Tuck’s hand started to shake as he hammered on the door, and not just from the cold, either. “He’s not answering.”
“He isn’t? Imagine that. I hadn’t noticed.” Brother Andy blew on his fingertips. “Look, you said yourself that sometimes Goodman Brogan doesn’t like to answer the door for you. If he is merely being stubborn –”
“This is different,” Tuck snarled. The country had been blanketed in a blizzard for the past three days. Everyone was just getting to the work of digging themselves out. Finley Brogan was an old man alone, unloved and uncared for. Who knew what might have befallen him in three days?
Brother Andy sighed. “Perhaps it is — perhaps it is not. But you have made it very clear that this man is not the most … grateful of parishioners. And I have other patients, all of whom have also been affected by the storm in one way or another.”
“No, Brother Andy,” Tuck snarled in between pounds, “patience is precisely what you do not have. FINLEY!” he bellowed. “Open the door!” He jiggled the handle.
Out of the corner of his eye, Tuck saw Brother Andy blink and straighten. He looked at the door, then — up? “Brother Tuck,” Brother Andy said, his tone hard and hurried, but not impatient, “there is no smoke coming from the chimney.”
“No sm–” The meaning of that slowly sunk in. Tuck gulped and began to hammer on the door again. “FINLEY!”
“If I may make a suggestion, Brother?”
“Brother Andy, now is not the time for –”
“The Brothers of St. Pascal, while understanding the value of austerity and denial of the flesh as well as any order, has never espoused the idea that monks ought to starve themselves in order to better reach the Lord Wright. And we are both young men, or young enough.”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Tuck snapped as he tried to get the handle to turn with one hand while knocking with the other. “FINLEY BROGAN!”
“I think we ought to be able to break the door down.”
Tuck stopped. He stared at Brother Andy. “Truly?”
“If we both put all of our weight against it … this house isn’t very well-maintained …”
Tuck looked at the door — at the windows, which were too high up to be reached easily — and he looked at the chimney, from which no smoke was issuing. “On three?” he asked.
Brother Andy backed up to the edge of the porch. Tuck followed. “One, two …
Both men ran at the door, their shoulders crashing into it in unison. The door shook and shuddered, but did not break.
Tuck stumbled back, panting and rubbing his shoulder. Brother Andy did not fare much better. “Once more?” Tuck asked.
Brother Andy did not answer — he only nodded. They backed up to the edge of the porch and ran at the door again.
The door did not break on the second try, or the third. On the fourth, though, it finally gave way with a shuddering shriek of splintered wood. Brother Andy and Tuck stumbled headlong into the frigid room.
And then they saw.
They were monks, both of them. They had both laid out the dead and said the final prayers over the bodies. And Brother Andy was a doctor, university-trained. Neither of them could have had any doubts about what he was seeing.
But Tuck moaned and hid his face behind his hands. “Brother — Brother, go see — see if you can –”
Brother Andy’s mouth opened. It shut again. He looked at the prone form on the floor.
He patted Tuck’s shoulder. “Of course, Brother. I’ll do whatever I can.”
They both knew it wouldn’t be much.
Hours and hours later, Grady Brogan stood with his hands on his hips, staring down at the worn floorboards he had trod on for so many years with nary a thought. It was easier to look at them than to look at his siblings, both seated at the table behind him. It was easier to think about the floorboards than to think about his father, dead and cold in the next room. They were supposed to be keeping watch, the three of them, but when Ailís had complained of thirst, both of her brothers had followed her out. Finley still lay in that bed, the bed their mother had died in. And the door to the bedroom was shut.
Grady sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Finley had died cold and alone, stranded in the middle of a snowstorm. The house and the body had both been so cold that Brother Andy had said it was impossible to know how long Finley had lain there. It was impossible to know how long it had taken him to die. Impossible to say whether it had been painless and peaceful or if there had been hours of agony.
Impossible, impossible, impossible. Couldn’t the monk forget about the bloody truth for once and just lie to make the family feel better? They didn’t need Brother Andy to add to their guilt.
“We … we should talk,” Ailís said hesitantly. “We ought ter figure out … what’s ter be done.”
“Grady an’ me already talked ter the monks,” Berach answered. “Funeral will be day after tomorrow. Burial as soon as the ground thaws. Don’t see what else there is ter be talked over.”
“The house …” Ailís murmured. “Everythin’. Grady — Grady, what d’ye think?”
What did Grady think? Grady thought the Lord Wright had a lousy sense of timing. First Aileen … his sweet little baby … now this? What the hell, Lord? What the hell is yer problem?
He thought of Toinette, home with the kiddies, trying to break this news to them so soon after Aileen. Nora would probably cry, and Sean would, too, once Nora started. They didn’t know any better — at least, not too much better. Katie and Paddy? He could only imagine them shell-shocked and numb, as he was now. In too many ways, they were both more his kids than they were Toinette’s. And they both remembered what Finley had been like in life.
Grady thought that it was hard to believe the old drunk was gone. He thought he ought to feel regretful — perhaps wish he had done better — but done better how? He’d put up with Finley for as long as he could take it. And then Toinette had shaken some sense into him and made him realize that he was putting his kids through the same hell he had been through. He couldn’t do that and —
“He ain’t listenin’, Lís. We might as well jest decide,” said Berach.
“Eh?” Grady asked, half turning around. “Sorry. I …”
“Weren’t listenin’. We noticed,” Berach snapped. He sighed. “Lís is tryin’ ter figure out what we’re supposed ter do with the house. An’ the dog.”
“I’ll take Alabama,” Grady said. That poor animal. They had found her under the bed, whining and crying. She hadn’t wanted to leave the room and go back into the kitchen, especially not after they had brought Finley into the bedroom. She was still in there now, on the dirty cushion at the foot of the bed, just where Finley used to like her to lay.
At least somebody was with Finley …
“Ye sure they’ll let ye?” asked Berach.
Grady heard the smack of skin against skin. “Arrgh! Wright damn it, Grady! Ain’t ye been listenin’ ter a bloody thing?”
“A bloody thing about what?”
“Please don’t –” Ailís started, but whatever she would have requested was cut off by the scrape of wood against wood and Berach’s feet as he stomped over to Grady.
“Look,” Berach snapped, “I jest want ye ter listen. No talkin’ fer five minutes. Jestlisten.”
“I think I can handle that,” Grady muttered.
“Good,” Berach sneered. Grady told himself to be patient with his brother. It was Berach who was first on the scene; whom Brother Tuck had run and fetched out of work. He had been dealing with this all day. Grady hadn’t come until the afternoon; Ailís had come still later.
And Berach, perhaps, had the most reason to feel guilty and upset. Finley had decided to stop speaking to Grady of his own accord — not that Grady could entirely blame the old man — but Berach had thrown him out of his house and refused to speak with him, refused to help him out. And now there would be no making up — ever. No wonder Berach was testy and snappish. Grady would be, too, if he was under that kind of burden of guilt.
“Da didn’t have a farthin’ ter his name when he died,” Berach said. “Everythin’ in this house, savin’ what’s bolted down, has got ter get sold ter clear his debts. There. Is that clear enough fer ye?”
“What, everything?” Grady asked, jaw falling.
“Even — even the dog? But she’s so old! She can’t be worth anythin’!”
“I’m sure there’s a tanner who’d like ter have ‘er.”
“Berach!” Grady shouted.
“What? It’s true! I ain’t sayin’ I like it! I’m jest sayin’, there’s creditors that will take the lot! The table, the chairs — the beds — the dog! Even Ma’s old chess table!”
“No!” Ailís gasped. “Not — not Ma’s …” She pressed her hand to her mouth, a sob welling and dying.
Berach sighed and threw his hands up. “I’m sorry, Lís, but that’s how it is! There ain’t even gonna be enough ter pay fer the coffin an’ the plot o’ earth — we’ll have ter split that ourselves.”
“No. No,” Grady said, shaking his head. “I’ll take care o’ it.” And he could take care of it — couldn’t he? The shop was doing well — almost damnably well, considering how everything else was falling apart. And his siblings — money was always tight with Berach, and Ailís had just moved all the way to Port Finessa, with all of those attendant expenses, and she was going to be having another little one before the year was out. Whereas Grady …
Grady had one less mouth to feed than he had when the year had started.
“Oh, aye, ye’ll take care o’ it,” Berach snarled. He threw back his head and growled, “Now ye’re takin’ care o’ things!”
“What the hell is that supposed ter mean?” Grady snapped.
“It means, where the hell ye been fer the last year? It means, what they hell were ye thinkin’, runnin’ out on Da right after Ma died? It means –”
“Where was I? Where was I? Gettin’ me kids out o’ this hell-hole, that’s where I was! An’ I didn’t see ye — neither o’ ye! — jumpin’ at the chance ter come crawlin’ back inter it! Wright! Ye left, the both o’ ye, as soon as ye could, an’ now ye’re gettin’ on me fer takin’ me chance when it came!”
“Grady!” Ailís cried.
“No! No, I ain’t hearin’ this from neither o’ ye!” Grady shouted. “Neither o’ ye have any right ter judge me! Ye thought bein’ raised by Da was bad? Try watchin’ him do everythin’ — no, not everythin’, almost everythin’ he did ter ye ter yer kids! An’ try sleepin’ when ye’re up all night prayin’ he won’t try the same things on them that he did ter ye!”
“Oh, yer one ter talk, ye never had ter watch him call yer kid a –”
“Who the fuck cares what he called yer kid?” Grady exploded. “That’s the worst ye can say, he called yer kid somethin’ that weren’t nice? O’ course that’s the worst ye can say! Who the hell was Da’s punchin’ bag when we were little? When he wasn’t whalin’ on Ma, who do ye think he went fer?”
“He went fer me –” Berach started.
“Not as much as he went fer me! Oh, don’t even think that ye got half o’ what I got! He were beatin’ me black an’ blue before either o’ ye were born!”
Grady saw Ailís get up, grab a plate that had been lying out for — who knew how long? — and begin to wash it. But he scarcely paid her any mind. He had other fish to fry.
Fish like Berach. “Fine! Fine, Da were harder on ye than he were on us!” Berach snapped, rolling his eyes. “But ye still milked him an’ Ma fer all they were worth, then, after ye’d gotten everythin’ ye could from them an’ Ma died, ye cut an’run! Ye cut an’ run an’ ye left ‘im ter us!”
“An’ such a good job ye did, too, takin’ care o’ him,” Grady muttered.
“An’ why should we have put ourselves out fer him?” Berach roared. “When the hell did he ever put himself out fer us? Ailís! Ailís, how much of a dowry did Da have laid up fer ye?”
“Berach, don’t –” Ailís said.
“Nothin’! He had a fat lot o’ nothin’ fer her! D’ye remember how many years she had ter scrimp an’ save ter get married? D’ye? D’ye remember how Neil finally got tired o’ waitin’ an’ went an’ indentured himself so he could get Ailís out o’ here?”
“O’ course I remember! I was doin’ everythin’ I could ter help Ailís out — wasn’t I, Ailís?”
“Grady, Berach –”
Berach slammed his hand on the table. “No! No, ye weren’t! Ever since ye got old enough ter earn a bloody copper, ye’ve been scrimpin’ an’ savin’ everythin’ ye could get yer bloody mitts on ter buy yerself an’ yer family out!”
“An’ I did it! An’ I did it! Even with Da, even with everythin’, I made good! An’ all of yer yellin’ won’t take that away from me, Berach Brogan!”
“An’ all o’ yer pride an’ all o’ yer money won’t make me shut up!” Berach retorted. “Ye have the balls ter be lookin’ at me like that! At least what I have, I earned with me own two hands! I don’t owe nothin’ ter anybody or anythin’!”
“An’ I didn’t? I could barely trust Da ter change a diaper or look after a toddler! Everythin’ I got, I earned!”
“Cadgin’ off Ma an’ Da!”
“Keepin’ a roof over their heads, more like! Ma did the best she could, but she couldn’t o’ taken care o’ herself an’ Da an’ this farm all by herself! I did that! I helped her, an’ I been helpin’ her since we came here! Ye weren’t! An’ ye cut an’ run the second ye turned eighteen, sirrah, so I don’t want ter be hearin’ no more from ye!”
“Ye weren’t here today!” Berach shouted. “Ye weren’t here ter listen ter that — ter that –”
A vein stood and throbbed at Berach’s temple. His hands shook. Grady almost relented.
Almost. Instead he leaned back on his heels, arms crossed before his chest. Go ahead, he thought, sneering. Ye tell me — go ahead an’ tell me, after puttin’ up with Da fer four-an’-thirty bloody years, what is so terrible about me not bein’ there today.
“Ye didn’t have ter see that priest look at ye! Sneer at ye! Sniff at ye an’ scold ye — ye — fer not takin’ care o’ Da! Callin’ me a — a — an unfilial –” Berach kept shaking. “Ye didn’t have ter put up with that scoldin’ on top o’ everythin’ else! An’ ye’re the only one o’ us what deserved it!”
“I deserved it? How the hell –”
“More than me! Everythin’ ye earned, ye earned off what was Da’s originally! An’ me? Theone time — the one bloody time I axed fer help, not even fer money, just fer someone to watch one little girl in the days, d’ye know what he –”
“Good Lord! Ye’re still on about that? Are ye –”
“SHUT UP! Shut up, the pair o’ ye!”
And Grady and Berach did shut up. Both turned slack-jawed to face their sister.
“Listen ter yerselves! Jest listen!” Ailís shouted. “‘It’s yer fault!’ ‘No, it’s yers!’ ‘No, yers!’ Wright! How old are the pair o’ ye? Twelve? Ten? Five? Me Nellie an’ me Josie don’t fight as stupid as ye two are!”
“Ailís!” Berach gasped.
“Shut up! I ain’t finished yet!” Ailís yelled. “Ye’re yellin’ an’ screamin’ fit ter wake the neighborhood? An’ why? Because of somethin’ some monk said? Which one was it, anyway?”
“That snivellin’ Brother Andy! That — that –”
“Ye’re yellin’ at yer own brother because o’ somethin’ he said? Berach! He don’t know Da! He don’t know what we went through! Brother Tuck, did he say nothin’ ter ye?”
“N-no …” Berach admitted.
“See! Ye didn’t do nothin’ wrong! An’ nor did Grady!”
Ailís stood there, a picture of a scolding fishwife to the life — except she was shaking. Fishwives never shook after they yelled. If they did, they would never stop shaking. “Look at us,” she whispered. “Jest look us. What are we, if not a family o’ cowards?”
“Ailís …” Berach crooned.
“No. No. We run. All three o’ us, we run as soon as we could. Maybe we had ter — ter keep our families safe. Ter keep ourselves safe. But once we didn’t have no more reason ter stay, we run. Berach, ye can’t — ye can’t blame Grady fer goin’ as soon as Ma — went. Wouldn’t ye have done the same thing? It ain’t — it ain’t like ye came back ter help Da after Grady left. It ain’t like I came back, neither.”
“Ailís!” Berach protested. “Ye know what he said to Leah!”
“I know,” Ailís replied. “I ain’t sayin’ ye was wrong! Lord — if ye was wrong, we all were! We all are! An’ listen ter us! Da — Da’s still jest in the other room! An’ what are we doin’?” Her jaw started to quiver and she impatiently brushed her tears away with her hand. “It’s barely more than a year since we lost Ma! An’ we jest lost Da this mornin’. Are we — are we gonna lose each other before tomorrow?”
Grady winced, but Berach — Berach, who was always better whenever someone needed to use his heart, and not his head — hurried to Ailís and put his arm over her shoulder. “No, no. We ain’t losin’ each other. I promise, Lís!”
That was what it took to get Ailís to break down. As far as Grady knew, she was the first of the Brogan siblings to do so.
“Lord!” Ailís sobbed. “I can’t lose ye two! I can’t! We’re all each other’s got left!”
“Ye ain’t gonna lose us — we’re all gonna stick tergether. We’re gonna get through this. We’re gonna — we’re gonna take care o’ everythin’ with Da, an’ then we’re gonna put this mess behind us, an’ we’re gonna go on. Tergether. Ain’t we, Grady?”
Grady sighed and ran one hand after the other through his hair.
“Grady?” Berach snarled.
He looked up. But — but what else was there to say?
“Aye,” he said, walking up to his brother and his sister. To the only family, other than the one he had made for himself, he had left. “We’ll stick tergether, Lís. Don’t ye worry about that. One way or another … we’ll get through this.”