"I do, too," Danny said, catching a look from Nora now that nearly matched their mother's, and then remembering her calling his brother "dear" Connor.
When did that start?
"No, you don't," their mother said. "You don't at all. The two of you never did." And she went into her bedroom and closed the door.
By the time Danny heard, Steve Coyle had been sick for five hours. He'd woken that morning, thighs turned to plaster, ankles swollen, calves twitching, head throbbing. He didn't waste time pretending it was something else. He slipped out of the bedroom he'd shared last night with the Widow Coyle and grabbed his clothes and went out the door. Never paused, not even with his legs the way they were, dragging under the rest of him like they might just decide to stay put even if his torso kept going. After a few blocks, he told Danny, fucking legs screamed so much it was like they belonged to someone else. Fucking wailed, every step. He'd tried walking to the streetcar stop then realized he could infect the whole car. Then he remembered the streetcars had stopped running anyway. So a walk, then. Eleven blocks from the Widow Coyle's cold-water flat at the top of Mission Hill all the way down to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. Damn near crawling by the time he reached it, folded over like a broken match, cramps ballooning up through his stomach, his chest, his throat for Christ's sake. And his head, Jesus. By the time he reached the admitting desk, it was like someone hammered pipe through his eyes.
He told all this to Danny from behind a pair of muslin curtains in the infectious disease ward of the intensive care unit at the Peter Bent. There was no one else in the ward the afternoon Danny came to see him, just the lumpen shape of a body beneath a sheet across the aisle. The rest of the beds were empty, the curtains pulled back. Somehow that was worse.
They'd given Danny a mask and gloves; the gloves were in his coat pocket; the mask hung at his throat. And yet he kept the muslin between him and Steve. Catching it didn't scare him. These past few weeks? If you hadn't made peace with your maker, then you didn't believe you'd been made. But watching it drain Steve to the ground powder of himself--that would be something else. Something Danny would pass the cup on if Steve allowed him. Not the dying, just the witnessing.
Steve spoke like he was trying to gargle at the same time. The words pushed up through phlegm and the ends of sentences often drowned. "No Widow. Believe that?"
Danny said nothing. He'd only met the Widow Coyle once, and his sole impression was one of fussiness and anxious self-regard.
"Can't see you." Steve cleared his throat.
Danny said, "I can see you, pal."
"Pull it back, would ya?"
Danny didn't move right away.
"You scared? I don't blame ya. Forget it."
Danny leaned forward a few times. He hitched his pants at the knees. He leaned forward again. He pulled back the curtain.
His friend sat upright, the pillow dark from his head. His face was swollen and skeletal at the same time, like dozens of the infected, living and dead, that he and Danny had run across this month. His eyes bulged from their sockets, as if trying to escape, and ran with a milky film that pooled in the corners. But he wasn't purple. Or black. He wasn't hacking his lungs up through his mouth or defecating where he lay. So, all in all, not as sick as one feared. Not yet anyway.
He gave Danny an arched eyebrow, an exhausted grin.
"Remember those girls I courted this summer?"
Danny nodded. "Did more than court some of them."
He coughed. A small one, into his fist. "I wrote a song. In my head. 'Summer Girls.' "
Danny could suddenly feel the heat coming off him. If he leaned within a foot of him, the waves found his face.
" 'Summer Girls,' eh?"
" 'Summer Girls.' " Steve's eyes closed. "Sing it for you someday."
Danny found a bucket of water on the bedside table. He reached in and pulled out a cloth and squeezed it. He placed the cloth on Steve's forehead. Steve's eyes snapped up to him, wild and grateful. Danny moved down his forehead and wiped his cheeks. He dropped the hot cloth back into the cooler water and squeezed again. He wiped his partner's ears, the sides of his neck, his throat and chin.
Steve grimaced. "Like a horse is sitting on my chest."
Danny kept his eyes clear. He didn't remove them from Steve's face when he dropped the cloth back in the bucket. "Sharp?"
"Can you breathe?"
"Not too good."
"Probably I should get a doctor, then."
Steve flicked his eyes at the suggestion.
Danny patted his hand and called for the doctor.
"Stay here," Steve said. His lips were white.
Danny smiled and nodded. He swiveled on the small stool they'd wheeled over to the bed when he arrived. Called for a doctor again.
Avery Wallace, seventeen years the houseman for the Coughlin family, succumbed to the grippe and was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in a plot Thomas Coughlin had bought for him a decade ago.
Only Thomas, Danny, and Nora attended the short funeral. No one else.
Thomas said, "His wife died twenty years ago. Children scattered, most to Chicago, one to Canada. They never wrote. He lost track. He was a good man. Hard to know, but a good man, nonetheless."
Danny was surprised to hear a soft, subdued grief in his father's voice.
His father picked up a handful of dirt as Avery Wallace's coffi n was lowered into the grave. He tossed the dirt on the wood. "Lord have mercy on your soul."
Nora kept her head down, but the tears fell from her chin. Danny was stunned. How was it that he'd known this man most of his life and yet somehow had never really seen him?
He tossed his own handful of dirt on the coffi n.
Because he was colored. That's why.
Steve walked out of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital ten days after he'd walked in. Like thousands of others infected in the city, he'd survived, even as the grippe made its steady way across the rest of the country, crossing into California and New Mexico the same weekend he walked with Danny to a taxi.
He walked with a cane. Always would, the doctors promised. The influenza had weakened his heart, damaged his brain. The headaches would never leave him. Simple speech would sometimes be a problem, strenuous activity of any kind would probably kill him. A week ago he'd joked about that, but today he was quiet.
It was a short walk to the taxi stand but it took a long time.
"Not even a desk job," he said as they reached the front taxicab in the line.
"I know," Danny said. "I'm sorry."