By Kenny Torrella
I drove with my hand on Mia’s thigh as we passed by bonfires in the night, and joked about how anything goes in these small towns. I took country roads unknown to us both, the car’s headlights beaming into the trees and lighting up signs for farm stands and churches. Again, she asked me where I was taking her.
“I told you, it’s a surprise,” I said.
“It’s already 11:30… Are we going to Detroit?” she asked.
I laughed to myself.
“What? What’s funny?”
“No, nothing. It’s stupid.”
“Tell me!” she said, squeezing my hand.
“OK, well, I was going to say, ‘I’m going to kill you and bury you.’”
“What? Why would you say that?”
“It was a joke. It was stupid.”
“But why would you joke about that?”
“You know I make stupid jokes like that with friends sometimes. But I shouldn’t have said it. Just forget I said it. I’m sorry.”
We continued in silence. She knew I was incapable of doing that. I’ve never even been in a fist fight. I’m vegetarian. I take spiders outside. In our months together the furthest I had gone was raising my voice to match hers. But I think the sudden awareness of her vulnerability—out in the pitch black night, no phone, no sense of place—had struck her mute. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going; she didn’t know herself.
I rerouted the directions to take 96 and after I merged onto the interstate she sighed. Civilization.
We arrived in downtown Detroit. I parked the car and we stood on the sidewalk next to the dancehall.
“Again, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Don’t worry. So, what is this surprise?” she asked, trying to smile.
We entered, I paid for the tickets, and we walked down the spiral staircase as Motown blared from the speakers. A poster taped on the door read “Souled Out: Detroit’s Premiere Soul and R&B Dance Party!”
“It’s really white in here,” she said, looking around the room.
My parents and their generation left Detroit in the white flight during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They drove their American-made Cadillacs and Chryslers out to Redford, Dearborn, and Wyandotte, listening to Wilson Pickett and The Supremes all the way there. Now our generation—our friends—had made their way back in, into foreclosed homes and lofts in neighborhoods on the Courier Times’ up-and-coming list. “The venue was in a black neighborhood, in a black city, playing black music—it’s a violation of space,” Mia later said.
But there we were, a part of it. She swayed left to right with her arms by her sides, out of step with the music. This wasn’t like my Mia, who could attract crowds of men and women, at night clubs, weddings, and dive bars—and sometimes in the street—to watch her go at it to whatever was playing.
Before the first song ended I shouted into her ear: “Let’s go home.”
She nodded. “But don’t feel bad, OK? This was a great surprise. I love the music, I’ve wanted to dance, I needed a night out, but—”
I took I-96 back home. We pulled into the driveway and I turned off the car. The crickets droned. “You know I’m a survivor. You know as a woman I already feel scared all the time,” she said.
She rattled off examples: “Men holler at me in the city, at school, in the elevator. They ask me my sign, what country I’m from, where I live. Sometimes they stare, sometimes they follow, sometimes they get really close to me.”
“Listen, I know you’re sorry. I know what you said was a joke, and you know I trust you. But when you said it, there was something visceral about it. Like, if you wanted to, you could kill me. I’ve been in these situations before with men capable of hurting me. With men who did hurt me. You know that and you still said it.”
The next morning I woke up early and tiptoed out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to start on breakfast. Between bites Mia circled back to the night before. “There’s power in every moment,” she said.
Sometimes, in the dead, silent space of an argument, after each point has been exhausted and apologies have been proffered, I repeat this sentence in my head. The five words echo like some kind of mantra, written by a character on the losing end of it.
Can unearned power ever grasp its inverse? There’s another one. We struggle with these declarations and questions in an effort to make sense of inequity.
“There’s power in every moment.” She must’ve written the mantra herself. She didn’t read poetry or stories, only textbooks.
– Kenny Torrella is new to fiction writing but has been ghostwriting throughout his career to improve conditions for farmed animals. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. with his girlfriend and a wonderful dog named Rihana. His work can also be found in NAILED Magazine.