Friday, October 13, 2006

Seven minutes along the Quayside


I had been showing off the city and so we had started at The Long Hall which is as deeply real, perhaps as deeply Dublin as you'll get in those places just south of the Liffey and then gone to St. Patrick's Cathedral because, you know you have to, though I had told her not to light the votive there because "it is not really a Catholic Church," a comment that drew one of those, "Jesus, get over it" looks, in this case richly deserved, and then walked past Christ Church but did not go in because if you've seen one ancient cathedral seized by Henry the Eighth you've seen them all, and then down the hill, stopping at The Brazen Head for pints and stew. "Yes," I told her, "it is for tourists, but amazing nonetheless." We sat outside, smoking heavily from her packs of duty-free Camels. In this spot I always try to conjure the Dublin of eight-hundred years before. Cathedral construction up there, the quays busy already with the flow of invading Normans and their Saxon subjects. The thick ales of those days being poured right here in this place. Sometimes it is impossible to see, sometimes I can smell it and hear it. Today, with the mist floating through the air the light could bounce a million ways, and if you looked just right...

Thirty or so Euros lighter we walked out onto Merchants Quay. The river and sky were matching grays. The Four Courts loomed across the water. She said, "There might be too much history here for your own good." I shrugged, lit another cigarette. She said, "You seem a little depressed, and maybe a little like you like being depressed." I shrugged again, walked a few more paces, staring at my shoes. "History yes," I told her, "but not really my history. Depressed? Not really, just displaced." She put her hand on my arm, but gently. "So what now?" She put the question to me in a whisper that let me choose not to hear.

Through Wood Quay and Essex Quay we shared that American kind of small talk. I pointed out those strange amphibious tourist craft in the river, pointed up Parliament Street toward City Hall and the Castle, handed out bits of guidebook trivia. We were by Temple Bar before she broke that. "So, we're not going to talk about this?" "Perhaps not." My throat was scorched from chain-smoking. My eyes were tired. She had arrived last night and we had gone out and gotten hammered and come back and shagged for hours without talking. Now I thought that I needed to tell her that I was happy that she was here but I did not want her to stay. I was sure that she needed to tell me that she was not staying, and had come, in one way or the other, to say goodbye.

But we were good at silence. And so we turned south from the river, away from the Ha'penny and wandered into a touristy place with people playing music too loudly. We sat in the smoking courtyard near enough to the pipes and guitar that there was no chance to hear each other's voices, and we drank our pints as the gray sky above turned black.

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Copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

5 comments:

Brenda said...
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Brenda said...
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Brenda said...

I found this story sad, somehow composed of stray bits of things, like the smoke running all the way through it, somehow and indefinitely, an ending immanent, felt everywhere yet not articulated (smoke is vaporous, it can't be articulated...), and it all hangs under the final, striking image, "we drank our pints as the gray sky above turned black."

MB said...

I find this piece almost stiflling with its contradictions between little awarenesses and the choking off of them into silences.

I wonder what "that American kind of small talk" refers to?

narrator said...

mb:

American small talk is different. In Ireland you argue/debate the big stuff - politics, literature, history, the politics of music, whatever (there are even Dublin pubs where "the entertainment" is debate). Americans move through this unusual collection of unimportant talk. Conversations about nothing. I know Europeans and Asians both struggle with this.

But I hope it is stifling, choking - like the too many cigarettes - and the way things end when you are not sure why.

Brenda -

I hope the disconnection works. It was hard to write.