They walked several blocks, time enough for Danny to fi nd her beautiful in her agony. In spite of or because of, he wasn't sure, but beautiful nevertheless. The fi nal block, she wrapped her arms around his neck, her wrists pressing against the muscle there, and whispered, "Dio, aiutami. Dio, aiutami," over and over in his ear.
At the relief station, Danny pushed them through the first door he saw and they ended up in a brown hallway of dark oak floors and dim yellow lights and a single bench. A doctor sat on the bench, his legs crossed, smoking a cigarette. He looked at them as they came up the corridor. "What are you doing here?"
Danny, still holding the woman in his arms, said, "You serious?"
"You came in the wrong door." The doctor stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray and stood. He got a good look at the woman. "How long's she been in labor?"
"Her water broke about ten minutes ago. That's all I know."
The doctor placed one hand under the woman's belly and another to her head. He gave Danny a look, calm and unreachable. "This woman's going into labor."
"In your arms," the doctor said, and Danny almost dropped her.
"Wait here," the doctor said and went through some double doors halfway up the corridor. Something banged around back there and then the doctor came back through the doors with an iron gurney, one of its wheels rusted and squeaking.
Danny placed the woman on the gurney. Her eyes were closed now, her breath still puffing out through her lips in short bursts, and Danny looked down at the wetness he'd been feeling on his arms and waist, a wetness he'd thought was mostly water but now saw was blood, and he showed his arms to the doctor.
The doctor nodded and said, "What's her name?"
Danny said, "I don't know."
The doctor frowned at that and then he pushed the gurney past Danny and back through the double doors and Danny heard him calling for a nurse.
Danny found a bathroom at the end of the hall. He washed his hands and arms with brown soap and watched the blood swirl pink in the basin. The woman's face hung in his mind. Her nose was slightly crooked with a bump halfway down the bridge, and her upper lip was thicker than her lower, and she had a small mole on the underside of her jaw, barely noticeable because her skin was so dark, almost as dark as her hair. He could hear her voice in his chest and feel her thighs and lower back in his palms, see the arch of her neck as she'd ground her head into the gurney mattress.
He found the waiting area at the far end of the hall. He entered from behind the admitting desk and came around to sit among the bandaged and the sniffling. One guy removed a black bowler from his head and vomited into it. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. He peered into the bowler, and then he looked at the other people in the waiting room; he seemed embarrassed. He carefully placed the bowler under the wooden bench and wiped his mouth again with the handkerchief and sat back and closed his eyes. A few people had surgical masks over their faces, and when they coughed the coughs were wet. The admitting nurse wore a mask as well. No one spoke English except for a teamster whose foot had been run over by a horse- drawn cart. He told Danny the accident had happened right out front, else he'd have walked to a real hospital, the kind fit for Americans. Several times he glanced at the dried blood covering Danny's belt and groin, but he didn't ask how it had gotten there.
A woman came in with her teenage daughter. The woman was thick-waisted and dark but her daughter was thin and almost yellow and she coughed without stopping, the sound of it like metal gears grinding under water. The teamster was the first of them to ask the nurse for a surgical mask, but by the time Mrs. DiMassi found Danny in the waiting area, he wore one, too, feeling sheepish and ashamed, but they could still hear the girl, down another corridor and behind another set of double doors, those gears grinding.
"Why you wear that, Officer Danny?" Mrs. DiMassi sat beside him. Danny took it off. "A very sick woman was here."
She said, "Lot of people sick today. I say fresh air. I say go up on the roofs. Everyone say I crazy. They stay inside."
"You heard about . . ."
Mrs. DiMassi nodded. "Tessa Abruzze. You carry her here?" Danny nodded.
Mrs. DiMassi chuckled. "Whole neighborhood talking. Say you not as strong as you look."
Danny smiled. "That so?"
She said, "Yes. So. They say your knees buckle and Tessa not heavy woman."
"You notify her husband?"
"Bah." Mrs. DiMassi swatted the air. "She have no husband. Only father. Father a good man. Daughter?" She swatted the air again.
"So you don't hold her in high regard," Danny said.
"I would spit," she said, "but this clean floor."
"Then why are you here?"
"She my tenant," she said simply.
Danny placed a hand to the little old woman's back and she rocked in place, her feet swinging above the floor.
By the time the doctor entered the waiting room, Danny had put his mask back on and Mrs. DiMassi wore one as well. It had been a man this time, midtwenties, a freight yard worker by the looks of his clothes. He'd dropped to a knee in front of the admitting desk. He held up a hand as if to say he was fine, he was fine. He didn't cough, but his lips and the flesh under his jaw were purple. He remained in that position, his breath rattling, until the nurse came around to get him. She helped the man to his feet. He reeled in her grip. His eyes were red and wet and saw nothing of the world in front of him.
So Danny put his mask back on and went behind the admitting desk and got one for Mrs. DiMassi and a few others in the waiting room. He handed them out and sat back down, feeling each breath he exhaled press back against his lips and nose.
Mrs. DiMassi said, "Paper say only soldiers get it."
Danny said, "Soldiers breathe the same air."
Danny patted her hand. "Not so far."
He started to remove his hand, but she closed hers over it. "Nothing get you, I think."
"So I stay close." Mrs. DiMassi moved in against him until their legs touched.
The doctor came out into the waiting room and, though he wore one himself, seemed surprised by all the masks.
"It's a boy," he said and squatted in front of them. "Healthy." "How is Tessa?" Mrs. DiMassi said.
"That's her name?"
Mrs. DiMassi nodded.
"She had a complication," the doctor said. "There's some bleeding I'm concerned about. Are you her mother?"