THEIR BLOOD BE LAID: PART III

by - 4/28/2018



Enjoy the pain.





III.

I don’t remember much of the limping way home. It’s more of a blurry shadow, whispers down alleys, Cousin Finn cursing in the moment when he’s awake, thick drops of blood hitting the ground and drizzling a trail. Cillian’s voice low and rough right in my ear, hurrying us along. Hurt that settles in thick and deep like a fog over every part of my brain.
The blood doesn’t drip, doesn’t roll down my arm anymore. It crusts hard and painful, dries in dark trails. I try to wipe off my face with the back of my hand and fail.
“Go straight upstairs,” my brother tells me, as someone fiddles with the back gate and swings the rusty metal open. “Just go right upstairs, Áine. You don’t have to listen to it.”
I know.
I remember.
I should have known better than to talk about my uncle tonight, to mention the name of someone dead. These things have a way of coming back around.

My Aunt Katherine is a small, lightfooted woman. She’s not Irish — she has delicate white hands and a braid of honey-brown hair and a voice without a tinge of old country to it. I have misty memories of her smacking Finn’s hand as he reached into cake batter, shouting at the twins as they ran across the yard, helping me tie ribbons in my hair and button up my dresses. Every Sunday Uncle Quinn walks her to the church and waits outside until she’s finished, and every Sunday, she never says a word about it, simply embraces the family she chose and the conditions that come with it.
When Aunt Maureen heard the news about her husband she shouted. Wailed. Beat her fists on the wall and raged and tried to go out to find someone, to stop things that had already been done.
Aunt Katherine stays very, very quiet and sways on her feet.
Cillian forgets me in what comes next. Casey is on the floor, what Casey is now, my mother’s carpet is stained, and someone shouts to help Finn, to get hot water and bandages. The room spins and swirls, a slush of red and brown and grey and shadow. I feel sick. I feel stiff. I feel like crying, and I feel like staring out into the dark until my eyes give out, and I feel like sleeping for the rest of my life, a tiredness settling into my bones inch by inch.
I make it halfway up the stairs before I have to sit down and catch my breath. There’s an odd hitch in my throat that won’t go away. In the dim light I can see the dried blood on my hand, the blood that’s not coming fresh anymore. It won’t again.
Things happen the way they will and destiny spins out in one long thread and all I’ve done is trip over it. Make things unravel faster.
I lean my head against the wall with the slightest of thumps and listen.
“Someone help Kathy, would you?”
“Finn—”
“Just hold him down, won’t you, I’ve got something here, just help me get him to the table—”
“This is your fault!”
Uncle Quinn almost never shouts. When he does, it has the wrath of God behind it.
“This is your fault,” he repeats. I don’t need to be told, somehow, who he’s directed it toward. “Your own damn fault, and now this!”
My father’s voice is tight. “You need to help your wife.”
“When are you going to fix what you’ve done here, then? What’s going to keep happening—”
“Quinn.”
“It’s my sons now, it’s our sons, our brothers! You’ve just let it go on!”
“See to your wife, Quinn!”
When my father shouts, he doesn’t need the wrath of God. He has his own weight.

I wake up weight down by simple sweat and dark dreams, half-buried under blankets that aren’t stained red. The light hurts my eyes — I’ve slept too late. I know I’ve slept too late. I also know I don’t want to go downstairs. Family sticks together in times like these and I don’t want to relive the spray of blood and the shout and the way the cousin I grew up with just —
I squeeze my eyes shut and bury myself back into the blankets. Warm, comfortingly claustrophobic, dark enough to keep me safe from everything on the outside.
Things go around and around and sometimes you can’t talk your way out of them, sometimes you can’t break them, sometimes you cause them, sometimes you can’t outrun what’s coming. I tried to stop the curse and because I tried to stop it it happened. I tried to do something and because of that things went exactly the way I was told they would. I could tell myself it isn’t my fault, something would have happened and someone would be gone either way, but this is different. I did it.
I stare at my clean hands and ignore the sounds of living downstairs. I know what they’ll be. I’ve seen it before. Dad pacing in his office with the door shut and Aunt Eva pouring herself another glass and my mother trying to breathe some hope into a woman half-asleep with exhaustion and grief. And this time Uncle Quinn will be afire, moving too fast, words sharp and flying like bullets, ready to move. Maybe dad will stop him. Maybe he won’t try. Maybe one son shrouded in cloth and another in a haze of morphine will be enough to hold him back.
There are arrangements to be made. Someone has to help with them. More hands will make it easier, will make it faster, will keep Aunt Katherine from having to help. But the more I think about it the less I’m able to drag myself out of bed and do so.
I’m a coward even when I’m not bleeding, it turns out.

I sneak down to see Cousin Finn in the afternoon, when the house has settled into quiet grief. Aunt Eva is the only one to notice me sneak downstairs into the bedroom. She eyes me from her curled-up position on the sofa and keeps her mouth shut. I close the door tight behind me.
My chest hurts, worse than it did the night before. Worse than it did when I woke up covered in blood that wasn’t mine.
“Finn,” I whisper into the dim room. The curtains are pulled tight, blocking out the sun. Cousin Finn is a curled lump on one side of the bed. The room smells like whiskey and Uncle Quinn’s cigarettes and the sharp tang of antiseptic.
“Hey, Finn.”
No answer. I creep around to the side of the bed. Finn’s curled up on his side, blinking at me through a fog of painkillers. His hair’s rumpled. He’s paler than I’ve seen him before. He’s a piss-poor replica of the man who never grew out of the habit of picking me up and spinning me around the room until I got dizzy and couldn’t walk straight.
“Finn.”
He nods.
I want to run crying right out of that room. I could burst into tears now — the corners of my eyes are hot and,  pricking. I want to be back in the skinned-knee, sticky-hands days when I sat between Finn and Casey and their identical laughs and tried to steal from their lunches. I want to not be here.
Instead, I lie down so I’m face-to-face with Finn, knees curled to my chest like I’m a little kid again, trying to get him to look my way. “Hey.”
“Hey,” he whispers back, through the layers of medicine keeping the hurt to the background.
“You’re okay.”
“Not dead.”
“Finn—”
“S’okay.”
“It’s not your fault,” I tell him, and I mean it, because I know who’s at fault. Who started the whole thing, and who thought she could finish it in the process. “It’s not.”
“Should’ve shot me,” Finn rasps back. “No reason I shouldn’t be dead.”
“Sometimes people miss.”
“And sometimes other people don’t.” He swallows with difficulty and I see the tears in the corners of his eyes, the hurt etched across his face while he tries to hold them back. “Would’ve killed me, if he hadn’t—”
I flinch back. “Finn.”
“Doesn’t matter what you try to do, someone’s gotta die, yeah?” He means it as a smile, but the look on his face just hurts me to my guts. “Should’ve been me, but he took it on.”
“He saved you.”
“He’s a bastard.”
I don’t have any of the words, and I’m crying too now, shaking like a baby, swiping at the cold wetness across my face. “It wasn’t—”
“I just want to sleep, Áine.” He shakes his head and winces, like just moving hurts. I imagine it does. “You want to just let me sleep?”
We both keep quiet, blinking too hard, and in the stillness between breaths we can hear Aunt Katherine in the next room over, shaking with breathy sobs. My mother’s low voice trying at comfort. Someone pacing back and forth a little too hard, footsteps pounding across the carpet.
I stay and sink into the mattress, imagine myself being swallowed whole and comfortable, until Finn’s breath evens out and he doesn’t have to think anymore.



*****

“Do you know where I can find Laslo Hugh?”
The lanky young man with his feet up on the desk lifts his eyes off the book in his hands to look at him. I watch him look me up and down — take in my flowery hat and plum dress and heeled shoes that are starting to pinch my toes because my mother’s feet are just a little smaller than mine.
“Hm,” is all he says.
“Laslo. Hugh.” My hand clenches into a fist, fingernails digging into my palm. “He works here?”
“Yah.”
“So where is he?”
“So you’re…”
I smile the sugar-sweet smile my mother taught me to go along with the shoes and clasp my hands together in front of me. “Áine Tracey.”
His shoes hit the floor faster than I can say another word.
“LasLO!”
A pause. I keep on smiling at the man and his disheveled desk. The broken hinges of the door I came through squeak against the wind. Floorboards creak. One whirring fan hasn’t done much to help with the heat, and I can feel everything about my getup wilting, a thin bead of sweat trailing down the back of my neck.
The man’s eyes stay glued on me. “He’s somewhere, sorry miss—”
What?” The screen door to the right of the desk busts open and Laslo, hat-less and with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, leans through. “Listen—”
His gaze catches on me and stops there. “Wha—”
“Thanks,” I tell the man at the desk, and brush Laslo out of the way and further into the newspaper offices. “A word?”
Several pairs of eyes at once look up to me in this bigger room: some men with typewriters, a woman examining her chipped nails, all curious and then intensely curious. The clacking and fuss in the room stops. For a good moment I’m painfully aware of the fact that we don’t step into the light for a reason, we don’t open ourselves up to scrutiny, we most certainly don’t offer ourselves right up to the hungry press without much of a good reason.
I push all of that aside, straighten my shoulders, and look at Laslo, who’s gaping like he’s just been slapped. “So your office is where?”
“I don’t—” His feet shuffle against the wooden floorboards. He clears his throat. “I have a desk—”
“Good, let’s go there.”
Laslo’s desk is a lopsided table shoved into a corner, surrounded by piles of paper and stacks of books. The desk itself is scattered with remnants of pencils and bits of newspaper. We both stare at it dismally for a moment.
“What exactly do you do here?” I ask him.
Laslo starts and looks up. “You found me here.”
“Well, I knew your name.”
“Fair. And anyway, I...work here?”
“So you’re a reporter here.”
His gaze doesn’t leave mine. “Technically.”
“So what do you write?”
“...obituaries. And I coordinate advertisements.”
“And…”
“And mostly I file things and keep the archives in order.”
“So when you were told not to look into things—”
“Yes,” he says, with a shrug. “Technically, that’s not any part of my job, but that doesn’t make me any less of—”
“You’re not even a real reporter.”
“I write the hell out of those obituaries!”
“Maybe I should find a real reporter friend.”
“Now wait,” he says, and holds up a hand as if to stop me from going anywhere. “I don’t think that’s exactly fair, you should at least give me a chance. I might not technically be hired here to write real stories, yet, but that’s a vast oversimplification of my job, it’s actually—”
I hold up my hand in return. “I don’t care. I need your help.”
“You—”
“You were talking about my uncle? I want to see everything you have on that.”
Laslo grins, wicked and eager, and for a moment, I think I see something more than a bumbling newspaper assistant trying to get himself into the action. I think I see something sharp. Something that reminds me of my cousins, my family.
For a moment, I’m almost afraid to keep going.
“Right,” Laslo says. He’s all business now, shoving piles on the desk to the side, ducking and pulling out a box from under said desk. He starts to set it down, hesitates, and pulls it back.
“Down here.”
“What?”
“Come down here,” he whispers, and promptly sits on the floor, half-under the desk, with the box in his lap.
“I’m not sitting under the desk.”
“I’m not getting these out for everyone to see?”
“You work at a newspaper. Those are newspapers.”
“See, the problem here is—”
“You’re not supposed to have them.”
“I’m not supposed to have them. Technically.”
I roll my eyes and gingerly lower myself to the floor so I can slide halfway under Laslo’s cramped desk. Skirts and heeled shoes make it a little harder, and once I’ve settled into my corner more or less I’m forced to deal with the realization that there’s less room than I thought, and Laslo is decidedly closer than is comfortable.
So.” He clears his throat awkwardly and shifts the box so it’s between both of us. “I’ve got all this. I’ve been building a bit of a collection.”
“And it’s about my uncle,” I prompt. The stack of crumpled papers in the box don’t seem to have any kind of reason or order behind them, and just the sight of a few of the headlines makes my stomach turn.
I don’t want to relive that. I don’t want to see it again.
“Right.” Laslo leans forward — I lean back as far as I can — and rifles through his box, pulling out pages and setting others to the side. “So. On March the second, someone found your uncle in the river, early in the morning.”
“That’s not what any of you reported.”
He nods. “That’s right. Officially, he had a seizure, some kind of family illness, in his home, which is where the police ended up. They looked into it and came away an hour later saying it was straightforward. But the warehouse worker who found him, in the river, where he actually ended up, he talked to us when we got to the house and the scene, and he told us and the police that Owen Tracey had a slit throat, some other injuries like he’d been beaten, some missing fingers—”
I shake my head. “I know. I was there.” Just skip on over it, now. “That report must’ve never seen the light of day, though.”
“No. He later confessed to lying about it and everyone ran pieces about the seizure, things like that. These are the papers that didn’t get published, the ones with the real — what’s probably the real story.”
“And we didn’t comment on it,” I add. “We don’t like to broadcast our family tragedies.”
“Of course not. Anyway, later there were some whispers…” He frowns and flicks through his papers until he comes up with a few more. “...that your uncle used his position at the bank to skim money, that he was using his offices as some kind of meeting place for deals of a suspicious nature, that he was using bank money to fund shipments and orders for something personal—”
“Ideas and theories,” I reply.
Laslo looks up at me. “Really?”
“Really what?”
“I’m trying to help you, you know.”
I sigh and rub my temple, like I can soothe away the headache starting behind my eyes. “I know. I’m sorry. You were saying…”
“Right.” He sets another small stack of papers in front of me and points. “See, this is from about two weeks before he died, talking about some shootouts and suspected gang activity going on at night. People out on the streets were talking about how some of the Irish were on the warpath, some kind of family drama, that someone important had been killed and—”
“Lucas Mullane.”
“Sorry?”
I think my hands might be shaking. I know my heartbeat is faster. I take a deep breath to steady it and try not to look too hard at the papers. “Lucas Mullane. The Mullanes run the drug trade this part of the city, for the most part. Or they did, almost single-handedly. They didn’t like having competition.” They still don’t. “Lucas Mullane was one of the two brothers leading the operation. He died around then.”
“How do you know that?”
Don’t say a word, says instinct, but I’m in a corner now, and my thoughts are stained red, and Laslo Hugh with his sharp face and soft eyes and ink-stained hands is very very close and I don’t think now is the time to hold things back, not at all.
“My father killed him,” I reply. The words choke me. “He went to negotiate with them, and he came home bloody. Lucas said something he didn’t like. The deal went south. Things escalated, he killed him, and he started a war.”
“And two weeks later your uncle—”
“My father’s brother died.”
And our family keeps dying and we wake up bloodstained and it goes around and around around, the death doesn’t stop, and it’s not going to stop, not ever.
I think I’m going to cry.
I think Laslo is going to tell me to leave.
He watches me like he’s waiting for me to cry, or twitch, or say something about my father, or break down into a hysterical mess. He watches me and he refuses to look away, and I hate him for it, at the same time that something tightens and stings in my chest that I don’t entirely dislike.
Whatever he wants to say, he doesn’t say it. He reaches forward and cups my face with one hand and turns my head to the side, gently, his thumb brushing my cheek. “You’re bleeding.”
Move, says my common sense, but I don’t. And it’s not about Laslo.
It’s about the thin thread of blood I can feel running down the side of my face, warm and tickling and not at all mine.
And we keep dying. It keeps happening.
“Áine—”
Now I do jerk away, more at the sound of my own name than from his hand. “I must’ve hit my head.”
“Let me look—”
“Don’t,” I snap, and force a smile. “Sorry. It’s just — I’ve been clumsy, I’ve been upset, I must’ve… hit it.” It takes everything I have not to reach up and frantically scrub at my cheek. “I need to go home and rest, I think.”
“Áine.”
“Thank you for showing me this,” I say, and start to ease out from under the desk, feeling the stiffness in my legs. “Thanks for helping.”
“Áine.”
“Thank you!” I repeat, more cheerfully this time. Trying to disguise my shaking hands. Trying not to cry. Trying to hold together lots of things all at once. “You should get back to your obituaries now, Laslo.”
I shouldn’t, but I accept his help standing up. I slip my hand back out of his as soon as I can. (As much as I’d like to hold on.)
“Don’t bullshit me,” he hisses.
I stop. My blood is too hot and my face is too flushed and the room is stuffy, suffocating, almost, every little sound echoing in my head. “I’m sorry?”
“You know I know. I was there last night, remember? You know I know what your family is.”
I hold my head high. You are your father’s daughter. “I know. But you can’t do anything about it.”
“I know. What I’m saying is that maybe, you should stay out of it?”
“There’s nothing to stay out of, as far as you’re concerned.”
“So let me walk you home.”
“No.”
“Okay.” He sighs. “Be careful.”
“You’re the one who should be careful,” I reply. “You know that.”

“I know. I’m just an idiot.”

You May Also Like

6 Comments

  1. *INTENSE BREATHING* THE PAIN. SO MUCH PAIN! The first part of the section was SO full of emotion. I could feel everything and skldjflskjdf MY HEART.

    And then the second part! LASLO. I already totally love him and I thought it was so fun that she sought him out. And they hid under his desk! OH MY WORD. XDDD

    I think this is my favorite part of the story yet! Just when I think it can't possibly get better, IT DOES. Such is the magic of Aimee.

    BUT SHE'S BLEEDING AGAIN AND SLKJLSKJFLKJLSKDJLFKJ I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH THE FEELS. I'M SO SCARED FOR EVERYONE!

    ReplyDelete
  2. THANK YOU FOR NOT KILLING CILLIAN, at least not yet...*hides in fear*

    NOOOOOOO WHY IS SHE BLEEDING AGAIN?!?!?!? Poor Aine, she needs a hug and a good long bubble bath with no blood pooling around her and ruining it. <3

    FINN THO <3 <3 <3

    ReplyDelete
  3. I flipping love this! Omigoodness you're phenomenal.
    Laslo is hilarious, "I write the hell out of those obituaries."
    XD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right? Laslo is great, man. I love that quote XD

      Delete
  4. Laslo is precious and this entire novella is making me scream

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this and I love them and I love the writing and it is aLL AMAZING

    ReplyDelete

tell me stuff!