by Emma Donoghue
Up and down the street poured the Saturday afternoon crowd; mothers bent
on finding perfect autumn overcoats, men in greasy tweed hats, bored suburban
girls bringing £9.99 bargains to show off to friends. From here I
could hear the familiar queasy mix of at least three buskers; that interminable
"Annie's Song" on flute, I thought, and the man with the African
and a brass band. I watched the ground; the reddish bricks disappeared and
reappeared as the feet and coats rushed over them.
Minnie would definitely get a
ticket now. I realized that I didn't care if she got three tickets and was
towed away. The sound of the flute lifted for a bar or two above the clang
of the brass band, and I was happy. Perversely, incredulously, momentarily
When it was gone and the wave had dropped my feet down hard against the
pavement, the crowd looked different to me. The shoppers were no more likable,
but they did have faces. It came into my head that everyone on this street
had either gone through a loss more or less equivalent to mine, or would
do so by the end of their life. Some would have it easier, some worse, some
over and over.
Imagine if a giant hand in the sky gestured us to stop, this minute,
figures frozen halfway through a stride or a sentence, all along Grafton
Street. If the hand gestured for us to tell what was really preoccupying
us, then death would be on every second mouth: "My mam's gone for
tests," one would admit, and the next, "Well my uncle and my
went last year," and another, "Our first was stillborn,"
"I've a feeling this Christmas might be my last." I wanted to
sit down on the sun-warmed pavement, arranging their bags and bundles round
them, and turn to their neighbour to talk of this huge headline hanging
over us. Who have you lost to death, they would ask each other, who are
you afraid of losing, who were you glad to see taken, and when do you think
death might come for you? The brass band should be playing a triumphant
funeral march, and the sun should be making skeleton shadows of our bodies
on the gaps of pavement between the groups. The signs behind the polished
glass fronts should say, "How many shopping days left?" It made
to be talking about anything else. And why did we pretend to be strangers
when we were all webbed together by the people we had lost and the short
future we had in common?
Through the crowd I saw a girl running down the street. Only the back
of her; all I could make out was a rusty head of hair, catching the light
whenever she emerged from a building's shadow. Probably running for a bus,
or twenty-five minutes late to meet a friend at Bewley's. She had almost
disappeared into the wide mouth of the crowd; I saw something moving but
wasn't sure if it was her. My eyes let her slip.
The crowd was swirling, no longer frozen in my vision. It was Saturday
afternoon, and there were coats to be tried on and teacups to drain.
©Copyright Emma Donoghue, 1995. All Rights Reserved.
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