eyes. She sat down small in her seat. “He saw me!” “Take it easy. He didn’t see me.” The driver behind them sped up. Angry and worried, Dan dropped the pedal. The car behind him matched his speed. Dan looked down at the speedometer. Seventy. Too fast. He looked up at the road. If I hit a patch of ice here, I’ll kill us both, he thought. It was a detached thought, with no panic in it. The tailgater pulled alongside him. He’s going to pass me, he thought. Relief rushed through him. He slowed to let the other car get by. The driver didn’t pass; he drove in the opposing lane and matched Dan’s speed. Dan slowed again. So did the other car. He slowed again. The other driver matched his speed and began to drift towards him. Dan rolled down his window and yelled, “Pass me! You crazy son-of-a-bitch, do you want to get us both killed? Get over, you motherfucking fool!” The window on the passenger side rolled down. The passenger, a white boy flushed with liquor, leaned out the window and yelled, “Hey! You! Where are you going with that nigger bitch?” The road ahead was clear. So was the road behind him. There was no guard rail here. If he had to run off the road, he wasn’t likely to fall twenty feet and burst into flames. At least he hoped so. The driver of the other car edged toward him. He moved toward the shoulder. He saw the glint of a guard rail. I’m going to die here, he thought wildly. I’m going to take Maddie with me.
The driver of the other car suddenly sped up and sped away. “Nigger lover!” the drunken passenger shouted out the window, as the taillights disappeared into the darkness.
Carrie lived in a three-story walkup on Cass Avenue. The building smelled of old wood and old plaster but not of garbage or urine. Someone had made an effort to sweep the stairs and clean the hallways. Nonetheless, the lights were dim and the landings were dark. Maddie said, “I wouldn’t want to come back here alone at night.” In the living room, she closed the curtains to shut out the street. “Want to hear some music?” she asked, as she bent down to look through the records on Carrie’s brick-and-board shelves. The stereo was the newest and most expensive thing in the apartment. As she rummaged through Carrie’s records, he looked at Carrie’s posters. Malcolm X watched over the record collection. Angela Davis raised her fist over the ancient sofa. In the bedroom, where the big bed filled the tiny room, Jimi Hendrix floated above it, asking, Are you experienced? Maddie called, “I found Marvin Gaye. Do you want to hear it?” Dan smiled as he walked back into the living room. “In Ann Arbor I get stoned to this record.” “I wish we could get stoned together.” He drew the nickel bag of grass from his pocket. “Would you like to smoke a joint?” As they sat together on the threadbare rug, he rolled the joint, lit it, and handed it to her. She shook her head. “Show me what to do.” “Breathe in the smoke. Hold it in your lungs. That’s what gets you stoned.” After a few tokes she said, “Is it supposed to make you feel dizzy?” “It’s supposed to make you feel good.” “I feel fine.” She lay down on the floor, smiling. “Lean on me.” She lay her head on his thigh, so close to his groin that his belly tightened in anticipation. He stroked her hair. “How do you get your hair to lay so flat?” he asked. “I process it.” She told him what that meant. “First I straighten it. Solution has lye in it, burns something awful. Then I put in gel, to keep it flat. Then I set it. Roll it up and set myself under the dryer with it. Heat on a tender scalp, that’s no joy.”
“It sounds like torture,” he said. “Why do you do it?” “It would break my mama’s heart if she saw me running around with nappy hair.” Dan began to laugh. “She wouldn’t mind to see you stoned? Or to see you here with me?” Maddie began to laugh too. “Not as long as I put on a dress and wear white gloves to church and torture my scalp so I won’t have bad black nappy hair. Stop straightening my hair! That would really make her crazy!” “You should go natural, like you want to.” “I should,” she said. Stoned and unself-conscious, she put her arms around him and kissed him. “A natural woman,” she murmured. Through a haze of grass and desire, he heard the music she had put on. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were singing “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” “I want to make love to you tonight,” he whispered. “I want you to,” she murmured, wrapping her legs around his hips so that her demure dress rode up to her waist. When they were naked he gazed at her with desire and surprise. He touched her and watched his white hand move over her brown skin. Her eyes followed his. “What is it, Dan?” “You’re so different. So beautiful.” Suddenly she looked sad and troubled. “What is it, Maddie?” he asked, resting his hand on her hip. “I’ve never been this close to anyone who’s white.” He looked at the contrast between their skins where their bodies touched. Her brown arm across his white chest. Her brown thigh over his white leg. Her brown belly pressed against his white one. “Don’t think about it,” he said, gently touching her breast. “There’s no white and no black here. It’s just us.” As if to prove it she kissed him hard and put his hand between her legs. He touched her and she began to moan. The sound made him shiver. Suddenly his body knew what to do without any help from his brain. She opened her legs to help him. He eased inside her, and she sighed with pleasure as he went in. He moved in her and she moved with him, matching his rhythm. All the nerves in his body seemed to concentrated in one spot, the spot she aroused when she convulsed like that. His body flooded with pleasure. His heart flooded with joy. He felt as though he was going to explode. When the explosion came, it was blissful.
His heart pounded harder than if he’d been Woodwarding. He’d never felt this good before. He couldn’t talk. He’d forgotten how. She laughed. “Oo-wee,” she growled. “That was fine. Let’s do that every day.” He cradled her against his chest and murmured, “I love you, Maddie.” As she fell asleep in his arms, she murmured, “I love you too.” She woke him with a cry. “Look at the time.” It was after one. “I should have been home hours ago.” She scrambled out of bed and ran to the bathroom. “Get in here,” she called. “Get in the shower quick.” As she ran the water, she groaned, “My father will kill me.” “He’ll have to get to me first.” It was nearly two in the morning when they drove up to her house. “Drop me here,” she said. But she was trembling at the thought of facing her father. “I’ll walk you to the door.” Maddie’s father was waiting on the front porch. He looked tired and angry. “Where you been?” he demanded of Maddie. “Down at Wayne with some friends.” “It’s two in the morning.” “We lost track of the time.” “Don’t lie to me.” “Daddy, let me explain.” “Just like your sister. You a disgrace. Shame us and shame yourself. College girl! How you going to college with a baby in your belly?” “It isn’t like that.” “Go in. I’ll finish with you later.” He turned to Dan. “I got something to say to you.” Maddie said defiantly, “What are you going to do? Beat him up because he’s white?” “Leave us alone here.” Maddie, half her father’s size, stood up straight and said, “He didn’t mess with me. What we did, we did together. So you can beat me too, if you dare.” Maddie’s father looked shocked. His big body sagged. He took out his anger on Dan. “Get out of here, you Jew bastard. Get the hell out of my sight.”
When Dan came home, close to three, his father was still awake. He’d been drinking. The smell of Glenlivet filled the room. “Dani!” He was in no mood for whatever his father wanted to fight about. He called, “Dad, I’m dead tired. I’m going to bed.” “Where have you been so late?” His father’s voice was shrill. “Seeing a friend in Detroit.” “Seeing that girl in Detroit!” “Her name is Maddie,” Dan said, sparked into anger. “I know she loves me,” he said. “She wants to hurt her parents. Just as you are hurting me.” He felt anger like a consuming fire. “Is that what you think? After a year in Auschwitz?” “Perhaps I should tell you what I learned in Auschwitz.” “To hate black people for being black? Is that why you survived?” His father cried out, “What do you know about why I survived?”