Kenneth Radu
Across the River

Across the river he watched downtown Detroit burn. From the Windsor embankment he heard shots and wondered if a bullet could ricochet off the Penobscot Building, zing right over the polluted water and lodge in his skull. Surely the flight over would have weakened its impact, causing only an indented bruise before bouncing off his head, rather than riveting into his brain. That was reassuring because the last time he saw Ruby she had threatened to shoot his head off if he so much as crossed the border again. She'd be waiting for him.

Ah, these international love affairs rarely lasted, but Sam was feeling more anxious than flippant. The huge and trembling crowd on the river bank was also uneasy, moving in unison to the edge as if leaning towards their friends and relatives on the other side. Whispers, muffled screams and political conversations about civil wars and racism, could you really blame them, was anyone surprised, all mingled and mangled in a collective dismay, although a lot of kids clapped, and one woman within hearing distance said it was like fireworks on the fourth of July. Sam wouldn't go so far as to describe what he saw as pyrotechnical, and he assumed "them" meant the black denizens of Detroit rampaging through city avenues, smashing windows and pillaging shops. Grey and purple smoke rose higher than the skyscrapers, billowing between blocks and wafting into Canadian nostrils. Ruby, like many Americans, kept a gun in her apartment on Woodward Avenue.

They had planned a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula, all the way to the Mackinac Straits, but riots intervened, and the fact that he had slept with her sister. Well, sleep was pushing it, because after sex, that magical moment when he always felt both depleted and completed, the glass half empty and full at the same time, he liked to say after a powerful ejaculation, Ruby had barged in and literally yanked him out of the bed by his arm, right off the mattress onto the floor. She screeched such words as he only heard in the locker room at the police station where he worked as a janitor.

Loretta, recently divorced and unhappy, had taken up temporary residence with her much older sister. He had been acutely aware of her flirtatious, come hither and fuck me looks and innuendoes when he drove over the Ambassador bridge every Friday evening. Ruby last week had been delayed at the Ford plant where she worked. He loved dark skin tones. Loretta's reminded him of wet beach sands under moonlight, which he had seen in a movie. And so fucking sweet like diving and floating in a pool of liquid amber and warm water.

Ruby pulled open the drawer of the dresser and whipped out a gun, aiming it directly between his eyes.

"I ever see you here again and you're dead meat, you got that, you piece of cheating white shit."

Yes, indeed, he got it. Curious, though, wasn't it? Ruby said nothing to Loretta who cried in her bed, at least nothing that he had been aware of as he tripped and stumbled into his clothes and, appealing for mercy and forgiveness, nearly plunged head over heels down two flights of stairs to his car. His heart beat rapidly all the way over the bridge. He had phoned and she refused to talk to him. Loretta spoke once, saying she was sorry it ever happened. Yes, well, sorry was an easy emotion as far as he could see. Apologies dribbled out of mouths like spit, but the world didn't really change because of regrets now, did it? Were people going to say sorry tomorrow after they trashed Detroit and turned the downtown into a bombed out wasteland? He scrubbed empty jail cells and knew sorry didn't get a petty thief off the hook. No sir.

You'd think a thirty-eight year old man with a receding hairline and a paunch he had to fight to keep from burgeoning, a man who had been around the block a few times, including those now under fire in Detroit, would know enough not to cheat on the woman he wanted to marry. Ruby, whom he had met two years ago over the candy floss stand at the Emancipation Day fair in Windsor, was the only woman who seriously looked at him twice, not counting Loretta, of course. He was getting too old for this sort of thing. One young handsome cop he knew with muscles like Hercules fucked around a lot and his wife threw him out of the house. His fellow officers made a joke of it in the locker room where Sam changed the towels and washed the floor. The cop lamented daily that he still loved his wife and was sorry. Tell it to the wife, they laughed.


A collective howl erupted from the crowd as a fiery plume of smoke roared between two tall buildings like a genie blurting in a perpendicular frenzy out of a bottle. He had planned to marry Ruby although she wasn't keen on moving to the Canadian side of the border.

"I'm an American, why'd I want to be anything else?"

"Well, you could be my wife."

"Is that a proposal?"


Then they had gone to dinner, a week before he slept with Loretta, two weeks before Detroit boomed into a war zone. What the hell was he supposed to do now? Ruby's apartment stood in the line of fire. Was she shooting from a window? No doubt about it, and it struck Sam to the core of his unsteady heart that, if Ruby saw him like Romeo spouting poetry under her window, her bullet would crack through his forehead and burst apart his brains. He'd fall dead on the spot, right there, on a smoky street in Detroit.