I’m lugging a black plastic bag, bulging with “fuck-head’s” suits and shoes, for the dumpster – huffing-and-puffing, but still all eyes for the dogs. This is the sort of fast-fucked-up-confusion, where you barrel rapid out a doorway; frighten them; and they attack; lock-jaws and nail-sharp-teeth blazing.
“Hang on, hang on guy,” the boss stops me, a hand on the shoulder. “You gotta think about this like it was your own money – right?”
He looks around, squares his shoulders with a deep breath, like he’s going to deliver a mini-lecture on how fucked up the world is, but the boys are all inside having great crack tearing furniture to pieces. Giving up he pokes at the bag.
“Fuck-head wore expensive clothes, that was part of his con” he wags a finger at me. “Maybe I could make a few bucks off these in of those goofy second-hand stores in Cambridge? ”
Eyes narrowing, lips tightening, he spits out: “Which would be more than I ever got in rent from the bastard. Throw ‘em in the truck.”
Arms aching, I turn, cut across the lawn.
A dusting of snow attempts to cover the scars the boss carved into the lawn with the truck this morning. Eyes full-on crazy, barely looking back, he gunned the V6, rear wheels spinning, rutting a road across his well manicured lawn.
“Fuck that fucking shithead housing court judge,” he yelled above the sound of the howling engine. “Store freeloading fuck-head’s shit for six months – heh? And then magically he’s going pay those costs! What about my fucking rent?”
He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel; the air behind us thick with diesel fumes, soil and winter-dead grass.
“What kind of men wear black dresses, heh?” he continued, glaring out the windscreen while we fishtailed around the lawn. “Heh? I’ll tell you who: Fucking judges and Jesuits. Jesuits and judges.”
As I approach the truck, Diablo and Retard, downy snowflakes sticking to their muscled backs and shoulders, heads slightly angled, stare curiously at me bobbing through the ruts, the big bag nearly winning. When they recognize me, their tails slow wag, drumming a relaxed beat on the truck bed.
As I lean in to slide the bag up against the cab, Retard licks my cheek.
“Come here,” I call to them, backing up in front door of the house, slapping my thigh. “Come in the house. Come on – Diablo … Retard – come.”
Their ears shoot up, eyes electrifying, pink-edged-jaws growing bigger, stronger, more dangerous, tails flailing the walls of the truck bed.
They stare, taut-body-confused, but don’t move.
“Don’t be bothering any children walking down the street,” I wag a finger, uselessly, at them.
Back inside, hands on hips, I survey the house: Acres of honey-yellow-stained oak floors; Navajo-white walls; cathedral ceilings opened up by a series finger-skylights; two French doors in a window wall that overlooks a yard falling away down the side of a snowy “Who’s woods these are I think I know” hill; living room two steps below a dining area that runs into an open oak-cabinets-shiny-stainless-pink-granite kitchen; on the second floor a wraparound, wood-railed balcony, with five bedrooms – one with the door ripped off – tucked into the eaves. And the whole place full of the tenants’ stuff, surprisingly, for a town as fancy as Hingham, ordinary stuff, except for the crucifixes and pictures of Jesus everywhere. They must have been some sort of Born Again Christians – or as they say back in Mayo: Born Against Christians.
“Here,” the boss says, loudly – anger simmering just below the surface. “Let’s see if we can’t burn some of fuck-head’s shit.”
He creaks open the door to a black, potbellied stove in the middle of the living room. A six inch, exposed metal flue, painted streaky-black, staggers up through the roof, held in place by a couple of dodgy metal supports.
He shakes his head, eyes narrowing angrily.
“Store fuck-head’s shit for six months?” he glares around at all his former non-paying-tenant’s stuff.
“Sure – I’ll store it in here,” he stokes the cold stove with a too-smaller poker.
“Anyone got a cigarette lighter?” he asks, eyes softening.
All four of us reach for our pockets.
“What the fuck? Do all Irish people smoke? Don’t you know it’ll rot your lungs out? What does the Pope think about all this smoking - heh?”
He takes Shamy’s Bic, tries to light it, but his thumb keeps rolling off, a tiny stream of lighter fluid jetting out.
“Fuck it, these Jap lighters are made for women. Doesn’t anyone have a Goddam good American Zippo?”
I hand him mine – a cheap knockoff Zippo.
“Thanks,” he flips it open; a blue flame popping to life. “Now that’s one you could burn a village with.”
We stare, confused, at him.
He grabs a People Magazine – with Bobby from Dallas on the cover, a dirty grin on his face, like Pam just gave him the nod – lights it up, and stuffs it, flaming, into the stove.
“Throw anything that’ll burn in here. Fucking fuck-head, pays me three months rent up front. Oh yeah, “I don’t want the hassle of paying every month – I’ll just send you a check after every deal” – sure … not so many fucking deals, heh? A year later and I ain’t seen another check. And I’m supposed to store fuck-head’s stuff for six months – come on …” he holds his hands out … “are we still in America?”
He grabs a yellow fluffy pillow off the sofa, a few more magazines from the coffee table, and jams the lot into the stove with his boot.
“Fucking asshole judge!”
Then he storms off with his usual sense of purpose, arms tight to his sides, face set in stone.
He’s an odd boss, what with the dogs – but sure you get used them; kinda-sorta – and the odd ould pinch of coke – every other coffee break there or thereabouts; and then the stream of shite talk brought on by such a wee bit of white powder. But he pays fair-ish, has any amount of work, and there’s nearly always a good plot twist when you’re working with him. He’s only about fifteen years older than us, but he dresses, talks and acts much older. If it wasn’t for the coke, and the shite talk, and that we’re three thousand miles from Mayo, he could nearly be me father’s friend – not really, but you what I mean.
His father, a thick Corkman – sure, aren’t they all – owned a pile of properties, but he keeled over before he got to enjoy all his scrabbling for money. The boss and his ould-fella hadn’t gotten within an ass’ roar of each other for years before the keeling over; two right thick men, you can only imagine it. But the mother, who the father told nothing – supposedly he said to Barney, down the Emerald; “as far as she knows, I’m a street sweeper, and so long as she gets enough to pay for the groceries, it’s equal a shite to her what I do!” – couldn’t manage the properties at all. So the boss back-doored into a big inheritance. As Barney, with his “forty-years-in-Boston” twang, said after he heard, “the old man must be boring a tunnel around Mount Hope cemetery!” Now the boss is full against anything the father ever said, did, stood for, or might have had even a passing interest in – including being Irish.
Normally we’d be building his gazillion-dollar condos in town, but the housing court judge just got done with him and the non-paying-tenants last week, and only yesterday, he finally routed the girlfriend and the little child out.
This ‘fuck-head’ fella had gotten inside the boss’ head big time: He made out like they were the same kind of heroes; big risk takers, chasing big rewards. He was “some sort a big time international deal maker.” Whatever the fuck that meant, he still bought all his furniture below in Bradlees, like we do. I seen the same TV stand in the living room that we got six months back for $29.99. Anyways, he told the boss that he’d rent this house for a year. The boss had this one up for sale – the old man liked it apparently, supposedly talked about moving in here – but he couldn’t get asking price. Then, according to the boss anyway, fuck-head said that if his girlfriend, or maybe his wife, seemingly ‘twas never clear, and their kid, or just her kid, that was never clear neither, liked the neighborhood, he’d buy the house.
“I’ll pay whatever you want, cash. It’s an easy ride to the airport from here. That’s all a guy in my line needs – a bed and a plane.”
Instead, of course, he fucked everyone. He lost the head one day – according to the boss, if you can believe him and the coke; when fuck-head was away on his “international dealing,” she didn’t stay lonely – destroyed the place, well, the master bedroom anyway; scared the shite out of the girlfriend and kid; drove the BMW to the airport; got on a plane, and never came back. She had no income, so of course no chance of rent; instead, just her showing up in housing court crying, and the utilities getting shut off one by each. Then, one of them really cold nights a few weeks back, a pipe froze. The boss probably should have been wrapped up in a straitjacket that day. Oh, very bad altogether. I’d say Retard pissed himself four or five times that day. Finally, a few grand into a “good Jew attorney,” he made a judge say the woman and child had to get out of the house. The two left with just their clothes. Some bank owned the BMW – hadn’t seen a payment for months. The straitjacket nearly had to be sent for a second time, when the judge told him to “store your former tenants’ personal property for six months, in a professional storage facility, and save all the receipts, so that reasonable reimbursement can be effected.”
We were waiting outside the house, getting ready for the dumpster-dope to drop a can on the driveway, and the boss is telling the courtroom story, spit flying, while we sneak in a last smoke before work. He steals a long-hard drag of Shamy’s cigarette.
“’Think I give a fuck what a guy in a black dress says? Heh?” he waves impatiently at the dope beep-beep-beeping down the long driveway, smoke gushing out his mouth and nose. “’Cause I know that asshole ain’t ever going to come back for his stuff. And if he did, … , if I ever laid eyes on fuck-head again, I’d kill him with my bare hands. Wring his neck!”
His eyes go pure wild, as he imaginary strangles.
A couple of hours later, his plan well underway to burn down the dumpster tonnage charge, the fire’s going good – so good I start to get overheated with all the winter layers.
“Come on, come on,” he snaps when I stop to peel off my sweatshirt. “Where the fuck you think you are? Wollaston beach? Just get it done. I don’t want to waste no more time on this asshole.”
He’s flying around grabbing anything that looks like it could burn, stockpiling it all on and around the couch by the stove. Pretty quick, we have way too much fuel, and the pot belly is working so hard, it starts ticking.
“Leave the door open, more oxygen, makes a better fire. Don’t you have fires in Ireland no more – what the fuck?” he snaps, shaking his head.
Meself and Shamy keep feeding the stove as fast as we think safe.
Conor and John are upstairs smashing before and behind them; Bradlees beds, chairs, dressers – a halfways decent wardrobe, that probably had been a candidate for a used furniture store, but not after Conor’s karate kick put the door out the back of it, mirror glass flying everywhere. But there’s still more stuff: two closets full of her clothes, one full of his, and shoes-shoes-shoes for every possible occasion and season, the only thing more than shoes is broken toys, and they have enough of them to start a broken orphanage. But it’s the piles of glossy magazines, everywhere, every room, even the floors of the bathrooms has stacks of People, Elle, US, Cosmopolitan, that got him thinking about burning.
“Here, look at this guys,” the boss says so loud he’s nearly yelling, interrupting the flow of burning and destructing.
He waves us over to him, holding up a framed photo.
“Come here, come here, let me teach you something your Irish fathers never would.”
Conor and John lean over the balcony, faces red from work; eyes and heads rolling behind the boss’ back. Then, smiling at the unexpected break, they mosey down the stairs. Meself and Shamy drag our feet over from the potbelly’s heat halo.
“See guys,” the boss says, drawing in a deep breath, his shoulders rising, his face turning serious. It’s not the face he gets when we have a real problem to solve – and he’s good at that; he’s a builder; lumber and steel and concrete he can work with, people, not so much – instead it’s that pretend-grown-up-serious look he puts on when he’s ready to deliver a just-how-fucked-up-the-world-is lecture.
“When you pick a woman to marry, live with, whatever,” he pauses, looks slowly around at each of us.
“Remember that you’re going to be still fucking her in ten, twenty, thirty years – if you get the life sentence, right? And naturally,” he raises his eyebrows, angles his head, like as if we think exactly the way he does, or, more likely, that we should be thinking the way he does, “you’re definitely going to wanna know what” he nods the point home hard, “you’ll be fucking in ten … thirty years – right? Come here, come here.”
Chisel and Marvel – the other two dogs; evil bastards if ever evil travelled on four legs – appear out of what was the TV room staring at him.
Me and Shamy seen them in there earlier – up on a Bradlees’ “TV For Two” loveseat, like they were regular dogs, that wouldn’t ate the arse off you at the drop of a hat – and that’s why we stuck hard by the stove as hot it was. Then Martha and Retard appear in the front door. All the dogs jostle to push their muscley bodies up against the boss’ legs, tails slow-wagging. He smiles down at them, holds up a framed photograph, and waves it around like he’s a Herald seller outside of South Station.
“See, … ,” he draws in a deep breath. “This is evidence, forensic evidence of what happens with time to the human body – ‘humana corpus,’ as old Father Carney tried to beat into me a million years ago up in BC High.”
In the photograph there’s two women, their eyes covered by sunglasses, so the age is guesswork, but one looks around late twenties, early thirties, and the other could fifty-something hard years, or seventy – there’s no telling. They’re standing on blinding-white sand, framed between blue skies and a bluer, white fringed, ocean; hair blown back, they look like age-enhanced versions of one another. The younger one – presumably ‘fuck-head’s’ girlfriend – is tanned, bleached blond, fit looking in a bikini: The mother, in the same bikini, rail thin, dark brown alligator skin, burnt-out-bleached blond hair, every muscle – even the little ones in her forehead – sagging.
“See, remember this the next time you’re hanging one on down in Field’s Corner,” he says, shaking his head slowly – like he’s actually an old buck with some won-be-hard-times-wisdom to share. “When you meet a colleen in the Emerald Isle – demand a current photo of her mother, or her grandmother, before you go and fall head over heels for her.”
There’s what regular people would call an awkward silence, with me and the boys all sort of moving around without moving; each of us laughing-scared to catch another lad’s eye, and for-real-scared to catch the boss’ crazy eyes. And we’re all staying well back from the dogs, and eye-balling for something to grab, ‘cause, by how the tail wagging slowed to nothing, the backs tightened to straight, the ears up and down and up again, and the eyes on their master all the time, we could tell that they could tell he was about to blow. The problem was, that when he did blow, we couldn’t tell what they’d do out of fear.
“All right, all right, nothing to see here ladies. Lesson over Micks. Let’s get this place cleared out, burn every-fucking-thing that belonged to fuck-head – I’m all done paying for his shit.”
He slings the frame inside the potbelly with a dull-glass-cracking-thud.
“And that fucking triple asshole of a housing judge,” he stops and points his finger at each of us, as if we’d be down the Emerald drinking in the corner with the judge that night.
The dogs back way up.
“Who … the … fuck … does he think he is? No one!” spit flies out his lips. “I don’t give a fuck who they are, not even my mother, tells me what I can or can’t do with my own … this property!”
He draws back his leg, and unleashes a boot into a rickety Bradlees’ dining room chair, instantly transforming it into a pile of cheap wood and upholstery. The dogs, bodies low, scurry up the two steps into the dining area, regrouping under the table around Marvel, eyes glued on the boss.
“Get to fucking work, what’s all this standing around for?” he storms up the steps. The dogs cower under the table, but he blows right past them into the kitchen.
I pick up the broken chair and start feeding it into the potbelly.
In the kitchen there’s fierce banging and crashing with dishes and glasses hitting the floor – and, it must be noted, instantly losing their resale value.
Then suddenly he’s back in front of me holding out a Sacred Heart painting.
“Burn this fucking thing,” he says, looking away from me.
Now, this was not your grandmother’s Sacred Heart painting, like what you seen in every kitchen in Ireland, hanging on the wall above the little red bulb that barely shined, but that could never be shut off; didn’t even have a light switch to it; even when there was a power cut, you were supposed to light a candle under the Sacred Heart painting; unless, that is, you were up for a heap more time in purgatory.
In this Sacred Heart painting, Jesus stared out with oh-so-sad-brown-almond-shaped-eyes, holding open white vestments, that looked more like a toga than the Shroud of Turin, an aching, bloody red heart, wrapped a few times in double-ex-sharp thorns, dangling in the middle of His chest.
“Burn it,” he snaps viciously, turning back to stare me in the eye.
His eyes are fully crazed now.
“I suppose He’s on their side too,” he storms off, paralyzing another chair with a kick, “Him and the judge and the fucking Jesuits – fuck the whole fucking lot of them.”
He storms out the front door, probably for a wee bit of coke.
All four dogs scamper, haltingly, after him.
Holding the Sacred Heart painting in my hand, I stare at Shamy. He stares me back in the eye, but for just a second, drops his eyes to Jesus’ almond eyes, then walks away toward the dining room.
Setting the picture down by the couch, I pick up two Boston Tall Ships 1976 placemats, the thick-heavy plastic punctured by a bunch of blue-ink stab marks. Staring at the ships, in fake full sail, I force the plastic in two to make it fit in the stove door, and push the fleet into its final, hellish storm with my boot. The potbelly gasps, then flares with electric-blue flames licking the doorway. I stare, nervously, as the flames slowly subside back inside to a whitish-orangish glow. Then I stuff in a stack of Cosmopolitan magazines and a yellowed-out Boston Globe with a big photo of the Space Shuttle flaming out.
The fire, thirsty for oxygen, whistles.
The potbelly ticks, ticks, ticks.
I stare sideways at the Sacred Heart painting.
Maybe I should be the only atheist in Boston with an – albeit anatomically dodgy – painting of Jesus in the corner of his room?
If I say I’m taking it, the boys will slag the shite out of me: But if I burn it the weight of family, culture, and abandoned religion will crush me.
Shamy has the dining the room table flipped over, and is amputating a leg – with his boot.
I find one more Tall Ships placemat, jam it into my personal inferno, and head into the kitchen for a drink of water. I crunch over the broken glasses on the tiles, and stick my mouth under the tap. The cold water, the tinge of chlorine, snap me back; I drink deeply, knowing I have to just not think so much and burn “the fucking thing,” like I was told to. It’s only a cheap ould painting anyway.
As I walk back, wiping my mouth with back of my hand, I hear the potbelly tick-tick-ticking – loud, scary loud.
The fire inside is a messy ball of plastic and paper burning white hot. The first section of flue above the stove, what had been black metal, is starting to glow red hot: The redness visibly creeping up the black metal.
“Fuck!” I yell out, and turn back to the kitchen for water.
“What?” Shamy looks up from another table leg amputation. “Oh Jaysus – double-fuck!”
When I arrive back with a saucepan full of water, the red-hotness is halfway up the second four foot section of black flue.
The boss strolls in, eyes unfocused, shoulders relaxed, a newly lit cigarette dangling from his lips, all four dogs, go-halt-go, surrounding him. He stands and stares.
I throw the water in the door of the potbelly: Blinding smoke billows out.
Shamy rushes in with a big vase full of water, and gives the disease a second dose of treatment.
Steamy-thick smoke: Everyone splutter-coughing.
The dogs growl, crouch; tails up; ears back; eyes wild with fear.
“Shut the fuck up,” the boss yells at them. “We got a real human situation here.”
The whole house is a cloud of thick smoke. All the metal is tick-tick-ticking. Red coals struggle to stay alive inside the potbelly.
A smoke alarm pierces through the fog of steam-smoke.
Tick …tick … tick goes the metal.
The smoke alarm shrieks.
The potbelly belches smoke.
Tick … tick … tick.
The boss, calmly puts his cigarette in his mouth, picks up a broom, walks over to the smoke alarm, and kills it with one whack.
“Hey, nice work guys,” his words fall strangely-soft into our newfound silence. “American kids would’ve run like dickhe … .”
We all freeze as the flue, a black metal column, lurches out of the cloud of grey smoke.
I leap over the couch toward the boss.
The metal hits the hardwood floor with a tinny bang.
Retard darts out, attacks the flue, his teeth flashing white through the smoke. He cries out in pain as the metal scorches the sides of his mouth.
A weight suddenly impacts my lower leg; pain – sharp, intense, rising; like someone whacked my calf hard with a baseball bat.
I look down, tears welling in my eyes: It’s the top of Marvel’s head, his jaws wrapped around my calf.
Shamy, shimmies for position, then drives a boot between Marvel’s back legs. The weight comes off my leg, but the pain grows, radiating up into my thigh.
Marvel bolts into the TV room, crying in his own pain. The other three scurry after him, Retard still whimpering.
Shamy jumps over the fallen flue, grabs an amputated table leg, and stands ready for another canine assault.
The pain in my calf radiates up to my thigh. I sit down on the living rooms steps and pull up the leg of my jeans. There’s three deep puncture wounds in my calf, blood starting to ooze out.
“Well,” the boss says, pausing for another drag of his cigarette, running his thumb and forefinger slowly down the bridge of his nose, “looks like the Big Guy didn’t like my idea of burning Him.”
He nods, smoke gushing out his nostrils, and touches his boot gently against the frame of the Sacred Heart painting.
“Why don’t you put that in the truck,” he nods at me. “Mom might like it.”
I look at Jesus’ sad eyes.
The pain brings me back to the punctures in my calf.
From the TV room Retard groans in pain.