Another Case in Cowtown (extract)

The young couple strolled arm in arm to the middle of the bridge. The Ha’penny Bridge, so called because once upon a time it had a toll, back in the days when Dublin still had halfpennies and the bridge still had a turnstile at either end.

Today the bridge had another toll of sorts: padlocks. Hundreds of them dotted its railings, clumps of metal mussels clinging to its steel ribs.

Some of the locks had names on them, written or engraved. This latest lock wasn’t even locked yet. It had “Julie + Terry” scratched into it. Julie held the lock while Terry turned the key. He gave the key to her. She held it up behind her head, giving him a “shall I, shan’t I?” kind of look.

“Nah nah,” he said. “Not like that.” Not overarm, he was saying. “And not just you, silly. Both of us, together. Like this.”

So they held it together, hands cupped, lobbing the key into the mucky swirl.

“I know, it sounds a bit… teenagery,” Terry had said earlier that morning. But that was Terry all over. Terry could be a bit teenagery sometimes, even though the both of them were a good decade past their teens. A little part of Terry would probably never grow up, and that’s probably why she liked him so much.

Terry loved bridges. Said he was mad about them, and this one was his second most favourite bridge in the world. She forgot to ask what his most favourite one was.

It was the first really sunny day in ages; a Monday morning, their day off. The whole of Dublin was out and about, in a happy mood and half undressed. It can’t last, Terry said, not in your typical Irish summer. Julie still didn’t know what a typical Irish summer was; she’d only known last summer, which was mostly windy and wet.

As they battled through a stream of pedestrians along O’Connell Bridge, Terry said he’d seen a giant once. Honest! Right there. Half way between here and that bridge over there. When he was a kid, he’d seen it floating down the river from this very spot. Honest to God, Julie, this great big Gulliver thing, floating on its back down the Liffey.

They had a massive clock in the river too. No kidding, in the water over there just there. This giant thing, the Millennium Clock it was called, just there. He pointed to the waters on the seaward side of O’Connell Bridge. They said it cost a quarter of a million, he said; it was supposed to count down the seconds to the new century, a green glowing yolk of a thing in the dirty old river.

Julie thought a green yolk sounded strange but she decided not to say so. There were so many green things in the shops for tourists, so maybe a green yolk was just one more of them. Or perhaps the yolk was a Terry joke; or a “Terry word”. Terry had a way with words. He spoke English of course, but not the English she’d learned at school. Or was it learnt at school? English was so much more complicated than French, and Terry’s English was far more complicated again.

You’ll never guess what happened next, he said; you wouldn’t believe it but the feckin’ thing became covered in slime, so they had to take it out again. “The chime in the slime”. That’s what his da called it. We should get you to meet the mam and dad some day, he said.

Terry showed her off to the river gods. It was the second time he’d shown her them, the statue heads along the bridge. Now he asked her to remember the names he’d told her.

“I’ll start you off,” he said. “Neptune, Mercury, Industry, Plenty.” Fourteen or fifteen heads. “Bann, Boyne and…?”

“And, um, Anna Something. Foyle. Ernie.” That’s all she could recall. “Ernie is a strange name for a river god,” she said.

“It’s Erne ya eejit,” he laughed.

Talking of names though, he thought, wasn’t it an awful funny coincidence, her being a Julie and him a Terry. The banks have crashed, the economy has gone down the jacks, but I don’t care, he thought. Work is mental, the country’s mad, but life is sweet and I’m in love with a girl from France called Julie. Of all things, a Julie. Walking by the Liffey, strolling along the boardwalk arm in arm, almost exactly like the song. “Terry meets Julie, dah dah dah dah dah, Waterloo Underground…”

Julie always made him laugh. She didn’t say much but when she did and even if it was a mistake she could sound ever so funny. And kind of sexy too. She was a part-timer, a kitchen porter. Just a glorified potwasher really, but Terry didn’t care. She called it “an dishwasher” in that funny accent, “an” instead of “a” dishwasher, and putting the stress on the “sher”. An dishwasher.

“One day, ma cherie, I’ll open my own place,” he told her. “Here or London, just you wait.” He already had a name for it too: Pied à Terry. Sounded French and far better than Terry Yakky, which was Mitch’s stupid idea. Terry Yakky only sounds like you’re taking the piss.

“We might even go to France first, to learn from the best,” he said. “Think of it: you could help me with the French.”

“Peut-être,” she said. Which was her way of saying “We’ll see.”

“OK, but wait’ll you see the statues on Capel Street Bridge. Mythological things,” he said. “Half horse, half fish.”

“Sorry,” she said. “It is rent day, remember? I have to go to my place to pay my rent.”

So the horse fishes would just have to wait. No time for any more stone gargoyles and Poseidon stuff this afternoon.

(Extract from the opening chapter of Mel Healy’s 2013 crime novel “Another Case in Cowtown”, ISBN 9781493679225)

by Mel Healy, Stoneybatter
Published on 29th July 2014