Long Bright River

There are only six structures in front of me, and two of them are open shells with no roof. The other four look abandoned to me, but intact.

I get close to the side of one of them, ready to duck into an empty lot if anyone comes out. I listen for a while, trying to hear any other noises that might give Truman’s location away. But all I hear is my own breathing, my own blood as it rushes in my ears. Beyond that, traffic from the Avenue. The El shuttling by on its tracks.

* * *

I advance. I peer into the boarded-up windows of each house, one after another. I see nothing through the windows of the first two on my left. When I peer between two boards blocking a window in the third house, I catch a glimpse of movement, some shadowy figure crossing the room. I cup my hands around my eyes, trying to darken the outside world so I can see what’s happening better.

Everything inside is still.

Then I hear a voice. Truman’s voice, very quiet.

I can’t hear exactly what he’s saying, but I can see that he’s talking to someone on the ground. Truman bends down, and then I can’t see him anymore, or what he’s doing.

I think of Kacey. Of all that she endured for a decade on these streets. I think of Paula. Before I change my mind, I draw my weapon and pull open the unlocked door of the house.

I edge in through the doorframe sideways, trying to make myself a small target, as I have been taught.

My eyes, as usual, are slow to adjust inside the dark house. A figure—Truman—raises his head abruptly.

—Don’t move, I say, aiming my weapon at his chest. Don’t move. Put your hands up.

He complies. In silhouette, he raises his arms.

I look around wildly. There’s a second person in the room. In the dark, I can’t make out any identifying characteristics. She’s lying on the floor, in between Truman’s legs.

Truman’s suitcase is closed and lying on the floor beside him.

I keep my weapon pointed at him.

—Who’s on the ground? I say.

—Mickey, says Truman.

—Who is it? Is she hurt? I say.

—Tell me, I say.

But I can hear my voice getting weaker, losing its authority.

Truman speaks, at last. What the hell are you doing here, he says quietly.

—I’m just, I say, but I hesitate, and then find that I can’t finish.

—Put your weapon away, Mickey, says Truman.

With the Glock, I gesture to the suitcase. What’s in there? I say.

—I’ll show you, says Truman. I’ll open it and show you.

The woman at his feet hasn’t moved an inch.

Truman crouches next to the suitcase. He says, I’m just going to take out my phone, all right?

Slowly, he reaches into his breast pocket and removes it. He shines the phone’s flashlight toward the suitcase, and unzips it. He flips open the lid.

I can’t, at first, see what’s inside. I take two steps forward, peering into it. What I see are sweatshirts, gloves, hats, woolen socks. Hand warmers and foot warmers, the chemical kind that last for eight or ten hours. Energy bars. Chocolate bars. Bottles of water. And, zipped into the netting on the underside of the suitcase’s lid: a dozen or so doses of Narcan nasal spray.

—I don’t understand, I say.

In my peripheral vision, the figure on the ground moves slightly. I swing back, aim my weapon in her direction briefly before turning it once more on Truman.

—He’s still conscious, says Truman. But we shouldn’t wait much longer.

—What do you mean, I say, he?

Truman shines his phone toward the figure. And suddenly I see my mistake.

—Who is that? I say.

—Name’s Carter, I think, says Truman. That’s the name he gave me, anyway.

Slowly, with a dawning sense of shame, I walk toward the person on the floor. It’s not a woman at all. It’s a boy, a young boy, sixteen or so, the same age Kacey was the first time I ever saw her in this state. He’s skinny, African-American, dressed vaguely like a punk, eyeliner on his eyes, trying hard to look older than he is. The childish slightness of his frame betrays him.

He’s gone completely still again.

—Oh no, I say.

Truman says nothing.

—Oh no, I say again.

—Do you want to dose him, or should I? says Truman flatly, gesturing down toward the Narcan in his suitcase.

Later, on the street, we wait together for the ambulance to arrive.

The victim, Carter, is revived, sitting on the ground, crying, dismayed. I don’t need an ambulance, he’s wailing, ineffectively. I gotta go. His sleeves come down over his fingers; he holds them there. I try to place a hand on his shoulder and he shrugs it off.

—Sit still, says Truman sharply, and the boy listens, finally resigned.

Truman is off to the side, not looking at me.

Several times, I try to speak, to consider how best to apologize. For today. For what happened at Duke’s. In general. But no words come to mind.

—What are you doing here? I say, finally.

Truman looks at me for a long time before responding. As if deciding whether I deserve an explanation.

At last, he speaks. For a while, he says, he’s been volunteering with Mr. Wright. Every day he can get to Kensington, he stops into Mr. Wright’s store and picks up a suitcase that Mr. Wright has filled with supplies, and then he roams around the neighborhood, doing what he can to help. Giving people food and supplies. Administering Narcan when necessary. It’s something Mr. Wright’s been doing, he says, for a decade, ever since his sons died. But now Mr. Wright is getting older, less mobile, and someone has to fill his shoes.

—That’s really nice of you, I say, uselessly. Weakly. But my heart is sinking. Apologize, I think. Apologize, Mickey.

But a new thought is occurring to me, distracting me.

—The attack, I say with something like sadness. The man who attacked you.

—What about it?

—It wasn’t random, I say. Was it.

He looks down the block.

—People don’t like me poking around here, he says.

—You knew him?

—I’d pulled him off his girlfriend a day or two before. Found him beating the shit out of her. Pulled him off.

—Why didn’t you say anything to me? I ask.

He looks at me impatiently. How was I supposed to explain what I was doing in some abando off duty? he says. To you or anyone?

I have no good answer.

I look away.

—Well? says Truman finally.

—Well what?

—Your turn, he says. His mouth is a line. There is no warmth in his voice.

—I was following you, I say.

I feel helpless and resigned. I have no capacity at the moment to tell him anything but the truth. My eyes are focused on the cracks in the pavement, on the little weeds and pebbles that have made their way into each crevice.

—Why, says Truman quietly.

I exhale. I say, They said you were the one.


—Kacey’s friends.

Truman nods.

—And you believed them, he says.

—I didn’t, I say.

Truman laughs, but his voice is hard. Ah, he says. And yet here we are.

I say nothing. I look down at the ground a while longer.

—It was an unhappy coincidence, I begin, but Truman interrupts me.

—Why do you talk like that, says Truman. Mickey. Why do you talk like that?

An interesting question, actually. I think for a bit. Ms. Powell used to tell us that people would judge us based on our grammar. It’s not fair, she said, but it’s true. Your grammar and your accent. Ask yourself, how do you want to be perceived by the world? said Ms. Powell.

—I had a teacher, I begin, and Truman says, Ms. Powell. Ms. Powell. I know.

—Mickey, he says, you’re thirty-three years old.

—And? I say.

He doesn’t reply.

—And? I say again, raising my head. Only then do I see that Truman isn’t beside me anymore. I look to my right and see only the back of him, a lifted heel as he disappears around a corner at the end of the block.

I realize, suddenly, how long it’s been since I’ve checked my phone. When I do, I see I have three missed calls.

All of them are from my own landline.

I have one voicemail, as well.

I don’t listen to it. I call the house.

—It’s Mickey, I say. Are you all right, Mrs. Mahon? Is Thomas?

—Oh, now, everything’s fine, says Mrs. Mahon. It’s only Thomas seems to have come down with something.

—What does he have? I say.

—Well, says Mrs. Mahon, unfortunately, there’s been some throwing up.

—Oh no, I say. Mrs. Mahon, I’m so sorry.

—Don’t worry, says Mrs. Mahon. I got to put my nursing degree to use. He seems a bit better already, though. He’s eating crackers now. You might want to pick up something hydrating on your way home.

—I’ll be home in forty-five minutes, I say.

* * *

On the drive, I call my father.

—I need to talk to Kacey, I say.

A second later, my sister is on the line.

—Hang on, says Kacey.

In the background, I can hear her footsteps as she walks someplace. Seeking privacy, probably.

A door closes.

—Go ahead, says Kacey.

Quickly, I give her a summary of my day.

—I really don’t think it could be Truman, I say, at the end. No matter what your friends said.

Kacey pauses, considering this.