By Brett Dworski
LIAM OPENED HIS EYES AND JOLTED UPWARD AS IF HE’D BEEN ELECTROCUTED. Bridget, standing beside the king-sized bed, shook him like he was a salad that needed more dressing. Liam winced in pain — Bridget wasn’t helping his shoulder arthritis. He looked at his wife: her grey hair blended with the white concrete wall behind her, and her green nightgown — a massive tank top that covered her naked body — blurred against her pale skin as if he were gazing into a kaleidoscope.
Liam reached to his nightstand for his bifocals. He put them on and glanced at the clock. It was two-thirty in the morning. He faintly saw his reflection behind the numbers on the beaming digital screen: his eyes were baggy — his olive skin appeared more wrinkly than usual — and the white skin tag underneath his grey cowlick protruded. The room was dark, but the glistening white walls provided just enough glow that he could see Bridget. Her eyes were wide and filled with terror.
“Liam, get up,” she said. There was a shrill fear in her voice.
He couldn’t hear her. About a month ago, he started wearing earplugs to bed to eliminate Bridget’s late-night Sex & The City marathons — Liam hates Sarah Jessica Parker. He hates her so much that he always says that “Ferris would’ve been better off screwing Rooney,” whenever Bridget watched her favorite show. The sound of Carrie Bradshaw’s voice alone made Liam want to cut his nuts off.
But not tonight. Tonight, the earplugs had been a success. Liam removed them at once.
“Jesus Christ, Bridget!” Liam snarked. It had been a few weeks since he’d shaved, and he felt the tips of his grey mustache hovering his top lip. “What’s goi—
“Shhh!” Bridget whispered as she placed her hand over Liam’s mouth. “I think there’s someone in the house!”
There it was again — the sound of glass shattering on the hardwood kitchen floor downstairs. The sound that woke Bridget from her dream of dancing with Ricky Martin on Dancing with the Stars. The duo had just finished their routine to Stevie Wonder’s, “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” and the crowd was going nuts. The judges awarded them a score of twenty-eight: Tens from Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman, and an eight from Carrie Anne Inaba — that cunt, Bridget thought.
Liam was wide awake now. He hopped out of bed faster than a landscaper would when the husband of the woman he’s fucking barges home. Liam’s bedhead resembled Albert Einstein, and he would have been naked if it weren’t for his tighty-whities. The hardwood felt like ice on the bottom of his bare feet and his nipples grew erect — Bridget kept the thermostat at sixty-two degrees every night, which Liam hated. He preferred a tepid seventy-one.
But right now, Liam didn’t care if his home felt like a Slavic bathhouse or a freshly chilled morgue. His gaze was fixated on the seven-foot-tall wooden cabinet across the room.
“Call 911,” Liam said.
“Shit. My phone’s in my purse in the kitchen,” Bridget said. I’ll try the house phone.” She snatched the dusty landline from her nightstand and held it up to her ear. “The line’s dead!”
Without responding to his wife, Liam slowly opened the cabinet to diminish any creaking that could attract attention. He threw aside six freshly folded white t-shirts that laid atop a black shoebox. He grabbed the shoebox and threw the lid aside. There it was, all shiny and spiffed, barely a scratch on it: The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver his brother Mason had gifted him for his sixtieth birthday. Liam and Mason were regulars at the Dorchester shooting range during their twenties, but Liam hadn’t shot a gun since. Not even this one — Bridget wouldn’t allow it. Liam kept the loaded revolver stashed in the bedroom cabinet in case of emergencies. He snagged the pistol and crept toward his bedroom door without closing the cabinet. He turned to his wife, but before he could say anything…
The sound of more shattered glass sprung to the bedroom. Bridget threw the covers over her torso and wept.
“Stay here. Don’t make a sound,” Liam demanded. He meant business when he pointed his index finger.
Liam opened the bedroom door and slid into the upstairs hallway as Bridget’s sobbing faded into the night. He crept across the hall, tip-toeing on the icy hardwood, terrified that whoever was downstairs would hear the floors creak. His nipples had softened by now, but his feet were still freezing.
Liam didn’t care if his home felt like a Slavic bathhouse or a freshly chilled morgue.
To his left was a twenty-foot wall that friends and family called the “O’Brien timeline.” Photographs of Liam and Bridget and their children — ranging from a teenage Liam working construction in 1968 and Bridget riding the New York subway in 1972 to their son, Jack, graduating from Boston College in 1998 and their daughter, Abigale, starring in a rendition of Fidler on the Roof in 2001 — have been scattered over the white concrete for nearly three decades. The kids were long gone — Jack lives in Cincinnati and Abigale in New York — and their bedrooms, once full of posters and speakers and dirty laundry, were now bare-walled guest rooms the end of the hallway.
Liam held the gun like a trained soldier ready to burst through an insurgent’s front door. He’d never been in a situation like this before, but always envisioned himself looking like Harry Callahan if he ever needed to be. God, he loved Dirty Harry.
Liam approached his son’s former bedroom and quickly glanced inside. He remembered the twelve-by-twelve-foot room as if Jack were still in high school: the Larry Bird and AC/DC posters covering the walls; the blue dresser that held the Sony boom-box that Jack always blasted when Abigale was rehearsing her lines in the room next door; the stack of CDs and DVDs, featuring Back In Black; The Godfather, and a photograph of Jack and Liam after they went bungee jumping during the family trip to Costa Rica in ’94.
Crash! More shattering glass. Clunk! It sounded like the wooden drawers in the kitchen had been jerked open, too. Liam snapped out of his haze and lurked to the stairs, now nearing the end of the massive hallway. The hardwood floors squeaked even louder.
He passed Abigale’s old room and briefly glanced in without stopping, catching shades of the neon pink carpet from the corner of his eye. He remembered his daughter’s olive skin and brown hair — a rarity for Irish Catholics — which came from his genes. He remembered her passion for performance since her middle school role in the Wizard of Oz. He remembered when Abigale told himself and Bridget that she was a lesbian when she was seventeen. And he remembered when she introduced her parents to her girlfriend — now wife — three years later.
Something big had hit the floor. It sounded like the seventy-five-pound metal safe Liam kept hidden behind the trashcan underneath the sink. “Who’d ever look there?” he thought when he placed it there two years ago.
Liam snapped out of it, and for real this time. He no longer cared about stealthily approaching his enemy like a ninja. He wanted to catch the sonofabitch in his house.
Liam bolted down the stairs, aware of whoever was in his kitchen would hear his quick, thunderous steps. He raced to the bottom floor and darted past the coat closet and laundry room. He approached the kitchen, where he saw the insurgent from behind. The broad shoulders let Liam know he was dealing with a man, probably bigger than himself. His black turtle neck, black jeans, and black combat boots camouflaged him with the night. He was bent over rummaging through the safe he’d just busted open, Liam assumed.
Liam scanned the kitchen. Glass was shattered everywhere, from the floors to atop the stove to around the dinner table. Every drawer was open, and random papers — likely Bridget’s phone numbers and random bills from over the years — mingled with the broken glass. He aimed the pistol at the invader.
“Turn around, punk!” he demanded.
Now he really felt like Dirty Harry.
The man put his hands in the air and made a one-eighty. His red hair, red beard and ghostly complexion reminded Liam of Ron Howard before he went bald.
“Where is it, Liam?” the man said in a subtle, unsettling tone.
Liam’s face stiffened. He had no idea who this man was or how he knew his name.
“Where’s what?” Liam frustratingly asked. “Who are you?”
“You know what I want, you little shit,” the man said. “Your father stole it from me, and I want it back.”
Liam tightened his grip on the pistol, still squeezing it with both hands.
“Who the fuck are you?!” Liam screamed.
The perp chuckled and grinned like a madman. The smirk reminded Liam of the way Jack Torrence looked when he tried to chop his family to pieces at the Overlook Hotel. Liam noticed the black hole in the man’s mouth: He was missing an incisor.
“You were always my favorite nephew, Liam,” the perp said. “And I want my goddamn tooth.”
Liam’s jaw dropped to the floor. His legs instantly felt like Jell-O beneath him. He felt sick, like he was going to projectile all over the hardwood. Liam did know this man and he knew what he wanted — it hit him in like a punch to the solar plexus. He was Finn O’Brien, Liam’s uncle who died in 1971. He must have been resurrected in another man’s body, because it didn’t even look like Uncle Finn, whose blonde hair and tan complexion resembled a young Robert Redford. Liam knew it was impossible, and even considered that he may be losing his mind, but he couldn’t ignore what the man had just said. It had to be his uncle.
Liam couldn’t speak. Fear had absorbed his body, and he trembled from hand to toe. The memories all came back to him, like when he passed his children’s old bedrooms. The memories of his Uncle Finn and the tragedy that was his life.
He snagged the pliers and jumped on top of Liam, pressing his knees onto his shoulders and pinning him to floor.
Uncle Finn was the older brother of Liam’s father, Oscar. The two were inseparable from their youth until their mother, Liam’s grandmother, died. Finn and Oscar had gotten heated over her will; she’d left her diamond wedding ring for her grandchildren, but she never said who. Finn wanted the ring for his daughter, Sheila, while Oscar wanted it for Liam’s future bride. What started out as a typical back-and-forth surged into each brother claiming they were the favorite child, ending with Oscar scolding his brother by telling him he should have never been born.
That was the last time Finn and Oscar spoke. A year later, Finn was killed in a vicious car wreck. He’d been drinking late, as usual, and was speeding down Wolf Island Road at 2 a.m. He crashed into a stoplight and burst through the windshield shattering his skull and vertebrae on impact. The autopsy suggested Finn somehow survived the initial blow and lay in the grass beyond the stoplight, paralyzed and brain damaged like a vegetable, for nearly an hour before he perished. Uncle Finn suffered to his last breath, likely hoping a passing driver would see him and call for help. None did.
Liam, who was eighteen at the time, remembered two things from that night: the phone ringing and his mother screaming.
The next day, a guilt-ridden Oscar made the hour-long drive from Dorchester to Mattapoisett to check out the scene of the crash. The street was already clean. No blood on the road, no windshield glass, not even a tire mark to show what had happened. A damaged stoplight was the only evidence. Right as Oscar was about to leave, he noticed a white, pea-sized object on the concrete. It was a tooth — roots still intact and specs of blood on the enamel. Oscar took it home and placed it in a jewelry box — the kind most would find a wedding ring in — and kept it sealed away for decades, only showing Liam and Mason right after the accident. When Oscar died forty years later, Liam took the box and placed it in his father’s casket, so the brothers could lie beside each other forever.
Now, forty-four years after his death, Uncle Finn had returned to claim what was his.
“I knew Oscar took it after my accident — that prick just wanted something to remind himself that he’d won,” Uncle Finn said. “But I want it back!”
“Uncle Finn,” Liam stammered, the gun trembling in his hands. “I d…d…don’t have your tooth. I p…p…put it in Pop’s coffin when he passed, so you two would be toge—"
“Shut up, you rat bastard! The last thing I’d want is to lay beside your old man forever. He knew he was better than me from the day he was born. Your grandparents looked at him like he was the second coming of Jesus, and they looked at me like I was a fucking leprechaun.”
“B…but you two were so close!”
“That’s what your dad and everyone else thought. I put on a show to act all bubbly toward your pops, but truth was, I despised him. I hated every ounce of him. And I even tried to kill him — more than once. Did he ever tell you about the time he almost drowned in the Charles River when he was four? That was me — I held him underwater while we were swimming. He would’ve been a goner if your grandparents hadn’t come back from their stroll on the beach right as his torso fell limp. Told them the undercurrent got him and I saved him. Your old man lost so much oxygen while under, he didn’t remember a fuckin’ thing. Or how about when your dad and I were window washers for the city in ’46, and he fell six flights to the ground? Only broke his leg — lucky sonofabitch. He sued the city for providing a faulty harness, but it was fine before I cut one of the straps.”
Liam couldn’t feel his hands — he couldn’t feel anything — and dropped the pistol. He began to cry. He cried like a little boy who’d gotten lost in a supermarket or who cut his knee while riding his bike. He cried for his father, who’d been deceived his entire life by his best friend.
Uncle Finn stepped toward Liam. The glass and paper crunched beneath his muddy combat boots.
“And now I’m here to get what’s mine.”
“I don’t have it, Uncle Finn!” Liam sobbed.
Uncle Finn pulled a pair of pliers from his back pocket — likely the ones Liam kept in the drawer next to the fridge — and now stood inches from his nephew. “Then I’ll take one of yours!”
Uncle Finn raised his hand and plunged the pliers toward Liam’s mouth. Liam reacted fast and slapped Finn’s hand away, sending the pliers to the floor. Liam reached down for the revolver, but his face met Uncle Finn’s thrusting knee instead, which jolted Liam down on his back. He felt a sharp, throbbing pain in his nose: the bridge was dented and crooked. Blood covered the lower half of his face and gushed down his chin. Uncle Finn kicked the revolver to the other side of the kitchen far from Liam’s reach. He snagged the pliers and jumped on top of Liam, pressing his knees onto his shoulders and pinning him to floor.
Liam’s weeping turned into a violent scream for help. He tried calling for Bridget, but he couldn’t. His voice was caught in his throat, as if his vocal cords had been ripped out, and the harder he tried to yell, the quieter he became.
“Daddy’s not here to help you, is he Liam?” Uncle Finn said.
He held the pliers in one hand and stretched Liam’s mouth open with the other. Liam fought back — he flailed like a fish on the floor of a rowboat — and dug his fingertips into Uncle Finn’s face, scratching his cheek. Specs of blood and red beard hair crawled into Liam’s fingernails. Uncle Finn smacked Liam’s hand away and regained control. He pinned his knees into Liam’s chest even harder. He raised his arm.
“For your father!” Uncle Finn said.
Uncle Finn drove the pliers past Liam’s lips, grabbed his top incisor and gave it a couple yanks. It wouldn’t give. He tugged again, this time adding a twist. The tooth snapped from Liam’s gums in one piece, roots and all. Blood sprayed at Uncle Finn like he’d popped a Champagne bottle full of it, and Liam’s flailing became a convulsion. Liam maneuvered his tongue to the gaping hole in his mouth and felt the fleshy tissue dangling. It tasted like metal. Then he passed out. Maybe he was in shock or maybe it was from the pain, but his body deflated the way a balloon does when the air is slowly released from the valve.
His mind drifted to the fall of ’67 when he, his father, Mason and Uncle Finn got tickets to Game 6 of the World Series. The Red Sox blistered the St. Louis Cardinals, scoring four runs in the bottom of the seventh and winning 8–4. Liam and Mason went ballistic when Carl Yastrzemski hopped into the stands after the game to sign autographs.
“Finny, take a picture of me and my boys with Yaz,” Liam remembers his father saying. “And make sure you hold the click down long enough — you fucked it up last time, remember?”
Uncle Finn happily took the picture, but Liam’s memory zeroed in on his uncle’s face the second after the snapshot. Finn glared at Oscar — eyes narrow and biting his bottom lip, like he wanted to pounce him. Like he hated him.
Liam opened his eyes. Uncle Finn was still on top of him, and three more of his teeth had been yanked from the front of his mouth. The seeping blood from his nose and mouth formed a pool on his bare chest, and he felt queasy. Uncle Finn gazed into Liam’s eyes and raised his arm again, ready to jam the tweezers into his nephew for a fourth time.
“Okay, Liam, all set,” Uncle Finn said. “Now, check out with Rosie at the front desk. She’ll take care of you.”
Liam’s eyebrows rose in confusion.
“You okay, Liam?” Uncle Finn asked. Liam shut his eyes again. When he opened them, he realized he wasn’t in his kitchen. He wasn’t even at home. He no longer lay on the hardwood floor, but in a reclining blue chair. A bright light beamed overhead, and Uncle Finn stood over him in a blue gown and a surgical mask. “There you are! Sorry, I know the anesthesia can send you into a haze. But it’s much better than not having it when getting a root canal.”
Liam felt his teeth with his tongue: thirty-two for thirty-two. The softness of his dangling gums had been replaced with his tooth.
“I guess so,” Liam mumbled.
He stood up and shook hands with Dr. Huff. The man’s red hair, red beard and ghostly white skin looked all too familiar.
“Thanks, Doc,” Liam said.
“Don’t mention it, Liam. Call me if you have any problems!”
Liam entered the waiting room. Bridget was reading an issue of Cosmopolitan — one with Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover. She stood up.
“You all right?” she asked. “The hygienist said you dozed off for a sec.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Just dizzy.”
Bridget held Liam’s hand and kissed the back of his palm. Her eyes fixated on his nails. “Liam, what happened to your fingers?” she asked.
Liam looked at his hand: His fingernails were covered in dried blood and bristly red hairs. He glanced back toward the treatment room. Dr. Huff was staring at him, grinning like a madman — that same kind of hellish grin that sent shivers down Liam’s spine.
Suddenly, Liam’s head exploded. It’s as if a grenade was placed in his skull and the pin dropped out. Bloody pieces of his brain shot to every corner of the room and all over Bridget, whose screams echoed and racketed throughout the entire high-rise building. Liam’s headless body flopped onto the gray carpet and twitched spastically as the nerves played out their final ballet. Bridget’s violent scream turned into a horrific sob, and she lay on top of her dead husband, blanketing herself over his body, covered in his blood.
“LIAM! LIAM! WAKE UP!”
Liam opened his eyes and jolted upward as if he’d been electrocuted. Bridget was shaking him again.
“Liam, you were having a nightmare,” she said.
Liam could barely see, and to make things worse, had slobs of yellow crust at the inside corner of each eye. He put on his bifocals: it was nine-thirty in the morning. He held his hands to his face. His nails were clean. He took a deep breath. He sighed relief.
“Is today Saturday?” he asked.
“Yep, so you better get out of bed — your crown appointment with Dr. Huff is at eleven.
Liam looked straight ahead at the television in front of the bed. Carried Bradshaw was venting to her girlfriends about why her relationship with Aiden didn’t work out.
“On second thought, what’s your sister’s dentist … what’s his name … Doctor Steinfeld up to these days?”