Author: Guede Mazaka
Paul is staring at the ceiling, watching the smoke from his cigarette wreath the fan up there in mourning banners. It’s entirely inappropriate for his mood, but then, he’s not really sure what his mood’s supposed to be. “I thought you two were Catholic.”
“Yeah?” Murphy’s both confirming and questioning.
His brother doesn’t even bother; he caught on quicker that non-answer renders a statement rhetorical and thus mostly harmless, giving the speaker his stab at humor and the listener their chance at deliberate ignorance. Replying, on the other hand, turns it into a debate, and they can’t match Paul at that, however many tongues of fire have descended on their heads. Besides, wrong holiday.
“Devoutly so. Otherwise why the prayer?” That is touching a bit close to the nerve, but then, Paul’s lost his nerve years ago and that’s why he doesn’t flinch when everyone else is diving for the floor. He doesn’t give a shit about anyone else’s nerves. Yeah. Which is why he’s coming off a long day translating forensics to dumbass street-beat men to come home and find two Irish darlings lilting their way above his arguments. They can’t match him so they just float above him, somehow reaching that fluffy cloud where argument ceases to exist and faith begins.
“Hey, it’s because we’re devout that we’re here. We know our saints.” Behind Murphy, his brother’s making pretty with the knife, slicing and dicing with nonchalant precision. It’s not as tough a job as the meatpacking plant had to be, but he probably made that look good, too. The McManus boys could’ve been glam-angels of the serial-killer world, brutality of their victims’ mutilations matched only by perfection of their faces. Dancing to the lone solo of their very own warbling trombone, wailing and moaning and singing in a beautiful way that just isn’t meant for humanity.
Would’ve been a hell of a lot easier to say no to. Paul stops looking at the ceiling because he’s too old to be blinded by nothing more than a tight ass in blue jeans. And because he wants another drag and he’s having a lapse of sanity, not a descent into idiocy. If he smokes with his head back, he’ll get burning ashes in his eyes. “Saint Valentine was martyred—if he actually existed and his legend is true—for reasons that had nothing to do with love, marriage, or the commercial expressions of either of those two.”
“And George Washington told a bunch of lies after his cherry got—” Murphy tilts over the sofa, pops his thumb out of his mouth to crack obscene noise through the room “—chopped, but fuck, they all still believed him.”
“The Pope excommunicated you, yet you still respect his houses,” Paul snaps back. He can hear the way his words sink deep into the room, the silence he’s just crammed down everyone’s throats, and a surprising amount of him doesn’t give a shit. If they think it’s easy for him to open his doors and usually his stock of medical supplies, if it’s easy to fudge evidence when he’s spent years and years trying to show all the goddamn idiots how justice and reason actually do coincide…then they’re not nearly as smart as he thought they were. Then they’re just a bunch of lunatics and he should be slitting his throat for wasting a second of his time on them. Let alone wasting his morality for them.
Soft shuffling. Connor’s grabbed a rag from the kitchen and is quietly wiping off the knife. The tobacco between Paul’s fingers crawls with ash while the other man puts the weapon away and picks up the plate with the cake slice on it. He comes over, leans on Murphy who’s half-perched on the sofa back and half-crouched on it, and he offers it to Paul, solemn as an altar boy.
Like Paul said, they can’t match him for debating. He’s got reason and he’s wrung its neck, he’s dissected its parts and he’s teased it into being from too many fragmented lies for it to catch him by surprise anymore. But what they’ve got, he can’t reason with and he can’t understand. All he can do is stand and look at them, and wonder why his eyes are fucking burning like the light’s on too high. It cuts two ways, seeing the sun dance and glory burst on this sordid world, and then dealing with the permanent retinal darkness afterward. He’s never managed to separate life and death, not even with his most incisive slip of logic.
“They’re not his houses,” Connor snorts. His eyes should be pale but they’re dark, charcoal sketches of fatigue and fear grinding out from the inside. They’ve been running so long they’ve internalized it. “Eat it, Smecker. You let Da dump us on your doorstep and cross into Canada to hide while we healed up.”
“It’s a thank-you, if you’ve got the balls to take it instead of spitting on it,” Murphy adds. He has his arm over Connor’s shoulder and he’s leaning too close to Connor’s neck, tugging down the collar of his brother’s shirt so one end of a fresh pink scar can be seen. And he’s on the couch because he hates his crutches, awkward tottering referencing some childhood nastiness that makes him crawl when neither Connor nor Paul’s around to replace them. “What? It’s good cake so why are you looking at it like that?”
Paul stubs out his cigarette and takes the plate, wondering if they’re going to make him pray over it. And then wondering if the Church even has a saint to cover this situation, old queer trying to keep his head up by leaching off young vigilante proselytizers. “Because it’s pink, you moron.”
Connor rolls his eyes. Ruffles Murphy’s hair to keep him from getting offended too fast. “That’s not it, but who the fuck cares? Eat the fucking food.”
The back of Paul’s throat feels dry, scratchy, sour, and he knows the cake will stick going down. He wishes he had something to wash it out with, something that’ll knock him on his ass at the same time so he won’t have to deal with all the many varied flavors of shit of afterward, but somehow he thinks whiskey wouldn’t fit the occasion.
“We just…thought you might…” And Murphy’s tucking his head into his brother’s neck now, uncaring what the fuck Paul thinks because it’s not as if Paul hasn’t heard their soft delirious cries for each other and held them down because they’d been fevered and their stitches would’ve snapped out all their blood. Because it’s not as if he doesn’t know and isn’t one of them, bound into their bodies with his steady hands and needle and thread and drugs, and so Murphy’s downcast because Paul is refusing now.
It only lasts for a little while, Paul wants to remind him. Only till Paul walks out the door and back into the world, and once again starts accumulating the baggage of the mere mortal, the tarnishes and the chips and the wrinkles.
“We’re going next week,” Connor reminds him. Steps forward and grabs the plate, thumb overlapping Paul’s.
Sometimes Paul thinks there might be a reverse. It might be a two-way reaction, the taking and the offering acting to cleanse both sides. And when Connor stares at him like that, far older and wearier than his voice says, his body says, his faith says, Paul knows it to be true.
He can’t reason it out. But he eats the goddamn cake.
It was sticky and too dense, too starchy and the frosting was cloying artificiality compared to the sweetness of Connor’s mouth, of Murphy’s thighs shuddering around Paul’s waist. The color was lurid and glaring, unlike the way Connor turned in the dim light and sheathed himself in its silver, the way Murphy’s eyes were the color of a wet spring sky.
But Paul finished the cake over the space of a week, and when he was done, they were gone as well. So there’s the link and the old saying that scrapes his sores freshly raw, and then there is the slow crawl back into the filth, trying to map his way with reason and instinct till the light comes back so he can see again.
He knows he wouldn’t be seeing anything but blindness, dazzling brilliant blindness. He’ll be too busy looking up to remember the dirt beneath his feet, to bother looking at the long road still winding before him. But sometimes he remembers the taste of cake and he thinks it would be better to be burned, to have nothing left but flesh of their flesh.