“Fish” Mulally didn’t come by that nickname accidentally. There’s a good reason: there wasn’t another man who looked more like a cold-blooded vertebrate animal with scales, gills and fins than “Fish”. Radical as it may sound, it’s not an insult; it’s a fact.
Born in 1959, Brendan Mulally was one of those tragic thalidomide babies. His mother Maeve suffered terribly from morning sickness and took the unapproved drug during her pregnancy. She’d heard rumors about the anti-nausea medication being dangerous, possibly resulting in abnormalities to the fetus, but Maeve’s doctor assured her the drug was safe. The moment she gave birth, the delivery room fell silent. The only sound was Brendan’s whimpering.
Maeve knew immediately something was wrong and pleaded to see her baby. The doctor walked to the head of the bed and told her the baby was malformed and it would probably be best if she didn’t see him, but Maeve was of hardy Irish Catholic stock and demanded the baby be brought to her. A nurse gently cleaned Brendan, wrapped him in a blanket and put a little bonnet on his head. With sorrow in her eyes, she reluctantly handed the baby to Maeve.
Even though Brendan’s eyes were closed Maeve could see they were large and protruding. His face was long, his lips flabby. With trembling hands she removed the baby’s cap and drew in a startled breath. Where there should have been hair there were scales – massive amounts of tiny shimmering bony plates overlapping one another. His right arm and hand were covered in the same thin scales. Summoning all her courage Maeve carefully unfolded the swaddling; at first glance her baby appeared perfectly normal and she tenderly placed her hands beneath his back to lift him to her breast. It was then that she felt the two small fins sticking out of his shoulder blades.
The doctor spoke softly. “Maeve, I know this must be a shock to you but surely you realize your baby will not thrive. I suggest we call the hospital chaplain to perform the sacrament of baptism while we still have time.” Maeve silently nodded in agreement and the priest was summoned. At least now little Brendan would go on to heaven and not languish in Limbo with other unbaptized babies.
Maeve insisted that Brendan be placed in a bassinet next to her bed instead of the hospital nursery; she didn’t trust the doctors and nurses and wanted to keep her baby close. The doctor rambled on about going against hospital policy but Maeve would not back down; begrudgingly the staff acquiesced.
Maeve’s husband Patrick paced impatiently with other expectant fathers in the hospital waiting room. He toyed with the packs of cigars in his pocket, looking forward to proudly passing them out to his friends. Finally his name was called and he was allowed to see his wife and meet their baby. The nurse gave Patrick no information other than to say his wife had delivered a boy.
Patrick entered his wife’s room, his face beaming with joy. He kissed her forehead tenderly then turned his attention to his son sleeping in the bassinet. With eyes wide in shock and disbelief, Patrick flinched and recoiled.
“Holy Christ! Saints preserve us!” he exclaimed. “This is the work of the devil! He’ll not be coming home with us!”
Maeve was not surprised by Patrick’s reaction; he was an arrogant and inflexible man. It would take much convincing on her part to bring him around; however, Patrick was imlaccable and stormed out of the room. Maeve never saw him again. The first night home alone with her newborn son, Maeve knelt before the statue of St. Brigid and prayed for courage and patience.
Despite the doctor’s opinion, Brendan grew strong and healthy under his mother’s loving care. Maeve made sure he wore a cap and glove to conceal his scales but there was no hiding his face. Brendan was bullied relentlessly and everyone called him “Fish” but he never caved under the pressure. He gave as good as he got and eventually earned respect and notoriety.
Brendan’s fighting skills were impressive and he caught the eye of crime boss James “The Prophet” O’Neill who asked him to become his bodyguard. Brendan accepted the job with one condition: for his mother’s sake, he would never take another person’s life.
O’Neill respected Brendan’s devotion to his mother and agreed to his request. “Fish” Mulally made Maeve proud until her last breath.
NAR © 2021