Dad’s married, middle-aged neighbors two doors up are deaf and dumb and they beat on one another. The beaters have two teenage daughters, aged maybe 14 and 18. In the past almost two decades, during my annual visits to Ireland, I’ve overheard just a few of what I’m told are the couple’s constant fights: Rage rising like fire from their house or from their car parked in the driveway–thuds, door slams, guttural screams, and amputated curses out of mostly the man, “fu…fu…fu…fu…fu”–, and always the high-pitched sounds building from both him and her like music made for torture, like the noise of two dogs on the ground tied to ropes getting dragged.
Almost two decades, and I’ve only ever seen the deaf and dumb mother going to and from her car or working clothes on and off the drying line or moving across her front windows like she’s inside a film screen. Until Mam died. When Mam died, just as the undertakers were about to take her coffin from the house and out to the flower-bright hearse, the deaf and dumb mother appeared at the bottom of our front path and, her hand rubbing large circles on her chest, grunted sorry. My sister and I thanked her. “Da?” she managed. No, I smiled small, smug. Dad was fit, healthy. Dad had years left in him. Dad wasn’t going anywhere for ages. Ages would in fact turn out to be three months. Our mother, I said. She’d likely forgotten our Alzheimeric mother in the nursing home for eight years, likely thought Mam had died long ago. And so Mam had in all but body.
Often over the years, though, I saw the deaf and dumb father. Saw him going to and from his work at whatever wherever in his car, saw him jogging and sweating on the street, saw him walking the black-and-white family dog, a dog with an eye tic. Felt such rage and loathing for the deaf and dumb father. Wanted to hit him. To beat him into stop. Always, I snubbed him.
The beaters’ oldest daughter now has a live-in boyfriend. She also has her parents’ rage. One evening, after a long day at the hospital, hours of leaning in to Dad as he lay dying and stroking his head, feeling his heartbeat through his scalp, I sat on Dad’s front stone wall, my bare feet pushing into his scorched grass, my face tipped to the sun that belongs to us all. The oldest daughter and her live-in boyfriend charged from the house, her shouting at him. They sat into the car in the driveway, blared the radio, shouted some more. Next the daughter ran at her front door, kicked at it until it opened. Minutes later, the live-in boyfriend turned-off the car radio blare and followed the oldest daughter into the house. More shouts, thuds, door slams.
Another day, the youngest daughter sent up screams and wails from the house like she was trapped in a fire. I said to my sister, how do you and Dad stand it? She said, crazies.
The evening I saw the deaf and dumb couple rough each other up and down their back garden, I wanted to shout at them, “Aren’t you tired? Don’t you just want it over with?” Instead I phoned the police on my cell while still watching. Their fight made me shake. Made me a girl again. Brought me back to Mam and Dad fighting, their words the fire that would burn down our house. Dropped me inside the flames that were my Dublin ex and me. The beaters made me feel I was on the motorway in heavy traffic, about to be smashed. The policeman said he’d send a car around. No car came. I phoned again. Another promise. Another no show. My sister said, that’s the way.
That night I lay in bed and imagined myself screaming, imagined no one responds. Then I saw myself at the beaters’ front door, facing the five of father, mother, daughter, boyfriend, and youngest daughter, even the dog is lying there at their feet, like they’re all posing for a picture, and I lift my right hand, the hand thumping with the memory of Dad’s heartbeat, and I rub large circles on my chest.