The dawn sprinkled the suburbs with golden promise that paled in the older parts of town, down streets broad and narrow to the docklands where everything was just plain and ordinary. Another brave new world beckoned, but Dublin was dubious – too often hope had been trampled down by foreign armies or strangled in dark alleys by the shadows of avarice and graft. Dubliners would rise to the inevitability of it all. They had risen up before and shaken off the Danes and Normans and then the British: only that took forever. No self-respecting Jackeen could consider putting faith in hope, even as European money rebuilt the roads and opened the whole country to progress.
At the mouth of the Liffey – the river that dissected the city in so many ways, the Pigeon House was encircled by gulls. More dangled above Dollymount where coral skies reflected puddled sands, reluctant to land while a black dog barked and gamboled around a woman who left imprints on the wet sand until the tide reached up and wiped them away. “Go back.” Her voice like a Matins bell, she stood and faced the sea. The dog barked and plunged into the surf, its black coat like latex as it swam until she could see it no more.
On the Northside, someone whistled to the dawn. Dorset Street rose early; it had a proud heritage. O'Casey, Kearney and more than one Sheridan had all been born there, back when the English owned the place, before they fled and Gombeens bought it up for a song: scruffy little landlords with no love for the place, slithering around for their rent, heedless to damp and disrepair. Some of the houses had given up and crumbled in on top of themselves. When you whistled on Dorset Street, you had to do it with bravado. Most people just prayed for better days or the occasional cause for celebration in the pub on the corner where there was always time for that.
Brendan Behan smirked from his place of prominence on the wall. He had faded and his face had been torn and glued back together. There were pin holes in the frayed corners, but he suited the mildewed wallpaper. Sinead shivered as remorse knelt by the side of the bed. Hail Mary: the Mother of God would understand. She'd be shocked too but she'd forgive, no matter how bad they were. She was a mother after all.
There was no response, other than the whistler, so she rose and scampered after her clothes, reaching with one arm with the other folded to shield her from the single eye that followed her around the room: James Joyce squinted from his self-imposed exile. He didn't look happy about sharing a room with Behan.
She'd have to call her mother, to let her know that she was all right. She'd tell her she was studying with a friend and had fallen asleep. She couldn't tell her about Aidan.
Her head was spinning and her stomach was delicate, but she had to get going. She'd sort it all out later. Right now, she needed to sneak out, as quietly as she could, but it was too late; he'd woken. She turned away and wriggled into her clothes as he fingered his hair away from his face and scratched his stubbled chin.
“You're sneakin’ off then?”
“Yeah, I've class this morning.”
“Better late than never I suppose,” he muttered as she searched for her shoes.
“I didn’t hear that.”
“I said 'that’s too bad.' I was goin’ to take you somewhere nice for breakfast.”
“Ya, that's too bad, but I gotta run. I had a great time – you know.”
“That’s it – 'I had a great time.'” He smiled and sat up reaching for a small cigar.
“Feck-off, I don't want a row; I just want to get to my lecture.”
“Off you go then, you're probably scared anyway.”
Sinead froze as she slid into her shoes. “What the hell would I be scared of – falling head-over-heels for some drunken poet?”
“Well, in that case, why don't we go?”
“I can't, Aidan.” But she lingered. Her lecture wasn't for a few hours. She'd hoped to go home and shower. She needed to get a change of clothes, too. She felt a little cold and damp, like a fish.
“Just a quick cup of tea then?”
“I'll be late.”
“Ah, sure what'll ya miss?”
“C'mon,” he beckoned from the taxi. “Let's go to Bewley’s and then you'll be right beside Trinity. Maybe I could even go in with ya and see what all this business stuff is about. I could even give my perspective – ya know, as a poet an' all.”
She squirmed as she settled low in the back seat. This was what you get for getting drunk and . . .
She couldn't even finish the thought. It was the first time she'd slept with him – something she wasn't so sure about anymore. But it was all right to let her hair down once in a while and besides, if she didn't have a few drinks, she'd never find the courage to even talk with a man.
Mary would understand, both of them.
She did, however, look around before she got out and hurried him into the cafe where boilers and kettles hissed beneath the bins of wrinkled teas and coffee beans from everywhere the old merchants had traded, back when Dublin was in the Empire, when the British ruled the world.
Aidan toyed with the linen napkin, spreading it and folding it neatly again. “Can ya believe it, this is my first time in here, I mean, I walk past it all the time.”
“That's nice,” she muttered as she ordered Earl Grey.
“And what type of tea would you like?” the waitress smiled at him.
“Milk and three spoons of sugar, please, darlin'.” he winked. “What's wrong?” he added as she left.
“They bring the milk and sugar to you.”
“So why's she askin' then?”
“I suppose you think you're so superior?”
“Only to some.”
She waited for things to go wrong – they always did. She'd no idea how to talk to him now that they were sober. She should try being a little nicer though; he wasn't that bad after all. “Tell me, what are you writing these days?”
“I'm working on another anthology, ya know? With the Twilight Press, too.”
She smiled as the waitress set their teas on the table, but he frowned at the empty cup before him.
“Is there anything wrong?” the waitress asked with professed concern.
“No, that's great now,” he was smiling again, “and don't worry, I can pour it myself.”
After he filled his cup, he took a white sugar cube with the tiny silver tongs and dipped it slowly, letting the tea spread like cancer. He did it five more times before pocketing the tongs.
“So what's that you're havin' – somethin' foreign?”
“Drinking Earl Grey in Bewley's is as Dublin as it gets.”
“Only for posers from the Southside.”
“Actually, the original owners were Quakers. They wanted to make sure everyone in Dublin could enjoy a nice cup of tea, no matter if they were rich or poor.”
“Quakers? Weren't they the fuckers who gave soup to anyone who gave up the Old Religion during the famine? They think we'd sell our souls for a bowl of soup.”
“Feck-off, Greeley, you'd sell yours for a pint.”
“At least we're still Dubliners on the Northside, ya know, not like fuckin' Southsiders.
“Feck-off Greeley or I'll call the Guards and have you deported.”
“Call them. Culchies are afraid to cross the river.
“So?” He asked as he stubbed his cigar in the clean white ashtray. “Why's it that we're an item then?”
“Is that what we are?”
“I hope so, otherwise, you'd just be usin' me 'cos I'm about to become famous an' all.”
“Go an' feck yourself.”
“I would, but I'm all fucked-out.”
“I thought you'd be used to that, what with all your fans and all.”
“Ah, c'mon, Sinead, I'm a poet; I need passion in my life.”
“Are you saying that being with me inspires you?”
“No. But I'd like to give things a chance between us.”
“Sorry Aidan. I have to run.”
“Okay, then, but when are you goin’ to let me see you again?”
“And why would you want to do that?”
“Because you're not as much of a bitch as you pretend.”
“Fuck you, too, Greeley.”
“That's the way it is with men,” she muttered as she steered her way through the crowd. “As soon as you did it with them, they lose all respect for you.” It never would have worked out: she should have known better. She cut across Duke Street, to Graham O'Sullivan's, to read the paper over coffee. Maybe she'd get a chance to talk with that really good-looking guy who worked there. Maybe he'd even notice her this time. She flicked her hair away from her face and marched on. She called her mother from a payphone along the way.