Susan R. Weinstein

That Morning on Montgomery Place

My husband and I lived in Brooklyn in the 90s, at the peak of crime in New York City. I tried not to worry but I have an active imagination, which is great for a writer but not for the wife of a cop. I told myself I would refuse to live in fear but one night when I was pregnant and he was at work, I was watching 60 Minutes and there was a newsbreak that said, “Cop shot in Brooklyn. News at 11!” I sat on the couch, stunned, feeling my twin babies kick inside me, wondering if my pounding heart woke them up.

We moved to Montgomery Place in Park Slope one week after I gave birth to our daughters, who arrived three months premature and then spent months in the hospital on life support. I often wondered if I would ever stop worrying about them. But as their health slowly improved and they hit milestones, the fear subsided. It was still there, though, lurking.

One day, I stood at the kitchen counter slicing strawberries when my daughter, Sonya, climbed up a small bookcase filled with breakable items. It toppled over. Luckily, the bookcase hit a table which stopped it from landing on her. But all the items crashed to the floor and she sat there, terrified, crying in a pile of broken glass. I lifted her up, relieved she wasn’t hurt. 

Picking up the largest pieces of broken China plates, glass candlesticks and my grandmother’s porcelain vase, I dropped them into the garbage. Just stuff, I thought. Later, on the subway holding the pole above my head, a woman sitting in front of me, gazed at me, wide-eyed. My hand was cut and bleeding down my arm. She silently handed me a tissue. 

My husband spent the night bolting furniture to the wall.

The following day was beautiful, a sunny October morning. I could feel the chill in the air as I stepped out on my stone stoop and looked down the block. Montgomery Place, with its dramatic brownstones and gas lanterns, looked much like it did one hundred years ago. It felt quaint, and safe. I thought of the Victorian era movie filmed on our block that July. Though catering tables littered the sidewalks and the production trailers hogged parking spots, it was magical to see someone shoveling fake feathery snow on a hot, summer day. I admired the actresses in long multi-petticoated dresses and tight bodices, their hair piled high in extravagant chignons. Movies like Goodfellas were shot in grittier Brooklyn neighborhoods, far from Montgomery Place where two-income families moved for the good public elementary school and proximity to beautiful Prospect Park.

Mornings were always a juggle on the weeks my husband worked the day shift. When our babysitter, Eugenia, arrived each weekday, I had to leave almost immediately to make it to my office in midtown Manhattan. But that morning, I took a minute on our stoop to notice how the October sunlight bathed the orange leaves in a morning glow. Looking at our large pumpkin, I thought of the fun it would be to carve it on Halloween.

The morning had gone smoothly. Both girls sat in front of Sesame Street with two bottles and two plastic bowls of dry Cheerios. They didn’t look away from Elmo until Eugenia rang the buzzer.

As I walked down the block, I noticed a father walking the same direction on the sidewalk across the street, angrily berating his daughter. She looked to be about 7, crying and frantically trying to keep up with him as he yelled at her with controlled fury. I couldn’t hear any full sentences but I understood the situation from the words I was able to make out, your constant dawdling…late again… bus won’t wait…stubborn…selfish…had to drag you. Like most New Yorkers, I walk fast, especially in the morning, but he was flying down the block, swinging a briefcase in one hand and waving the other to punctuate his points. His little girl was crying with hiccupping sobs. Every couple of feet, she ran a few faster steps, desperate to keep up. I noticed her pink sneakers lighting up with each step and that made me especially sad. I thought about how excited she must have been when she bought them. Was that a good day for them?

I could actually feel her father’s fury from across the street and saw it in his jerky body language. Please, I tried to silently communicate, hold her hand. She’s sorry. She’s scared.

He stopped just before the corner at 8th Avenue and turned towards her as she caught up with him. He continued to berate her while she clasped her small hands together and cried.

When I reached my corner, I saw the school bus before they did. It had just pulled to a stop across the street and kids were getting on. 8th Avenue is very busy, with two lanes of one-way traffic that goes too fast, and the corner at Montgomery does not have a light. The father’s back was still facing the traffic so his daughter saw the bus before he did. She took off, running, and I knew she was terrified to miss that bus. As if in slow motion, I opened my mouth to yell, “STOP!” I didn’t know if any sound came out. Horrified, I watched her dart out into the speeding traffic. 

Then, I closed my eyes. I knew if I saw a car hit her, saw that little body in the red coat, Powerpuff Girls backpack and light-up pink sneakers fly into the air, I could never unsee it. I heard the screeching of tires and horns blaring. But I stood paralyzed, my eyes still closed and thought about my daughters who were dressing up as the Powerpuff Girls for Halloween. I’d sewed the dresses for us in pink, green and blue with a black stripe that looked just like the outfits they wore on the popular cartoon.

Although it felt like I’d closed my eyes for many minutes, it was only a few seconds. I forced myself to open them. The little girl was hopping up on the curb across the street in front of the bus! The bus monitor was shaking her finger at her, saying something. Then, seeing the little girl’s face, she gave her a hug instead and helped her onto the bus. The cars started to steer slowly out of their skidded positions. It was a miracle that no one had hit her or each other. I looked for her father but he had already turned right on 8th Avenue and was walking fast towards the subway, still swinging his briefcase.

I stumbled across the street and walked quickly to catch up with him. Was he thinking about how lucky he was? That his healthy, little girl with her light-up sneakers, was safe on the bus? That he’d likely make it to work, instead of frantically dialing 911? Was he wondering what it would have been like to sit in the back of the ambulance?  His daughter’s silent and still little body taking up hardly any room on the stretcher? Paramedics using words he didn’t understand while he clutched her Powerpuff Girls backpack?

I was filled with a white-hot anger that scared me and raced to catch him. I wanted to ask him if he felt sorry. Would he be angry if she made him late again tomorrow? I was determined to ask him if he was satisfied with his morning, or did he feel responsible, relieved. Thankful? As I got closer to him, I realized my anger was my own fear. And I thought about how I’d struggled to have children, and how little control we have sometimes over keeping them safe.

As I got closer to the father, I saw he was on his phone. And I stopped. I watched him walk away and called Eugenia to ask her to take the girls for ice cream after lunch.

Then, as the wife of a cop, I called my husband and reminded him to be careful.

© Susan R. Weinstein

Susan R. Weinstein, a media executive for many years, writes fiction and memoir. She studies creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and is published in Potato Soup Journal, The Lakeshore Review and Umbrella Factory Magazine.

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