"You think you can get me the four bucks soon?" Steve asked.
Danny kept his eyes closed because he feared Steve would see the contempt in them if he opened them. He kept them closed and nodded once.
At Batterymarch station, he declined Steve's offer of a drink, and they went their separate ways. By the time Danny reached Salem Street, he was starting to see spots. He could picture his bed, the white sheets, the cool pillow. . . .
"And how've you been keeping then, Danny?"
Nora crossed the street toward him, stepping between a horse- drawn wagon and a sputtering tin lizzy that chucked great bursts of ink-colored smoke from its tailpipe. When she reached the curb, he stopped and turned fully toward her. Her eyes were false and bright and she wore a pale gray blouse he'd always liked and a blue skirt that left her ankles exposed. Her coat looked thin, even for the warming air, and her cheekbones were too pronounced. Her eyes sat back in her head.
She held out a hand to him in a manner he found comically formal and he shook it as if it were a man's.
"So?" she said, still working the brightness into her eyes. "So?" Danny said.
"How've you been keeping?" she said a second time.
"I've been fair," he said. "You?"
"Tip-top," she said.
Even at eight in the evening, the North End sidewalks were thick with people. Danny, tired of being jostled, took Nora by the elbow and led her to a cafe that was nearly empty. They took a seat by the small window that overlooked the street.
She removed her coat as the proprietor came out of the back, tying his apron on, and caught Danny's eye.
"Due caffe, per favore."
"Si, signore. Venire a destra in su."
Nora gave him a hesitant smile. "I forgot how much pleasure that gave me."
"Your Italian. The sound of it, yeah?" She looked around the cafe and then out at the street. "You seem at home here, Danny."
"It is home." Danny suppressed a yawn. "Always has been."
"And now how about that molasses flood?" She removed her hat and placed it on a chair. She smoothed her hair. "They're saying it was definitely the company's fault?"
Danny nodded. "Looks to be the case."
"The stench is awful still."
It was. Every brick and gutter and cobblestone crack in the North End held some residual evidence of the flood. The warmer it got, the worse it smelled. Insects and rodents had tripled in number, and the disease rate among children erupted.
The proprietor returned from the back and placed their coffees in front of them. "Qui andate, signore, signora."
"Grazie cosi tan to, signore."
"Siete benvenuti. Siete per avere cosi bello fortunato una moglie, signore." The man clapped his hands and gave them a broad smile and went back behind the counter.
"What did he say?" Nora said.
"He said it was a nice night out." Danny stirred a lump of sugar into his coffee. "What brings you here?"
"I was out for a walk."
"Long walk," he said.
She reached for the cup of sugar between them. "How would you know how long a walk it is? That would mean you know where I live."
He placed his pack of Murads on the table. Christ, he was fucking exhausted. "Let's not."
"Do this back-and-forth."
She added two lumps to her own coffee and followed it with cream. "How's Joe?"
"He's fine," Danny said, wondering if he was. It had been so long since he'd been by the house. Work kept him away mostly, meetings at the social club, but something more, too, something he didn't want to put his fi nger on.
She sipped her coffee and stared across the table with her too-happy face and her sunken eyes. "I half thought you'd have paid me a visit by now."
She nodded, her face beginning to soften from its cast of false gaiety.
"Why would I do that, Nora?"
Her face grew gay again, constricted. "Oh, I don't know. I just hoped, I guess."
"Hoped." He nodded. "What's your son's name by the way?"
She played with her spoon, ran her fingers over the checkered tablecloth. "His name's Gabriel," she said softly, "and he's not my son. I told you that."
"You told me a lot of things," Danny said. "And you never mentioned this son who's not a son until Quentin Finn brought it up for you."
She raised her eyes and they were no longer bright, nor were they angry or wounded. She seemed to have reached a place beyond expectation.
"I don't know whose child Gabriel is. He was simply there the day Quentin brought me to the hovel he calls a home. Gabriel was about eight then, and a wolf would have been better tamed. A mindless, heartless child, our Gabriel. Quentin is a lesser creature among men, of that you've seen, but Gabriel? Sure now the child was molded from devil's clay. He'd crouch for hours by the hearth, watching the fire, as if the flames had voice, and then he'd leave the house without a word and blind a goat. That was Gabriel at nine. Would you like me to tell you what he was like at twelve?"
Danny didn't want to know anything more about Gabriel or Quentin or Nora's past. Her sullied, embarrassing (and that was it, wasn't it?) past. She was tainted now, a woman he could never acknowledge as his and look the rest of the world in the eye.
Nora sipped some more coffee and looked at him and he could feel it all dying between them. They were both lost, he realized, both fl oating away toward new lives that had nothing to do with one another. They would pass each other one day in a crowd and each would pretend not to have seen the other.
She put on her coat, not a word spoken between them, but both understanding what had transpired. She lifted her hat off the chair. The hat was as threadbare as the coat, and he noticed that her collarbone pressed up hard against her flesh.
He looked down at the table. "You need money?"
"What?" Her whisper was high-pitched, squeaky.
He raised his head. Her eyes had filled. Her lips were clamped tightly against her teeth and she shook her head softly.
"You didn't say that," she said. "You didn't. You couldn't have." "I just meant--"
"You . . . Danny? My God, you didn't."
He reached for her, but she stepped back. She continued shaking her head at him and then she rushed out of the cafe and into the crowded streets.