"Yes. Now--"

"Is that what you're telling me?" she yelled and beat his shoulders and his chest with her fists and then slapped him hard across the side of the head and would have kept on going if he didn't grab her wrists in his.

"Lila, listen--"

"Get out of my house. Get out of my house! You've taken life. You are foul in the eyes of the Lord, Luther. And He will punish you." Luther stepped back from her.

She stayed where she was and felt their child kick inside her womb. It wasn't much of a kick. It was soft, hesitant.

"I have to change these clothes and pack some things."

"Then pack," she said and turned her back on him.

As he tied his belongings to the back of Jessie's car, she stayed inside, listening to him out there, and thinking how a love like theirs couldn't possibly end no other way because it had always burned too bright. And she apologized to the Lord for what she now saw so clearly was their greatest sin: They had searched for heaven in this world. A search of that kind was steeped in pride, the worst of the seven deadly sins. Worse than greed, worse than wrath.

When Luther came back, she remained sitting on her side of the room.

"This is it?" he said softly.

"I guess it is."

"This is how we end?"

"I believe so."

"I . . ." He held out his hand.


"I love you, woman."

She nodded.

"I said I love you."

She nodded again. "I know that. But you love other things more." He shook his head, his hand still hanging in the air, waiting for her to take it.

"Oh, yes, you do. You're a child, Luther. And now all your playing brought this bloodshed home to roost. That was you, Luther. It wasn't Jessie and it wasn't the Deacon. It was you. All you. You. You, with your child in my womb."

He lowered his hand. He stood in the doorway a long time. Several times he opened his mouth, as if to say something, but the words wouldn't come.

"I love you," he said again, and his voice was hoarse.

"I love you, too," she said, though she did not feel it in her heart at that moment. "But you need to go before someone comes here looking for you."

He walked out the door so fast she'd never be able to say she'd seen him move. One moment he was there, the next his shoes were hard against the wooden planks and then she heard the engine turn over and the car idled for a short time.

When he depressed the clutch and shifted into first the car made a loud clanking and she stood but didn't move toward the door.

When she finally stepped out on the porch, he was gone. She looked up the road for his taillights, and she could just make them out, far off down the road in the dust the tires raised in the night.

Luther left Arthur Smalley's car keys on his front porch on top of a note that said "Club Almighty alley." He left another note saying the same thing to let the Irvines know where to find their hope chest, and he deposited jewelry and cash and most everything else they'd taken on the porches of the sick. When he got to Owen Tice's house, he could see the man through his screen door, sitting dead at the table. After he'd pulled the trigger, the shotgun had bounced back in his hands. It stood straight up between his thighs, his hands still gripping it.

Luther drove back through the graying night and let himself into the house on Elwood. He stood in the living room and watched his wife sleep in the chair where he'd left her. He went into the bedroom and lifted the mattress. He placed most of Owen Tice's money under there and then he went back out into the parlor and stood and looked at his wife some more. She snored softly and groaned once and pulled her knees closer to her belly.

She'd been right in everything she'd said.

But, oh, she'd been cold. She'd seen to breaking his heart as much as he, he now realized, had broken hers these last months. This house he'd feared and bristled at was something he now wished he could wrap his arms around and carry out to Jessie's car and take with him wherever he was going.

"I do so love you, Lila Waters Laurence," he said and kissed the tip of his index finger and touched it to her forehead.

She didn't stir, so Luther leaned over and kissed her belly and then he left his home and went back to Jessie's car and drove north with the dawn rising over Tulsa and the birds waking from their sleep. chapter ten For two weeks, if her father wasn't home, Tessa came to Danny's door. They rarely slept, but Danny wouldn't call what they did making love. A bit too raw for that. On several occasions, she gave the orders--slower, faster, harder, put it there, no there, roll over, stand up, lie down. It seemed hopeless to Danny, the way they clawed and chewed and squeezed each other's bones. And yet he kept returning for more. Sometimes, walking the beat, he'd find himself wishing the uniform weren't so coarse; it rubbed parts of him that had already been scratched to the last layer of flesh. His bedroom on those nights gave off the feel of a lair. They entered and tore at each other. And while the sounds of the neighborhood did reach them--an occasional car horn, the shouts of children kicking a ball in the alleys, the neighs and huffs from the stables behind their building, even the clank of footsteps on the fire escape of some other tenants who'd discovered the attraction of the roof he and Tessa had abandoned--they seemed the sounds of an alien life.

For all her abandon in the bedroom, Tessa withheld herself when the sex was finished. She would sneak back to her room without a word and never once fell asleep in his bed. He didn't mind. In fact, he preferred it this way--heated yet cold. He wondered if his part in all of this unleashing of unnameable fury was tied into his feelings for Nora, his urge to punish her for loving him and leaving him and continuing to live.

There was no danger he would fall in love with Tessa. Or she with him. In all their snakelike commingling he sensed contempt above all, not just she for him, or he for her, but both of them for their barren addiction to this act. Once, when she was on top, her hands clenched against his chest, she whispered, "So young," like a condemnation.

When Federico was in town, he invited Danny over for some anisette and they sat listening to opera on the Silvertone while Tessa sat on the davenport, working on her English in primers that Federico brought back from his trips across New England and the Tri-States. At first Danny worried that Federico would sense the intimacy between his drinking companion and his daughter, but Tessa sat on the davenport, a stranger, her legs tucked under her petticoat, her crepe blouse cinched at the throat, and whenever her eyes found Danny's they were blank of anything but linguistic curiosity.

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