Fairytales of New York: St. Peter of Brooklyn (or The Trembling Leaves that were my Father's Fists) Part III
Sun, 09 Jul 2017
The day after my mother's funeral, I awoke in my childhood bed. The sunlight, in haunting white beams, almost solid, struck the floor so harshly that I thought they must - surely - penetrate all the way to the kitchen below. I smoked a shambolic cigarette, after removing it from its solitary pack and trying - with all the delicacy my shaky, muscular hands could manage - to straighten its knots and dents. I tried to savor the sensation of hot, full lungs - a cancerous embrace. I exhaled slowly and steadily, blowing thick smoke into the ethereal sunbeams where it seemed to hang, potent and blue. I could hear my father down below, his chair creaking beneath him until without warning there came a crack of splintering wood.
I came down the stairs with deliberate weight in my steps. It seemed important not to startle my father, but also to assert my presence - not just state it. I was prepared to beat him down; to make sure he knew that Ma' was dead because of him. A giddy, violent orchestra swelled to a crescendo in my heart as I remembered Charlie, Peter and Ma' - all frightened, all flinching, all fucked in their heads because of the man at the kitchen table. His gun hung from the back of his chair in its holster. I thought I'd have to floor him, sucker-punch him like I did the night I left, to get my hands on the gun. One bullet in the chest to floor him, and one in the head. What would happen afterwards didn't matter either way, in that moment. In spite of all that, I couldn't do it, and didn't. As I entered the kitchen and saw him, meek and cautious, sitting in a broken, splintered chair - his broken throne - the idea of violence dulled me; it bored me senseless. Instead, I sat opposite him at the table and removed from my pocket the note Aoife Dunne had given me after my mother's funeral. It the boarding house address written on the front and on the back it read:
Don't be what he made you.
My father, finally, looked to me with red, watery eyes. For the first time since returning I faced him - I mean, truly faced him - and saw how deep the lines in his face ran; how terrible the drunkard's eyes pleaded for restitution and peace; how lowly and lonely the brows drooped and dropped into utter and irretrievable sadness. I felt no hatred for my father but nor did I feel love. Only sympathy; only misery; and fear for how fragile a human life is - how flimsily the mind is held together and how easy it is to lose everything, even yourself, without realising. That house, that kitchen, that table, was the pits of death. It was haunted by the ghosts of Ma' and Peter but also by the ghosts of Pa' and me and the things we - all four of us Di Mauros - had all done to ourselves and one another and the things that were done unto us by each other. There was not hope; no future. Only dead cats in the dumpsters, blood-stains on the walls, regret in the eyes and atrocity in the memories. There was no romance, no optimism; just dread and violence and more violence. My father's hands, dry and calloused, shook uncontrollably. I clasped mine beneath the table, lest he see that mine shook, too. My father spoke.
"I've got to go to work, Valentino"
"I don't know if I'll be here when you get back"
There was a pause which hung heavy in the air, like blue cigarette smoke. I glanced toward the pistol hanging on his chair.
"Don't", is all he said.
"Don't what, Pa? Don't go the same way as Pete and Ma'?"
His face bobbled, slowly, as he turned to look at the floor, as if I had exposed to him some horrible wound that he couldn't help but side-eye. Still, he said nothing until I got up from the table.
"Where did you go after your Ma's funeral?" he asked.
"I saw Aoife Dunne"
"Is that where you're going tonight?"
"I think so"
We stared through one another, suspended between two lifetimes that had known nothing but fear and misery. Eventually, he spoke.
"I'll have no-one left, Valentino"
"Neither will I, if I don't go to her"
I made to leave. I had to return to Manhattan to settle a few affairs; to tie-up a few loose ends. With every step toward the door, I felt ever more petrified. Every pore drenched me with sweat; every heart-beat felt like a punch to the gut and my thoughts screamed at me to stay - to go back to that table and stay with my father. But I proceeded. I opened the door and that gorgeous, angelic sunlight which had shone into my room washed over my tired, unclean body. I stood for a moment, neither in nor out.
"Did he do it to himself, Valentino?"
"No, I need to know" he bellowed, suddenly coming alive like a suffocating cat in the vice of his death, "Did you shoot him, or did he do it to himself?"
"It... it doesn't matter, Pa'"
Like a child reaching for his comforter, I patted the pocket in which Aoife's note rested. I've always known, and I alone have known, which of the brother's pulled the trigger that night.
Looking, with unfocused eyes at the blood-stain opposite my father, I said, "It doens't make any difference. It won't ressurect him from that box; it won't bring Ma' back. It won't do anything. Peter died because he was what you made him, Pa'. We both were"
I left that house for the last time. The image of my father's broken body in that broken chair, alone at the dining-table, across from the splatter-pattern of Ma's suicide with the gun that killed both her and my brother draped behind his shoulder is how, ever since, I've always remembered him. No longer a despot, a madman, a killer; just a broken man in a broken chair; a twisted ape in his twisted tree.
I only ever spoke to him once more when Aoife insisted that I invite him to our wedding. Despite her sins, she remains the most virtuous person I've evber known. I telephoned him the day before. It was Spring and the trees in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park looked healthy from the window of our cramped apartment on the Bowery. The trees were solid, sturdy, and the leaves were green and still and resilliant against the warm breeze. Something about their constitutional vigor, their sturdiness; their beauty and elegance made me strangely optimistic about everything - my future; Aoife and her kid; even New York City itself.
On the telephone my father's voice was rusty and mechanical, as if he hadn't used it since the day I left a year ago. He had become decrepit, like the gravestones of my mother and brother. There was nothing to infer in his voice - neither threat nor fear; only numbness. In our brief conversation, he called me Peter, and I never will be sure if he knows which of the brothers I truly am anymore.