Long Bright River

The crying child is five feet away from us. We watch as a nurse materializes, leans down into the bassinet, and lifts into her arms a tiny baby in a blanket and cap.

Where, I wonder, is his mother?

—There, says the nurse. Oh, now, there.

She places the baby on her shoulder, begins to sway. I think of my mother. I think of Thomas. My body remembers both being held and holding.

The nurse pats the baby firmly on the diaper. She puts a pacifier into his tiny mouth.

But his crying continues: little hiccupping wails, high as a birdsong, that can’t be soothed.

The nurse lowers him again into his bassinet and unswaddles him. She checks his diaper. She swaddles him tightly again. Lifts him into her arms. Still, he cries.

Another nurse walks past her and reaches for the chart at the end of the bassinet.

—Oh, she says. He’s due.

—I’ll bring it, she says, and walks away, toward the other end of the room.

My sister, beside me, is still frozen in place. I hear her breathing, light and quick and shallow. Gently, instinctively, she places a hand on the head of her sleeping, unnamed daughter.

The second nurse returns with a dropper.

The first nurse places the child, still crying, into the bassinet.

The dropper is lowered. The child turns his head toward it, toward the medicine, seeking it. He remembers it.

He opens his mouth. He drinks.


Thank you to those who have spoken to me over the years about their personal experiences with a variety of the subjects covered in this novel, especially India, Matt, David, José, Krista Killen, and the women of the Thea Bowman Center.

Thank you to photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge, who has dedicated a large part of his life to photographing Kensington, and who first introduced me to the neighborhood in 2009. Without his introduction, this novel would not have been written.

Thank you to Natalie Weaver, Father Michael Duffy, and the staff of St. Francis Inn for your friendship, your service to the community, and the opportunity to get to know your organization. Thank you also to Women in Transition and Mighty Writers, two other organizations that provide indispensable aid to the city of Philadelphia and its residents.

Thank you to Zoe Van Orsdol, Signe Espinoza, Dr. Charles O’Brien, Nathaniel Popkin, Marjorie Just, and Clarence for your help with the research that informed this novel and related writing projects, and to Jessica Soffer and Mac Casey for reading and discussing early drafts.

Thank you to the authors of the following books, which provided useful information as I wrote: Voices of Kensington: Vanishing Mills, Vanishing Neighborhoods, by Jean Seder, with photography by Nancy Hellebrand; Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz Age to the New Deal, by Sharon McConnell-Sidorick; Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890–1950, by Philip Scranton and Walter Licht; Whitetown USA, by Peter Binzen; and the WPA Guide to Philadelphia.

Thank you to Seth Fishman and the Gernert team; to Sarah McGrath, Jynne Dilling Martin, Kate Stark, and the Riverhead team; and to Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and the Gotham team, for your professional guidance and your friendship, too.

Thank you to the many family members, friends, and providers of childcare who facilitated the writing of this book. Every day, I’m grateful for you.