She passed Declan a blank manilla envelope. He ran his fingers gingerly over the edges, life having long ago built up a healthy suspicion of anything from the channels of the Fairy Market. He couldn’t feel anything, but he’d also never had the touch for it. At some point he’d always ended up having to hold his breath and jump in in order to get the rough work done.
He slit it open with the knife in his pocket.
There were answers he’d had before he even knew what the questions were. Firstborn, Niall told Declan. My All-American son, Niall told Declan. When you were born the rivers dried up and all the cows in Rockingham County cried blood, Niall told Ronan. When you were born, I wasn’t here, Niall told Declan.
The silence swallowed his voice for a long time.
She gave him a look that said, you can’t pronounce your own name. Finally she said, “You have my name. It’s what they did when the father couldn’t be found.”
He studied the certificate in the small crescents of yellow light that bounced in through the tinted windows of her sports car from the streetlight outside. The Births and Deaths Registation (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, Article 34. Registered in the District of Belfast. 24 July 1997. Declan James Ó Corra.
There was a box that asked for Name and Surname and Dwelling Place of Father (6). It was blank. There was another box that asked for Rank or Profession of Father. On that one, someone had gona back with a red pen at some later point, scrawled angrily, messily, bleeding jaggedly out from the neat black boxes, GONE.
It made sense, in a strange sort of way that Declan’s brain dimly seemed to recognise in the same way that the drowning man thinks the sun streaming through the surface looks quite nice even when he’s being pulled under. Niall Lynch’s sons. The dreamer son of a dream and the dream of the dreamer the son of a dream. And here now was the odd one out, the liar the son of a lie.
“I was two years younger than you.” The woman finally said. He couldn’t think of her as anything other than the vague idea digging at the back of his eye turned hard, angry secret when he started to shift through his father’s boxes of crap after death. He’d left a fuckton of a lot of loose threads, although Declan hadn’t thought he’d be one of them. Letters and phone bills from a far-away woman, even a photo or two, all the vitriol and anger he’d carried around bubbling up again acridly through a mirror. Collected in an old file box next to IOU’s and pay me bastard or i’ll fuck you ups in seven different languages, three of which Niall didn’t know how to read. Collected, and never returned. Even some photos of him as a kiddo in a tiny knit sweater.
“No explanations.” Declan finally said. His voice sounded like when he’d had the lights punched out of him by one of the goons his dad owed rubles, or rupees, or riyals, in the parking lot of a Fairy Market. It could have been all three. “You don’t have to give me one.” I don’t know if I want one, he didn’t say.
“I’m a very dangerous woman to find, Declan. You wouldn’t have found me if you hadn’t been looking.”
He didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted safety, although he’d ruled out that as a possibility years ago. He wanted the ones the world had left him to care for to be safe, and he’d jeapordised all that on a wild goose chase to find the woman in one of his father’s fucking dream objects on a hunch of a hunch. He’d done exactly what he’d warned Ronan not to do, relied on himself to be smarter, sharper, more careful. All attributes hard won on his own, like learning from imitation from a mirror. You see what this who looks like you does? Now do the opposite.
He sighed. The air bristled, and he realised he sounded a lot like Mór Ó Corra.
Maybe he hadn’t been angry, almost, to find out. Maybe he’d almost been relieved. A voice to his darkest thoughts saying, you did not dream this up. The part of himself that’d been forced through seven years of Catholic school and then forced himself through a few months of therapy where he couldn’t tell the therapist about any of the things that had most profoundly fucked him up said a good man should have loved any child, regardless. He was about fifteen years past thinking Niall to be a good man.
“Maybe I spent so many years dealing with all the fucking dreaming, the dreamers and the dreams and every fucking thing that’s come to kill us because Dad couldn’t fix any of his own shit and the fact that none, none of it was ever part of me that I thought I wanted some kind of fucking explanation for it all. I wanted some- some explanation for it all. Why I was different. WHy dad- … WHy dad. I wanted some part of a past that was mine.” Selfish, maybe. Learned. If you spent a lifetime you were different from other people, eventually you came to a wanting a reason for them to be different from you.
“And you think I’m going to be the dear old Mam who darns your socks and calls to remind you to bring a good girl home to the family?”
“No. I didn’t ask for that. You know what I asked for.”
The second Manilla envelope she gave him was far thicker. This time, he could feel the slightest trace of- something. Not a buzzing, not a mist, a- something. He slid it into his briefcase. No expectations. Nothing more. A deal that was a deal, only a birth certificate instead of a handshake.
“I was two years younger than you. Sometimes life doesn’t hand you many choices. I’d say you didn’t understand, and you don’t, but I’ll also say you’ve been a hell of a lot more of a father than Niall ever was. All the more so since the world’s made you be one.”
Niall was drunk off some kind of spiked slivovitz when he’d come round to it the first time. Retrospectively, he was probably scared shitless, and rightly so. “Anything happens,” he’d slurred into the hotel couch. “You’re the man of the house. Take ‘em to church. Make ‘em proper. Make ‘em fear God. There’s money in the bank, anything happens.” And Declan had almost said, you know it’s my number Matthew’s school’s had down on the books for a year now? You know the priest there already thinks we’re orphans?
“You’ve got a number and an adress. You’re a smart boy. You know if you use it my women’ll kill you just as likely as the dreamkillers.”
“Everything has a price. At least you’re up front on it.”
“I’m not a good woman, Declan. Don’t make your father’s mistake. Don’t dream me into being one.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
He didn’t open the package until he’d driven two hours, switched lisence plates and then cars, moved a state line, and walked two miles out to a sublet Jordan knew from a friend of a friend of an enemy in the art underground, where two dreams were now. It came with two dozen forged Miró’s in the living room, all done with a variety of blue paint with a distinctly incriminating synthetic binding agent manufactured solely post 1986, and even in the palest strands of morning light it made the living room into a riot of psychedelic stick-figure Catalan sunshine. He opened the door carefully, walked gingerly past the still-sleeping Matthew, TV still flickering from where he’d probably been watching it far later than Declan would have let him. Flicked the kitchen light on and made himself a cup of instant coffee, and more than anything else resisted the urge to upstairs and collapse next to Jordan in the bed that was for the moment theirs and sleep till noon. But if there was a lesson he’d learned by know it was that he couldn’t do any of the things he wanted to in life. So he downed the shitty instant coffee and he opened Mór Ó Corra’s folder and he got to work. You do what you gotta do for your family, Niall had told him. A deal had gone south and they’d made it out with their lives and stacks of money shoved in their pockets. One day you’ll have yourself a wife and some kids and then you’ll know. And he’d swallowed what he now knew was his rage.
“Ready to make a deal with the devil?” The voice on the other end of the number had said when he’d dialed it, and he said, only the devil can help me now, and he’d been right. No one with their head above the water could know the things he wanted to know about the Moderators. I have two dreamers and two dreams to keep out of the reach of a shadowy intergovernmental agency who’s whole M.O is about killing every dreamer they can find to stop the end of the world. Only a shadow knows its kind. And for her part, Mór Ó Corra had been thorough. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust her and he didn’t even know if he trusted the birth certificate. When you were the lying son of a lie, another one would be more natural than anything. He wouldn’t act on any of her information until he could put some feelers out, a few red herrings, get ahold of some of Nialls’ other bullshit to run cross checks. It was a start. At some he’d always ended up having to hold his breath and jump in in order to get the rough work done. At some point, he’d always just been shoved in.
He didnt’ realise he’d fallen asleep until he was woken up. By Matthew, prodding his neck with the tines of a fork.
“You said to wake you up if you slept past noon.” Jordan set down a massive plate of something exactly an inch from his eardrum with a loud clatter.
“It’s 12:02,” Matthew added generously.
He looked down. He hadn’t gotten through the pile. There was still more-
Jordan’s eyes flicked notably towards the floor tiles. Declan followed them. In his early morning haze he’d somehow missed a second, smaller envelope within the envelope. He slipped it into his jacket before Matthew could see. He slid all of the papers back into the envelope before Matthew could see more.
“Two whole extra minutes? Well, that’s where’s where the rest of my day went.”
“You looked like you needed it. Like, you definitely looked like you needed it.” She handed him the day’s second mug of instant coffee and it hit him again that he loved her a not, which would have felt all new and electric even in circumstances that were not the current ones and when and if this was all over with hopefully no more deaths she deserved a really really nice vacation to somewhere sunny. Which he would not promise until he knew he could actually pull it off, because Declan Lynch was a liar but he was not a man who broke promises.
He didn’t open up the other envelope until he was in the bathroom with the door firmly locked. Magical all female mafias ran on the power of the sticky stuff at the top of a Manilla envelope, apparently. Only a few sheets inside. A surprisingly blurry print-out map with a building circled, a clipping from the Belfast Telegraph about the NHS’s most recent warnings on the loneliness epidemic among young adults and seniors, and new local projects for seniors to form new connections through knitting circles, classes in French and Irish, and mentorship opportunities with Sixth-Form students. “Former school teacher Anne Ó Corra recounts feelings of isolation after the untimely death of her only daughter in 1999. She says that mentorship opportunities with Saint Mary’s Compre-” Declan scanned the article. On the back the same hand that had scrawled, GONE, wrote, Think the old bat’d be happy to see you.