It’s funny, the crumbs at the corner of your lips.
It reminds me of the biscuits that my mother used to prepare for me every morning before I left to go to the school three villages away from where we lived, behind the forest and the river that only had one bridge and on which we used to go boating with my uncle until he had his accident on that trip when he offered me for the first time to go with him, but I refused because I had met that summer and on that one bridge of the river the person who, I thought, would become the most important person in my life and with whom I had two beautiful children who then became the most important people in my life and whom I raised alone for many years, giving them enough love for two parents and the same biscuits my mother used to prepare for me every time they went to the school three villages away from where we lived, behind the forest and the river that only have one bridge still, but I never crossed again…
It’s strange how we remember things. A life can come back to us in a second, yet we can get lost in the meanderings of our memories for hours. So many memories… that I have accumulated in almost a hundred years of life. So many memories come together, intermingle and rearrange themselves each time a new one enters my mind.
And the more I accumulate, the less I can distinguish between the ones I have been told, the ones I have seen in films and comics, the ones I have read in books and the ones I have written down, and the ones I have experienced. But they all belong to me. Whether I am the author or the actor, the narrator or the listener, all these memories inhabit my mind and constantly spin, shift, change and rearrange themselves into a myriad of stories and legends, all more intertwined than absurd.
And even if I’ll forget it all tomorrow, still, my favourites are the stories your lips tell.
The seagull was croaking contently in the port. It had just stolen a juicy tomato and ham sandwich from a little old lady near Grand Canal and was gulping it down quickly. Standing between the agitated sea and the glass buildings of the Docks, its beak was shining, and its stomach slowly expanding. In its satisfaction, it couldn’t see the pair of eyes that were watching it intently. Blue eyes filled with hunger and a vast darkness that would have scared animals and humans alike.
The man was looking at it, crouched in his usual spot under an old alleyway that led to the shopping centre. Red marks like wires were barely hidden under his green sweatshirt that didn’t protect him any more against the vicious wet cold. The man was hungry, and it was lunchtime in the City. He could see the businessmen chatting on the phone while distractedly eating their 8 euros Moroccan-spiced chicken wraps.
He was thinking about how nice it would be to roast the seagull; about how cavemen had discovered fire one day; about the roast lambs on a stake of his youth, and how his foster dad would make him swirl in the air while the smell of slow cooking meat filled them all with joy.
But that was long ago – he hadn’t seen these people he had once called family for more than ten years now. The smell of meat cooking had been replaced with scents of sweat, tears and the piss of drunks on the cobblestone corners.
A woman with a long black coat walked briskly in front of him, giving him the usual look of pity and embarrassment. People did not seem to understand that this look wouldn’t feed him. The coins in his little paper cup were looking at him sadly. November was always rough for Bob.
He thought about extending his tired hands and stealing the sandwich from the seagull, but it flew away before Bob could even move more than his shoulder. Brave animal. The seagull was already high in the sky, surveying the city. Far away, the Poolbeg chimneys indicated the direction of the coast.
The seagull landed on the north bank of the river. On the dirty white fence, two of his congeners were already perched on their legs, looking as if they were discussing the news of the day: “Patrick, I read in the Times this morning that Dublin was the sixth most expensive capital in the world for renters.” “Captivating! Do tell me more, John.”
On the other side of the road stood an old building—the Bachelor’s Inn. Workers walked briskly in front of it. Students sometimes took a stroll along the bank and pictured themselves living there. They imagined the noises the wooden floor would make when they came home at 3 a.m. after drinking obscure pints downstairs.
Odhran, carrying all their hundred-euro books in a worn-out leather bag, passed the birds on the fence daily. Weird group of gulls, they would think. Whenever they saw the Inn on the way to the university, they would hope they could stay. How easy it would be, how comfortable. They could inhale the smell of decaying wood, which would replace the one of the cold cleanliness of their house. They could escape the sounds of broken minds, broken promises, and broken plates.
Odhran had tried everything: “Mom, Dad, please, I’m trying to study!”
They would say, with apologies on their face:
—Odhran, I’m sorry it always goes like this. Your dad makes it impossible for me.
—You know your mom is mental Odhran, right? It’s not my fault. Even her brothers say so.
—He screams at me for the most impossible things, why can’t he get a real job? I have to do everything here, while he goes out and wanders around the Wicklow mountains with his little mates.
—Don’t listen to her, kiddo. Just promise me you’ll never turn out like her.
—I know it’s hard for you, sweetheart, but please don’t leave me alone with him. What would I do?
So, every day at university, during the classes where teachers spoke too low, Odhran would hunt on their computer. Their eyes were glued to the screen, browsing renters’ websites and Facebook groups, such as “Dublin cheap rooms” or the university accommodation section. They would spend hours classifying and saving ads.
They played this game for hours with friends, criticizing the flaws of the apartments and rooms they found: I could never live there; there’s not enough natural light. This blue tiling is so tacky. Having a flatmate? Could never be me. Only three bathrooms in this flat? It made them laugh while they sipped their overpriced coffee. It made them forget the sad truth: they could never afford it anyway.
So Odhran would look once more, sadly, at the curious and mean seagulls and go on their two-hour commute – two buses and the DART – to go down to the kitchen, where dinner was served, and no one looked at each other in the eyes.
The girl was there, as usual, on the corner of Grafton Street. Lily. She was an easy target – the seagull prided itself on knowing how to recognize kind people from unkind people. It always came back to the kind ones. She was wrapped in her half-eaten velvet blanket, the face of a little dog poking from it. In her cup, some coins, a few 2 euros, some 5 cents. She had an old piece of bread in her bag.
She always liked the presence of the seagull. She was looking at its little round belly with its perfect white feathers, all tidied up in order – oh so clean and soft-looking – and she would wonder; how would it feel to catch it? To squeeze the little belly? To grab it by one of its dirty yellow legs, to bring it inside her blanket and hug it while it would shriek, trapped? So, every day, she gave it a little bit of her food of the day – and she didn’t always have a lot – and every day, it got a little bit closer to her. It was a job for the long haul.
But today wouldn’t be the day – not yet. She threw the piece of stale bread at it and watched it eat it voraciously. Charming, she thought. When it flew away, she returned to thinking about her plans for the night. She would go back to the shelter, and the walk was tiresome. How long could she afford to stay out before getting too cold?
Lily needed to find a public bathroom before walking back – or go to a restaurant, but the staff would usually shoot her dirty looks when she came in with her sleeping bag, her dog, and the blanket. But she had to find something to use for the first day of her period. Usually, it was toilet paper from the public bathroom that she would roll over and over again.
Once, she had found free period products when she infiltrated a fancy restaurant’s bathroom. Did all those women dressed in flowy flower dresses with their marine suit-wearing partners need free tampons and pads? Lily had taken all she could fit in her pocket, but the operation was risky. She had had to leave all her belongings and Barjo on the corner of the street. Everyone could have taken the little dog – but she was tired of bleeding through the toilet paper that was falling apart. The products had lasted her two cycles.
The cold was starting to pierce through the blanket and Barjo was wincing in pain. On the other side of the street, Lily saw Martha with her big colourful skirts. They waved at each other, in familiarity. She wondered how much the old lady had gotten today, in her usual spot by the Trinity bus stop.
The sun had set entirely behind the brick buildings, and the seagull was far away from the park, its nasty eyes looking for a place to rest. It was never cold, this seagull, it had many homes in the quiet town and it could land on any roofs to make a comfortable nest. Sometimes, it flew away to Bull’s Island beach to join its colony. Gliding through the night, it felt the eyes of all the shivery souls on the streets of Dublin following its flight through the polluted dark sky.
Tomorrow, it hoped to steal a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich.
The Creator never realised there was nothing before there was something. All these matters and colours scared him. Time was flying by too fast. So the Creator closed his eyes and slept.
II. The Alchemist
Aeons came and went, and men started wandering inside Creation. Amongst them was an Alchemist. The Alchemist knew many things but wanted to see the Creator, thinking that there had to be meaning to all of existence.
Everybody said that the Creator lived at the top of the Mountain, so the Alchemist set forth to find and greet him. So he climbed the Mountain. For three days, he climbed, and, arriving at the top, he only found wind and loneliness. Cursing and screaming, the Alchemist wouldn’t believe there was Nothing where there could have been Something. So he decided that he would create.
The Alchemist roamed the Earth amongst men and spirits, craving knowledge beyond the comprehension of anybody. He met monsters and beasts and tamed them all. He was growing in power, but he always wanted more. He wanted the Creator’s power, even if he didn’t think He existed.
III. The Lovers
The Alchemist met two Lovers, a man and a woman. They had spent their whole lives together, and, despite their age, they still looked very young. They wanted their love to endure and were scared to see all their friends lose their love. So, having heard of the Alchemist, they asked for his help.
The Alchemist felt blessed by the request of the Lovers to help them, as he could finally use his immense powers to create. He cursed the Lovers with an Eternal Love, but not the way they wanted: the man impregnated the woman, the first to do so. And when the woman gave birth, she died. She was also the first to do so.
IV. The Liar
Having lost his wife, the Lover was so full of rage that he did not care for his child, who died quickly after birth. The Alchemist was cast away and seen by all of humankind as a Liar. The Lover chased him to the end of the world and battled him to death. Their battle was so violent that it awakened the Creator, who looked upon Creation and wept.
V. The Thief
The tears of the Creator flooded Earth and destroyed most of civilisation. Only the Alchemist and The Lover left, battling in eternity, not even remembering why. One day, once the Creator stopped crying, they saw that the storm was gone, and the Alchemist tricked the Lover into making peace with him.
Easing up, the Lover let his guard down, so the Alchemist stroke: using a powerful spell, he snatched the Lover’s soul from his body and attached it to his own. He did the same for all the souls roaming on the now-dead Earth, and, seeing that there was nothing left to make him grow more powerful, he retired at the top of the Mountain.
VI. The Conqueror
Aeons passed once again, and humanity was born again. Asleep at the top of the Mountain, the Alchemist was disturbed by a warrior calling himself Conqueror. He told the Alchemist he wanted to find the Creator at the top of the Mountain. The Alchemist was amused by this naive warrior and presented himself as the Creator.
The Demiurge saw this and, for the first time, decided to mingle in the business of mortals.
VII. The Devil
The Creator sent the Devil, his agent, down on Earth to bring him the Alchemist. But the Devil had a will of his own and was jealous of the Creator. He wanted all of Creation for himself, to pervert it into what he found beautiful. The Devil, on Earth, found a woman, Eve, and seduced her, promising her Destiny and Meaning to help him in his dark deeds.
The Devil then visited the court of the Conqueror, who thought the Creator blessed him and offered him Eve. Understanding she had been tricked, she tried to fight back but couldn’t do anything: the Conqueror wanted her for his pleasure.
VIII. The Rapist
The Conqueror impregnated her and thrived, invigorated by the woman’s suffering. Eve couldn’t take it anymore, so she killed herself, as it was the only way for her to be free. The Devil, disappointed by her lack of will, extracted the child she had been impregnated with from her womb and placed it in his own until it was ripe.
IX. The Disintegrator
The Devil gave birth to the Disintegrator, a child of burning grotesque masses, made of visions of rape, murder and perversion, and let him loose on the Earth. The destruction provoked by the Disintegrator forced the Creator to incarnate himself on Earth to stop him, but humanity feared him and quickly killed him. The Devil laughed as humanity crucified him and, now that the Creator was gone, started the journey to the top of the Mountain to claim the title of Creator to the Alchemist.
X. The Hanged Man
Since it was imperfect and perverted, the Disintegrator eventually died once he had destroyed humanity once again. The Devil climbed to the top of the Mountain and found the Alchemist there. The Alchemist was enraged by the Devil’s doing, so they started fighting. The Alchemist, now almost all-powerful, was an equal match for the Devil. They broke each other down and fought until they couldn’t walk. Using a trick, the Devil managed to take the upper hand and murdered the Alchemist. Bleeding out, the Devil then hanged the corpse of the Alchemist to a tree to make it the totem of his victory against the Creator. He then sat down beside the hanged man’s tree, and, listening to the deafening wind, feeling his wounds soothe him, he drifted off into sweet Death.