By Ivy Raff
PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...
Grocery shopping trips became half-day events, and sometimes the highlight of our week.
His swish wine bar closed with all the others, of course, the rapidly gentrifying buzz on Rogers Avenue slamming to near-silence in the town of ghosts Flatbush had become. He sat on my couch before a laptop battling to stream trash TV over a network overburdened with work-from-home traffic. He was frequently fork-deep in the pans of macaroni and cheese I’d bake, the most flavorful I’d ever turned out in my life, owing to the languid time I could now spend letting butter go hazelnut in the skillet.
And so, strolls down Ocean Avenue and the cut eastward on Cortelyou Road, all the way past PS 139 to the Flatbush Food Co-op, became a welcome source of visual variety. The line to enter the co-op would wrap once and twice around the block. Though we were actively weathering a pandemic together, we’d not been an item for a year yet, the Year of our Lord 2020 having robbed our chance to slow-flirt over tapas, to build heat over dressed-up dates at drawling jazz clubs. I returned home to New York from vacation in St. Kitts on March 8, and didn’t wear the scarlet lace bustier I bought there until his birthday in August; such lasciviousness seemed disrespectful amidst the spring’s spiking death tolls. No, no sweet ache of prolonged courtship for us; it was lockdown and then coupledom. His housemate became ill early on with the telltale chest tightening, and so we decided he would stay in my sunny parqueted-floor studio, minimalist in its furnishings, surely roomy enough for both of us for this short time. Surely this will all blow over by the end of April.
And then the end of April ended, the lockdown intensified, my conferences cancelled, the restaurant grates remained grayed down and doorless, expressionless. So the three-hour waits outside the Flatbush Food Co-op became our dates. On those sidewalks he told his stories of growing up on the North End of Detroit. He detailed the early nuptial rumblings between Uncle Howard and Auntie Willa, the Hennessey-fueled infidelities of their fiery youth now cooled into rhythmic forever-hood; his mother’s shoe-beatings over C’s on his report card; the freshman year spent at the University of Missouri, where he confronted racism’s overt and countrified face for the first time in a field outside a gas station, and how he came hightailing home to the city where Black people are in power, where the Mayor Coleman Young of his formative years drew ire and admiration for directing criminals with “blue uniforms and silver shields” to take their asses to the other side of 8 Mile.
We came to know each other in these days, idly rolling the rickety red powder-coated shopping cart back and forth over cracked pavement while waiting to enter the co-op, to press our thumbtips into the skins of heirloom tomatoes, judging firmness.
Ivy Raff is a New Yorker recently relocated to Detroit for love. She has traveled in over 70 countries, and acquired pungent spices in most of them. She lives with her partner, a sommelier, and is slowly acclimating to Midwest Nice. Ivy holds degrees from Fordham University and Baruch College.