|The Old Man and the Gun
Author: Guede Mazaka
I shall cry God to give me a broken foot.
I shall ask for a scar and a slashed nose.
I shall take the last and the worst.
* * *
They think he’s ex-IRA, maybe, what with the scars and the haunted look in his eyes. Or maybe just an ex-criminal, a refugee from the shiny shiny world of fast money and filth. He’s got that sure way with the table knife and when he limps down the road his hand hangs curled to his hip, fingering what isn’t there, so they think and sometimes he almost tells them they’ve nearly sussed it.
In Ireland, outside of the cities and the towns, the roads are still soft sinking dirt that are forgiving to old men’s aching feet. He isn’t truly old yet, but he feels like it and anyway, pavement reminds him too much of chalk outlines and dried-up dark stains. Right now he’s living in the ancient damp stone cottage formerly belonging to some cousin who thinks his American relation pulled off some wild bank robbery and came back to the motherland to hide. It’d be more true to the family history if that had been the case, and God knows that everyone here desperately ignores the youthful craziness of their mother. An Italian for a husband, Mary? Did you ever hear the like? And them Mafia wops killing what might be our cousin’s cousin over in New York City?
Call him Irish, then. Call him one of their own, one of the thousands and thousands of sons who grew up nursing on the injustices of the past, steeling their backbones against the long centuries of persecution. Call him a friendly man, generous when drunk and not one to cross when sober, but always fiercely loyal to his own. Call him someone who’d not sit back and be done to, but who would stand his ground and prove himself something.
They could call and think him whatever they wanted now. It’s been a long time since words and thoughts and even deeds had meant much to Murphy, and even longer since he cared what they had meant to anyone else.
He went to the parish church exactly once for mass, but had to walk out halfway through when someone had started to recite the prayer and suddenly there had been the pounding steps of the cops in Murphy’s ears and the recoiling thunder of the guns and he’d gotten all the way to his front steps before the gritty black shadows had faded away to show Eire’s green hills. Sometimes he gets so used to his family being into every goddamn thing in the area that he forgets they’re there. And then he’s reminded and he spends days locked up in the house because there in his fifteen-year-old cousin’s arm is Connor’s bicep, and in his drunken great-uncle’s tipsy smile is Connor’s smile and in the bunching of the muscles in his aunt’s grocery-laden back is Connor’s strain.
That’s probably how the rumor about him having some mess with an American bishop got started. Got him a few slanted looks from the more devout of his relatives, but otherwise they take it all in stride. Just like Connor does. Did. Fuck, Murphy doesn’t even know anymore.
Sometimes when she was upset, Ma had turned on Connor and called him his daddy’s boy. Usually when he’d just avenged a wrong done to Murphy and when she’d turned angrily from him to reach for something and her eye had caught the framed black-and-white photo of their father. Her mouth would twist and her voice would go not hot-mad, not shrill like they were used to, but low and cold and throbbing with a darkness that still gives Murphy nightmares. Later they figured out what she meant by that insult, what she was saying about their half-blood parentage and about the new century of blood-feuds the Irish and the Italians had forged in America, what she was saying about Da. Though the rest of the time she’d insisted they act like proper boys and not bastards, and the one time little knee-high Murphy had impulsively turned Da’s picture to face the wall, he’d gotten such a hiding that he hadn’t been able to sit for a week.
She’d been right in some ways. Connor was more sober, more calculating. He took responsibility to family more seriously. Sometimes it was said on the streets that both the micks and the wops were clannish fucks, but at least the micks were good-natured about it. Murphy was the one who’d punch a man to make him apologize to Connor, but Connor was the one who’d yanked up a toilet from the floor and had killed to save Murphy.
But it was also said that the Italians were cooler in their loyalties, ready to turn on their own if any weakness was shown, whereas the Irish just put up with it because they were fucking family. In which case Murphy was the less Irish one of them, because when it’d gone beyond protecting themselves from retaliation, when it’d gone into some ecstatic fervor that had gripped Da and passed him over, he’d been the one to step back. And Connor, wavering on the doorway, had spread his hands and looked at Murphy with the same confused, instinctive horror in his eyes and had said: It’s Da, Murph. Da.
It’d been more than that. It’d been Connor too, and Connor meant more but Murphy could not for the love of him see Connor in that doorway, lintels streaked with the blood of their victims—victims, not enemies—and smelling of death and echoing with the sound of their father’s prayers for the dead. He’d stepped back, and for an instant he had seen his brother.
But Connor had only stayed for a moment. Da had called, and Connor had looked at Murphy but Murphy hadn’t dared to step up again and lose sight. Connor’s hand, clenching on the doorframe, and then a hollow rectangle of space framing nothing. The gun in Murphy’s hand had been so heavy, and so warm, and it had still been calling for someone’s blood but he’d been the only one left in the house.
So here Murphy is in Ireland, gun hidden high on the closet shelf where he couldn’t hear it so well. Here he is, living the ghost-life in the pastures of his family with only the blue memories of his brother shining from the walls to keep him true company. Surrounded by blood, dreaming of blood, and missing blood.