Disclaimer/Author's note: Connor, Murphy, Ma, and Uncle Civial (or however it's spelled) probably belong to Troy Duffy, but I'm not using them to weasel him out of money. I made up Granddad McManus, but I'm not gonna copyright him or anything. The title comes from that saying about a saint never being honored on his own hearthstone or something like that.
Conner says he is older.
Murphy says that he is older, and moreover, that Conner's brain has rotted from watching too much television.
Their ma won't tell them one way or the other, so they curse her and call her names that they've heard the older boys calling their girlfriends. Despite their curses, and Ma's drinking, and the ever-present question of which one really is older, they love their ma. She's their world; she's all they know.
The boy who lives down the street thinks there's something just a little weird about the McManus brothers. It's not just that they finish each other's sentences sometimes, or that the one never goes anywhere without the other--they're brothers, and twins, so that's to be expected. It's also that the one time he had them over to spend the night, Conner woke in his sleeping bag from a terrible dream, and though he never made a sound, Murphy was awake and comforting him in a minute. The boy who lives down the street, who'd gotten up to use the bathroom, thought this was a bit odd.
He also thinks it'd odd that, every so often, Murphy will mutter some odd bit of scripture, some psalm or proverb, and Conner will nod, and there will be this look of understanding between them that the boy who lives down the street is hard-pressed to explain. So while he still plays football with them and goes with them to leer at the teenage girls at the swimming pool, he hasn't had them back for a sleepover yet. They're just a little too weird.
"Ma," Murphy asks for the thousandth time, "where's Dad?"
She snorts and takes another long drag on her cigarette. "America," she says hoarsely. "Wasn't enough money for him here, so he took his sorry arse across the bleedin' ocean. Never a thought for us here, and never a penny from him since he's been there. He's probably forgotten all about us by now."
"You mean he's never coming back?" asks Conner, who has always thought highly of his dad and doesn't like to think that they'll never meet again.
Ma nods, but Granddad breaks in with an indignant noise. "Don't pay her a bit of attention, lads," he says, looking at Ma sternly. "Your dad never left for money, or to escape from his shriekin' harpy of a wife, but to fulfill a destiny laid out for him by God Almighty."
Ma snorts again. "You've been drinking again, ain't you, Grandad?" she says, taking a swig from her little flask. There is no more talk about Conner and Murphy's dad that day.
The other boys don't go to church every Sunday, though their parents make them every so often. The Sunday school teacher has gotten used to the constantly rotating class list, and plans her lessons accordingly. The only two who show up every week are Conner and Murphy.
When the other boys ask why they go, even on the Sundays their ma's too drunk to get out of bed, they give some answer about their granddad wanting them to, or about having nothing better to do. Lies, all. They go because they know somewhere, deep down, that God has something unusual planned for them, and that one Sunday morning Mass could be the difference between salvation and damnation.
They're not entirely sure why their mother insists they learn as many foreign languages as they can. They've never met anyone else who speaks Russian or German or any of them, and the books are hard to come by.
When they ask her about it, she says, "You never know, lads, when you're going to have to know how to talk to somebody who don't speak English." That's all the explanation she'll give them, and not even Granddad will give them any more information than that.
They don't mind, though. They take to the languages like ducks to water, competing with each other to see who can master a language first. Conner has the lead in Spanish, but Murphy's German is much better. All the lads are moderately impressed, and the girls love to hear the French and Italian. Murphy and Conner, though, prefer the Latin they learn above the other languages. They go to church on Sundays and feel like they can speak God's language, and their granddad always likes to hear them translate the Mass.
Granddad tells them they need to learn to fight.
"Why?" Murphy asks. He's not opposed to the idea, but it's not the sort of thing one's grandfather usually suggests.
"You have to know how to protect yourselves and each other, when you're out living on your own."
"When are we ever going to be on our own?" Conner asks. "We've family all over town. Even when we move out and get married and whatnot, we'll only be a few blocks away."
Grandad doesn't comment on this, but merely repeats that they must learn to fight. So the two of them go out to Uncle Civial's pub and find a boy from out of town. They don't pick a fight, strictly speaking, but when the boy trips and knocks over Murphy's drink, they are less forgiving than they might otherwise be.
Their mother is furious when they come home with Conner's eye blackened and Murphy's nose bleeding, but their granddad is happy and proud. "Next, lads," he says, "I'll teach you to shoot your dad's gun."
They haven't a clue when they'll need to know that, but Granddad seems to think it's important.
They wake up one day at age twenty-one and know they have to leave. They say nothing about it to each other, but pack their things and gather enough money to pay for two one-way plane tickets.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ma asks, taking in the mess of socks and tee-shirts they're trying to fit into their suitcases.
They exchange glances, and Conner says, "We're going to America, Ma."
Ma is not as surprised as they'd expected. "Figures," she says, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "You'll call me when you get there, boys."
Granddad is so old now, he spends most of his time in bed, but his sunken eyes light up when Conner and Murphy go in to say good-bye to him. "Good lads," he says. "I'd go with you, but I'm too old. Don't be afraid; you're doing what was meant to be."
Murphy is about to ask what he means, but Conner, unnerved, cuffs him in the head. They say their farewells and head out to the bus station, Murphy glaring at his brother until they're seated and the bus pulls away.
"Just what was that about?" he asks.
Conner scowls. "Granddad's always talked like that. There's no point in bothering him for answers when you know you're not going to get them." Murphy knows there's more to it than that, but it's not worth fighting over, so he lets the subject drop and looks out the window, saying his own silent good-byes to Ireland.