On Growing a (de)Tail


I hit my forehead against the side of a glass shelf in the Birkenstock shop at 36 Wicklow Street this afternoon. The blow inflicted a sharp pain which faded until this evening, when I absent-mindedly rubbed my forehead as I was watching Upstairs Downstairs on BBC4.

The man behind the till in the Birkenstock shop was old, with the air of an indifferent butler and if he noticed my accident, he masked his perception with perfection.

Then I met my friend Reuben at Central Bank. He had on shorts and as I approached him he was reading. There’s that way that we all stuff a book out of sight or yank earphones into a tangle when somebody we have been waiting for approaches us suddenly. A universal movement away from ourselves and into that self-governing realm of conversation.

Reuben’s cup had flowers on it and contained lemon and green tea, but mine was glassy and plain. We both got bendy spoons though, which hovered over the rims of our cups and I didn’t notice until Reuben pointed it out, that the spoons were smiling. When it was time to pay, I put a tiny sum into the tip jar and took a mint. I felt bad when the waitress offered me a mint after, because that meant I had taken mine out of turn.

On the way home I crossed the road because there were boys in tracksuits on my side. In Centra, the Irish Times was sold out but there was a handful of London Times and Independents left over.

My mum read me two German Christmas stories tonight. She is the best reader in the world.

During Upstairs Downstairs my dad cupped his hands expectantly so I threw him a Malteser. After that I threw Maltesers at him without his hands being cupped.

In Avoca, a table yelled for my mum and two girls gave her effusive hugs. Grateful, smiling students of hers. It moved me strangely. I was feeling tender today, with preoccupations of an uncertain future. We met the mother again, as we were walking into Zara. She said it was ‘crazy’ in there.

There is a golden button missing from my coat. It came that way, but I have a spare because my boyfriend is magic and he went into AWear and asked for one once. They ripped a button off a faulty coat for him and I have been meaning to sew it on for seven weeks. I wondered today where that button was, but then, outside the Pound Shop in Rathmines, I felt it in the undersized pocket of my coat.

My sister and I sat beside the fire and when our feet touched by accident, her toes recoiled and danced away in disgust. She left the room to talk to her boyfriend while I listened to my mum’s stories. When she came back, we talked about epigenetics and how everything is related to everything.

I told my mum about what Ian McEwan said. That to write, is to have a detail, and not a story. That Atonement sprang from a single observation of his bossy elder daughter directing and staging a play. That a single detail can grow into love and war and betrayal and atonement and a moving masterpiece.

I’ve a lot more to gather, but this was a start.

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