Fiction by James MacGuire.
THE DAY BEGAN as it almost always did for Dinny Lovering. He woke in his East 72nd Street apartment and lingered briefly in bed before rising at 6:30 to shower and shave. It was his unalterable routine whether he had company or not. Today he was alone, a state not without occasional pangs of loneliness but one that in recent years he had found simpler on the whole. He dressed quickly in a monogrammed shirt, an Hermes tie, and a discreetly chalk-striped blue suit. He poured himself a glass of orange juice, picked up the Times and Wall Street Journal outside his apartment door to skim their front pages as he sipped, sitting at his breakfast table.
Dinny Lovering was fifty-eight, medium height and slightly built. He had an aquiline nose, the beginnings of receding hair and cobalt blue eyes. His face looked serious to those who did not know him, and those who did rejoiced in his capacity to smirk slightly when he was amused. He was punctual, regular, organized, industrious, somewhat anal if the truth be told, yet often humorous too.
Downstairs his car waited to drive him downtown. The Wall Street crowd of his father’s generation—returning from World War II—prided themselves on riding the subway like every other working stiff, and for the first two decades of his own working life Dinny had done the same. But mores changed in the 80s, and he had prospered, and now he rode in a hired town car. It gave him a chance, he reassured himself, to focus on the day ahead.
DENNIS HARRITY LEFT his house in Hicks Woods five minutes later. It was a late summer morning, a pleasant bite in the September air aided by a southerly breeze. He lived in a two family house on the edge of Hicks Woods’ small public park and saw with satisfaction as he walked that the stars and stripes were already flying from the flagpole. Most mornings he drove to work, but he had put his SUV in the shop for its six month service the night before, and today he ambled across the park toward the train station, remembering as he did the countless carnivals, Christmas carolings and Little League games he had played here as a boy. He was thirty-five now. His own son, Conor, now seven, would start playing here come spring, he mused, and that was something to look forward to.
Dennis Harrity’s parents were Irish immigrants who had built a good life on Long Island’s South Shore. Neal Harrity had run the fresh produce section of Waldbaum’s in Eastmere for thirty years. His great love as a boy had been training horses and in retirement he had developed a small practice in washing and grooming the local gentry’s dogs. He stood in the grandstand at Aqueduct most Thursdays although he wasn’t much of a bettor, played the occasional round of golf, and spent Monday nights enjoying a game of hearts and hot coffee with his fellow Hibernians in the basement recreation room of St. Martin’s church. The rest of the time was devoted to his family, his wife Mary, who snorted at the mere mention of retiring as she cleaned houses and helped out at cocktail and dinner parties, riding her bicycle briskly from the village to the larger homes along the shoreline of Hick’s Woods. Neal and Mary had two other children beside Dennis, and as often as not their house was crowded with cousins and grandchildren and friends.
Dennis had not been a bad student at the local parochial school, but he was the first to admit he’d been no Einstein either. He had no head for numbers and after finishing up a two year degree at community college he joined the New York City Fire Department. He had ridden on the Eastmere fire trucks as a child with Mary’s cousin. Johnny O’Toole had been his name, but he was known in the family as “Little Johnny,” or sometimes simply as “The Hero.”
That was one of many volunteer units in Nassau County, but when Dennis decided to make a career of it he set out to join a city brigade. He liked the work and did it well, eventually gravitating to rescue operations, which he found the most satisfying of all. He had for three years been attached to Rescue 2 Company in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and that is where he was headed this day.
He got off the train at Nostrand Avenue and walked south on New York Avenue, savoring the September air. Both his children were in school for the first time, his daughter Maura, having just started a toddler program. His wife Jennifer could have some time to herself now. She might even return to teaching part-time. They were planning a vacation in Puerto Rico in mid-winter. The Yankees and Mets were still in contention, and the Giants and Jets showed promise as well as problems for the season ahead. Life was good.
DINNY LOVERING LOOKED at his watch impatiently. It was 7:30. His car was stuck in traffic on the FDR, and his day would be disrupted by fifteen minutes. He disliked disorder and felt a nameless but distinct dread rise up inside him. He lifted his fingers to his mouth and chewed his nails. Immediately he heard a woman’s broad Irish brogue—half cross and half tender—ringing in his ears from across half a century. “Get ye thumb out of ye mouth, Master Dinny!” He smiled at the memory, even as he let his fingers fall.
Dinny Lovering’s parents were from Philadelphia but they had settled after World War II in the South of France, near Cannes, in La Napoule. Harry Lovering was an increasingly erratic alumnus of the wartime OSS, whose St. Mark’s and Harvard lineage and Errol Flynn looks had impressed Wild Bill Donovan. But a series of on the job blunders and late night indiscretions had rendered him damaged goods by the time the war ended, and he was honorably discharged. Felicia Lovering was a Main Line debutante he had fucked hard in a grassy pasture after the dance the night before the Radnor races, and when Dinny began to make his way into the world thereafter they had married. Mutual resentment was not mitigated by wartime separation, and the couple fell into a bickerish domestic dynamic, exacerbated by their expatriate isolation and only occasionally ameliorated by the astonishing amount of alcohol they drank. Mr. Lovering grew more abusive as the years went on, and although there was a part of Felicia that was secretly stimulated by his increasingly animalistic attacks, in due course, on the advice of a sympathetic local docteur who attended to her frequent bruises and burns, she took Dinny and herself to her mother’s summer house in Hicks Woods on the South Shore of Long Island.
Felicia’s mother, Mrs. De Gaste, was a severe, ageless lady in a black dress. Long widowed, she kept her large and rather gloomy house as it had been when her husband was alive, and now she lived in it year round. Dinny had the third floor nursery almost entirely to himself, save for his nanny, a dour French woman named Mme. Charlebois, and the young Irish maid who relieved her on her days off. Dinny much preferred Mary, who, unlike Mme. Charlebois, did not hesitate to get down on her knees to play games of war or give him imaginary pony rides. She told him fanciful tales of leprechauns, read him bedtime stories, roared with laughter at his “shenanigans,” all so very different from the strictness and repressed atmosphere in the rest of the household. And always before his light went out, Mary knelt beside him as she taught him his first prayers. His mother tut-tutted him when he ended the Our Father, “and deliver us from evil…” but could not be bothered to teach him the correct Episcopalian usage. Increasingly, in fact, Felicia confined herself to her own quarters in an alcoholic haze, and Dinny endured the eternities of dinner at the long, candelit table seated in virtual silence beside his grandmother, whose rules on proper table conversation excluded practically every subject of which Dinny could conceive.
But he remembered Mary fondly and remained friends with her for years after. When he was old enough to ride his bicycle to the Village he would sometimes see her walking with her own young family. They would talk and laugh and walk around the park and Mary would invite him to her small house for milk and cookies. Her oldest boy, Dennis, would take Dinny by the hand and hug him closely when they said goodbye.
That was a long time ago. Dinny had gone off to boarding school in the seventh grade, his vacation visits to Hicks Woods became fewer, and when he moved to New York after business school, his mother and grandmother long gone, he spent his summers farther out on Long Island, in the more fashionable Hamptons. Mary and he had naturally lost touch, and the last time he had seen her was at his second cousin Fluffy’s dinner party several summers ago, which he would have loved to have declined if he could have. But Fluffy was his client as well as his kinswoman, and so he had done his duty. When Mary had walked up with the smoked salmon hors d’oeuvres and said with a warm smile, “Why hello there, Dinny, aren’t you looking grand?” he had not recognized her for a moment, and kicked himself afterwards for not kissing her on the cheek. But he recovered in time for them to chat pleasantly before she continued on her rounds. And though he retained little sentimental attachment to Hicks Woods today, he wondered for just an instant how Mary and her family were.
DENNIS HARRITY WAS well-liked at Rescue Company 2, but he was not part of its inner sanctum. Maybe it was because he came from Nassau County and had gotten his start at a volunteer company in Eastmere. Or maybe it was because he was still a young man compared to most of the others in the company. Rescue Company 2 was proud of its distinctive mission and culture. Its truck was an enormous rolling toolbox with ten exterior compartments containing cutter torches, saws, bundles of rigging ropes and lifting slings, struts and lumber for shoring up trenches in collapsed structures, a Jaws of Life, a life boat, defibrillators, gas detection meters and a thermal imaging camera. To operate all this equipment required intensive training. The members of Rescue 2 had to be scuba divers, mountain climbers, carpenters, welders and emergency aid technicians all rolled into one.
Dennis worked his way up in the unit the traditional way. He was first assigned to the “can,” a pressurized extinguisher used to back up the firefighters on the front line of the fire. From the can he moved to the “irons,” a flat head ax and Halligan tool, a nine-pound bar with a fork on one end and a hook and adz on the other. Firemen use it when approaching a blaze from the floor above the fire. When he had finished that part of his apprenticeship Dennis concentrated on learning to use, maintain and clean the copious number of specialty tools the Company had. He had always been handy, his mother liked to say, and could have been a carpenter, like his cousin Johnny O’Toole, and the neighborhood kids came to him in droves with requests to fix their bikes, which he was always happy to oblige.
So Dennis was accepted in the card games and BS sessions when the men were not lounging in couches in front of the TV. He was Irish enough, and his mustache was as bushy as the rest of the men’s. Perhaps, however, there was a feeling that he had not yet been at Company 2 long enough, had not yet been totally tested. Firefighters had to show something to their peers to win their respect. It wasn’t courage, exactly, although the lack of it was fatal to a firefighter’s career. And it wasn’t recklessness, because that brought with it its own peril to oneself and others. It was more a kind of moxie, a mixture of hesitation and resolve that finally culminated in considered action. Dennis had all of that, always had, but he had not ever strained himself to show it off. Even now he did not push himself forward. As the smell of garlic wafted from the stove where Sal Proscia was beginning the long process of cooking his mother’s recipe for meat sauce, Dennis poured himself a cup of fresh coffee into the Blarney Castle mug his wife had given him, took his Newsday out of the rear pocket of his jeans and sat on a bench reading the sports page. He was beginning to conclude that the Mets would fall short again, and that and the dark coffee caused his stomach to grumble.
DINNY LOVERING LOOKED at his watch as he ascended the South Tower in the elevator. It was 7:48. He had started at Finch Huddleston as a stockbroker 30 years before just out of Wharton and attracted his first clients from a variety of family and their friends. Then, as a lark, he signed up as a speaker on investments for a Caribbean cruise line, and the old ladies on board were so charmed by him that his business doubled, and so he signed up for many more cruises. The entire experience had amazed him, and he found it on one level hugely hilarious and on another so very much like sitting with his grandmother had been as she rehearsed her various but rather limited themes over a Dubonnet before dinner. He smiled at the memory of her face growing dark when she sensed he was correcting her, and how he had figured out early on it was best to make her feel like the smart one, and that his ideas were doubtless ones that she had had first. Most of all, he tried to make any recommendation he had into a story, and that, too, came from his childhood, from the way Mary had entertained and educated him. Those were the principles of salesmanship he had employed ever since in what these days was called the asset management business, and they had worked very well.
And yet, a streak of despair sometimes flashed through him. He thought of the days when nothing went right. When his father never wrote and his mother stayed in her room and Grand’mere sat silently, unappreciative of his witty apercus, when the fire place wouldn’t light in winter, and when he had no one to play with and rode all alone on the beach club bus in summer. At such times he had danced to old records by himself in his room, wishing he had the super masculine strength of Gene Kelly when what talent he possessed was the fluidity of Fred Astaire. No one deserved happiness all the time, but Dinny wished he had been granted a somewhat larger share. He had done what he was supposed to do, played by the rules, gone to the right schools, danced with the right girls at the right parties, supported the right causes, and yet he wished it had all been a little bit more joyous. No matter, he was at his desk now, where he was supposed to be. The day’s work could begin.
An hour later, Dinny Lovering was checking the European markets on his computer terminal when the first plane hit the north tower. It was 8:46 AM. At first he had no idea of what had happened. There was a tremor or some intimation of something happening he thought, and he wondered if a weak earthquake might have taken place. He looked over to the desk where Rachel, his assistant, sat and realized she was not yet there. Other co-workers had been streaming in over the past hour, but the office was still less than half full. It was a Tuesday morning, and people were enjoying the last of their summer season long weekends. There was nothing wrong with that, Dinny supposed, though he himself was still tense at having been fifteen minutes late that morning. He prided himself on being in early. His reverie was broken by a shrill, “Omigod!” coming from Lorraine Manisfalco, an assistant on the trading floor. “We’ve been hit by a plane,” she cried in her Bensonhurst accent. Dinny noted with disapproval that Lorraine was listening to a radio on her earphones. People rushed around the TV and watched CNBC, then Fox News, then CNN. Dinny stood up and moved around his desk to join them, and as he did out of the corner of his he saw a spume of smoke that shouldn’t have been there. Looking out his office window to the north, fire and smoke were billowing from what looked to be around the tower’s 100th floor, Dinny suddenly smelled smoke and some kind of gasoline, and every telephone on the entire floor began dinning in his ears.
THE CALL CAME to Rescue Company 2 twelve minutes later. Dennis Harrity, if the truth be told, was taking a leisurely crap as he reviewed the previous day’s racing results in the firehouse’s communal Post. He finished quickly when the alarm sounded, emerged and donned his heavy equipment in time to jump on the truck as its motor revved.
“Where we goin’?” Dennis asked.
“To the city,” answered Bob Barnes, riding next to him. Barnes, affable but completely committed to his work, was the best friend he had in the company. The two of them spent hours cleaning and oiling Rescue 2’s tools together, and several times a summer went with their kids for an afternoon of racing at Belmont Park.
“A plane hit the World Trade Center.”
Manhattan. Neither Dennis nor any of the others thought to ask what kind of plane it was. They all assumed it was a small craft involved in some kind of freak accident. But before they had maneuvered through the Brooklyn streets another ten minutes word crept back that, in fact, there had been two planes. Two Boeing 767s. And all at once they understood the awful truth that it had not been an accident at all.
WHEN THE SECOND plane hit at 9:03 Dinny Lovering was standing in his office looking at the burning building to the north, talking to his half-brother in Berlin. The smoke was billowing blackly as they spoke and blowing south. The shade of black was so deep it reminded Dinny of something he had seen recently but could not place as he talked to his brother. Chunky had been the offspring of his father’s fourth marriage, and although the two of them seldom saw each other until they were grown, they enjoyed a warm relationship separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Chunky’s Austrian mother had kept him in Europe after Mr. Lovering’s death from cirrhosis; he had gone to school in Switzerland, begun work in London, and had embraced the opportunity to work on investments in the former Soviet Union as part of a giant hedge fund run by the global financier Hermann Becker. Things had gone up and down in the six years he’d been in Berlin, and Dinny had been a steady source of sound advice and reassurance.
Dinny felt the floor buckle and sway somewhat as the second plane hit his building around the 90th floor. “Jesus Christ, I think another one just hit.”
“Dinny, hadn’t you better get the hell out of there?”
Dinny Lovering considered that, and, indeed, any number of his colleagues had evidently elected to do so. But he did not want to move precipitously. The public address system had repeatedly blared that the building was safe.
“I think it will be OK.”
“Play it safe. Please.”
He rang off and walked out into the trading floor. The smell of smoke was stronger now. He walked around to the elevators. They were out of order. He prided himself on staying in shape and walking down the 80 floors would be good exercise, but the loudspeaker continued to bleat that the building was safe, and he didn’t like to be pushed.
WHEN RESCUE 2 Company’s truck got over the bridge the streets of lower Manhattan were already snarled. Cops waved them through grimly, trying to keep emergency lanes clear amid the chaos. They humped along the narrow downtown streets working their way west across town as a trickle of people, then a river, then a flood headed east and north.
The men now knew that the fires would be bad, but their first sight of the buildings still shocked them. The towers were smoking heavily, spears of flame were visible and appeared to be shooting up, and debris was falling in a smoky film. The truck fought its way close to a pedestrian bridge next to the south tower and someone shouted, “Let’s go.” There was no hesitation, no thought of doing anything else, no consideration of the risk. They knew who they were, and what there here for, and they jumped and started running for the building. Bob Barnes broke into a run and Dennis increased his pace too.
DINNY LOVERING SENSED that the situation was more serious than the public address system announcement indicated, but his sense of order– his rational mind– overcame his gut. He stayed on, waiting for the emergency to subside. Still, the departure of his colleagues and the realization that calling clients would be ridiculous under the circumstances left him with little to do. He had no wife or children. His most recent girlfriend was still nursing her wounds from when he had broken the liaison off. He had explained so many time in his life that, as much as he would like to, his parents’ disastrous marriage had left him ill-equipped to attempt matrimony, but that didn’t prevent feelings from being hurt, for awhile. They would become friends again, eventually. It had been that way with dozens of lady friends over the years, and, while the pace had slowed recently, he expected the general trend to continue.
Feeling lonely, he called his squash club to confirm his 6 pm court time.
“Aren’t you down there in the World Trade Center?”
“Yes. It’s been quite a morning.”
“Shouldn’t you be getting out of there?”
Dinny felt irked at the suggestion this time but contained himself. “This is the strongest building in America. They say we’re safe….but it is getting quite smoky.”
“OK,” said Sam, the assistant pro, “But if I were you I’d keep moving. Good luck.”
When Dinny got off the phone he realized he was all alone on the floor, and the smoke was so thick he pulled out his handkerchief and covered his mouth with it. Then he walked to the staircase and began the eighty-story descent.
AS DENNIS HARRITY neared the towers he noticed large objects falling from the buildings and crashing onto the atrium roof. It took him a moment to process that this was not some part of the building but falling bodies, people trying to save themselves from being burned alive, willing to throw themselves 100 stories to a certain death instead. He forced the images out of his mind and focused on what he trained to do: Get in the building, get up the stairs, save lives.
Dennis Harrity and his cohorts fought against a swarming, choking human tide of fleeing workers stumbling through the smoke of the fire-struck tower down its smoke-filled staircases and out onto the increasingly debris-strewn street. They were to find what survivors they could, rescue anyone trapped they could, and put out flames when they found them. They had all worked in burning buildings before, though most of them were detached houses or smaller public housing units. This was a different order of magnitude altogether. They were climbing and climbing, and it might still be what? An hour before they found something. There was nothing to be done but to grit your teeth and head upward. Dennis knew the fireman’s creed without even having to articulate it. Bob Barnes was up half a flight ahead of him. He knew it too. It was a calling, a vocation, a priesthood they had freely chosen, every bit as solemn as the one vowed by the unconscious chaplain they had seen carried out of the building as they were rushing in.
DINNY LOVERING HAD descended the first 30 floors of the south tower with surprising speed. Waiting for the initial panic and rush to die down had been a good idea, he told himself. But the second thirty floors had given him second thoughts. The stairways grew crowded, people fell by the wayside. Once or twice he was even tempted to ask a supine figure if he could help, but there was pressure to move on downward from behind him, and he persisted on. He didn’t like traffic or crowds. In recent years he had even calibrated his Hamptons weekends so that he often returned after the Saturday night cocktail parties and was perched cozily in front of his living room TV on 72nd Street when the Sunday morning talk shows began.
It was at about the twentieth floor that the traffic grew really dense. People slowed to a stumble, and jostling grew more intense. Mumblings turned to complaints and even to shouts to hurry up. At first Dinny didn’t understand why this was so, but then loud roars began to fly up from the other side of the stair case. “Move to the right! Let us through! We’re going up.”
And in all the confusion and smoke, burns and tears, he saw heavily garbed firefighters, weighed down by helmets and equipment, moving doggedly up the stairs. And he felt guilty and reassured at once.
AS DENNIS HARRITY continued to force himself upwards under the weight of his heavy gear the heat grew almost unbearable, and rivers of sweat ran down his face and body. He thought fondly of the firemen’s annual Polar Bear Benefit each January, when he and his colleagues jumped into the frigid waters off Long Beach to raise money for new equipment for the volunteer departments in western Nassau County. Although for several summers he had been a life guard on Jones Beach, the beach in winter wasn’t really his thing. He preferred roasting hot dogs there in summer, playing softball in the park, pushing his younger child on the swings. He daydreamed sometimes of retiring south to Myrtle Beach, and living by the shore. But he couldn’t be thinking of that right now. He had to get up, fight the fire, and get as many people out as he could.
DINNY LOVERING LOOKED at the legions of black rubber-coated firemen ascending the right side of the stairs as he struggled down, feeling increasingly light-headed. An image came into his mind momentarily of the coal black devil in Duccio’s “Last Temptation of Christ” that he had recently lingered over unaccountably at a benefit for the Frick Museum. That had been the color of the smoke spewing from the North Tower as well. For some strange reason he also had a memory of coming home to his grandmother’s in Hicks Woods from boarding school one February, and Mary telling him the sad story of her cousin, Johnny O’Toole, “Little Johnny” the other grown ups had called him, a friendly, short man who had worked in the house as a carpenter on odd jobs when Dinny was young. Johnny was a volunteer fireman at Eastmere who had rushed into a burning house, found a child in a third floor bedroom, and, trapped by the spreading flames, forced a window and clambered out onto the roof. He had fallen backward to cradle the young boy, but his heel caught on the gutter and while the boy landed safely Johnny’s head hit the ground before his back, and he died. Mary had cried as she told him, and Dinny had promised himself he would always keep the child’s bookcase Johnny had made for him one Christmas to house his series of pumpkin-colored covered children’s biographies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Booker T. Washington and Madame Curie. The books were long given away, but the pine bookcase stood in his bedroom on 72nd Street now.
Adrift in such thoughts Dinny didn’t notice a fallen woman’s outstretched leg in front of him and tripped on it. He staggered to the left and would have fallen altogether if a climbing fireman had not lifted a meaty paw and grabbed him by his left bicep. Dennis steadied Dinny, and their eyes briefly met. “Thank you,” Dinny said, and Dennis gave him a slight nod as he soldiered on. As he put his handkerchief back across his mouth, Dinny thought, “Damn if that doesn’t look like Mary.”
And Dennis, for his part, thought, whoever that guy was in his blue suit and white hankie, he looked familiar, like someone Mom used to work for in the back of Hicks Woods. But he put the thought out of his mind and, breathing heavily now, struggled on.
And just then, in an awful, eternal instant, the South Tower crumbled and fell in on itself. And Dennis and Dinny, half a floor apart, were crushed together in the rubble.
IN THE AFTERMATH of the apocalypse the city staggered and the world watched stunned and sorrowful. Those near the disaster headed away, tens of thousands of pedestrians lining the avenues uptown and across the bridges into Brooklyn. Of the 341 firemen who were lost in those two hours Mary Harrity felt that Dennis and all his family were among the lucky ones. Although she was numbed to the core and thought that her life was over when she heard the news, there was a blessing in store. For even as Dennis’ older son waited up at night for his father to appear, the rescue workers found Dennis’ body, on the third day after the attacks, beneath a beam just north of the South Tower. Laying close beside him was his friend, Bob Barnes, both of them identifiable by their Rescue 2 gear and the cladagh rings they wore. The waiting had ended early for them, Mary Harrity thought, and however deep their grief, they were able to bring Dennis home.
His was one of the earlier funerals in what became a long round of them that Autumn. Central Avenue in Hicks Woods was closed to traffic and firemen came from three states to line the streets and salute. The Mayor came and spoke of how, rather than dwelling on the three thousand of lost lives, we should rejoice that, thanks to heroes like Dennis, nearly 20,000 people in the towers were able to get to safety. He kissed Dennis’ widow and mother, shook hands with Neal and the children and stayed for nearly half the mass. The parish priest, Father Thomas Herlihy, bit his lip and controlled his voice with difficulty as he preached the homily, but he could not contain an occasional tear streaming down the side of his face. Afterwards the family, friends and all the fireman repaired to the Eastmere Fire Department for sandwiches and beer, and Mary stayed through the afternoon and evening, laughing and talking through her grief. Father Herlihy came by, as did, at her particular invitation, Fluffy Finch, a distant cousin of Dinny’s, whose house she still cleaned each week, and they enjoyed the camaraderie.
Mary was seldom seen riding her bicycle back to the houses along the edge of the Hicks Woods marsh that fall. My heart just isn’t in it, she thought, but the truth was she was far too busy going to the funerals of other fireman as well. It ran in the family, after all, she was wont to say, and she knew Johnny and Dennis would want her to. And then, one November afternoon, she drove with Fluffy Finch into midtown Manhattan for Dinny Lovering’s memorial service at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. They sat near the rear in the crowded church as the procession to the altar began with a fanfare of trumpets, the presiding priest intoning, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” The scent of incense filled up the nave as did the celestial sound of the choir boys in full song. Fluffy noted but did comment upon a large number of attractive women in the congregation, many of whom she thought she recognized from her occasional luncheons at the Colony Club.
During the service Mary thought how sad it was that Dinny’s body had never been found, as well as that he had so little family left. His half-brother had come across from Berlin, but he seemed overwhelmed and ill at ease. Poor Dinny had been that way as well when he was younger, and Mary smiled at the memory of the pranks and games she played to get a laugh out of him. He had been a good little boy, always obedient, but terribly lonely in that big house with a sick mother and stern grandmother, and she thought getting him to smile now and again was the best medicine in the world he could have.
After the service was over they had walked across town to a reception at the Racquet Club. Mary said she would wait in the strangers’ room downstairs but Fluffy Finch insisted she accompany her to the second floor. Mary was glad she had, because there were a number of the Hicks Woods old guard on hand, and almost every one of them made a special effort to come over and greet her. It hadn’t always been that way. She still nursed grudges at being treated like an ignorant green horn when she had first arrived in America. Mrs. de Gaste herself, Dinny’s grandmother, in fact, had written her only the most perfunctory of references when she had left. But most of the people she had worked for had been very kind—overwhelmingly kind of late– and it was probably best to put all that behind her.
On the drive home Fluffy Finch said chirpily, “Well, I think that was really very nice.”
“Sure, it was lovely,” Mary answered.
“I was surprised by the turnout. Dinny wasn’t really a person I ever thought of having many friends, but I think he was the only person who perished a certain kind of New Yorker knew, and they wanted to recognize the tragedies somehow. Coming to Dinny’s service helped them do that.”
“There was no shortage of single ladies there, was there now? God bless them for coming, whatever the reason.” said Mary with feeling. “He was a good little boy. It wasn’t his fault he grew up the way he did. He did his best.”
“But it wasn’t the same feeling as Dennis’ service. That was extraordinary,” Fluffy continued, scoring her point. She rather resented Dinny’s success with women. It wasn’t jealousy, she told herself, for her second marriage had been very happy. But Dinny had handled her affairs. He had done it satisfactorily, but Fluffy could not help feeling that he had never given her his fullest attention.
“No,” Mary answered, “but Dennis had a happy family who loved him— brothers, cousins, a wife, and children. I think Dinny, God rest him, was scared off all that very young, and it can’t have been easy.” She dabbed her eyes. “But he did the best he could. And I’m sure the Good Lord took him straight to heaven.” Mary stared ahead at the Grand Central Parkway. Fluffy Finch was silent for a moment and then quietly agreed. “Yes, you’re right, Mary. I’m sure He did.”
And they rode the rest of the way home in their separate silences.
James MacGuire directs the Portsmouth Institute and edits the Portsmouth Review at Portsmouth Abbey School. He is the author or co-author of five books. Educated at Johns Hopkins and Cambridge, he divides his time between Rhode Island and New York.