Mikey Heavey’s people were also old townies, but their history in our town was of a diametrically opposite kind to that of the boys’ family. For as far back as anyone could remember the Heavey name had been associated with poverty, misfortune and every variety of trouble and strife. There had been Heaveys who had drowned in the river. Heaveys who had died in car crashes. There had been Heavey arsonists, Heavey robbers, Heavey killers. There had been Heaveys born out of wedlock, Heaveys who had disappeared in the middle of the night to catch the train to Dublin and the boat to England, Heaveys who had been run out of town, Heaveys who had been to Limerick prison and Heaveys who had been denounced from the pulpit. To have the Heavey name in our town was to be branded as one of society’s lower orders. You weren’t expected to be clean, well-fed, bright at school, hold down a regular job or belong to any of the town’s clubs or societies, except perhaps the council estate’s soccer club. You were expected to get into brawls, to be a drunk, be involved in petty crime and be just one step above the tinkers in terms of lack of respectability. Your emigration and disappearance into the suburban sprawls of the industrial north of England was an accepted and welcomed eventuality.
We were instructed early on in our educational careers to keep away from the Heaveys who went to our school. As well as Mikey, there were about a dozen older and younger brothers and cousins. But even if our parents hadn’t gone to great pains to point it out, we knew ourselves that the Heaveys were different. They were rougher and tougher than us. You didn’t want to get in a fight with them. They wouldn’t just push you around and give you a belt in the side of the head; a tangle with them would involve real damage and real pain. They fought like adults — mean and desperate adults. They could leave you with broken teeth, a bloody nose, black eyes or a swollen jaw. We were afraid of the Heaveys, even the ones much younger than us, and stayed away from them. If we did find ourselves playing with them, it was with a placating, almost servile attitude. And we never told our parents.
As well as being afraid of the Heaveys, the more sensitive of us also felt sorry for them. The clothes they came to school in never varied. Collars and cuffs were consistently dirty and frayed, faces were always smudged, hair always matted, nails always black. For PE or football or hurling training they rarely had a full complement of gear; they mightn’t have football boots, having to wear normal runners to negotiate the mudbath that was our sports pitch, or they mightn’t even have had hurlies, shorts or football socks. And they never seemed to have anything nice; they didn’t have bicycles; they were never seen bringing Star Wars or Action Men to school. Even the marbles they played with had to be extorted from better off children.
Even though he was barely ten years old, Mikey Heavey already had a reputation in our town to match those of some of his older relations. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters whose father had run away to England shortly after his birth and whose mother was finding it difficult to cope on her own. Consequently, the children were running wild, with none more so than Mikey. He was small for his age and had a cherubic face topped by a head of golden curls. His behaviour, however, was far from angelic. From almost as soon as he could toddle around, he was out on the streets with his older brothers and taking an active part in their seemingly incessant quest for trouble. If they weren’t letting calves or piglets loose in the market, they were causing consternation in the public library, fighting with a rival gang, breaking windows, shoplifting or siphoning petrol from cars. By the time he had graduated on to midnight burglaries, Mikey Heavey was, as the expression goes, well known to the gardaí and on the way to being sent to a reformatory once he was of age to attend secondary school.
And now Mikey Heavey had been killed and the infamy associated with the family name would travel down another generation.
We don’t know anything about what happened in the shop after Mikey Heavey’s kicking and scraping — the final struggle of a short but hard life — came to an end. Did the boys’ father turn on the lights and quietly study the little body, lifeless among the scattered cans of peas and packets of Fig Rolls? Did he hold his head in terror and cry out in anguish and shame? Did he say a prayer over the small corpse? Did he think about covering up his crime, about throwing the body into the back of the car and driving out the country to toss it into a bog hole? We just don’t know. We do know that he left that shop without touching the body, not to close its eyes, or fold its hands across its chest or even cover it with a sheet. Without so much as a phone call to the gardaí or to his sleeping wife, he got in his car and drove the few miles to his farm. With the first rays of dawn lighting his way, he backed the Jetta into a shed, attached a hosepipe to the exhaust, trailing it to the cockpit, secured it using the passenger window and sat with the engine running until sleep and then death came over him.
The funerals of man and boy took place within a day of each other. Both are buried within a stone’s throw of one another in our town’s graveyard. The petrol station reopened after a few days, with one of the boys’ uncles taking charge, but the shop stayed closed forever. About twenty years ago, when the eldest of the boys took over from the uncle, he had the shop knocked. About six months after that the forecourt was modernised and a new shop was built on a different corner of the property.
The Heaveys are still as much a part of our town’s fabric as the boys’ family, or indeed my own. There are currently maybe half a dozen Heaveys in town around about the same age as Mikey was when he died. Very often I find myself biting my tongue when on the point of issuing the same warnings to my own children as my parents did to me. I have yet to warn them to steer clear of the Heaveys, although from the stories they bring home from school they would be well advised to do so.