Long Bright River

The woman in purple jeans glances back at her friends and then, wordlessly, two of them come toward me and take me by both elbows.

—Don’t say a fuckin’ word, one of them mutters into my ear. Be respectful. You’re at a funeral.

But instinctively, my police training kicks in, and I spin hard enough to knock one of them over onto her hands and knees. The other lets go.

—Oh, no, says the one who’s still standing. She did not just do that.

I hold up my hands. Listen, I say. I think there’s a misunderstanding here.

Suddenly, Kacey is at my side.

—Hey, she says, looking at the four women, not me. Hey. What’s going on?

—This bitch just put her hands on me, says the woman who was knocked to the floor—forgetting, I suppose, who actually laid hands on whom first.

Kacey won’t look at me.

—She’s sorry, says Kacey, about me. Mickey, tell them you’re sorry.

—I don’t, I begin, and Kacey elbows me, hard. Say it, Mickey. Say you’re sorry.

—I’m sorry, I say.

The woman in purple jeans is looking not in my eyes but at my forehead, as if a target were painted there.

She turns to Kacey. She shakes her head. No disrespect to you, Kacey, she says. No disrespect, I know she’s your sister. But you should watch your back. You don’t know everything about her.

Kacey is quiet for a second, looking back and forth between me and this woman, and then—as if a decision has snapped into place in her brain—she flips the woman off and puts her hand roughly on my shoulder, steering me out of the church, past Fran and his mother, who are watching us, confused. I think suddenly of Kacey as a child, rising over and over again to my defense, just waiting for someone to cross me.

A chorus of jeers follows us out of the church, down the steps, to the street.

From inside, the woman calls out to Kacey one more time. Watch your back.

My sister says nothing to me for a while. I walk toward my car, parked just around a corner, and she walks next to me, her breathing heavy.

I don’t know what to say to her either.

—Kacey, I say at last. Thank you.

—No, she says, too quickly. Don’t do that.

We’re at the car already and I pause, embarrassed, uncertain how to proceed.

She looks me directly in the eye for the first time.

—Dad says you came looking for me, she says.

—I wasn’t, I begin. I am about to deny it. I wasn’t looking for you.

Instead I say, I was worried.

She folds her arms over her middle defensively, above her belly. She doesn’t respond.

—Mickey, she says finally. What were they talking about? Those girls?

—I have no idea, I say.

—Are you sure? she says. Is there anything you want to say?

I swallow. I think of Paula. Of my betrayal of Paula’s response, when I asked her to make a report. No fucking way, she said. Get on every cop’s shit list in this godforsaken city.

—No, I say. Kacey, I don’t know what they’re talking about.

She nods, assessing me. For a long time, we’re quiet. On the street, a pack of kids goes streaking by on dirt bikes, popping wheelies, and Kacey doesn’t speak again until the noise of them is gone.

—I trust you, she says.

Kacey declines a ride.

—I took Dad’s car, she says. He’s expecting me home.

So I walk her to his car, and then I say goodbye, on the side of the road, feeling so racked with guilt that my stomach hurts.

* * *

— It’s time to pick up Thomas at Lauren Spright’s house in Northern Liberties. She invites me in. The house itself is big and modern, across from a park that bad kids used to frequent when I was small. Back when this neighborhood was still ours.

The kitchen, which looks like it was built for a show on the Food Network, is on the ground floor, in a big open room with a sliding glass door that leads out to a patio. There’s a Christmas tree out there, a real one, covered in white lights. I’ve never seen this before: a Christmas tree on someone’s back patio. I like it.

—The kids are upstairs, says Lauren. What can I get you to drink? Do you want some coffee?

—Sure, I say. I’m still shaken from what happened at Paula’s mass. Holding something small and warm in my hands would be nice.

—How was the funeral? says Lauren.

I pause.

—Strange, actually, I say.

—How come?

Lauren is pouring hot water directly onto ground coffee in a tall glass cylinder. She puts a lid on it that has a kind of stem at the top, and lets it sit there. I’ve never seen coffee made this way before. I don’t ask questions.

—It’s a long story, I say.

—I’ve got time, says Lauren.

From upstairs, the sound of a crash, and then a pause, and then smothered giggles.

—Maybe, says Lauren.

I consider her. It is tempting, actually, to unburden everything I know to Lauren, who’s a good listener, who seems to have an organized and happy life. Lauren Spright and her people seem to have everything figured out. There is a part of me that thinks, looking at her, I could have had this. I could have had a different career, a different house, a different life. When we first became involved, Simon and I used to talk about making a life together, after his son Gabriel was grown. I want to tell Lauren about all the plans I had. I want Lauren to know that I did well in school. I want to pour out the facts of my life into the open, friendly vessel of Lauren Spright, whose broad, pretty face is turned toward me welcomingly, whose very name sounds like something innocent and charmed.

I don’t. I hear Gee’s voice in my ear, telling me, You can’t trust them. She never said who they were, but I’m certain that Lauren Spright qualifies. As wrong as Gee was about everything else, there is a large part of me, maybe all of me, that still agrees with her on this point.

That night, after I put Thomas to bed, my phone rings.

I look at it.

Dan Fitzpatrick cell, it says. When my father gave his number to me, I couldn’t bring myself to save it under Dad. Nothing so chummy as that.

I answer.

He doesn’t say anything at first, and then I hear soft breathing that I recognize as someone else’s.

—Kacey? I say.

—Hi, she says.

—You okay?

—Listen, says Kacey, after another pause. I’m going to tell you something important. And it’s up to you to decide whether or not to believe me.

—All right, I say.

—I know you haven’t always believed me in the past, says Kacey.

I close my eyes.

—I asked around today, says Kacey. I called some friends. Tried to figure out what people are saying about you.

—All right, I say again.


—Are you with Truman Dawes? she says.

—What do you mean? I say.

Hearing his name like this, so suddenly, is jarring. I haven’t heard from him since I clumsily tried to kiss him. Out of guilt and embarrassment, I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about him.

—I mean right now, says Kacey. Is he with you. In the same car. In the same room.

—No, I say. I’m at home.

Kacey goes quiet.

—Why? I say. Kacey?

—They think he’s the one, says my sister. They think he killed Paula and all the rest of them. And they think you know about it.

Every part of me rebels.

No, I think.

This can’t be true. It isn’t possible. My fundamental understanding of Truman does not permit me to believe what I’ve just heard.

I open and close my mouth. I breathe.

On the other end of the phone, I hear Kacey breathing too. Waiting for me to respond. Measuring, in my long pause, my trust in her.

I think of the last time I doubted her: how I took Simon’s word over hers; how profoundly incorrect I was. The ways in which that one word, No, affected the course of our lives.

And so instead I say to her, Thank you.

—Thank you? says Kacey.

—For telling me.

And then I hang up the phone.

* * *

A churning, uncomfortable dissonance roils inside me. My belief in my own instincts conflicts with my belief in Kacey’s words. The only solution, it seems to me, lies in allowing Kacey’s assertion to be a theory that must be proved—or disproved—with evidence.

I’m down the stairs, knocking at Mrs. Mahon’s door, in a hurry.

When Mrs. Mahon opens it, I’ve already got my jacket on and my purse in my hand.

—I know, she says, before I can say anything. Go do what you need to do. I’ll stay with Thomas upstairs. I’ll fall asleep there if I need to.

—I’m so sorry, I say. I’m so sorry, Mrs. Mahon. I’ll pay you.

—Mickey, she says. This is the most useful I’ve felt since Patrick died.

—All right, I say. Thank you. Thank you.

Then, cringing, I ask something else of her. I don’t think I’ve ever asked so much of anyone in my life.

—How would you feel if we swapped cars? I say. Would you mind if I borrowed yours for a while?

By now, Mrs. Mahon is laughing. Whatever you need, Mickey, she says. She fetches her keys from off the hook in her entryway, and I hand Mrs. Mahon my own.

—It’s got good pickup, says Mrs. Mahon. Just so you know.

—Thank you, I say again, and Mrs. Mahon waves a hand dismissively.