The Fates of Your Heroes
I admit that I ain't no angel, I admit that I ain't no saint-- I'm selfish and I'm cruel and I'm blind. If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave too. When they leave they're so hard to find...
- Tom Waits
Saint Gabriel is the patron saint of delivering difficult messages.
Gabriel means: to become stronger.
He stands on the steps of the courthouse with a ringing in his head like when you’re a kid and you’ve smashed your face into the dirt under the see saw that some kid just pushed you off. At his feet is an orange plastic bag that holds the items that were on his person at the time of his arrest 5 years ago and the city encircles him like a tornado as he takes in all the ways the world has changed since ‘77.
Out of the breast pocket of his suit he pulls a soft pack of camels, shaking it a few times and pulling one out with his lips. The comforting smell of lighter fluid floats up when he clicks open the silver zippo lighter. It has a satisfying, familiar tinny click that he hasn’t heard in a long time.
The women walk by as he smokes, with permed or teased hair, brighter makeup and…more….professional? They wear suits now with oversized shoulder pads and move quickly as if they have…someplace to go.
The late August afternoon light stings his eyes to blindness. Streets too wide - spaces that extend beyond his ability to focus make him feel exposed; still - he sits with that feeling and absorbs it - not moving; the cacophony in his head building to a nearly unbearable level; like an off key hundred piece orchestra during a tune up session where they compete for most grating sound. Sometimes the volume just creeps up on him.
He closes his eyes against the light and draws a deep breathe, and then deeper still – holding it and slowly releasing every drop of air until he has to push it out, standing up taller in the effort. Invisible lasers on either side of his skull stop spinning and both focus toward a common point in the center of his forehead. The orchestra stops and he pictures delicate fingers reaching out to turn the stereo knob to the left. Slowly he raises one foot to rest on his inner thigh, holding it there with arms in a prayer at his chest; breathing. After stumbling a little, he reaches down and slips off his shoes, placing them carefully next to him with the orange bag on top; resuming the pose with nothing but socks on his feet and the cigarette butt hanging from his lips in a suit that is three sizes too small.
It is warm and windy with a strong smell of the ocean; almost too fishy – a smell he found repulsive as a child clawing his way over the rock piles on Rye Beach - but now worships like a hand written letter from god. Inpatient seagulls cuss with open throated greed over the catches of fish that are being lifted off the boats by small cranes as fishermen watch them carefully with pride and hope.
“What the hell are you doing?” His sister Frances’s laughing voice calls to him from the bottom of the court house steps.
Gabriel waits a beat for effect and with still closed eyes says “Yoga.” A huge and infectious grin breaks out on his face, as his steely concentration dissolves and he loses his balance.
“Yo-what?” Frances’s smile shows unusually large upper canines – Gabriel had always wondered whether they made her look vampiric or girl-next-doorish.
“Yoga. That’s what you learn to do when you spend a lot of time in solitary – if you’re lucky.” He takes a drag off his cigarette without using his fingers and blows it out his nose. “I happen to hold the record for solitary at Thomaston, Fran.”
Frances Marie stops smiling and stares at him with teeth clenched in an overbite that makes the thinness of her lips more pronounced. “Well…look at you Suzy Q. Be sure and put that on your resume.”
Gabriel always forgot how pretty Frances was. Not pretty in a needs to be taken care of way, but pretty in a way that made him proud to share genes with her. Pretty in a way that made him better looking when he stood next to her and told people she was his sister.
And they do look alike. Not at first, but when you look closer. The slackness of their jaws under pointed chins. The turned down slant of their Irish eyes over high cheek bones. The hardness in their hazel yellow pupils which looks like wisdom to the un-inducted but feels like vulnerability to the trained eye. And the premature gray just starting to show in their nearly black Irish afros.
The most striking difference, and the only one that matters to strangers, is Frances’ flawless white Irish skin, and Gabriel’s with craters of boils layered over pussy pock marks.
People stare while trying not to stare as they walk by: wondering who the two are to each other.
“Where’s Nicky?” The light reflects off Frances’ Jacquie-O sunglasses as she looks towards the doors of the courthouse.
“Ah! Nicky my bro…Nicky my hero! You shoulda seen him Franny. He’s just finishing up some of the paperwork. He’s gonna walk over and meet us.”
Frances looks down at her espadrilles - cream colored and unstained. She picks a dark brown hair off the front of her creamy silk blouse. “Where we headed?”
“I don’t know about you, but I could really use a drink – it’s been a long fuckin’ time.” When she looks at him that old feeling builds in her gut, like when you’re clicking up over the first hill on a roller coaster. His smile had always left her sick with desire to become his conspirator.
Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and stowaways. The female version, Frances, means: “one who is free.”
“I’m here to see - Gabriel McGinnis.” She spoke slowly and clearly. “I’m his sister, Frances-Marie.” It was 4:00 on the night before Thanksgiving – 1979. Frances had left her three kids at home with her husband to drive the 3 hours up the coast to Thomaston, Maine to bring Gabriel a blueberry pie – his favorite since he was a kid. She was expecting 23 guests for dinner the next day, but it was important to her that someone visit Gabe. No one should spend the holidays alone.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but Gabriel McGinnis is in solitary. No visitors.”
She tried not to let the image of her hyperactive baby brother in a solitary confinement cell pollute her brain and prevent her from conducting the business at hand.
“That can’t be possible. Every time I have visited Gabe for the past 4 months he has been in solitary.”
The guard’s impassible face behind the glass was her answer.
“When does he get out?”
“I can’t say, Ma’am.”
Well, how long is a stint in solitary in here?”
“That’s not information we can share, ma’am.”
Frances rested a hand on the counter to steady herself and turned her head away from the guard, letting out a big breathe. It took every last ounce of willpower she had not to hurl the pie against the bullet proof glass. “What the fuck.” She whispered under her breathe and rolled her eyes wildly, lips stretching into a thin line over clenched teeth.
She walked out of the lobby, away from the asshole guard, back into the night of wind and rain, leaving the pie on the lip of the window in its disposable tin container.
Saint Margaret of Cortona is the patron saint of single mothers. She also corners the market on the falsely accused, hobos, homeless, insane, mentally ill, and reformed prostitutes.
Margaret means: Pearl.
Gabriel is the first thing Margaret sees as they pull up to the courthouse in Frances’ car: you couldn’t miss him. Eyes closed, his badly scarred face turned up to the sun; standing in some sort of prayer position with his leg pulled up like a flamingo and a lit cigarette hanging from his lips. At his feet is an orange trash bag with the words ‘Thomaston Penitentiary’ printed in black block letters that lays sideways next to neatly lined up shoes. He stands tall and straight and still with a fresh haircut and looks handsome and masculine from 30 feet away: so much like Pop and Nicky, but with really bad skin. She had almost forgotten how bad his skin was.
But Gabriel wears his skin in a fuck you kind of way that makes him strangely sexy. He has really bulked up, too. His chest is much wider than it used to be under the suit that doesn’t fit him that well. Nicky must have loaned it to him.
“Do you ever get the feeling when you see someone” her voice is unusually low for a woman “that this will be the last time you will ever see them?”
“What do you mean?”
Margaret glances quickly at Frances with squared and somber shoulders; her frame strong and intimidating, almost masculine, with straight and shiny dark brown hair which she has worn long since the mid ‘70’s when their mother stopped making her wear a page boy haircut. Her eyes are the same gold as Frances’, maybe a little more green, with a strong jaw and an unflinching, no nonsense gaze. One wonders if maybe God meant for her to be a man, and changed her mind at the very last minute; producing, instead, a quietly intimidating woman who inspires confidence in those around her despite a bottomless vulnerability that lies just below her skin. You have the feeling that Margaret can ‘take care of things’ if they fall to shit, as they very often do. Margaret is as solid and strong as Francis Marie is small and feminine; only their eye color and sharp chins tie them together as sisters.
A late term abortion that she didn’t want in order to save a marriage that was poisoning her soul had changed Margaret. What used to be a reasonably carefree attitude is now a militant practice of truth telling, schedules, and righting inequities in her frantic efforts to assuage the constant state of panic instilled by the regret of what she feels was her one chance to have a child.
“Are you going to tell Gabe, or am I?”
“Marg” Frances yanks the lever down to put the car in park. “We talked about this. He doesn’t need to know” Frances’ lips get very thin and she shakes her head slowly, not looking at Margaret.
“Fran – he deserves to know. He’s gonna find out how much money Pop’s made while he was in, and he’s gonna find out what happened to it.”
“Marg.” Frances glares at her with all the terseness of a much older sister.
“Ok. Fine. I won’t say anything.”
Margaret stays with the car and watches Frances carefully as she crosses the street, now chatting and laughing with Gabriel. She listens to the radio as Don Henley and Stevie Nicks sing about strength and fragile love. Truth is, she is afraid to go over and greet her little brother; afraid to look him in those almost translucent gold eyes – afraid he will disintegrate under the clutch of her grip as she hugs him. They took him away from her once and now she can’t quite get her feet underneath her that his person is here and alive and on this side of the bullet proof prison visiting room glass – that she can touch him and he’s not going to evaporate – like a mirage reaching out to her across the river Styx – it is easier to believe that he is not really hers again – walking among the living.
Margaret’s love for her little brother is accompanied by a desperate and precious fear of the sociopathic monster that he carries within.
Frances never saw the beast firsthand. She was already sent off to the convent by the time it emerged.
But Nicky knows the beast. He had, in fact, bet quite a lot of money on its existence.
Saint Nicholas is the Patron Saint of thieves.
Nicholas means: he who wins.
“Please rise for the verdict on the Gabriel McGinnis parole hearing.”
Identical twins Nicholas and Gabriel McGinnis stand and face the judge. In profile, to someone who is not wearing their glasses, they actually would appear identical. Gabriel stands just one inch taller than his brother. They both have the stunning looks of the black Irish: with very light green eyes rimmed in dark grey, and the nearly jet black curly hair contrasting against pale skin.
As you put your glasses on, the difference between the two becomes striking. Gabriel’s chest is much wider, and he stands straight and broad shouldered, while Nicholas hunches over in some affectation of humility, appearing 2 inches shorter as a result. Gabriel’s face is covered in acne scarring and a moustache, which gives him a sinister and unclean appearance – like the bad guy in a ‘70’s movie about bank robbers. Nicholas’ tanned face is flawless and prep school handsome; trustworthy.
“Counsel,” the judge addresses Nicholas, “it is the finding of the court that your client’s sentence be shortened by 27 months. He will be released into the custody of you, his brother, and will remain a parolee in the State of Maine for a length of 12 months. His handcuffs may now be removed.”
Gabriel’s jaw hangs slack as he turns to stare at Nicholas, who stares back at him in equal disbelief. Neither of them actually thought he would be freed today. After a brief hug Nicholas stuffs his papers into the light brown leather barrister’s briefcase.
“Gabe, I’ll catch up with you guys – there’s a pub called Dooley’s across the street, I need to make a quick phone call…and complete some paperwork. Franny and Marg should be out front to pick you up – I asked them to come up just in case.”
Two dilapidated phone booths stand wedged in the lobby of the courthouse. Nicholas chooses the one without the broken door, and shuts it hard behind him. He picks up the receiver and dials the number from memory.
“Pop? It’s Nicky.”
“Pop he’s out, Judge shaved off two years. He’s been released on parole into my custody”
His father is quiet for a long time on the other end of the phone.
“Nicky, he got what he deserved. I gave that dumb cluck good genes, and a good brain – and he brought shame on the McGinnis name. He needed to be taught a lesson. He should be grateful he has a brother like you.”
“I know, Pop. I uh - just hope he learned his lesson in there.”
“How’s the wife….how are the boys?”
“They’re fine, Pop.”
“Good….good. Listen: I’ve been thinking. I met with my advisor last week, and I told him I want to make sure all my money stays in the McGinnis name: which means only the McGinnis boys. I’m setting up accounts for each of your boys for a few million to start, but you can use the money any way you want.”
“But Pop, what about Margaret? She’s single now that Eric left her…..and Franny….she has three kids…”
“Margaret never gave me any grandchildren – disgraced our family with the divorce. And Frances-Marie….well – what she did to your mother and me, Nicky – it can never be forgiven.”
“But Pop - you already paid for my undergrad, and law school, and the house….”
“Nicky! Not another word. You’re a saint, and the only one of my kids with the sense to use the good brain I gave them. Your boys are the only grandchildren I have that will ever amount to anything.”
Nicholas picks at an orange sticker on the wall of the phone booth, feeling relief drizzle down his insides.
“Thanks pop. I’ll call you soon.”
He hangs up the phone and picks up the leather briefcase with the initials he shares with his father worn into the flap in gold: a gift when he graduated law school. Nicholas closes the brass toggle and walks out of the courthouse, crossing the street to the bar where his siblings wait.
Gabriel, Frances, and Margaret choose a table in the corner of a basement pub under a high window with metal bars. Gabriel takes a chair that faces the room. Margaret and Frances grab two of the remaining wooden half barrel chairs. A conversation that has been on hold for 5 years sits like a haze over their shoulders and they sit for a while in silence watching the crowd, unsure how to begin. No one wants to break the spell – tempt fate and curse the unexpected freedom granted to Gabriel this morning.
A heavily chipped Formica table is all that’s between them now; avocado green - covered in cigarette burns around its metal rimmed edges. They arrange themselves awkwardly around it like subjects in a Picasso painting during his cubist phase; completely sideways and - obscure – failing in attempts to appear normal. Angles sticking out in all directions; not quite fitting in place no matter which way they turn.
Gabriel breaks the silence: “Hey! So Nicky asked me to be godfather to his new kid; said he’s gonna name him Gabriel.”
Like a bullet from a drive by shooting or a projectile vomit in a restaurant - the word ricochets – unexpected, inappropriate, and too loudly from Margaret’s mouth: “NO.”
Frances stares in silence as Margaret takes in a heavy breath and looks away, hunching over her shoulders and running her tongue over her teeth under tightly clenched lips.
Here’s the thing about siblings: they don’t actually need to speak in order to have a full length conversation. It is in this way that Frances knows what Margaret is going to say before she does. Setting her jaw squarely in the McGinnis over bite, Margaret’s eyes go flat and she turns back to Gabriel and speaks in a cracking voice.
“Gabe,” she leans in toward her little brother, “there’s something you need to know.” Her voice goes up an octave in an attempt to convey the seriousness of her message. Her gaze sears into the side of his face as he watches the bar scene with great amusement.
“Gabriel.” Her voice is low and loud, like the one you use with your hyperactive little brother when he isn’t listening. A childhood instinct triggers his attention, which he now turns fully towards her.
“Nicky set you up.” She pauses, waiting for this to sink in. His brows wrinkle, he pinches his lips, and dips his head in closer towards her to hear; tilting it to the left in a subtle gesture of questioning.
“Ya, I know! Fresh outta law school - got me out two years early; I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I would get out today!”
“No Gabe. At Tanley Road. Nicky sent those kids to rob you. He told them where you lived, how to get in, when you would be gone, where you kept the dope.” Margaret speaks very slowly, pausing at the end of each sentence.
“Nicholas? Nicky didn’t…….” His voice trails off and the smile leaves his face.
“Yeah; it was Nicky, Gabe.” Her jaw hangs open in disgust. “He had you take all the dope, all the cash….about a week before those kids came to rob you?”
Just then Nicholas walks through the door, catching Gabriel’s eye and motioning subtly to him that he would get drinks at the bar., Gabriel’s face looks like a venetian blind slowly cranking shut through the stages of grief as he turns back to his sisters. Three hard blinks, furiously flipping through his minds historical files, snapping the pieces into place like the final twist of a solved Rubik’s cube.
“Holy shit.” He shakes his head, “Why?”
“You both knew the cops were onto you guys: Nicky knew it was only a matter of time before they found out who supplied all that dope. And he knew Pop would cut him off if he found he was dealing. You’ve always been the bad twin, Gabe; and Nicky was always the hero. It was easy to pin it on you – so easy. He knew what time you were coming home and timed it perfectly. He knows what you do to people who steal from you – we all remember what you did to Timmy McKernan when he stole your Halloween candy – you were only 10 Gabe, and the kid never walked again.”
“There’s something else.” Margaret bites one side of her lip and looks over at Frances, who stares in shock. “Pop – remember how he started working for Merrill Lynch when you went in?”
“The Dorley’s….they had just the one restaurant on Hampton Beach with the rooming house? Well, they invested with Pop, bought a bunch more properties, and they’re now…well, a pretty major hotel chain. Pop is worth millions.”
Gabriel’s eyes – mean as a cobra and now black with wrath - stare intensely out the barred windows over Margaret’s head. His left hand is jacked up under his right armpit in the self-protective gesture he had developed as a kid.
“So I go to prison, and Nicholas goes to law school.”
“Ya. Pretty much.”
“You know Pop always wanted a lawyer in the family.” Frances’s mouth goes up in a half smile that is not shared by her eyes.
“And an ex-con.” Gabriel laughs in a bitter sarcasm; the secret language of the abused.
Four Jameson’s slam down on the table as Nicky arrives from the bar, some brown liquid splashing off the rims. Distracted by the effort of pulling at his tie to loosen it and rolling up his shirtsleeves, he fails to notice the uncharacteristic rigidity in his siblings.
Frances looks at the whiskeys, then over to Margaret, and then Gabriel.
Margaret is hunched forward over the table with her head in her hands. Long brown curtains of hair hide her face as she stares down at the space on the floor between her legs. The three sit facing each other, staring in different directions; each imprisoned by a different memory of the same childhood.
In the length of time it takes to order four drinks at the bar, they had each become suspended in that fraction of a moment when you know you are going to crash and all you can do is let go of the wheel and brace for impact.
Frances stares up at the perfectly smooth skin on Nicky’s face: except for this, he is Gabriel’s twin in every way. His Cartier watch jingles as he holds up a whiskey, taking a step back and widening his arms.
“To…..Gabriel; my brother, my twin, my hero.” He begins the familiar Irish toast. “May there be a generation of children….upon your children’s….children.” And he gulps the shot.
Gabriel glances quickly at Margaret, and then down at the three remaining whiskeys on the side of the table, letting out the air he had been holding. He holds up a glass without standing, and stares at the floor for several beats, rolling his lips over one another. Finally, he looks up and speaks.
“To...Nicholas; May all your children grow to have….the same fate as your heroes. Slainte.”