"Mercy indeed, my love." He smiled at her, trying to remember the last time he'd done so. She returned the smile, and he tried to remember the last time he'd seen that as well.
"You're soaked to the bone."
"I needed it."
"Here, sit. Let me get you a towel."
"I'm fi ne, love."
She came back from the linen closet with a towel. "I've news of Joe," she said, her eyes bright and wet.
"For the love of Pete," he said, "out with it, Ellen."
She draped the towel over his head and rubbed vigorously. She spoke as if she were discussing a lost cat. "He's turned up at Aiden's."
Before Joe ran away, she'd been locked in her room, incapacitated by Danny's nuptials. Once Joe had gone on the run, she'd emerged and launched into a cleaning frenzy, telling Thomas she was back to her old self, she was, and would he please be so kind as to find their son?
When she wasn't cleaning, she was pacing. Or knitting. And all the while, she asked him, over and over, what he was doing about Joe. She'd say it the way a worried mother would, yes, but the way a worried mother would to a boarder. He'd lost all connection with her over the years, made his peace with a warmth that lived occasionally in her voice but rarely in her eyes, because the eyes alit on nothing, seemed instead to always be tilted slightly up, as if she were conversing with her own mind and nothing else. He didn't know this woman. He was reasonably sure he loved her, because of time, because of attrition, but time had also robbed them of each other, fostered within a relationship based on itself and nothing more, no different from that of a saloon keeper and his most frequent patron. You loved out of habit and lack of brighter options.
He had the blood on his hands where their marriage was concerned, however. He was reasonably certain of that. She'd been a girl when they wed, and he'd treated her as a girl only to wake one morning, who knew how many years ago, wishing for a woman to take her place. But it was far too late for that now. Far too late. So he loved her in memory. He loved her with a version of himself he'd long outgrown because she hadn't. And she loved him, he supposed (if in fact she did, he didn't know anymore) because he indulged her illusions.
I'm so tired, he thought as she removed the towel from his head, but what he said was, "He's at Aiden's?"
"He is. Aiden telephoned."
"Not long ago." She kissed his forehead, another rarity that defi ed recent recollection. "He's safe, Thomas." She rose from her haunches. "Tea?"
"Is Aiden bringing him by, Ellen? Our son?"
"He said Joe wished to spend the night and Aiden had a meeting to go to."
She opened the cabinet for teacups. "He said he'd bring him 'round in the morning."
Thomas went to the phone in the entrance hall and dialed Marty Kenneally's house on West Fourth. He placed the valise under the phone table. Marty answered on the third ring, shouting into the phone as he always did.
"Hello? Hello? Hello?"
"Marty, it's Captain Coughlin."
"Is that you, sir?" Marty shouted even though, to the best of Thomas's knowledge, no one else ever called him.
"It's me, Marty. I need you to bring the car around."
"She'll be slipping in this rain, sir."
"I didn't ask you if she'd be slipping, Marty, now did I? Bring her 'round in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir," Marty shouted and Thomas hung up.
When he came back into the kitchen, the kettle was nearing the boil. He stripped off his shirt and used the towel on his arms and torso. He noticed how white the hairs had gotten on his chest, and that gave him a quick, mournful vision of his own headstone, but he vanquished the sentiment by noting the flatness of his belly and the hard cords in his biceps. With the possible exception of his eldest son, he couldn't picture a man he'd fear to go against in a fistfight, even today, in his golden years.
You're in the grave, Liam, almost three decades, but I'm still standing strong.
Ellen turned from the stove and saw his bare chest. She averted her gaze and Thomas sighed and rolled his eyes. "Jesus, woman, it's me. Your husband."
"Cover yourself, Thomas. The neighbors."
The neighbors? She barely knew any of them. And, of those she did, most failed to measure up to whatever standards she clung to these days.
Christ, he thought as he went into the bedroom and changed into a fresh shirt and trousers, how did two people vanish from each other's sight in the same house?
He'd kept a woman once. For about six years, she'd lived in the Parker House and spent his money freely but she'd always greeted him with a drink when he came through the door and she'd looked in his eyes when they talked and even when they made love. Then in the fall of '09, she'd fallen in love with a bellhop and they left the city to start a new life in Baltimore. Her name was Dee Dee Goodwin, and when he'd placed his head to her bare chest he'd felt he could say anything, close his eyes and be anything.
His wife handed him his tea when he came back into the kitchen and he drank it standing up.
"You're going back out? On a Saturday?"
"But I thought you'd stay home today. We'd stay home together, Thomas."
And do what? he wanted to ask. You'll talk about the latest news you've heard from relatives back in the Old Sod who we haven't seen in years, and then when I begin to talk, you'll jump up and start cleaning. And then we'll have a silent supper and you'll disappear to your room.
He said, "I'm going to get Joe."
"But Aiden said--"
"I don't care what Aiden said. He's my son. I'm bringing him home."
"I'll clean his sheets," she said.
He nodded and knotted his tie. Outside, the rain had stopped. The house smelled of it and it ticked off the leaves in the backyard, but he could see the sky brightening.
He leaned in and kissed his wife's cheek. "I'll be back with our boy."
She nodded. "You haven't finished your tea."
He lifted the cup and drained it. He placed it back on the table. He took his straw boater from the hat rack and placed it on his head. "You look handsome," she said.
"And you're still the prettiest girl ever to come out of County Kerry."
She gave him a smile and a sad nod.
He was almost out of the kitchen when she called to him. "Thomas."
He turned back. "Hmm?"
"Don't be too hard on the boy."
He felt his eyes narrow so he compensated with a smile. "I'm just glad he's safe."