It was the blood on the leather jacket that Mac remembered most. How dark it was and how much darker it made the jacket look. It dripped down from the studded collar along the right sleeve and it hung from the golden zipper and its teeth. It was like the jacket had been shot rather than his uncle. He would remember that jacket more than the roar of his grandfather’s shotgun, or the cries of his howling mother, and even more clearly than the ripping open of Patrick’s face.
After the shot, when his uncle lay on his grandparent’s wooden floor, his arms stretched out like a faceless Jesus, Mac did not mourn. His uncle was dead and gone and he saw that. His brains were on the white walls either side of his body; sliding down just above the skirting board. But that jacket, that jacket seemed like it was alive. Even though it was wounded and bleeding, Mac knew he could save it.
Mammy was screaming at this point. Screaming as she searched for the telephone. She was on knees, looking, her shaking hand having knocked the phone down off the table in the hall. Paddy’s running blood was staining the sleeves of her pink dressing gown as she frisked the floor. Not wearing her glasses she was practically blind and, when she was drunk, it was even worse. Mac’s grandfather, Frank O, was walking back to the kitchen after kicking his son to make sure he had finished the job. Droplets of blood were splattered on his fat nose and forehead and his right eye was plum coloured and closed. He winked at Mac on the floor as he passed, having slapped Mac there before he shot his son. The smell of whiskey hung off him. Mac again felt drawn towards the jacket as the blood gargled out from Patrick’s head. It sounded like water escaping down the drain. The blood was now spilling onto the battered elbow pads and torn cuffs of the jacket. Mac had to act fast if he hoped to save it.
Mac heard the wicker chair in the kitchen corner moan and he turned to see Frank O sat down with his hands resting on his gut and the double-barrelled shotgun between his legs. His right shoulder looked far larger than the other. They would learn later that his shoulder had dislodged during the recoil of the shot.
Grandmother was kneeling and praying in the kitchen. Mac could just spot her slippers and skinny legs peeping out from the arch of the door. Her voice was loud as she spat out the words as Gaeilge: ‘A Naomh-Mhuire, a Mháthair Dé, guigh orainn na peacaigh, anois, agus ar uair ár mbáis.’
The black and white pictures of the Virgin and Collins looked down upon her. Mac’s father Billy had awoken too, naked, upon hearing the gunshot. And he stood looking down at his brother in law, smiling at his corpse, nodding and smiling. Mac was struggling to get up off the floor; his face was half-caked in blood and he was pissed. He took a deep breath, causing some of Patrick’s blood to go up his nose, and began to crawl toward the dying jacket.
When Mac got closer he could really see the damage. The whole middle of Patrick’s face was gone. It looked like mince, pink and purple mince. It was just a hole, and then Paddy’s wild hair. When he was alive Patrick would never pat down that hair, never wet it into place. It was always sticking out like weeds on a road. It suited a half-missing face Mac thought, that hair. But the strangest thing about Patrick then, apart from the half-missing face and the gore and blood, was that he looked okay. His jeans were not full of the usual stains of grass and ash and they didn’t smell much of piss. He had a new shirt on too, that was white (before the blood) and his finger nails, which were usually full of dirt or baccie, were clean. And the leather jacket, though wounded, looked so noble. Mac almost thought that body to be handsome.
There were whispers of smoke still rising from Patrick’s face. He was dead the poor fool, poor Paddy, but the jacket was still alive. He gently pulled the loose sleeves free from the arms. There was still a warmth in Patrick’s skin and, when Mac got past the stink of smoke and fresh blood, he could still smell the alcohol off him. Once he had the sleeves free, Mac began to push his uncle over slightly to his side. There was a rattle of an empty naggin in the back pocket of the jeans as Patrick started to move.
They had shared it only an hour ago, the two of them already pissed. Laughing outside the house drinking it straight. Both happy and dancing in the dawn light. He was always good for a naggin was Paddy. Mac remembered getting one off him the morning of his First Holy Communion. Paddy and Mac drinking it with a can of 7-Up. Laughing away then too. And Mac remembered Father Murphy knocking the host off his tongue once he smelt the stinging scent of booze. But sure that’s the way it goes, Mac thought, Paddy is gone now. Like his uncle before him and his great-grandfather before that. But the jacket was there to be saved.
Mammy was still bent and moving like a blind cow on the floor, but as Mac got to work on saving the jacket, she had found the phone and now held it to her ears. Wailing louder than before she called the Guards. Repeating, ‘It was my own brother and father, Mary and Joseph, my own flesh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.’
Frank O was making tea in the kitchen and he shouted in at them, ‘Does anyone else want any?’
Mac’s father said he did. Still grinning away to himself, still naked. ‘Two sugars Frank O, plenty of milk now please.’ The grin was soon gone when he saw his son pushing the corpse over on its side and Mac’s pale and sweaty hands grabbling at the jacket. ‘Ya whore, what are you doing?’
He rushed toward his son, slipping in the blood. And that lapse was all Mac needed. Grabbing hold of both sleeves, Mac stood up and, with all his boyhood strength, he pulled the leather jacket out from under his uncle’s back and legs. More blood seeped from Paddy. Darker now, like red wine. Mac was grabbed by the neck, but he kicked free and punched his father’s crocked nose, feeling it shatter again.
His father fell backward over poor Paddy. Frank O was in the doorway, tea in hand, Grandmother behind him folding and unfolding a hand towel.
‘The tea is ready. Jacket will suit ya now, Mac, once you get it cleaned up. Long few years ahead of you so Billy.’
Mac’s father rose again in fury. ‘He isn’t keeping it, I am not letting it happen again and again. No not my son and my blood.’
Mac ran into the living room. The jacket tucked under his arm, blood falling from it as he went. Onto the rug, the Sunday newspapers, and onto a few photos of dead relatives as Mac went to open the back door
Outside, Mac ran towards the mountain that hung above the little house. That hung high above the whole of the Island. An Sliabh Mór Donn was her name and Mac raced for the summit.
The ground was marshy as he ran. All brown reeds and yellow clumps of ferns. And it had a sharp slope that mountain, so he ran with his left hand out in front grabbing for any hold in the brown muck. Mac could feel the jacket’s pulse slowing and he could hear his father cursing his name and luck. He didn’t notice the weather. It could have been raining or it could have been sunny. He just ran. Up and up.
At the top, he bent down and laid the leather jacket flat on the earth. Taking off his shirt and using the skin of his own hands, Mac dried the jacket. Dried the studs and gold zipper and teeth and the sleeves and pockets and the elbow pads. Mac then cleaned them all with his spit and made it shine again.
As Mac stood up he could hear cars and sirens below, and the calls of Mammy, and the barks of his Grandmother as she tried to listen to the wireless, and the sipping of tea as Frank O explained to the two Guards that it was a family dispute, a family matter and tradition, and he could hear still the blood dribbling out of poor Paddy’s head.
Frank O would be arrested and released within two weeks, on the grounds of compassion or misunderstanding, it was never clear. He would die before the year was out, a very happy man. Grandmother would become senile and unbearable upon her husband’s death and so a pillow was placed on her head as she slept, three days after Frank O’s funeral. Mac and his family would move into the empty white house soon after. Billy would take up the farming. Mammy would drink and pray, stealing wine and Communion from the church. And Mac would open the lid of poor Paddy’s coffin on the day of his funeral and kiss that hollowed face one last time.
But that was all to come, and that day Mac was high above all the chains of the future.
High above all, atop that mountain. The Island seemed to stretch out in front of him. It seemed never to end. An entirety of brown and bog and dots of whites with raising smoke. He put on the leather jacket, its blood was dry and crisp on Mac’s hand and shirt. It fitted as if Patrick had been minding it for him. And wearing that jacket, Mac saw what his kingdom would be.