Sign From Above

An apologetic shade of blue. Yes, I can remember what I was wearing quite vividly, even though it was 2003. It’s not that long ago for remembering details, is it?  A cheap polyester suit in a tired, non-descript hue; a colour that doesn’t make you stand out, one that’s rather sorry for itself, that looks washed out even before it has been washed.  Nor was the cut in any way remarkable.  It was round necked, collarless, like those jackets The Beatles wore in the early days, except not half as stylish.  Theirs had piping and buttons; mine zipped up the front with a silver loop on the pull, like a child’s zipper.  And the trousers were bootleg; neat on the thigh and straight below the knee with a light flare on the ankle.  Horrible. Everything about that suit was horrible.

So there I was, one morning in 2003, striding along a section of the Liffey boardwalk, by Bachelor’s Walk on Dublin’s north side, bound for work at Wood Quay, to what locals called ‘The Corpo’, and wearing that horrible trouser suit.  It must have been either spring or summer, otherwise I would have been wearing a coat.  I must have been running late, otherwise surely I would have turned back to change when it happened.  Which I didn’t.  I hurried on into work, straight into the ladies toilets upon arrival to assess the damage.  For, somewhere around Ha’penny Bridge, my hair along with my least favourite suit had sustained a pelting of sloppy grey, white and yellow bullets sprayed from a malevolent gull impersonating the finest John Deere muck spreader.  Bad enough had I been hit in one unseemly plop, but this spiteful seagull must have circled overhead, moving in time with me as I walked, depositing the digested contents of its scavenged dinner with the efficiency of a showerhead twisted to wide.  And the worst thing?  The passers-by, of course.  The other foot commuters unable to muzzle their cries of, ‘eughh!’, as they saw it happen.  Their morning masks of blankness slipping as they pulled horrified faces, widening the arc of their path for fear the bird might have something against me personally and if they stood too near they might be hit by secondary poop shrapnel.  The jacket was unsalvageable (hooray!) and although the bootlegs had taken only a minor spray they too were destined for the bin when I got home.

And that ignominious incident, sixteen years ago, was the last time I’ve been showered upon from above with something other than the norms deposited by everyday weather.  I dredged up the memory recently because of a scene I was writing.  The scene was stolen from a friend who once told me about a pigeon becoming trapped in the church on the day of her wedding.  The pigeon panicked, and, displaying classic characteristics of a frightened bird, pooped all over the best man.  I crafted my own version of it, plugged it in to where I thought it should go in my story, read it back to myself, and realised it wasn’t good.  I was blocked.  I turned to my strategy for unblocking:  take a walk, clear my head, search for inspiration, find a sign as to how to manage this literary impasse.

The Edinburgh haar was in when I left the flat, that cold damp mist that sometimes slips up the forth and loiters here. I took a narrow, cobbled pedestrian cut-through leading to the railway archway into Holyrood Park.  Drops began to fall, then a few more.  Despite the haar it had promised to be a dry day.  I wondered if it was going to come to anything and I considered sheltering under the bridge or turning back.  I told myself a little bit of rain never hurt anyone when it stopped as quickly as it started.  Suspicious now, I looked down onto my long purple needlecord coat – the one with the cow parsley print – and realised I had been besplattered, as though someone had dipped a broad brush into a paint pot and flicked it at me.

Whilst my second direct hit in sixteen years was probably overdue, I’ve decided that my latest spate of luck (they says it’s good luck, don’t they?) was a clear sign from above – maybe even two: 1. Get on with writing the scene in the church, and 2. That purple coat had been in need of a really good wash for some time.

Seagull, by Ruth Donald

I see you in the distance

building speed, flapping

wings, swooping, gliding

between gabled rooftops.

Overhead, I look up and see

your white underbelly, wings

with grey tips, and your egg-yolk

yellow legs and feet, neatly

and tenderly laid against

the underside of your tail.

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