They’d called him three times after the first but he didn’t want to pick up again because he didn’t want to think about it anymore, at least not this year.
He called Fogs and listened to his voice and held the swell of his own heart in his hand, cracking jokes just to hear him laugh.
He went to lunch with Karen to listen to her rail against deadlines and the gall of Mari Pernicky in the cubicle next and her goddamn kids.
He sat on the edge of the roof with Frank Castle, listening to the clack and grind of guns being cleaned, bullets being inspected. He and Frank didn’t talk.
Matthew Murdock was a man of tragedy and he came from a long line of tragedy and his people, his person, his father, was not the subject of some bored guy’s midnight TV binge. He didn’t want to answer the phone because some damn camera crew with some half-rate director was not going to churn his daddy’s story into some shitty hypermasculine footnote in the history of boxing.
He wouldn’t allow it because he couldn’t allow it.
So he ignored the calls. Called Fogs. Lunch with Karen. Guns with Frank.
Frank noticed the silence first because he hadn’t tried to fill it with the usual jabs and barbs. Matt could feel him watching over the guns. He tried to imagine what he looked like, for the first time in a long time. He could feel the wind blowing out over the city, so rustling. What did rustling look like again? Loose cloth slapping against skin. The security of a sweater. The heat of hands hauling him up, up, and over, then one tucked around and one tucked over and Dad’s voice rumbling in his ear about the damn weather forecaster.
A lying sonovabitch, baby boy. A lying sonuvabitch. Can’t even trust the damn sky anymore, honey. Don’t worry, we’ll be home soon.
“You alive over there, Red?” Frank’s voice asked him. The grind of cloth on metal slowed but didn’t stop.
“I’m alright,” he promised.
“Real quiet,” Frank’s voice noted.
“Just too tired to argue tonight,” Matt told him, “I’ll put in double effort next time, I promise.”
Frank didn’t say anything but the slowness of his heart and the way he’d stopped rubbing the guns made Matt think that maybe he did care after all.
Matt couldn’t avoid them anymore because they knocked on his door. A man, he thought. Long hair like Fogs; tied up in a messy top knot. He smelled like cigarettes and the sweet-sour of something fermented. Kombucha maybe. There was weed in his bag between some kind of cloth to dampen the smell. His voice rang through the door like bells and Matt didn’t want to answer it.
But he did. Because that’s what you do.
“Mr. Murdock,” the man-director sighed, “I wasn’t sure you were home; you haven’t answered any of my calls.”
Matt wanted to tell him his father was not an idol for someone’s shrine.
“Apologies, it’s a busy time of year,” he said instead. “How can I help you?”
I will not be complicit in destroying my father’s memory. Deconstructing my father’s memory. Cherry-picking my father’s memory.
“We spoke on the phone a while back; I’m making a documentary about the stories behind some of the old-time boxers. You know, trying to understand the stories behind the men in the ring. I’d love to feature your father, maybe do an interview. Talk a little about his life.”
His life? As if Matt knew it. He knew only the life his dad had let him see as a child. He’d learned more about his dad’s life when he was out of the house than he was in. Tins of coins on the dresser. A list of household expenses. Written on the back of receipts, one every week. The smell of smoke in Dad’s pillowcase; the half-empty packet of cigarettes in the top drawer.
A bottle of scotch in the top cabinet. It never ran out.
“Oh, wow. I’m not sure I’m the best person for the job, I only saw one side of him. Have you considered Mr. Fogwell instead?” Please leave my father to rest. He deserves at least that much.
“I have spoken to Mr. Fogwell,” the man-director said, his enthusiasm constrained but bright in the back of his throat, “He’s the one who said I should reach out to you. He’s given us interviews on a lot of the guys who used to use his place. He said that your dad had a really good story.”
Fogwell’s was warm against cold cheeks and forehead nuzzles and deep voices teasing Dad for being such a sap. Spoiling him, Jackie. You’re spoiling him.
Fogwell let Matt sit in the corner because he knew that Dad couldn’t afford a babysitter. He knew that there was no one to meet Matt at home and that he already spent hours in the dark, when he could properly see the dark, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the tap leak. He let Matt stay before Matt could remember staying because they had no family or friends who could watch a baby from three to sevenpm five days a week. Matt had spent more time in Fogwell’s arms than he had his own mother’s.
It wasn’t a good story for them. But it was a different kind of story for Fogwell. Matt couldn’t fault him for that.
“Mr. Murdock, are you alright?” the man-director asked hesitantly. He shook the memories for a second to keep himself from drifting.
“I’m alright, sorry. Just brings back some. Unhappy memories.”
“Right, you were the one who found him, right?”
Dad’s face under his hands felt like nothing he’d ever touched; he had only comparisons for later when Elektra’s face felt like Dad’s but not. When his own fingers went numb with the cold and the wet in the Hudson.
He cleared his throat. The man-director held a hand out at his elbow, as though ready to steady him. As though he was fragile. Or needed anyone besides Fogs to hold onto.
“Thank you for your interest, but I’m going to have to decline,” he told him, and went to close the door to wring his hands and rub his fingers and call Fogs for some heat, at least in his heart.
“Mr. Murdock, please, I don’t want to disrespect your father. He deserves to have his story told.”
Like some shitty-ass crime drama? Is that what he was after? One of those horrible introduction sequences where family of the victims all say the same set of key phrases. “She was an incredible person.” “He was so warm.” “She was so kind.” “That’s just the kind of person she was.” “They didn’t deserve this.” “I’ll never find justice so long as they’re gone.”
He felt the heat in his heart. He opened the door.
“He deserves to be left alone,” Matt told the man-director in front of his door, “He deserves peace. And to not be featured in some two-bit cheap-ass crime drama looking for a story to tell. He was more than whatever rags to riches bullshit you want to spin. Alright? I’m not going to help you desecrate his memory, so get the fuck out before I make you.”
He closed the door and took a deep breath and went to the window because he couldn’t stand by the door. He tried to expel the heat from his heart. It was the wrong kind. He didn’t want to go out that night, it was raining and he’d taken a hit the night before that rang through his hip. It was swollen when he put his hand over it. It would slow down his pace.
“That’s why I came to you, Mr. Murdock,” the director shouted through the door. “You know the side that no one else does and maybe it doesn’t mean much to you but my brother is a boxer and he’s raising two kids and he’s got problems. Bad ones. And sometimes he tells me he’d be better off dead and I just. I just wanted to hear your side of the story, at least so I could tell him. If no one else.”
Matt clenched his hand on the arm of the sofa because that shit was fighting dirty. It was hard to read lies between walls.
He had no obligation to this guy he’d never met. He didn’t give a shit about this guy he’d never met.
But he’d been that kid. And his life had been nothing but a downhill spiral since his dad had left it. He couldn’t help sometimes putting on the gloves and asking himself ‘what if.’ Those kids deserved a shot. Regardless of this man and his goddamned brother.
He let out a breath. He let out another. Then he walked back to the door. The man-director was already leaving but stopped at the creak of the hinges. His heart beat wildly.
“For the kids,” Matt said quietly, “Not for you or him.”
Matt wasn’t thrilled about being on camera, especially for something he’d never see. The director must have read his trepidation in his shoulders.
“I’ll let you listen to it, if you want. I’ll edit it together and send it to you before anything else happens if you’re worried.”
It wasn’t that. It was the fact that it was his face and wasn’t his dad’s. He was supposed to tell the man’s story; the thing they shared most were the eyes. And his were broken. And he couldn’t let them be seen. But the man others would see might look like a dick with some stupid fucking glasses because he was too afraid otherwise.
“I’ve never done this before,” he told the man and his top knot. “Tell me about your brother.”
People’s bodies loosen when they talk about things that comfort them. This man was proud of his brother, his kid brother he called him. He was six years younger and had made it pro, but he took a whole lot of pills for an old injury. A whole lot. Too many. He knew it was wrong, but he had his kids and he needed to be able to fight to feed them and he needed the pills to hold off the pain to help him fight. But now he needed the pills because he needed the pills and it was a whole mess waiting to happen.
“How old are the kids?” Matt asked.
The girls were eleven and eight. And they loved their dad so much and they lived with their mom for most of the week and had done for a few years now.
Matt thought it was ironic that they were eleven and eight. Before and after his tragedy.
“How does this work?” he asked.
“I’m setting up some lights right now, I can put up a backdrop or something if you want, but I’d need to run out and get it. After that, we’ll do a few tests and then, if you don’t mind, I’ll just start asking you questions. If you could face the camera, that would be great.”
He didn’t want to.
“So why don’t we start with an easy one. Can you describe your dad for me? When you start can you sort of repeat the question in your answer?”
Describe your dad. Well.
“My dad was tired,” Matt told him, honestly, because yeah, he got it, Dad. He always had. “He went out at seven and came home at two when he had a match. I used to wait up for him, once I was old enough to sleep in the house alone.”
“When was that?” asked the man. Matt didn’t see how that was relevant. But he’d never made a documentary before.
“I dunno. He must have started leaving me around seven, maybe eight. He—we couldn’t afford a babysitter.”
“He left you every night?”
“Just match nights. Other days were different. Sorry, is that what you want or?”
“You’re doing great,” the director told him. The tea Matt had made him was hot enough that it was still steaming. Or maybe Matt’s apartment had gotten colder. “Tell me more about what it was like for you guys. What was family life like for you?”
“For me or for Dad?”
It was a stab in the heart to call him Dad without him being there.
“For you both.”
Matt wrung his hands a little, he couldn’t help it, he didn’t have the cane to fidget with.
“We were poor. Really poor. More poor than he ever told me, but I got it. I used to find his, uh. He had anxiety I think; he used to write out lists of what we could afford to pay for that week. On receipts and things; he kept them in his room. I had free lunch at school and social workers and shit ‘cause people didn’t think he could keep me. But that was my whole class, if I’m honest. It wasn’t a thing ‘cause we were all like that. My social worker’s name is Cindy, what’s yours? So, um.”
“What was your mother like? Were she and your dad married?” the man asked, having no idea of the minefield he was treading into.
“Um, yes. My parents were married, but they didn’t. I’m sorry, it’s difficult to talk about.” The man encouraged him gently and picked up the tea to blow across its surface. “My mother wasn’t really in the picture. She and Dad married young, pretty sure because they had a kid on the way and my family, both sides, we were all Catholic. I imagine it was unthinkable that they didn’t get married.”
“So she didn’t live with you guys? Not even when you were a baby?”
She didn’t live with you guys; no. No, that was unthinkable in its own way.
“No, my mother. I’ve been told since, my dad never even mentioned her, she had post-partum depression. She couldn’t cope with having me and she decided not to stay with us. So, Dad was everything for me. I never felt like I was missing anything, if that makes sense. We didn’t have roles at home, Dad did everything and once I was old enough, I did what he let me. He was always a bit overprotective. “
“That must have been hard on you guys,” the director said patiently.
How can something be hard if you knew no other way?
“It wasn’t. Not to me, anyways. And I think he preferred it that way, if I’m honest. Like I said, he had a lot of anxiety. Doing things like laundry, bath time, I think he liked that stuff. It was a process, start to finish. It meant you got stuff done every day; maybe not for you, but in a way that was probably better in his eyes. I think he had a lot of guilt.”
Because he was the one who other parents talked to in the street. He was the one who begged Fogwell to let him put his toddler in the corner. He was the one asking the landlord for one week. Just one more week.
“Guilt for what?”
“Not giving me what he thought I deserved.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” the man said, “It’s not like you lived in his mind. Are there any anecdotes, maybe fun stories you remember? Maybe things he liked?”
You don’t have to apologize that you don’t know the man who died for you.
“Dad was into baseball, but he didn’t do much outside of that. He worked a lot and when he wasn’t working, he trained a lot, and when he wasn’t training, he was at home trying to keep everything together.”
“Do you remember maybe a birthday party or a special trip you guys took together?”
No. How do you make someone understand? When you’re poor, you’re poor. Everything you do is about being poor.
“When I was a baby, Dad used to take me with him to Fogwell’s. We didn’t—there wasn’t anywhere else I could be. I don’t remember it, but I was there more than I was at home and I grew up surrounded by all these boxers. They used to tease him and say he was spoiling me. A lot of the old guys there, they were dads, too and they had opinions and they gave him shit all the time, ‘cause he. Well. Most guys, if they bring their kids with to the gym, they’re old enough to kind of entertain themselves, you know? But I mean, I was a baby. Maybe a year old, if even that, so he had to do a lot of the dad-work while he was doing work-work. So the other guys saw a lot of that, and they gave him shit for it. I think he kind of got a reputation for it. Big teddy bear Murdock, you know. He’s a totally different person in the ring, you should see him at the gym with his kid.”
It made his chest warm. Like with Fogs. It was a good thought, a good memory. A true testament. The man was smiling.
“Can you tell me a bit about your accident? Did that change your dynamic with your dad? Can you maybe start by explaining what happened to you?”
He took a deep breath but found himself wringing his hands again.
“Okay, yeah. When I was nine, I was blinded pushing a guy out of the path of an incoming truck. It was carrying acid and some got into my eyes and, uh. I have no light perception, which means I am as blind as you can be while still having eyes.”
“That had to have been a life-changer for both of you.”
Matt laughed because, no, actually. Not that way.
“I mean, no, not really. If you’re poor and shit happens, you’re still poor. Now you’re more poor, but you’ve still got to do the normal stuff. Laundry. Cooking. Putting the kid to sleep. The main difference now is that the kid is extra clumsy and clingy and needs a lot more looking after initially. I think—I know it stressed him out. I already had a social worker, and then I turned into a high-risk case ‘cause kids with disabilities are more likely to be abused. So he had those guys checking on our house and looking at my grades and that kind of thing. And he was terrified that someone was going to file a CPS report, I mean, constantly. I saw it happen to other kids at my school, so I was somewhat aware of it, but I don’t think I really understood. He used to make sure none of my clothes had holes in them and didn’t like me picking at my shoes and that kind of thing. And then after I went blind, he had to work twice as hard because I couldn’t see what I looked like anymore so I didn’t know how to make myself look, well. Look not like a kid who needs a CPS report.”
“And all this with barely any money,” the man said. Matt smiled a little into his lap.
“Dad always said he was dumb and he was always proud of me for being smart. But if there was one thing he could do better than anyone I knew, it was math. He did the math and worked out that, if he played the books right, he could make more for me by doing risky business than playing it safe like he had been. He didn’t want to lose fights. He didn’t lose them because he lost them either.”
“You make more money throwing them, sometimes, don’t you?” the director offered.
“Yeah,” Matt agreed, “He used to lose because someone else told him to and that someone was giving him a regular paycheck. So. He did the math. And he put everything on the books and he said ‘fuck ‘em,’ and the money he got from that was my inheritance.”
“You don’t sound so happy about that.”
“No shit, he was my dad. I didn’t need an inheritance, I needed him. Didn’t matter if we were poor. We already were poor. He could have given up the boxing, he was smarter than he thought. He could have done something else, but that wasn’t how he was thinking and I have never blamed him for it. Ever. I would never blame him for it. I just.”
His knee had started bouncing, when had his knee started bouncing? The director didn’t say anything. He must have wanted this quote unprompted. Matt let a breath out. And resolved to be done soon.
“I would never blame him for what happened to me after that. I never have, but if I’d had my dad instead of some money, I wouldn’t have gone into foster care and I wouldn’t have had to deal with a lot of how that has affected me. And yeah, maybe I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities, but I personally think that I’m a lot worse for having had to identify his body at ten years old. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about this much more. Do you have any other specific questions?”
The director had a few specific questions.
What kind of household did your dad come from?
A poor one. An abusive one. Next.
How did you know?
Because he knew how to be poor and he never hit me, and he was fucking boxer. Next.
Did your father ever do performance-enhancing drugs?
He might have, but probably not. He wasn’t that kind of guy. He wasn’t as big as he looked on tv either.
Did he teach you how to box?
Of course. The whole gym taught me how to box from the time I could make fists.
Do you happen to have anything of your father’s which I could photograph?
Matt brought out the trunk and, for the first time in ages, didn’t have to lift the first compartment. He didn’t want the man to touch his dad’s things. An irrational fear that some part of what little that was left of him might be lost on the stranger’s hands. He allowed him to take pictures and, while he was doing that, he slipped into his room and typed up a quick agreement.
He exited and waited for the man to finish, which he did, and started putting away his equipment.
Matt presented him with the agreement.
“I’m a lawyer, you see. And this is my father. So I’m sure you understand,” he said, and handed over the paper stating that Matt would review the footage before it went live and that Matt had the right, at any point in the process, to revoke his consent to use the interview at all. Furthermore, that the whole interview would be in no way published and that the director could use it in entirety for personal use only. Anything else needed to be edited and cleared with Matt.
The man-director read through this agreement and looked up in understanding of what Matt was trying to tell him.
“Thank you,” he said.
“For the kids,” Matt told him in return. “Not your brother. He’ll make his own decisions. But if he needs a nudge for his kids. Well, I’m a cautionary tale if there ever was one.”
“Thank you, Mr. Murdock,” the director said again.
Foggy was surprised that Matt agreed to an interview and wanted to know why he hadn’t told him until it aired. He wasn’t hurt, just surprised.
“You looked very handsome,” he assured him, as though that was anything Matt cared about.
Matt liked to be in Foggy’s apartment because it was less cold than his own. It smelt like Foggy and Foggy was warm and Foggy made his chest swell in the way his dad’s voice in his ear, rumbling about the weatherman, did. He pressed his cheek against Foggy’s arm and tucked the rest of his face into his ribs.
He didn’t like the sound of his own voice on the screen.
He hadn’t liked it in the first version and he didn’t like it in the last.
But he did like that the world now knew that Fogwell’s was the kind of place you could raise a family. Make a family. Find a family you didn’t know you had.
He liked the idea that someone could look at a poster of Jack Murdock and know within a few clicks on the internet that his son never blamed him for his death. Exactly why he’d thrown so many fights. That his kid knew why, too. That he was more than a footnote in some crime drama; he was a mother and a father all rolled up in one. That he had problems, that he threw his hands up at all that toxic masculinity and said ‘I’m fucking busy over here.’
“I’m fucking busy over here,” were words his dad had never said to him, but Matt could remember his voice and his cadence and his exasperation at all the fucking Legos in their house. And his inability to put both shoes in the same place. And his arms wrapped tight around Matt, rocking him tucked into his neck, trying to settle them both down enough to sleep.
Foggy leaned over and pressed a kiss into his cheekbone, then leaned back and rubbed a hand up and down Matt’s spine.
“I love him,” Matt murmured. His throat hurt.
“He knows, buddy,” Foggy promised him.