“When liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood, it is hard to shake hands with her,” – Oscar Wilde. This was a quote that Sean Raymond drilled in to his mind as a young child as he sat and looked upon his father, once a soldier, an honourable man, pave his way through life in the only way he knew, knowingly envisioning how his own life would inevitably become should he succumb to the idea he would never have a choice. Great men are often the product of years of craft and self discipline. And let’s be honest, a mother has usually taken influence. That's just the way it works. Good mothers produce good sons. However, Sean never knew his mother, nor did he understand why he did not know her. Any conversation that has ever involved the ghost figure had always been interrupted, ignored, back seated or spun. It certainly was not a lack of curiosity that prevented Sean from pushing the subject. It was the fear of the unknown.
Violence was his only existing reoccurrence and stability growing up, thanks to his father. There were different homes, different schools, different friends and different seasons; but there was always violence. Inflicted physical pain was a family business with the Raymonds, uncle Kelly, uncle Brice and papa Louis. There was also cousin Nicky, cousin Brendon, cousins Kenny & Smith and then plain old John. John was a peculiar man that liked to spend time with Louis, in and out of their work, and that wasn’t really done. Forming emotional bonds with other human beings was not done.
Unlike his family, Sean wanted out of their way of life before it became his way of life too. He always had. It was the only thing he thought for certain, that he was not a natural born killer, that all he desired was love and reckless amounts of it. He wanted to experience emotional turmoil and jealousy; all those things that are inevitable when you devote your feelings to someone. It was something he’d grown up watching his father deny, and deny, so he made sure he could feel things.
Sean avoided weapons and arguments, and he’d get out of the house when business was brought home. Never would he speak to Louis about his work and never would he ask his close cousins about it either. Every house he’s lived in has had a room entitled ‘Louis’ Office’, and that was enough for Sean to rule out ever stepping in to those rooms. He imagined the walls were lined with what to some people would be considered antiques, but to Sean they would always just be slightly old weapons. He also imagined a desk, up stage centre, two oversized fake plants either side of it and it’s where his father would bask in his venomous glory, contemplating death, war and politics, calling what he does an 'art'.
However, anticipating his twenty first birthday, it dawned on Sean that he was heading no more away from a thug life than he was towards it. It was over a game of pool with cousin Nicky and cousin Brendon – nothing but the typical midweek night for the boys. They were never given the opportunity to attend college, and instead at the descent of education were expected to earn a living that supported them financially, but still didn’t require too much of their time, as they needed to have a lot of it on their hands. Having fathers in their line of ‘work’, shop keepers and landlords were very aware of the Raymond name, and that would get them a job very simply.
Nicky was a scrawny kid, just seventeen when he was appointed a chef at his father Kelly’s good friend Patty Jenner’s diner. Patty was also his father’s mistress, aside his wife, Juliana; a cold and sharp woman, the only type of woman that could accept a violent man like himself as her husband.
Brendon was much better built than Nicky and he was thought useful around construction sites. He was leading his father’s business with his blood, sweat and tears, and he only started when he was twenty two.
When it came to Sean’s role in work, he insisted he’d only be rewarded a job that he earned for himself, by finding it, applying for it and being accepted. Doing so led him to an overwhelmingly nostalgic 1930s furniture store. It was a small home grown business, grafted by Noah Felixstowe, and catered for by his grandson and granddaughter-in-law Jeremy and Helena Felixstowe. They were an immensely pleasant couple that brought all faith back in humanity for Sean. They were good people, without religion. See, Sean was baffled by the idea of religion. He couldn't understand why people needed an excuse to do good things. He saw it as blackmail. It was important to him that he could be around them as often as possible because they made him feel welcome, warm and well, quite frankly, he didn’t mind too much exactly what he felt, as long as he was feeling something. That in itself was a step above Louis.
The boys’ game of pool was flowing smoothly and predictably, and it felt just the same as any normal night. Drinks were flowing, laughter was abundant and no worse than usual was the blinding and choking stench of the cigarette smoke that lingered, curling round everybody in the room and sticking to their clothes.
A slightly disfigured Nicky was boasting about the fist fight he had at school that day, grinning with teeth missing and a broken nose that was so far bent it got in the way of his eye line. He couldn’t help but feel that he’d done something great, though.
“No I had this kid, man. I had him on the floor and all I could see was blood. He wasn’t a boy any more, he was just anatomy. Everything that should have been inside was oozing on the outside. It was like a De Palma film, like you walked straight in to Carrie, the scene where she’s soaked in that pig’s blood. Ah,” he satisfyingly exclaimed, “Real horror show!”
Silently disturbed, Sean looked up from the pool table, “You’re not Alex DeLarge, Nicky. Get your fucking head outta your ass and play some fucking pool, you’re losing like a God damn pussy right here.”
Unwilling to obey, intoxicated and high on adrenaline, Nicky defiantly squared up to Sean, who couldn’t have been less intimidated. Bored and humoured by Nicky’s show man behaviour, Brendon intervened, “Ya got arms thinner than my wallet, scum bag. Stop acting tough and pick up your fucking stick, retard!”
Everyone sat in hearing distance was entertained by the cousin’s offences, but Nicky took very seriously how he was perceived in public. He wanted to be as well feared as his and Brendon’s father. The way that people looked at Kelly would bring him a vast sense of fulfilment, and since a boy, at the tender age of six, the moment he first saw his father kill someone, was the moment he aspired to be his father’s understudy.
“It’s not a stick, Brendon! It’s called a pool cue, and her name is Lola!”
“Kid’s got a fucking name for his pool cue, now? Why do we hang out with this imbecile, Brendon? I don’t understand that patience you got for his shit.”
Surprisingly, this was all the textbook dialogue of a night at Brice’s bar. It was only once the game had finished and the boys were preparing themselves to leave that things took a far more negative turn.
Sean was alone at the bar, paying his tab to the barmaid, and finding some courage in him to finally ask whether she’d be free to go out with him Friday night, like he’d been aching to do for weeks. Brendon and Nicky were putting on their jackets, making friendly with some women that saw Nicky’s fight earlier that day. They were at the same school as him, only a year below. The way they spoke of the act in admiration and applause bewildered even Brendon. It was like some kind of sadistic, self destructive attraction. One of the girl’s names was Ida, and she was particular to pay extra attention to Nicky, who was already thinking corrupted thoughts.
In the corner of Sean’s eye was the door, and entering as he was about to ask her were two white men, tattooed and bald, almost identical. They immediately caught his attention, and he watched them scan the room, speaking in to one another’s ear. Like a warning siren in his head, he darted over to his cousins and calmly insisted they leave immediately.
“I got a bad feeling about this, boys.”
Brendon looked over his shoulder, followed by Nicky who did a full body turn that would cost him his skin.
“That kid,” one bellowed to the other, pointing directly at Nicky.
“You think this is about Dexter?” Brendon suggested.
Momentarily frozen with fear, but determined to do what he understood would make his father proud, he stuck out his chest and shook his legs, “I’ll take what I got comin’ to me. I can give as good as I fucking get.”
Sean stood back as his cousin was pummelled to the floor by fists the weight of a year old baby. He was in a stupefied trance, unsure how to justify allowing his family to be potentially beaten to death without even the raise of his fist in assisted defence. All in the room was slow for him. He knew not of time, he knew not of sound, only of motion and the heart crushing sight of Nicky being broken in two.
Brendon tried to shield the screaming girls, and most that surrounded decided to flee. The helpless barmaid was frightened and hysterical, screeching just as loudly as Ida and her friend. But none of this was happening to Sean, everything was nothing, and nothing was a dreadful sight.
As the echoes of Nicky’s crunching bones bounced back in to Sean’s ears, reality resumed. He looked behind at the now crouched barmaid, burying her head in to her lap and calling for help.
He moved towards her, gently knelt by her side and whispered, “Do you have a phone...erm,” pausing for a polite introduction.
“Lorna,” she muttered, revealing her saddened, tearful face.
He smiled at how pretty her name sounded even when said so beside herself, “Lorna,” he repeated, “Do you have a phone? I need to call an ambulance.”
She gained the strength to stand and retrieve the phone from round back, and she dialled an ambulance, attempting desperately to gain composure but disturbing herself all the more. Meanwhile, Sean had caught the attention of the second hit man as he rose visibly behind the counter. The brute crooked towards him, arching his brows in sadistic intention.
Brendon remained still as he called out to him, “Hey! You wanna square up to someone, square up to me big guy, huh? That kid doesn’t fight. He ain’t got nothin’ to do with our punk asses. So you can beat someone that would never touch you back and win by forfeit like a fucking child, or you can let your heat out on a real fucking nut case like me, huh? What do you say, fat guy? Do you wanna game of blood?”
His friend appeared to be finished inflicting suffering on Nicky, and stood up from the floor to wipe his blood drenched knuckles on the fabric of his trousers. Then he stared down intensely yet carelessly at Nicky, like watching a guilty man be hung, then back to Brendon, before signalling his friend to exit.
Knowing when to admit defeat, nobody even whispered under their breath a single offence to those men as they left. But once that door closed behind them, Brendon and Ida were around Nicky like flies around raw meat. She massaged his wound, still tender, and Brendon tried his hardest not to sob above his now totally unrecognisable baby brother.
“I fucking knew beatin’ that kid up would lead to trouble. Fucking Dexter ‘Daddy’s nothing but a loan shark’ Honey, s’who he is. Ain’t got a leg to stand on his own, but his Pa’s got a good fucking set of hit men. Ah shit,” he cried, touching the splitting wounds on his face.
Though close to choking on his own blood and vomit, Nicky still managed to spit the words through his teeth, “This ain’t fucking over.”
Brendon appeared to ignore Sean all the while after, and as the ambulance arrived, Sean perched himself outside the bar on the brick wall and thought about everything he just witnessed. It made him realise just what he was so involved in physically, but so distant from mentally. He knew it was time he either got committed or got the hell out of it all, cos he couldn’t witness another person he honestly cared about get viciously torn apart like that. Not since he taught himself how he should, by social correctness, feel when something is wrong. This, in his mind, was wrong.
He remained at the wall as the ambulance drove off, Ida, friend and Brendon all by his side. The situation perplexed him, and he hadn’t felt confusion that bitter since the last time he thought about his mother. It led him to question where in the world she’d be right then.
“I’m shutting the bar for the night, Sean. You gotta go home.”
Lorna spoke in an unfamiliar accent. He had only really noticed it then. He’d never had a chance to before in the short sentences they’d spoken previously. Indeed, they’d never really had a conversation. He was always attracted to her face, he thought she had beautiful, luminous green eyes and a perfect ombre tint to her dark blonde hair. But whether or not out of shyness, he never just bothered to ask her how her day was.
“Lorna,” he said, “Come here. Where are you from?”
He sort of knew it himself, but Sean was a very attractive young man. He had a charismatic smile that began in one corner and spread to the other. She found herself flattered, gushing and talking in more depth than she meant to, “I’m from South Africa. I came here on my fourteenth birthday, alone. My family are back in South Africa – things are actually pretty rough. I haven’t seen them in five or six years. They could be dead.”
Taken back by the comment, Sean laughed to himself. It was no more than a nervous reaction. Lorna misread his laughter and became defensive.
“You’re laughing. Are you mentally frayed in there, Sean?”
“Whoa, shit the bed Maureen!”
“Maureen?” she sneered, “Who the fuck is Maureen?”
“Fuck, it’s a family expression, Lorna. I’m sorry. I – I don’t do this that often.”
“Talk to pretty girls. I – I actually really don’t. I feel honoured to even be in your company. I feel like it’s a privilege.”
Lorna wasn’t used to being spoken to in that way. The last time anyone called her pretty and meant it, well she could barely remember it. The repetition of drunk, obese work men complimenting her legs and chest grew old.
And though flattery was nice, she had layers as thick as onions, and walls built as strong as led. She couldn’t be fooled by his kindness. She knew all too well that he was just as hard to read as her, even if he made you feel like he was opening the door to his personal Pandora box, there would always be another box inside it, “Well ain’t that something. Here’s me thinking you and your cousins are all made of stone – stone that’s been fused with hate and anger.”
Sean felt himself quickly growing nauseated; an almost swirling sensation in the pit of his stomach. He wasn’t going to be sick, and he certainly didn’t feel faint. He just felt new and strange. It was at that moment, unbeknownst to both, that the connection between the pair formed, sudden and strong. They were aware of each other’s vulnerability and it was exposing, in the way a flower blooms, beautiful but elusive. Neither of them quite understood at the time, but little did he know, Lorna was evermore the emotional minefield than himself.