Chapter two (a river song):
“I’ll take all your troubles and I’ll throw them in the river.” – If I was a carpenter- T. Hardin
Detective Sargent Connor O’Connor worked from Brickfount, one of the busiest and largest police stations in Dublin. For a long time it had been a grey brick building- first a new, grey brick building and later an old grey brick building. Recently it had been painted bright blue, one of the blues from the Dublin football strip; the kind of blue that a child might use to paint the sky and it looked ridiculous in the sea of low-rise grey concrete buildings around it.
The old council flats of Cyprus Street were empty now and decaying, part of the process of the gentrification of Dublin that had gone half way; moving the people who lived there out, and then stopped, right there, even before the economy crashed in the mid 2000’s, creating that special kind of hopeless ‘potential’ property developers like.
Connor remembered a time before all that when the buildings along the quays had been falling to pieces, one of them literally collapsing into the street over night. He had walked over the rumble on his way into town the next morning. It had looked like the scene of a bombing- a little blitzkrieg of pure neglect as the property developers had waited, or paid for, the land to be re-zoned.
He remembered when they had later found the body of an old woman on that derelict site. A Welsh woman she was, a wino; she froze to death there.
After a time they built cheap, red brick, rabbit hutch apartments there. Connor still imagined those apartments infested by that dead woman’s spirit. Perhaps that was way they aged so quickly and so badly.
He spent as little time in the station as possible. Its best feature was its proximity to the River Liffey.
Connor was born down by the Liffey and never wanted to live anywhere else. He didn’t have to life in Brewery Field exactly but he had to stay on his side of the river (as a child he was the sort of little boy with such an attachment to the Northside, as opposed to the Southside, of Dublin that he might fight over the question of whether Tayto or King Crisps were better, not knowing they were made in the same factory. (Later, when he was nineteen he found out that they were produced together in Harold’s Cross and it broke his heart)
He just had to be near the water.
Rivers are the reasons cities get started and you find the life of the place down there. At the river’s bank the horizon is narrow as it should be in a city. Big skies in an urban environment should make you very uncomfortable.
European cities in particular need to be seen from the river. An American film can introduce a city like New York with a shot that sweeps down from the sky in a helicopter but cities in Europe need to be seen from the docks and the quays like you see them in German movies from the 1970s. No city has ever looked better, or been seen better, than Hamburg in Der Americkanische Freund.
Connor lived now nearly as close to work as his father had but the problems this had presented his father were solved by the anonymity and isolation of Connor’s present situation. He had no presence in the community where he lived and no children to worry about. Such is the way in which history sweeps its hand.
He had had a relationship with the river Liffey that.. well, that was as long as his whole life.
When he was younger, in his late teens and early twenties, particularly when he was drunk or frustrated, he walked the short distance to the quays, drawn down by the river. He would stand at the little wall and look down slowly to the water.
“Down to the water my creeping eyes recoil”. “Down to the ground my creeping eyes recoil.” The sentence repeated over and over in his head–
“Down from the buildings”.
“Down from the people.”
“Down from myself.”
Looking down he felt a distinct sense of vertigo that wasn’t just a product of the alcohol consumed. It was not even an unpleasant feeling really. The river was the primary image of the city, the dirty green water, solid and fluid, was the dark mirror of the city’s heart.
Connor liked being out in the city and he liked to walk. All the best thoughts come to those who walk. It was the best aspect of his job that it actually required him to walk around the city a lot of the time.
Today he got into the station about 8.30 am and went to the small office he shared with a large, brutal-looking Kerryman called Maurice Fitzgerald. He shared his name with one of the most prominent Kerry footballers of his generation and he and Connor had discovered an instant sympathy based on the difficulties they had endured because of their unfortunate names. Maurice was, in fact, a gentle man; married since the age of nineteen and father to four for the bounciest children on record. Since they painted the station in the colours of the Dublin football kit coming to work had gotten very trying for Maurice.
“They want you down on the quays, down by the bridge at Heusten”, said Maurice by way of greeting. “Home ground for you.”
Connor nodded and smiled.
When Connor got to the incident this is what he found-
On the Parkland Street side of the bridge at the rail station there was the body of a very old man. He was in a half-seated/ half lying position on his right side. Lying under him were several bags filled with notebooks.
There was a small group of people looking on and a smaller group in uniform waiting to move the body.
The closer Connor got to the body the older he looked- my God, could anybody be that old. His clothes too seemed ancient but in reasonably good shape. He sported a huge grey beard that would have made Marx proud. Heck, he could have been in the Dubliners.
As he got closer Connor noticed a movement under the body. A blackbird. It left off its hopping to look up at Connor and caught his eye.
Why do we fall into silence and rapt attention when a common bird like a blackbird happens to approach us closer than it usually would? That little connection to nature. Sometimes we share that moment with others around us. Share a smile with stranger at a bus stop (the one you wanted to punch a moment ago as he lit his third cigarette and continued blowing smoke at you) as both of you watch a sparrow hopping closer and closer to your feet.
Connor looked from the bird to the dead man.
Sharing this experience with a dead body was quite strange, not pleasant. Connor shook his head a little and got to work.