Long Bright River

—Connor didn’t know about the women, Kacey says. That’s the one thing he didn’t know. He didn’t know that Lafferty had been seen with the four victims. He didn’t know people were talking in Kensington. When I told him, he freaked. Punched a wall.

—Noble, I say.

—He can be, says Kacey pensively.

—Anyway, she says, he had Lafferty’s phone number, and he called him right away. Told him he had a business proposal for him, and he wanted to see him in person at the cathedral. Once Lafferty got there, I texted you from Connor’s phone. And I texted Truman Dawes, too.

—How did you have Truman’s number? I say.

—Oh, says Kacey. He gave it to me years ago. I don’t think you were even there that day. He came across me on the Ave when I was pretty bad off, looking down and out, and he gave me his card. Said if I ever needed anything, if I ever wanted to get clean, to give him a ring. I memorized it.

—Oh, I say. Yes. He does that.

—He’s a good person, she says. Isn’t he.

—He is, I say.

She smiles, unaware.

—Well, she says, I’m glad it all worked out.

And suddenly I can’t believe her: the danger she put us all in. Truman. Me. Thomas. Herself. And the baby she’s carrying, too.

I stop walking and turn toward her. Goddammit, I say. Goddammit, Kacey.

She flinches, slightly. What? she says. Don’t shout.

—How could you do that to me? I say. Put me in the position you put me in today. I have a son to think about.

Kacey goes silent. Both of us turn away from one another and start to walk again. In my peripheral vision, I see Kacey begin to shiver, her teeth chattering.

We reach an intersection and I stop at the crosswalk to let the cars go by. But Kacey continues. She walks out into traffic, blindly. A car screeches to a halt. The one behind it nearly rams into it. Horns go off in all directions.

—Kacey, I call.

She doesn’t turn around. I toe the ground in front of the sidewalk. The cars don’t slow. I wait until, at last, I have the right of way, and then I break into a trot. Kacey is fifty feet ahead of me, walking fast. She turns the corner onto the Avenue, and I lose sight of her momentarily.



* * *





When I finally reach the Ave, I turn left, like Kacey did, and I see her twenty yards away, squatting on the ground, elbows on her knees, head in hands. Her belly points down, toward the sidewalk. I can’t tell from here, but it looks like she’s crying.

I slow to a walk. I approach Kacey carefully. We’re at the intersection where she and Paula used to work, right in front of Alonzo’s store, and I have the feeling, now, that if I say or do the wrong thing, I’ll lose her: the Avenue will take her back, away from me. Kacey will sink into the ground and disappear.

I stand over my sister for a minute. She’s shaking with sobs. She’s crying so hard that she’s gasping for breath. She doesn’t look up.

—Kacey, I say.

I put a hand, finally, on my sister’s shoulder.

Violently, Kacey windmills her arm.

I bend down, get to eye level with her. Pedestrians move around us.

—What’s going on? I say. Kacey?

She lifts her head up, at last, and looks at me. Looks me right in the eye. Says, Get the fuck away from me.

I stand again. What the hell, Kacey, I say. What did I do?

Kacey stands up, too, chest out, belly out. I brace myself.

—You knew, Kacey says. You might not have known about Lafferty, but you knew this shit happened. You must have. You’d been told before.

I bristle.

—I didn’t, I say. Nobody ever told me.

Kacey laughs loudly, once.

—I told you, says Kacey. Me. Your own sister. I told you that Simon Cleare took advantage of me when I couldn’t say no. You didn’t believe me. You said I was lying.

—That’s different, I say. I was wrong about that. But it’s different.

Kacey smiles, sadly.

—What’s Simon? she says. What is he? Is Simon a cop?

I close my eyes. Breathe in.

—Because I thought he was, says Kacey.

Kacey looks at me for a long time, searching my face.

Then she looks past me, toward the corner, toward Alonzo’s store. She’s frozen. I turn, finally, to see what she sees, but no one is there. And I know, without asking, that Kacey is picturing Paula Mulroney standing there, one leg propped up against the wall, cocky, smiling, her usual stance.

—They were my friends, says Kacey, quietly now. All of them. Even the ones I didn’t know.

—I’m sorry, I say at last.

She doesn’t reply.

—Kacey, I’m sorry, I say again.

But the El train is going by now, and I don’t know if my sister can hear me.





LIST





Sean Geoghehan; Kimberly Gummer; Kimberly Brewer, Kimberly Brewer’s mother and uncle; Britt-Anne Conover; Jeremy Haskill; two of the younger DiPaolantonio boys; Chuck Bierce; Maureen Howard; Kaylee Zanella; Chris Carter and John Marks (one day apart, victims of the same bad batch, someone said); Carlo, whose last name I can never remember; Taylor Bowes’s boyfriend, and then Taylor Bowes a year later; Pete Stockton; the granddaughter of our former neighbors; Hayley Driscoll; Shayna Pietrewski; Pat Bowman; Sean Bowman; Shawn Williams; Juan Moya; Toni Chapman; Dooney Jacobs and his mother; Melissa Gill; Meghan Morrow; Meghan Hanover; Meghan Chisholm; Meghan Greene; Hank Chambliss; Tim and Paul Flores; Robby Symons; Ricky Todd; Brian Aldrich; Mike Ashman; Cheryl Sokol; Sandra Broach; Lisa Morales; Mary Lynch; Mary Bridges and her niece, who was her age, and her friend; Mikey Hughes’s father and uncle; two great-uncles we rarely see. Our cousin Tracy. Our cousin Shannon. Our mother. Our mother. Our mother. All of them children, all of them gone. People with promise, people dependent and depended upon, people loving and beloved, one after another, in a line, in a river, no fount and no outlet, a long bright river of departed souls.





NOW





Some days, I spend hours on my laptop, visiting online memorials for those who’ve died. They’re all still there: Facebook pages, funeral home websites, blogs. The deceased are digital ghosts, the last posts they ever made buried beneath a tidal wave of grief, of commands to Rest In Peace, of in-fighting between friends and enemies who claim that half the people on the page are fake, whatever that means. Their girlfriends still posting happy birthday baby two years after they’re gone, as if the Internet were a crystal ball, a Ouija board, a portal to the afterlife. In a way, I suppose, it is.

It’s become a habit of mine to look at these pages, and at the pages of the friends and family members of the deceased, first thing in the morning. How is the mother holding up, I wonder. And I check. How is the best friend? The boyfriend? (Usually, it is the boyfriends who move on first: down come the profile pictures of the happy couple, posing in a mirror; up goes a picture he has taken of himself; next will come the new woman in his life.) Sometimes, friends are bitter. u promised kyle. i swear if one more person dies. why kyle. rip. People in the throes of addiction are hardest on others like them. THA WHOLE NTHEAST IS FULLA FUKN JUNKIES, one of them rants, and I know I’ve pulled him in before for dealing. In his pictures he’s glazed and dreamy.



* * *





When I think about Kacey, when I wonder whether she will find the strength and luck and perseverance to get and stay clean, it is these souls I think of first. How few ever seem to make it out. I think of the Piper, the whole town of Hamelin, shocked in his wake, abandoned and condemned.

But then I look at Kacey—who comes to visit most Sundays now, who at this moment is sitting on my couch, who on this day has 189 days clean—and think, maybe she’ll be one of the few. The veteran of some war, wounded but alive. Maybe Kacey will outlive us all, will live to be a hundred and five. Maybe Kacey will be all right.



* * *





Letting hope back in feels right and wrong all at once. Like letting Thomas sleep in my bed when he really should sleep in his.

Like letting him meet the woman who brought him into the world.

Like breaking an oath of loyalty when you know a secret needs telling.





I turned in my uniform. Thomas was happy to see it go. The day I did, I worked up some courage and called Truman Dawes, holding my breath until he answered.

—It’s Mickey, I said.

—I know who it is, he said.

—I just wanted to tell you I quit, I said. I quit the force.

Truman paused for a while. Congratulations, he said finally.

—And I’m sorry, I said, closing my eyes. I’m so sorry for the way I treated you this year. You deserve better.

I could hear him breathing. I appreciate that, he said. But then he told me he had to go tend to his mother, and in his voice I heard that he was through, that I had lost him forever.

This happens, I tell myself. Sometimes, this happens.



* * *