I was meandering through my external hard drive earlier this week, and came upon a story I wrote for a magazine a friend’s boyfriend-at-the-time was setting up. There was only one issue published and this story was in it. I’ve always had a weird affection for this story, but I never bothered submitting it anywhere else, and since I retained copyright (haha, posh me!), I figured I might as well put it up here. Anna Livia has since been taken out of storage and can now be viewed (minus her concrete surround, but (sort of) in the water) at Croppy’s Acre Memorial Park.
Anna Livia, political prisoner
Somewhere, in a Dublin City Council warehouse, sits a clock. Known colloquially as “the chime in the slime”, it is scheduled for dismantling due to the fact that it appears to have been rendered useless by its brief immersion in the noxious waters of the river Liffey. It was designed to count down the time to the last millennium, but that time having passed, and it having failed to do so, its only value would seem to be that of its parts.
For reasons no-one at the council seems capable of explaining, this parts-harvesting operation keeps being deferred. Dates are shifted, works orders lost, memos mislaid, one middle-manager refuses to have anything further to do with the matter. He claims there’s a jinx on it. He may be too bright to be a manager.
The clock does indeed perform a function, and it is one that it executes to perfection. The chime in the slime stops time. It does this to enable the statuary of Dublin some much-needed relief from the monotony of spending their day standing/sitting/reclining in the same position, often with tourists draped over them, having their photographs taken. They can rinse themselves clean of guano, vomit, spittle and urine (they tend to do a better job of this themselves than other, less interested, parties). They are then free to ramble, exercise, socialise or gossip amongst themselves, until the chime calls time. The chime stops time for an hour every night, and once a month stops time for a mammoth (and for it, straining) eight hours.
These eight hours allows for Big Jim Larkin to infiltrate Dublin City Council H.Q. and keep the clock safe for another month by causing mayhem in the relevant departments. They allow the other Statues an extended period of time for socialising, rambling, or whatever takes their fancy. Most importantly of all, they mean that Anna gets a visit from Molly and the Hags.
Born on the seventh of June 1988, raised on O’Connell Street, and taken away in November 2001 at the age of thirteen, Anna is considered by the Statues to be a political prisoner. Once a month, Molly Malone takes two Statues (most frequently the Hags with Bags) on her cart out to the Council warehouse at St Anne’s Park in Raheny to visit her.
Big Jim found out where they were holding her on a trip to the council offices, and it was agreed that it would be best if the women went to see her first, since Molly and the Hags had practically raised Anna. When they reported back after their first visit there had been general outrage.
The terrified thirteen-year-old Statue was being held in a wooden crate, with no source of water. Her bronze had totally dried out and was flaking away. She was immersed in Styrofoam peanuts, and the hags had had to rummage for what had seemed like an age, filling, dumping, re-filling and dumping their copious bags before they could even see the top of her head. The child had been given no reason as to why she had been taken away from O’Connell Street, or why she was being held in such conditions, and had no idea as to when (if ever) she might be released.
Big Jim and Daniel had ranted about “cruel and unusual punishment”, “human rights” and various forms of legalese that the other Statues didn’t grasp quite so easily. The Prick with the Stick had made it all about him, saying that she had been named after a character from “Finnegans Wake”, and: “How bloody dare they assault my artistic integrity by drying up and hiding from view the beauteous womanliness of the River Liffey in this manner, the sub-literate, plebian, whore-sons of arse-scratching, pencil-licking, shadecreeps of bureaucrats!”
Everyone ignored him. As usual. They were far more concerned with Anna’s plight than James Joyce’s artistic integrity.
Almost six years on and no-one is any the wiser as to the reason behind her incarceration. At least, Anna tells Molly and the Hags, when they come to see her, she gets to see her friends once a month. She lives for their visits. The silence of the warehouse is too much for her. Even at its busiest it is like O’Connell Street in the very early morning, before the city wakes up. When it’s like that, she tells them, she closes her eyes and listens to the noises of the men and the machines, and tries to block out the synthetic grating of the Styrofoam around her, and pretend that the machines around her are council cleaning machines, washing the streets in the early morning, that the men are workmen, doing repair work, that if she were to open her eyes it would be almost the grey pre-dawn, when you can smell the hops in the air from across the Liffey and even the winos are still asleep. But she knows where she is, she’s nineteen now and doesn’t believe in childish things anymore.
Listening to her, Molly’s heart is close to breaking. She knows that Big Jim discovered the City Council have a plan to move Anna to Croppy’s Acre but he’s sworn her to secrecy because he can’t trust them. True enough, she thinks, he found that out eighteen months ago, and not a thing has happened. She longs to give Anna some comfort, some hope, but feels powerless. Instead, she and the Hags pour bottled water over her head, shower her with hugs and kisses and reluctantly pour the Styrofoam back into the crate before closing the lid gently.
They make their way back into town in silence and stand at the end of O’Connell Street looking up at the Spire. It is motionless. Their dear friend was taken away and replaced by the only monument in Dublin with no soul. Heavy-hearted they return to their assigned locations, to be ready for when the chime sounds, “Time!” and Dublin comes roaring back to life.