Hilary Fannin: I came into town on a mission to buy books and bras

I sat by the duck pond in Stephen’s Green. The seagull shat with deft precision all over me

There was a preternatural perfection to the morning at Stephen’s Green, a seasonal loveliness. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Its shadow falling on velvety-green grass, the seagull swooped low out of a cloudless Dublin sky and over the slatted wooden bench I was sitting on, a ringside seat overlooking the duck pond in St Stephen’s Green. The park had a peculiar, almost chocolate-box quality that morning; the blue sky taut as a sheet, the sun reflecting on the still water like spilt mercury. The lime trees, coy and dazzling, looked like they’d just graduated from finishing school.

There was a preternatural perfection to the morning, a seasonal loveliness, a reminder that, unlike the verdant growth, a common-or-garden Americano-sipping mortal in a pair of shabby runners is incapable of such splendid rejuvenation. As I drank my coffee, an inquisitive fledgling gull by my feet watching the slow progress of cup to mouth, I felt, happily, like a bit player in the park’s history, yet another humanoid extra littering the lush May morning scene.

It was almost lunchtime. I sat and watched as the gardens gradually began to fill with careful hot-coffee sippers and contented sandwich eaters and loud mobile-phone talkers and sleepy buggy pushers and bare-legged young lovers holding each other’s slender hands.

The purchasing of the purchases (five books, three bras) was indeed a marvellous thing to be contemplating from my bench in the sun on that glorious morning

You could, on such a still morning, after all the isolation and doggedness of the past year or more, almost sense, against the backdrop of the tentative present, the breath of previous generations on your neck. After listening to nothing much more than the dull crash of repetitive empty days, you could almost hear a city of ghosts sighing in contentment, holding their faces up to the light.


Energised by the reopening of the shops, and having crouched long enough under the metaphorical stairs waiting for the all-clear sirens, I’d been curious to see the city unfurl. I’d come into town that morning with a mission to buy myself books and bras; literature and a half-decent bit of lingerie being two staples without which life down this end of the chute can become a bit incommodious.

The purchasing of the purchases (five books, three bras) was indeed a marvellous thing to be contemplating from my bench in the sun on that glorious morning.

I’ve really been missing bookshops. I love walking through the door and into that paint box of words, all those oblongs of colour to choose from, windows into other lives, curtained by critiques, shelf after shelf of possibilities and invitation.

I looked out for my own novel in the piles of newish Irish fiction and was grateful to see it stacked there. The book is a thing apart from me now, making its own life in an endlessly reconstructed city of titles. I glanced at it, took a moment to see who it was sitting next to, what paper neighbour it might slide up to when the lights went out. I glanced but didn’t pick it up.

The seagull shat with deft precision all over my left shoulder, the feculence confetti-ing down my sleeve

Seeing it was a bit like bumping into someone on a busy street who you once loved. You know each other too well to stop for long; there’s just too much history to be contained in a casual conversation. You watch them walk on, wondering how much of yourself you have forfeited, how much of yourself you might have given away.

There is so much to read; I keep adding to the growing pile by my bed. I have a memory so vague that I think I might be imagining it, of a comic-book strip in which all the furniture is made of books, while the characters, who might actually be bespectacled bears, sit in armchairs made of piled-up paperbacks, sipping tea from china cups. I think I may become that cartoon creature, hibernating messily among my coffee-stained paperbacks.

It was time to go. The young gull, bored by my black-coffee-drinking, looked relieved to see me pack up my purchases and put my clean, hardly-ever-worn black jacket back on. I was standing up to go when the gull’s mate, or maybe its mother (I read somewhere that gulls have highly developed parenting skills), dropped out of the cerulean sky and shat with deft precision all over my left shoulder, the feculence confetti-ing down my sleeve.

“That’s lucky!” said the young girl who, with her bevy of mates, had hopped on to my bench the moment I’d alighted from it. “That bird’s bringing you good luck.”

I looked around me and figured that, even with the pungent bird shit staining my sleeve, she certainly wasn’t wrong.