Prince of Motown
Flook, Maria, TriQuarterly
That April, Marvin Gaye was murdered. Maurice Greene, the father of Iris's six-month-old baby, went to his old shooting den at the Linville Projects. In mourning, he bought a spike and three hits of dope for the weekend. He came home fully schmecked. His shoulder brushed the doorjamb and pitched his torso the opposite way.
"You're gooned," Iris said. She watched him lift his feet to fanciful elevations before dropping them down, picking his way over to her as if he were negotiating cross ties in a switching yard. His spinal column was unhinged, and Iris knew he had put something in his arm, but Maurice exhibited a new and mystical flex, a curious exoneration: Gaye was dead and Maurice was released from all his routine duties. His part-time job at Benny's Home and Auto, his fatherhood responsibilities, all his tasks were shirked, while he paid whacked-out homage to the murdered singer.
For two weeks Iris had watched Maurice crucify himself on piggyback needles, trying for a copycat ascension to mimic Gaye's transformation. High on tar, he spoke to her only in snippets from Gaye's discography, quoting lyrics completely out of context. "I ain't got time to think about money or what it could buy, and I ain't got time to sit around and wonder what makes a birdy fly," he told Iris that morning as he walked out the door.
While Maurice was supposed to be working at the Home and Auto Supply, Iris left the older women in the apartment and instead of taking a cab, wheeled the umbrella stroller to the clinic. The clinic was nine blocks into town. Iris remembered to stretch a plastic dry-cleaning bag across the handles of the stroller for a windbreak, but even so, the baby's eyes were tearing from the cold when she arrived.
Her baby wasn't gaining. The clinic wanted to get a blood sample before Terrell could get his DPT shot on schedule like the normal babies waiting outside with their mothers in the Well Baby Room. Iris was never asked to wait in the cozy, divided area, which was well-stocked with bright toys and ladies' magazines. Iris heard the happy jingles and buzzers of a Busy Box, the cascading notes of xylophones and taut plunking beats of skin drums. Above this din was the high warble of infants and toddlers amusing themselves and the occasional singsong of their mothers. Iris was pulled into an examining stall as soon she arrived. Her baby was scrawny. A nurse pricked his heel with a disposable stylet, which she then discarded in a bright red cylinder for needles and hazardous medical refuse. Next, the nurse wanted to test Iris and get her numbers. Terrell was fussy during the procedures, discomfited by the noisy sheet of crinkled paper on the examining table, and Iris lifted him off.
Afterwards she wheeled the stroller to Classical High School where she tried to catch her old girlfriends when they came outside to switch classes. In the first months, the girls had huddled around Iris and the conspicuous lemon-lime baby stroller. They chatted on the walkway between buildings for ten minutes. When the bell sounded, the girls ran off in different directions. Sometimes, one of her friends brought Iris a drink from the cafeteria, where Iris wasn't permitted to sit down. Iris fancied a local Rhode Island dairy item called Coffee Milk, and her friends brought Iris an eight-ounce carton. They peeled the straw for Iris before trotting off to typing or advanced algebra class. Iris sipped the drink slowly, trying to make it last forty-five minutes, until the bell clanged and the girls reappeared from the classroom building. Several Classical students had had babies in a wave the year after Lady Di had hers. When Iris's baby was born, her teenaged friends stood at the foot of the hospital bed and remarked upon his skin color. Iris held the infant in her arms and blushed at the contrast between them. The baby's skin was a deeper shade than her own. Someone said he looked just like the familiar sweetened coffee drink. …