For breakfast this morning we exchanged watery smiles as we fumbled with pearl buttons, re-tied shoelaces and adjusted our ties that gaped at the necks of wider men. Many years had passed since I made the decision to leave violence and misery outside of my tall metal gates. My inner sanctuary is just that, my place of peace from the world outside. Yesterday, misery was allowed inside to enter its ugly head into my private family life. The thin October sunshine played weakly upon the blackness of the paintwork on the many assembled cars. My sons, from boys to men, they walked by my side as we followed that slim oak box to the earth. The silence, so loud, broken only by the footfalls of expensive shoes upon the gravel crunch of Dalnottar. We stood as we had done so in childhood. Our glassy eyes spoke to each brother as our tongues lay thick and useless inside of our dry mouths. Now only the eight of us remained. Orphaned and lost without our sister, our ages reverted back to a more innocent time. I called silently her name, but she was not to reply.
The priest had initially said no to the request, but we did it anyway. It was not easy to scold so many hard faces that wore the head to toe black that matched perfectly the red of their eyes and the scar tissue of old Glasgow. The more pious of the black crows very nearly turned puce at the suggestion of the idea that such an unholy guest would walk freely in the house of the Lord. One of them, rotund, unctuous, wheezing like a blacksmiths bellows - far too many free luncheons, you'd guess, or the green opaque of the gin bottle - and the other, his club foot beating a merry tattoo on the parish floor with the terrible nerves of it all. The first one swung an urn of incense back and forth, filling the aisles with the scent of frankincense. The second one walked piously, with his hands folded around his Bible. The plump one went out of his way to make eye contact with all of us heathens, as if adding our names to his own holy hit list. The fat ones fatwa, most probably.
The heads shook aplenty when the idea was first offered up as to which one of us her god would damn for all eternity first. Those in Glasgow who mourn carry only the care for the souls that live on in our hearts, not for what others think of us. The decision was made, the procession was of course lead by a tall scarred fellow with more than a single tear on his cheek as we carried the sister safely upon our shoulders into the church. Followed closely at heel was her oul blind raggedy dog. He sat, befuddled and lost. I amongst others felt the same way. The dog in question has many friends because he wags only his tail instead of his tongue. Like Mary, he never judged, he knew she was loved. An afternoon of glaring at grey grocers and frightening fishmongers with the blindness of his oul eyes was set aside to fret and mourn for his mistress of many years. He had the right to walk behind the men who are to be his new protectors now that the love of the sister has been taken from him.
The rakes and paper ruffians with cameras who haunt the pavement along the way are not yet out in force this day. Some have been drinking, and at least one thinks that amongst the mourners he may have found his column inches. A quiet word to the privacy-rapists and their foul practise was quickly ended when they are educated the hard way that the friends of the family in attendance is that of the Brádaigh's. The community of Mary's friends and families gathered the evening before the main funeral liturgy to pray and to keep watch with the inner sanctum of our family. It is to be expected that the field of mourners is varied. There are many local bruisers, a distinguished man, two women holding hands (the scandal of it!) as well as their tears. Tucked away at the back, a minor celebrity who has the darkest of tanning-shop skins. Friendship has neither prejudice or moral codes when it comes to the people of which we surround ourselves in life and in death. All were welcome. Even the nuns, the stragglers, the English few and those who had felt the kindness bestowed upon them by herself.
The word of her God is proclaimed as a source of hope in the face of darkness and death. The Glasgow pride is particularly more deadly when wounded than the most savage of African lions. The first pious crow prays for the deceased even though our Celtic rituals widen his eyes. There are also prayers for those dealing with the loss. Me, I am in another place as I hum her favourite songs silently inside of my head as those around us disguise the signs of our emotions as we mourn. This is Glasgow and our sisters passing is meant to be celebrated on the night before the funeral. If there is to be tears and sadness, it is appropriate at the vigil, but never the wake. I long for the whisky to take me away from the blackness in my heart. Flanagan and his brood fae Belfast had put aside their drinking for the morning to pay their respects to Mary. Rough of character, self made men, natural enemies to our business faith, they stood with shoes shined and with the brandy still upon their breath. We had not spoken since the money-lenders wars, but still a nodded head was aimed our way. We respected them in turn for that.
By the door, the landed gentry and the Highland bourgeoisie had been discussing complex methods of escape in case the aftermath threatens to turn to an alcoholic haze at the drop of a brandy glass. An eclectic mix, an invisible line between the Catholic and Protestant communities is lifted as those of the blue came to pay their respects to our lady of the green. There was indeed something about Mary.
We celebrated her life with love and respect. We placed wee chocolate frogs from Grady's sweetie shop in our suit pockets just as we had done so in our Sunday school play days. Around us her songs both chilled us and warmed us with her memory. And then the tears. It was our first time together as a family that our beloved sister had not joined us in the coming together of the clans. The brothers, we took it in turns to console the oul wans, to wrap our arms around their shoulders and pretend that we were comforting them, when in reality, they were comforting us. Me, I wondered how I could ever go back into my kitchen without noticing the empty chair where Mary had sat forever chiding me for rough cutting scallions and the laughter we shared.
When the day is done and the oul wans are tucked safely in their beds, our women folk reassure the weans, "och, your da was no crying, he just had a wee something in his eye". We, the brothers, the sons, the uncles, nephews, cousins and only the closest of male friends gather to drink long and hard into the night. The talk is of fitba, of Celtic and our sister Mary's pride for her gallant lads of the green. We raise many glasses until the cock grows hoarse from crowing at the demise of the yellow waxy moon. The dawn breaks as we make our way along deserted streets to our sisters favourite place just outside of Milngavie. Today we drink again until the moon will rise, tomorrow we may ourselves be dead. With our feet not yet in the sod we celebrate the living of life. We mourn amongst the living, we cherish the memories that death has seen fit to leave behind. In Glasgow, we survive.