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Life and death on Abbey Street

Mortality amid the shopping

All of life is on Abbey Street, the street where I work. Stepping out of the school, humming a tune to myself, in spite of the rain, heart beating with a secret joy, I imagine my self as a smooth stone, skimming over the the grey current of the day, towards the green granite horizon of Easons.

A Chinese man is smoking outside Ladbrokes, mauling betting slips, each one like a love letter from an old flame, stories that ended at the first hurdle. Five euro on Heartache each way.

My heart is beating with a secret joy. I cross over to Connolly’s window and admire the sculpture of shoes, precarious heels, and wonder how it feels to walk half a foot taller than you are. I see the Collins bus in front of Wynn’s Hotel drawing its breath before heading for Carrickmacross. A Spanish man with a large blue umbrella is explaining to a group of giddy teenagers all about 1916 and where they can buy cheap clothes; Penneys.

Leaning on a roadwork barricade, smoking in the morning, breathing out a thousand spirals of associations, I could dream on this street corner forever, my heart is beating with a secret joy.

Recalling, how a year ago, the city was slowly having its stitches removed, its wounds healing, being filled with tar and cement. Ghost light rail vehicles crawling on new tracks, testing her unclogged arteries. Strange passenger-less carriages, new blood cells, flowing through the veins of O’Connell and Parnell.

For over a year it had been open heart surgery on the streets of Dublin. Teams of hard-hat medics making incisions on her asphalt skin, extracting bales of cable and huge yellow tubes from her drill-blasted bowels. The city was a vast operating theatre. The patient stretched from Stephen’s Green to the Ambassador Theatre and there, Parnell reminded over-worked junior doctors who were tarmacking her torn flesh:
“No Man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation…”.

Dawson Street was like intensive care, reduced to one lane; just enough to let the blood of commerce flow to the gaping tills that gurgle profit like mouth wash. High mesh fences erected all around to protect the patient’s ruptured modesty.

Deep scar tissue on Westmoreland Street, trainee doctors sweeping débris on O’ Connell Street, consultants and surgeons pummelling it with diggers and drills. Dublin was bleeding with dust, its arms stitched on Abbey Street by nurses in luminous overalls and a dressage team tending the city’s scars behind a plastic green mesh in front of the GPO.

Then I see her laid on the ground, wearing a duffle coat, two sizes too large, half my age, skin, milk-pale and purple with the cold. Chicken-carcass cheekbones, crutches by her side. Behind her, a garish poster for a family-sized Supermac pizza; above her a man, weeping, pushing her chest, “I’m losin’ her, I’m fuckin losin’ her… will ye come back to me..?”.

Traffic lights change and hundreds of shoes and shopping bags pass by. My heart had beaten with a secret joy and hers is stopping, ignored in a public place; overdose. A friend with a ploughed line of stitches on his cheek balances on a crutch calling an ambulance.

The blue umbrella bobs now in the distance above a sea of scalps. Drizzle speckles her face and I can see the flash of ambulance scissoring the grey sky before I hear the siren, like lightning before thunder. Blue paramedic gloves draw a sheet over her face and the last she sees of this world is a fever dream of shoes passing at the level of her sunken eyes and a huge pizza slice being cut from a family meal deal, lassos of melted cheese the last thing she could cling to.

A Red Line Luas tram passes, pressed tight with faces and brown-paper shopping bags, the bell rings to signal its crossing over O’ Connell St; the ambulance wails down Abbey St, all that is left is her rain-sodden cardboard death-bed outside Supermacs. Traffic lights change again and a thousand shoes hurry by; nothing to see here.

Billy O’hAnluain