Here is the second of three parts of my short story The Great McMurty.
When I think of a way to describe McMurty, saint is about the only word that comes to mind. A big, tall, red-headed, protestant saint. I know there aren’t many protestants in heaven, but I’m sure the Lord made an exception for McMurty.
You’d always see McMurty about town, helping people out. It was easy to spot him, as he was the only one so big, and the only one with hair the colour of fire. I was told when I was much younger that he used to go around working on people’s houses during the winter. Especially the houses of poorer families whose men made so little that they even had to work in the winter to make enough to feed the family. McMurty, with his size and strength, made enough each summer on the railroad that his family didn’t have to worry like most. But as they say, the idle hands are the devil’s playing ground, and McMurty was pretty determined not to stay idle. So it was that he fixed up houses and fences and barns, for which I am sure he was greatly appreciated.
* * *
McMurty staggered, tipping slowly to his left like a great tanker with too much leeward heel, and it was all his Gladys could do to keep him from crushing her. Visibly pushing into him, she appeared to have some effect as the great ship McMurty righted itself and kept moving forward in an erratic way. McMurty was a definite giant standing next to his elfin daughter, who at five foot four, stood nearly two feet shorter than him, and weighed almost two hundred pounds less.
"S'ok, I'll be fine darlin'!" He said, his voice loud and slurred. "Just wait till we get home. We, we'll sing a song to Mother. Together! Ha! Wouldn't that've gotten her britches tied in a knot!" McMurty covered his mouth partially as he let out a loud belch, and started singing to himself.
Gladys kept pace beside him, almost two steps to his drunken one, panting and slightly out of breath, looking with new found dread at the steep hill that lay before them, and the only way back home.
"Hey looka there!. It's Alice!" McMurty looked up the hill and saw a small shape quickly gaining size as it ran down the hill towards them. McMurty cupped his hands in front of his face and yelled. "Heya there sweetie! I have something! I have a story to tell. And I have song for your mother. Gladys is going to sing it with me!" McMurty smiled at the speeding daughter, who wasn't close enough for McMurty and daughter to hear what she was yelling.
"You sonofabitch! You got drunk again! I knew it! I knew it when I sent Gladys out to haul your sorry self home. God help me you lout. Getting drunk like some good for nothing bum!" Alice kept coming at full tilt, her arms waving, and a pan shaped object in one hand. Her face alone looking fierce enough to send any man who didn't know her from drunk to sober in a quick like fashion.
McMurty just smiled. He had no idea what she was saying, but he didn't need to. Even in his state he could guess what she was about. He beamed at his oncoming wife and as loud as he possibly could, began singing a halfway decent, but drunken lilt. As he started singing, Gladys sat down on the ground beside him, not noticing the dampness that had started to form as it was by then close to dawn, and she put her face in her hands. She started to shake, laughing.
"...the only one for me is thee..." McMurty's song started being overpowered by Alice who had gotten to within a few feet of him. A moment later, his song ended in laughter as Alice began hitting him about the arm with her pan. Not much taller than her sister, she had to reach up to hit that far, not that it had much of an effect. His arm was as thick as a log, and McMurty's drunkenness made him not very susceptible to pain.
"What you doing down there, huh? Hey beautiful? Why you hitting me?" McMurty smiled, staggering slightly as one of Alice's blows connected well. Soon, however, she appeared spent, and slumped to the ground next to her sister. By this time, Gladys had taken her head out of her hands, and you could see the tears on her face, and the heavy breathing one gets after a fit of giggles.
Alice looked at her sister, who began laughing again, all of a sudden, and was rolling around, thumping her hand on the round. Then Alice looked back at her father, who was grinning at her. She glared at them both.
"You thinks it's funny? The two of you, in cahoots like always. I knew it. Well just you wait until one day when I'm not around, and then who'll take care of you?" Alice crossed her arms, and locked her face in a defiant scowl. As angry as she appeared to be, she couldn't help but let out a squeak as McMurty bent down and picked her up in what seemed the span of a heart beat.
"C'mon now love. You know that'll never be. I'll always have you to take care of me." He kissed her, his big wet lips leaving a damp mark on her cheek, and he let her down. "Now if you don't mind, I have an appointment with a pillow."
McMurty walked off with determination, though it still took the efforts of Gladys and Alice to make sure he got up the hill in one piece.
Three hours after morning had passed, McMurty finally awoke, but did so with regret and more than a little pain. Holding his head in both his hands, he slowly rose out of his bed, and sat hunched on the side for another ten minutes. When it seemed to him that the room was going to stop dancing around him, he stood up, and then noticed he was still fully dressed, just as he had been the day before. A quick sniff and a visual check to make sure nothing untoward had dried upon him in the night, and McMurty shrugged off changing until later. Right now he was hungry, thirsty, and needed something to settle his nerves.
As McMurty walked out of the bedroom and into the main room, he could see right away that his nerves were not going to get settled anytime soon. In her chair in the farthest corner of the room, right beside the door, his beloved eldest daughter sat looking at him in her distinct, not-happy way. He smiled his biggest, warmest smile, and walked over to her.
Good morning!” McMurty pulled a chair from the table near the wood stove, and sat down facing his her. “I’ll admit I’m not at my best just yet. I don’t know if I got enough sleep, but I figure a little breakfast and I’ll be up and away in no time.” He scratched his belly absently as he spoke.
Not one week.” She said. Her foot tapped on the floor, quickly and steadily. “Not one week?”
Until what?” McMurty asked. “Left? Until...something?” He raised his hands in a confused gesture, but then thrust his arm upwards, index finger pointed out, and a feigned look of understanding on his face. “Oh! Yes! The Reverend’s birthday, right?” he slapped his hands on his knees and rocked back a little in his chair, smiling. “So good you reminded me. And to think I almost forgot. Why that would really have been…,” McMurty was cut off as Alice jumped out of her chair. Her apparent anger was enough to take the easy smile off of his face, and cause him to pale a little.
You know what I’m damn well talking about. Don’t go Reverend’s birthday-ing me, you hear? I’m talking about you coming home last night, again, without a sober bone in your body.” She walked over to his chair and glared at him. Even though he was sitting, she was only slightly taller than eye level with him. “I’m talking about having to send Gladys to get you home before you pass out in the street and make us a laughingstock again.”
"Oh Lord almighty. Again. That. Again. It only happened once, years ago. Once! I think you’ve whipped me with it so many times that you’ve about worn it out!” McMurty scratched his chin and looked into her eyes. Even though he was sitting and she standing, they were looking eye to eye. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to make you a laughingstock. I was just having a few drinks with the boys. Work bosses will be coming through here soon, and I have to keep good with them. You know that.”
McMurty took his daughter's arm and drew her to him, then picked her up and sat her on his lap. “Listen. I have to go to town in a bit. I might be finding out today if I’ll be in for the lead hand this year. Nicholson got hurt bad this winter and won’t be coming back, he says. So I figure, as some do, that I should be good to take his place. And it means some more money! A whole lot!” McMurty wrapped his arms around her and rocked her back and forth, slowly.
Alice’s angry resolve melted a little at this. Her face softened, and she leaned her head back against his shoulder.
"Sometimes I get to thinking it might have been better if we’d stayed back east, and you could have worked there with your uncles. Then we wouldn’t have to worry year after year," Alice said.
McMurty quickly, but gently, lifted her off his lap and onto the floor, stood up, and walked into the bedroom.
"I’m just worried is all I’m saying.” Alice called out toward the bedroom.
McMurty stuck his head out the doorway and looked at her unsmiling. “I told you.” His head disappeared back into the room, followed by the thump of the clothes chest lid banging onto the wall. “I won’t work in the mines! I’m too big and I promised your mother that I wouldn’t. And I won’t!"
"I'm not saying that," Alice said.
"I made a promise to myself, and to your mother, and if I go back, then what good is that promise?” A slam of the trunk lid was followed by McMurty leaving the room, dressed in a clean shirt.
“I’ll be back later today. Don’t worry. I won’t go drinking tonight. I’ll be back for some sweet meat pie!” McMurty grinned and rubbed his stomach at that, making Alice swat him on the arm.
Well we’ll see if I’ll be leaving any for you or whether I’ll let the dogs sup on it for a change.” She tried to look crossly at him, but his standing with his arms held out like Jesus on the cross, and the big stupid grin on her face made her laugh in spite of herself. “Oh, go on. Just so long as you're back while the pie's still warm,” she said, letting herself become wrapped in his hug. With that, McMurty was off.