Written by Keith Owens, co-founder of Detroit Stories Quarterly
“But I found them!”
“Girl, gimme those glasses now. Ain’t no way you just found some glasses like those.”
“Daddy, I didn’t steal them, I swear! I found them on that bench next to the bus stop! Besides, I’m not the one who steals in this family. That’s George.”
“Arielle? You do not wanna make me say this one more time. And leave your brother out of this.”
Until that moment, George, who was already approaching a wobbly 200-plus pounds of chocolate brown Pillsbury Doughboy at the age of 13, was trying his best to pretend he was asleep on the living room couch in front of the TV where Bugs Bunny danced, pranced, pranked and teased. But being called a thief, regardless of whether it was true, required a response. So he grunted, then raised a chubby finger into the air as if to issue an important proclamation.
“I ain’t,” he said sleepily.
“Say ain’t one more, time, boy. Go ahead. Say it,” said his father, his eyes like twin warnings.
The children were his mission, and the mission in this stress-worn Detroit neighborhood was to raise them as proof; proof that flowers still grew from the shadows and cracks. Defiant in technicolor splendor amidst the gray ruins. His will would be done, even though George had already rolled back over onto the couch, his face mashed blissfully into the cushion, feigning deep sleep. The father, closer to 300 pounds (not wobbly), grabbed a switch from off the wall next to the kitchen table and took three earth-shattering steps toward the living room to wreak grammatical havoc on his only son (as he had done so-many-times-and-counting prior to today with no noticeable result).
The left leg of the father, big as an oak tree and just as firm and unforgiving, was raised into the air in preparation for landing that perilous fourth step which would bring him within striking range. It remained poised in the air, frozen in space and time, as the father (somehow balancing all 300-plus pounds of righteous parental anger on the other oak tree) refocused his eyes from the now miraculously alert and awake only son George to his baby girl, Arielle, who regarded him with near disgust from just to his left. Her small cocoa arms were folded adult-style across her bird-like chest, covered by a lime green T-shirt that yelled NOPE across the front in large black letters.
“For saying ‘ain’t’, Dad? Seriously? For saying ‘ain’t’? You say ain’t all the time!”
“I don’t. And if you don’t hand over those glasses then I’ll deal with you soon as I get finished with George.”
“Daddy you never get finished with me! You just always pick up beating me where you left off!”
“Shut up, George. I’m talking to your sister.”
“Daddy, your foot still up in the air. You gonna put it down?” said Arielle. “And you do say ain’t all the time. I be hearin’ you when you talkin’ to your friends on the phone. Especially when you talkin’ to Big Fred. Always talkin’ about what you did when y’all was kids on Belle Isle with those girls. How you made me and George on Belle Isle? Really? You think I don’t be listenin’, but…”
“You don’t want me to put this foot down, Arielle. You do not. And I’m an adult so when I say ‘ain’t’ it’s different. If I let you reach adulthood maybe you’ll find that out. But right now you’re not in adulthood you’re in my ‘hood, so don’t get smart with me. And stop talking like you don’t know any better. Do not test me, girl.”
“You made that one too easy, daddy. I don’t have to get smart ‘cause I am smart. But these glasses. Look at them, though. Look at how they shaped like stars. OK, maybe not like how real stars are shaped up in the universe and all that because I’m doing good in science and I know about that. But like how they’re shaped like, you know, regular stars. Like that Bootsy with the big teeth and the funny hat you listen to in the car all the time. See how they keep changing colors? And how they glow? Look.”
Arielle was standing directly in her father’s interrupted path, her stance a challenge, holding up the glasses towards his face with both hands, offering them for voluntary inspection and maybe a peace offering. Not surrendering them in response to her father’s demand, but as a child’s plea to be heard.
Slowly, the father lowered his now de-weaponized left leg. There would be no dreaded fourth step. But now something had changed in his stern expression, the hardwood lines etched years deep into the nighttime blackness of his face, yielding to a softer emotion as curiosity stepped in. He leaned down, extending a heavily muscled arm led by an open hand missing two fingers.
The father took the offering gently, then stood back up and examined the strange-looking frames from all angles. He shook his head slowly.
“Strangest thing. Never seen anything like these.”
“Put them on, Daddy.”
He regarded his daughter with one eyebrow raised, a crooked smile easing across his features like dawn.
“Might make you look kinda cool,” said George, who was now perched anxiously on the edge of the sofa, paying close attention to everything with wide eyes.
The father chuckled.
“Yeah. They just might.”
So he put them on. And then he waited. And Arielle waited. And George waited.
And then the father laughed. It began as a child-like giggle, but then rolled like a tidal wave up his throat exploding into a spontaneous eruption of joy fantastic.
“Children? You all need to come take another look at your city. I think just maybe we’re gonna be all right after all.”