Long Bright River

—Nothing? I say. She hasn’t been IDed?

Again, Ahearn shakes his head. I’m not sure if I believe him. Ahearn is strange: he likes to keep his cards close to his chest, even when he has no reason to. A habit meant mainly to emphasize the relatively insignificant amount of power he wields over us, I believe. He’s never liked me. I attribute this to a mistake I made once, shortly after he was transferred into this district from another one: he gave out some misinformation during roll call about a perpetrator we were looking for, and I raised my hand to correct the record. It was a silly, thoughtless move on my part—the kind of thing, I realized too late, I should have told him after the fact, to preserve order and rank—but most sergeants would let this small infraction slide, would say thank you and perhaps make a joke about it. Ahearn, on the other hand, gave me a look I will not soon forget. Truman and I used to joke that Ahearn had it out for me. Beneath the lightness of these exchanges, I believe that both of us were actually concerned.

Now, I say to Ahearn: I’d never seen her working before. Just in case you were wondering.

—I wasn’t, says Ahearn.

You should have been, I want to say. It’s important information. It means, perhaps, that she was either new to our district or simply passing through. Patrol officers are the ones who know our sectors best: we’re the ones on the streets, getting to know every store and residence, getting to know the citizens who populate them. The East Detectives who came out to the scene did ask me that question, at least, and several other questions as well that mollified me with their specificity.

I say none of this. I tap once on his doorframe. Turn to leave.

Before I can, Ahearn speaks. He’s looking at his computer, not at me.

—How’s Truman? he says.

I pause. Taken aback.

—Fine, I assume, I say.

—You haven’t heard from him lately?

I shrug. It’s difficult to figure out Ahearn’s agenda sometimes, but I’ve learned he always has one.

—That’s funny, says Ahearn. I thought you guys were close.

He holds my gaze for just a moment longer than I’d like.

On the way home, I call Gee. We speak only rarely, these days. We see each other even less. When Thomas was born, I made the decision to give him an entirely different sort of upbringing than the one I experienced, and this means avoiding Gee—avoiding all the O’Briens, really—as much as possible. Begrudgingly, out of some unshakable sense of family obligation, I perform the perfunctory ritual of bringing Thomas to visit Gee sometime around Christmas, and I phone her once in a while to make sure she’s still alive. Although she complains about it on occasion, I don’t think she’s actually bothered by our absence. She never calls me. She never offers any help with Thomas, though she’s able-bodied enough to work her catering job all right, and to put in her hours at Thriftway, too. Lately, I’ve developed the conviction that if I stopped contacting her we’d never speak again.

—Go ahead, says Gee, after several rings. The same way she always answers the phone.

—It’s me, I say, and Gee says, Me who.

—Mickey, I say.

—Oh, says Gee. Didn’t recognize your voice.

I pause, letting the implication settle. The perennial guilt trip. There it is.

—I was just wondering, I say, whether you’d heard from Kacey lately.

—Why do you care, says Gee, warily.

—No reason, I say.

—Nope, says Gee. You know I steer clear. You know her shit don’t fly with me. I steer clear, she says again, just for emphasis.

—All right, I say. Will you tell me if you hear from her?

—What are you up to, says Gee. Suspicious.

—Nothing, I say.

—You’d stay away too, says Gee, if you knew what was good for you.

—I do, I say.

After a brief pause, Gee says, I know you do.


—How’s my baby, says Gee, changing the subject. She has always been kinder to Thomas than she ever was to us. She spoils him when she sees him, produces from her purse mountains of ancient, half-melted candy that she unwraps and feeds him with her hands. I see, in these small charities, an echo of the way she must have been with her own daughter, our mother, Lisa.

—He’s very fresh these days, I say. Not meaning it.

—You stop, says Gee. Very faintly, at last, I hear a smile in her voice. You stop that. Don’t talk about my boy like that.

—He is, I say.

I wait. There is a part of me that hopes, still, that Gee will come around first, that she’ll ask me to bring Thomas by, that she’ll offer to babysit, that she’ll ask to come see our new place.

—Anything else? Gee says, at last.

—No, I say. I think that’s it.

Before I can say anything further, she’s hung up the phone.

The landlady, Mrs. Mahon, is raking in her front yard when I pull into the driveway. Mrs. Mahon lives in an old two-story colonial with a haphazard apartment built above it as a third-floor addition. The apartment—ours, now, for the better part of a year—is accessed by a rickety staircase up the back of the house. The lot is small, but there’s a long backyard behind the house that Thomas can use, and an ancient tire swing that hangs from a tree. Aside from the backyard, the apartment’s main appeal is its price: five hundred dollars a month, utilities included. I found it on the recommendation of another officer’s brother, who was moving out of it. It’s not much, the brother said, but it’s clean, and the landlady gets stuff fixed fast. I’ll take it, I said. That same day, I listed for sale my house in Port Richmond. It pained me to; I loved the house. I had no other choice.

Out the driver’s-side window, now, I wave quickly at Mrs. Mahon, who pauses when she sees me, stands with an elbow on top of the wooden handle of her rake.

I get out. Wave once more. There are groceries in the backseat, and I occupy my hands with them, making small noises to indicate my great and perennial haste. I have always sensed, from Mrs. Mahon, a needfulness that I do not feel prepared to examine. For one thing, she is almost always standing in the front yard, waiting to engage anyone who might pass by (I have noticed that the postman, too, wears a wary expression as he approaches); and to me she always looks simultaneously worried and hopeful, as if wishing to be asked what’s concerning her, so that she may expound upon it for a while. Unbidden, she dispenses advice—about the apartment, about the car, about our choice of attire, which is generally incorrect for the weather, according to Mrs. Mahon—with the kind of urgency one might typically reserve for medical emergencies. She has short white hair and soft ropes of flesh between her chin and her collarbones that sway when she moves her head. She wears seasonal sweatshirts and loose light blue jeans. I have heard from the next-door neighbors that she was once married, but—if this is the case—nobody seems to know what happened to her husband. When I am feeling unkind, I imagine he might have died of annoyance. Whenever Thomas has a moment of bad behavior getting into or out of the car, I can count on Mrs. Mahon to be gazing at us from her window, a referee watching a play. Occasionally she has even emerged to get a better look, arms crossed in front of her, displeased.

Today, when I straighten up from the backseat, holding my groceries, Mrs. Mahon says, Someone stopped by for you.

I frown.

—Who? I say.

Mrs. Mahon looks very gratified to be asked this question.

He didn’t leave his name, she says. Only told me he’d come by another time.

—What did he look like? I say.

—Tall, says Mrs. Mahon. Dark hair. Very handsome, she says, conspiratorially.

Simon. A little pang in my abdomen. I say nothing.

—What did you tell him? I say.

—Said you weren’t home.

—Did he say anything else? I say. Did Thomas see him?

—No, says Mrs. Mahon. He just rang my bell. He was confused. I think he thought you lived in my house.

—And did you correct him? I say. Did you tell him we lived in the apartment upstairs?

—No, says Mrs. Mahon. She frowns. I didn’t know him. I didn’t tell him anything.

I hesitate. It goes against every one of my instincts to let Mrs. Mahon in on any part of my life, but in this case, I believe I have no choice.

—Why, says Mrs. Mahon.

—If he stops by again, I say, just tell him we moved out. Tell him we don’t live here anymore. Whatever you want to say.

Mrs. Mahon stands a bit taller. Proud to be given an assignment, perhaps.

—Just so long as you’re not bringing any trouble around here, she says. I don’t want any trouble in my life.

—He’s not dangerous, I say. I’m just not talking to him. We moved here for a reason.

Mrs. Mahon nods. I am surprised to see something like approval in her eyes.

—All right, she says. I’ll do that, then.

—Thank you, Mrs. Mahon, I say.

Mrs. Mahon waves me off.

Then, unable to restrain herself a moment longer, she tells me, That bag is going to break.

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