The Substance of Things Hoped For
At a time when surmounting the disasters inherent to youth felt to Murphy MacManus like a barefoot assault of the Everest, it was his brother, sitting sullenly in their ma's kitchen table eating cold toast, who made him feel like it was all just a fucking kick in the head. Murph relaxed his white-knuckled grip on his spoon long enough to unfold the appropriate finger at Connor, who smirked as if all the cares in the world could be shrugged off in a moment's cheek or the sound smack of their ma's hand to the back of Murph's skull. The impact still resonated between his ears long after bedtime.
Being just another thing to break, curfews were valiantly ignored in favour of cigarettes smoked on the roof, barefoot in the gravel. If Connor was thirsty Murph would dig out the bottle of gin he had stashed behind his Sunday shoes and tote it through their bedroom window to where Connor was sitting cross-legged, gangly body hunched over as he stared down at the greenish lights of the neighbourhood, two storeys down. Murph couldn't help the sudden twinge of violence he felt at the sight of Connor's bare back, pristine but for the marks Murph had left there himself the day before; at the thought that something, anything, could ruin this for them. He would heed their mother's advices of brotherly care almost fanatically, just in case.
If Connor swigged straight from the bottle in ambitious mouthfuls, Murph would sit next to him and talk them both into a stupour, or until Connor swore at him to stop. If Connor had been drinking, Murph would push his hands away and steal the bottle back, killing what little of it would be left before dragging them both to bed—Murph's, since Connor had fucked Jenny Doolan in his once, two months ago and in relative secrecy. It was hard enough for Murph to rid his mind of the grunt of the bedframe, he had rather not investigate the scene any closer. Connor never complained, and settled wordlessly in the narrow space between his brother and the wall, on which Murph liked to scribble in languages he was still sounding out.
Shortly after the final squirm between the sheets, Connor's voice would inevitably waft from the dent of his pillow in the quasi-silence of the room and ask Murph to bless the day, in a tone not too far from their ma's at her most pious. Murph would press the flat of his feet against the mattress and nod, undone by his efforts to ignore the adolescent dips and crackles of Connor's voice and the things it did to Murph's faith in all things pure.
To quench it, Murph would thread his fingers together tightly and rest them against his lips, squeezing his eyes shut and picturing the speckled ceiling from behind his eyelids.
"And if we die before we wake, we pray the Lord our soul to take."
His mouth formed the words by habit but the feelings behind them were far from mindless, and no less fervent.