Happy St. Patrick’s Day


 

            In 1852 when the McLeerys moved to America, they were pleased with New York and imagined they could make the city their permanent home. But before the decade ended, they were in Boston. Seven years later, Baltimore. Then to Buffalo in ’75. By the time the twentieth century rolled around, they had moved all the way west to Cleveland. In 1935 they arrived in Salt Lake and were able to stay for almost a quarter century. Then Logan, Boise, Spokane, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland (for a full decade), and, finally, last May, south to Oakland.

            “Ah, now there’s some terrible stuff, luv.” Traffic on the 80 had been dead for the last five miles and finally the reason for it came into view. A peppy orange SUV had plowed into a peppy pink two-door, and the scent in the air proved what the colors suggested: Young women. Mr. McLeery’s tongue touched his upper lip to taste the blood. At least six of them.

“Tragedy we weren't here when it happened, luv. Know how you prefer taking from the already dead.” He watched a small round bloodstain on a body bag go into the back of an ambulance, then he hit the gas and the McLeery’s ’82 Cadillac sped past the scene and into the open freeway beyond.

            The McLeery’s small, dirty apartment was situated above or next to or across from six Korean restaurants and just around the corner from the BART station on Broadway. This made Mr. McLeery happy. Even after all this time, he still enjoyed few things as much as a ride on the train. Besides, BART was the best way into San Francisco. And the stories people told of San Francisco!

            The McLeerys had a deal with the man who ran the parking lot down from their apartment: gold for their own permanent space. They waved to him as they pulled in and parked their car, Mr. McLeery being careful to stay well within his two yellow lines.

            “I’m feeling hungry, luv,” Mr. McLeery said as they trudged up the stairs to their apartment.

            “Oh, don’t say that, dearie. You know we filled up before leaving Portland. We should be good for years.”

            “Aye, aye.” Mr. McLeery fumbled with the lock. He still had all their Portland keys on the ring and could never remember which were which. Finally the lock clicked and he let them in. Mrs. McLeery scurried to the backroom to check on the pot, then she went in to the kitchen to make tea. Mr. McLeery sat waiting for her at the table.

            “Did you know,” he began, “in San Francisco they have a burlesque that’s owned by the strippers?”

            “You don’t say, dearie.”

            “Imagine! I do wonder if their standards for beauty are higher or lower than other clubs. What do you suppose?”

            “I can’t imagine.”

            “Ah, but surely you have an opinion? What do you think, luv?”

            “Maybe they start out strict but let them stay longer.”

            “Och. That could be. That could be….”

            “Now, dearie. Don’t be getting one of your ideas now. No matter what they look like, they’d be sure to notice one of their own gone missing.”

            “Aye. Aye.”

            The kettle whistled and Mrs. McLeery turned to it. As Mr. McLeery watched her, he thought of the accident and the smell of young blood, but what said he said was “How’s the tea, then?”

            “Fine, dearie. The same as always.”

            “Aye. The same as always.”

 

MANUEL IBARRA’S GUN, SPORTS & PAWN

            Manuel stood next to his cash register rubbing his thumb over the dull yellow lump of gold that Mr. McLeery had handed him. Compared to the neat appearance of his shop, this misshapen chunk of wealth did not seem to belong. He set it on the counter next to the newly framed photograph of his family he had been in the process of hanging when the old Irishman had walked in. It would probably be the last one taken with his twin daughters before they graduated high school and started getting married. He looked at them for a moment then picked the rock back up.

“If you don’t mind my asking, sir, where do you get this stuff?”

            “It has been in me family a good long time.” Mr. McLeery smiled at Manuel and Manuel smiled back. It was always this way, once he found the right shop. “And now you know their value, I’ll be asking you to double what I settled for last time. Och, don’t look so hurt—I know perfectly well how much you’re making on the turnaround. I’m making you rich! All I want’s a little for me and me dear old missus.”

            Manuel’s smile was gone. But he nodded as he rubbed the eagle on his forearm. Mr. McLeery pocketed the cash and headed for BART.

            It’s easy to blend in in San Francisco. Even for a pudgy, red-cheeked, middle-aged white man with steeply widowed red-and-white thatches of hair.

            Especially when all he wants to do is look.

            “Och, you stink of harlotry, dearie, and don’t you deny it!”

            “Harlotry indeed. I was only watching the strippers, luv. Getting the lay of the land, so to speak. I’m only interested in your health, luv.”

            “I know, dearie. But I feel fine. And should for some years.”

            “To be sure, but you never know but we’ve got you a weak heart or something and I’d like being prepared.”

            “But you know how I feel about strippers—”

            “Aye. Which is why I look there first.” He stepped to his wife and put his arms around her, pressing his hands into the small of her back, sliding them downwards, clutching her buttocks. “But harlotry, luv? Really! You know perfectly well I love no one but you. Indeed, in this age what confuses scrawny with pretty, I’m not apt to find woman flesh enough to suit me outside this apartment.” He lowered his lips into the folds of her neck. Mrs. McLeery tittered and fumbled with her husband’s belt.

            In a corner of their backroom, hidden behind an enormous pile of brooms and mops and old rags, sat the pot, the unquestionable mystery. Once, back in Ireland, they had understood. But their years in America had given them the forgetfulness it gives all immigrants, and now it was merely the pot, their source of wealth, a near-worshipped mystery. Twice had thieves followed Mr. McLeery home and twice he had killed to protect the pot. Those had not been pleasure killings, but they were necessary. And really, what killing is without some satisfaction?

            Lying tired and spent and tingling on the kitchen floor, Mr. McLeery fell into his favorite topic.

            “I was thinking of getting you some new ’testines,” he said. “We haven’t replaced them since leaving Logan and it’s only a matter of time till they start bothering you.”

            “They’re fine, dearie. If they weren’t we’d have replaced them in Portland, like everything else.”

            “Aye, but it wouldn’t hurt. Wouldn’t you like it, knowing you were all new down there?”

            “I’m fine, dearie. Truly I am.”

            “But just think—Logan! That was some time ago!”

            “Aye.” She turned onto her side and kissed his ear, ran her hand through the forest of gray hair on his chest. “What about you? All that smoke and you’re still breathing through Boise lungs.”

            “Boise was much too small for us, luv.”

            “Aye. Most places are. But how about it? Get yourself some lungs.”

            Mr. McLeery grumbled.

            “Please, dearie. Do it for me.”

            “Ah, I wouldn’t know where to look.”

            “What do you mean? Same place you find young women for me.”

            “Oh, no. I’ll not be watching no sodomites prancing around. Not this McLeery.”

            Mrs. McLeery made a fist and tugged his chest hair gently. Then she slipped down to his belly hair and tugged there. “You’re getting a bit of a rasp, dearie. Just one young man and we’ll take all the pieces from him we can. Please.” Then she slid her hand further down and with a smile climbed back on top of him. “Do it for me.”

 

MARCH FIRST

            “Can you believe it’s March already, luv?” asked Mr. McLeery over tea that morning.

            “Oh, again. We should just try skipping once. See what happens. Besides, it’s a Christian holiday anymore.”

            “Don’t be silly, luv. We were doing it long before the Christians came.”

            “Christians. There’s one we botched.”

            “Aye. Our biggest blunder, to be sure. We could still be in Éire. Doing what we do. Being what we be.”

            Mrs. McLeery looked to Mr. McLeery and sighed. “So why do ye insist on reliving it year after year? And besides, this flat’s hardly large enough to do it proper.”

            “Perhaps. But think of the pot, luv.”

            “Aye. The pot.” Mrs. McLeery gazed ahead for a few moments, then stood up to start the dishes.

            “Speaking of,” said Mr. McLeery as he stood, “I took out a couple this morning.”

            “Off to Manuel’s, then?”

            “Aye. Get you anything while I’m out?”

            “No, no. Thank you. Just keep your hands clean. All these months and except for taking lungs from that beggar man, you’ve not hurt a soul. I’m very proud of you.”

            “Aye, aye. Well, I’m off then.”

            But Mr. McLeery was hungry. So hungry he could smell unspilt blood. He watched his wife carefully for signs of malady, but she was well and healthy. He tried going to the movies, but those visions of violence were too silly even to be laughed at. And it had been far too long since he had smelled true fear. That beggar had been stone drunk; and he was a man besides.

            A breeze blew past Mr. McLeery’s nose and his looked to find the bloodscent’s source. Behind him walked an obese twenty-year-old woman, the smell of blood pouring off her.

            If women didn’t menstruate, it might be easier to forget blood and to honor his wife’s requests. But menstruate they do. And it’s not easy. And surely Mrs. McLeery would understand—

            He stuffed his hands into his pockets and kept walking.

 

19TH STREET OAKLAND BART STATION

            Mr. McLeery sat on a bench and watched people get on and off trains all day. March 12th and still he hadn’t decided what to do. So he sat and watched and smelled. Sweat. Blood. Pain. Sorrow. And some with so much of Ireland in them to make him salivate.

            That evening, as rush hour stumbled to a close, he walked to a nearby bar that claimed to be Irish and drank. Twelve pints later, he rose to go home. Twelve was not a large number for Mr. McLeery, but it was enough that he did not notice the four muscled forms that left the shadows alongside the pub to follow him. He did not notice them until he was at the top of his darkened stairwell, fumbling with his keys, and a hand grabbed his shoulder and flung him down the full flight and three pairs of fists began to pummel his face and body.

            At first he was too surprised to do anything but laugh in delight and feel them hit him—the breaking of a rib—teeth. Then he brushed them off, stood and grinned. “All right you bloody bastards, here I am.” The largest of the three swung for Mr. McLeery’s gut. Mr. McLeery stepped into the punch and brought an elbow down onto the man’s shoulder, twisting him around and into Mr. McLeery’s face. He grabbed the thug’s ear with his teeth and bit it off. Nothing like a woman’s, of course, but it had been a long time, and the taste was hot and fresh and iron in his mouth. He chewed the ear up, the gristle popping between his teeth, and swallowed. With a worthless arm and his head pouring blood, the thug flumped to the floor as Mr. McLeery shoved him away. The other two glanced at their first casualty, then attacked.

            One managed a kick to the old man’s groin, but otherwise their struggles were short. Mr. McLeery punched and wrenched the stomach from one before biting deep into the throat of the other. He sat for a while on the bottom step and caught his breath while picking at their flesh. He tore out a liver but the man-scent turned his stomach, and he tossed it to the ground.

           The first thug was still moaning when Mr. McLeery stood up, so he stomped on his head, pounding and cracking, till the skull gave way. It took longer than he had expected. “Bloody thick skull,” he muttered. He looked at the mangled bodies and vaguely thought that he could possibly have used some of those parts, but the alcohol dulled any regret.

And then he remembered the hand at the top of the stairs. He flipped his head upwards where the apartment door stood agape. He ran up and found Mrs. McLeery sitting at the table nursing a scratch on her right hand. She looked up at her husband and frowned at the crusting blood on his face and neck.

“That certainly took you long enough,” she said. “And I certainly hope that is not your own blood. Why can’t you just break necks and be done with it? Why must ye always make such a mess?”

Mr. McLeery sighed and sat down. “Where’s the other one?”

“Trussed up in the other room. I figured you could use him.”

“Teeth.”

“Well, a young man like him should have some nice ones, dearie.” She stood to get him a wet towel to wipe his face. “Were you showing off the gold, then?”

“No, but why else an ugly old man like me? Who do you suppose it was, luv?”

“Well, I’m sure it wasn’t the nice man in the parking lot. Your Manuel, perhaps?”

“Is anyone else?”

“I don’t know, dearie. You’re the one what takes care of these things.”

“Aye. I suppose I’ll have a talk with him on the morrow, then.”

“Dearie, dearie. First do something with your mess. I’ve no desire to move again so soon.”

“Aye…aye....” He frowned. “I’ll take them to Manuel’s, leave them outside. We’ll see if he mentions it when I stop by. But first I suppose I’ll go take those teeth.”

“Don’t waste him, dearie--surely you can use something else as well.”

“I’m fine, luv.”

“Let me help you.”

“I’m fine.”

“Tut tut.”

 

BROADWAY

            Mr. McLeery had to admit, as he whistled his way to Manuel’s, that he had needed a new heart after all. He hadn’t been this energetic in a century. And that last heart barely a year old!

            He was still whistling as he squeezed past the police tape and into the pawnshop. Mr. McLeery prepared for some preliminary carnal banter and gold-selling but Manny’s wide eyes and slack jaw told him everything.

            “Ah, so it was you, Manny. And here I thought we were friends.”

            No reply.

            “Haven’t I done enough for you, Manny? And you—a family man! I should think a family man would know better!” He chuckled. “But surely you don’t think I’d let a few bloodstains on the sidewalk come between us? Of course not.”

            No reply save a small tremor.

            “No hard feelings. I still need you and your friends didn’t hurt me none, the poor bastards.” And then an idea. “Tell you what. You know how the missus and me is Irish? Well then. This Friday’s a big holiday for us Irish people, you know. Why don’t you bring your family over and we’ll show you how it’s done proper. None of this silly, American corned beef and cabbage rot. We’ll show you a real St. Patrick’s Day.”

            Mr. McLeery was all smiles and charm and or-else, and Manuel nodded agreement. Mr. McLeery gave him directions then looked at the photo of Manuel’s family and smiled.

            “Don’t forget anyone, now.”

 

SAINT PATRICK’S DAY

            The doorbell rang and there stood the Ibarras in the darkened stairwell. Mr. and Mrs. up front, Mrs. Ibarra holding a Mexican Catholic-style candle with an image labeled “Patricio.” Between them stood their six-year-old youngest, Marisol, in a plastic-pink party dress that caught the apartment’s dirty yellow light. On the stair stood eleven- and thirteen-year-old boys; and behind them, Mr. McLeery was pleased to notice, the Ibarra twins: seventeen-year-old girls, heavy, both wearing bras that forced their ample breasts out the top of their matching black t-shirts. Perfect.

            “Come in! come in!” Mr. McLeery accepted the candle and ushered the family into the living room where he could still smell the blood of the man whose heart now beat in his chest. “If we squeeze there should be room enough for all of us. Luv, this is our friend Manuel. Manny, would you be so kind as to introduce your lovely family?”

            Manuel’s face bespoke fear, as did his wife’s, but their voices betrayed no sign to their children, whose faces bespoke nothing worse than boredom. Just like all Americans their age, Mr. McLeery cheerfully thought. What a wonderful country.

            Mrs. McLeery brought in small cups of warmed cream for the children and Bailey’s for the parents which Mr. McLeery had insisted they would expect. They managed small talk for a full half hour and, once, one of the twins had even participated. When the three youngest started getting wiggly, Mr. McLeery asked Manuel to accompany him and they took the children into the back room.

“Here’s a box filled with toys, little ones. I buy them throughout the year to give away at Christmastime. To poor kids, you know. But feel free to open them and play with whatever you like.”

The boys nodded and Marisol offered a shy think you. Mr. McLeery started to leave, then paused in the doorway: “Now,” he said, “do be careful not to disturb that pile of brooms there. There’ll be nothing fun over there—only serious grownup stuff you’ve no need of.” He smiled at the children, then led Manuel back to the living room.

Mr. McLeery watched the worn-looking Manuel sit down on the couch next to his matronly wife and their buxom daughters, each fifteen stone if an ounce. A lovely set of humanity.

Mr. McLeery rested a hand on Mrs. McLeery’s right leg and made a comment about the Ibarras’ polite children. Mrs. McLeery smiled at Mrs. Ibarra who briefly smiled back. Mrs. Ibarra asked about the polite children’s schooling and another quarter-hour crept by. After a pause in the conversation, Mrs. McLeery leaned forward on her knees and said, “Now, Mr. Ibarra, surely you would like to see the pot where we keep our gold.”

            “I—”

“Of course you would. Would you fetch it, dearie?”

Mr. McLeery enjoyed the rush of fear that filled the room before standing.

“Certainly, luv. I’d be delighted.”

Most people, judging by artwork in coloring books and Saturday morning cereal advertisements, have no idea what the pot looks like. Yes, it is black. Yes, it is round, roughly. But it is not round like a mother’s welcoming breast. It does not sit on three cute, stubby legs. It is not friendly. It is the long lumpy roundness of a witch’s fallen teat and it sits heavily and flatly on the ground

The pot is not smooth. Not even the McLeerys cannot move it without catching their hands and spilling blood.

The pot is large—much larger—larger still—yet thin and leaning, as if it wishes to fall and crush you.

Gold does not mound off the top in well polished, sparkling coins that wink in the sunlight and chase after rainbows and smile at passersby. To discover the contents of the pot, you must reach in and scrape your hands along the edges and discover what is growing there. And you must be ready to yank out your hand at any moment.

Sounds come from the pot. Sounds. Not even the McLeerys discuss these. Yet without your silence, they will pass unheard. And you will approach the pot unwarned.

Mr. McLeery sat the pot in front of Manuel and his wife with a grunt. The skin between his left thumb and forefinger caught and tore. “Shite!” He stuck it in his mouth and grimaced. Nothing tastes so poor as one’s own blood.

“This is our pot, dearies,” said Mrs. McLeery, leaning back into her chair. “Such a wonderful thing.”

The twins rolled their eyes.

“There was once,” Mrs. McLeery whispered, looking above their heads, “that we fed the pot a pig on this date. That was a hard year. But I’ve often felt….” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. We were having a good time just moments ago, weren’t we? And now I’ve gone and acted like a dull old lady.” She smiled. “Such a beautiful family you have. Sometimes…sometimes I just get comfortable and forget who I am.”

Mr. McLeery stood behind her and squeezed her shoulder with his undamaged hand. “At any rate,” he said, “I’m sure your father has told you about our gold.” He smiled at the twins, then forced himself to acknowledge their parents as well. “We owe your father so much. I feel, in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, we would be amiss not to offer you something. The pot is full! There’s plenty enough for you each to have your own piece. And we insist you do.”

Besides the fact that prostitutes and strippers and the like tend to disappear with fewer noticing, they are generally easier to lure away in the first place. And less likely to realize before it is too late that something is amiss. But whores are also hardened and jaded and they never smell strongly enough of fear.

And they often stink of other men’s juices.

And they feel less pain.

These twins, however…these twins. Mr. McLeery could not stop watching them. Oh, they thought they were jaded. To be sure! They were teenagers! But they didn’t know pain. It would be new to them. And they did not know fear. They couldn’t even smell it pouring off their own parents.

Tonight, of course, was the night for feeding the pot. But Mr. McLeery was also hungry. And as he watched those breasts, he knew he must have them for himself. Then, perhaps, he could also slice some tender strips from between their legs or from the lovely flesh at their waists. But those breasts! If he could have but one he could be satisfied!

“Do be careful, dearie—the top edge can be a little ragged.”

Mrs. Ibarra had a steely look that suggested the time had come to get this over with and then no more of these strange Irish people—her Manuel could just find other people’s junk to sell. But no more of this. Not with Pedro and Chelo and Oscar and Hector on slabs at the morgue. They were bad boys, sí, but she knew their mothers, and Hector had loved her Selena and would have married her except now he was dead and mangled and toothless. It was time to accept their gifts and leave. What in the world had they been thinking?

She reached in and felt around. She reached deeper. She reached in and— “Ah ha! I— Oh!” She lurched forward, smacking her forehead on the far lip of the pot. She screamed and with her other hand grasped the edge and struggled to push herself up. Blood ran into her eyes and formed bright red tear tracks down her cheeks. Manuel leapt to assist her with Mr. McLeery close behind. The girls hurried forward also, crying “Mama!” and Mr. McLeery breathed in deep, finally tasting that anise aroma of young female fear. Mrs. McLeery squealed and clapped her hands, then Manuel fell to the floor and his wife, impossibly, fell into the pot and disappeared.

Instantly Manuel was on his feet with a pistol, screaming “Where is she?” and long streams of Spanish the McLeerys could not understand.

Then he thought to wonder where his other children were. He screamed their names and Mr. McLeery pointed to the pot. Manuel pulled the trigger, but Mr. McLeery was upon him. Gunshots rang out, then Manuel and gun were thrust headfirst into the pot over the hysterics of his daughters.

Mr. McLeery was triumphant. The pot was fed, the twins were his. He turned to his wife in triumph but she was staring down at four gushing holes in her chest. Mr. McLeery leapt past the pot, ripped off her dress and laid his wife on the ground. He pulled open her chest and examined the damage. The heart was destroyed, but still pumping, throwing blood over him and the floor. Gashes tore through both lungs and severed the esophagus from the stomach. Mr. McLeery scrambled up and toward the twins. One fainted. The other’s hair he grabbed and smashed her face into a wall. The moon-shaped hole was specked with blood and eye but still she struggled. He mashed her again and again against a stud in the wall until her skull went spongy and she stopped moving. He dragged her corpse over to his wife and tore open her clothes and body, her hefty, young breasts hitting the carpet, one on each side.

There was no rush, but Mr. McLeery hurried all the same. First he swapped out the heart, then he used his fingers to clear the pools of blood from his wife to see what should be done next. He took some skin and abdominal muscle, using it to fill in the outer holes. He took the girl’s stomach and intestines and replaced his wife’s. He took both her lungs and an unusually large and healthy kidney. He worked swiftly and silently, the only sounds his wife’s ragged breathing and the faint background wailings from the pot. Slowly her breathing grew calm as the edges of the corpse beside her grayed.

Finally, he was done. He pushed her flesh back together and watched it bind. He kissed her and she slowly sat up.

“How do you feel, luv?”

“Lovely, dearie, thank you. I fee—Is that one of those girls there? One’s still left?

“Aye. Would you like to throw her in the pot, luv?”

Mrs. McLeery stood and shrugged off the bloody shreds of her clothing. She walked to the pot and peered inside. Some bloodied scraps of Mrs. Ibarra’s dress hung on the side and she plucked them off.

“No, dearie. The pot’s had a fine year already. I should say you deserve her. I know you’ve been hungry.”

She walked over to her husband and slid a hand under his belly and into his pants. “But, dearie. I saw how you looked at her. I saw you thinking of the fat in those breasts. And it is about time, you know. We’ve been in this country a good long time. So before you push your fingers through her fatty diddies or swallow her lips, I want you to do something for me.”

“Aye?”

“I’m thinking it’s time.” She squeezed her hand. “Take her first, then give me her womb.”

“Luv!”

Mrs. McLeery brought her husband’s mouth to her own and slid off his pants. “But let her wake first, dearie. I want to smell her pain.”

Mrs. McLeery stepped away and sat down to watch, the fingers of her left hand combing her pubic hair. So they would have to leave this place. Fine. It’s not like they had to pack. All they had to take was a young girl’s fertile womb.

And one old, misshapen pot.