In The Name Of the Gobaloon |3| The Mortality Game
The porter black sky pressed on the city as An Ruirteach’s waters seemed to be ripped from the river bed and strewn across the entirety of Baile Átha Cliath.
It was absolutely pissing it down.
On the zenith of Fishamble Street, intersecting with Lord Edward Street, the bells of Christchurch hung silently and as the stones became slick with rain Bishop Greene walked across Synod’s Bridge; making his way down to the main cathedral.
Twas his habit on such desolate evenings.
He enjoyed being alone with the Lord in the cathedral and spent countless hours wandering the hallowed construction.
As he paced down the centre aisle towards the altar he noticed a trail of wet footprints that led him to the first pew. He approached cautiously and found a young man sleeping on the wooden bench. The lad was soaked but the Bishop couldn’t have given a shite as he lifted up his crozier and jabbed him roughly.
The man sprang up and stared at the Bishop. As he moved a huge cod slid from the inside of his coat onto the tiled floor.
The Bishop was shaken by sight of the fish but maintained his composure.
“What are you up to with that cod? This is a holy place.”
“Ah I’m sorry your grace. I’ve just had a terrible time of late and needed sanctuary. The missus has left me, I’m stuck in this fish shop in Stoneybatter and after a week out at sea I only caught one fish. That slimy prick there.”
“Well… I see. Of course, you can rest here a while.”
Bishop Greene sat beside the man.
“I’m Bishop Greene. What’s your name son?”
“Conal, your Grace.”
“It’s funny you have a cod with you. Do you know the history of this place?”
Conal stared blankly at the Bishop.
“No, you wouldn’t. Sigtrygg Silkbeard. The founder of Christchurch cathedral, Ruler of Dublin and possessor of a luxurious face badger was known to spend hours choosing only the finest fish for his dining table. As bountiful as the waters off Leinster were he was never quite satisfied with the catch and despite all his duties as ruler of Dublin he insisted that he inspect every net that passed beyond the city walls and he would spend hours fondling the limp fish, sliding them around his bearded hands searching for perfection.
“He’d heard the crones mutter tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the fools had sung the songs of Setanta. And slowly he became convinced that he would find a mystical cod.
“But alas a magical fish he did not find.
“Even on his jaunts across the sea to England he would dream of this magickal cod swooping through the gangrened waters of the Irish sea and he would approach foreign fishmongers catch with a hypnotic fervour.
“Hands outstretched, a pescambulist.
“Well one year on his way back to Dublin from Wales, after one too many ales, he fell overboard into the Celtic sea and began to sink. In the green murk he believed death was coming for him and as its moist embrace clutched his lungs he saw a great glittering before him. It came closer until he saw it was of course the mystical cod. The cod of faith in the unknown, the cod of the abyss, the cod of… freedom. Sigtrygg grabbed the chubby fucker and was whisked up through the waters and back to the bridge of his waiting vessel.
“Upon his return to Dublin he brought the cod here to the cathedral. Down in the crypts he had his men dig a great well with the greenest, cleanest sea water you’ve seen and there he kept this magical being for years. Everyone thinks St. Patrick’s Cathedral has the hallowed well, it does but the one below our feet is truly magical.
“Then Brian Boru got word of the fish. You’ve heard of The Battle of Clontarf, well the cod… the cod was the reason for the whole thing. Boru was obsessed. He won the battle, but he lost the cod and his life. Sigtrygg built the cathedral and covered the fish, he buried himself down there too. Alone forever with his cod.
“Or so the story goes.”
The Bishop smiled at Conal and could see the young man absorbing the tale.
“Well your Grace. That is a fine story. This fish, it can help a man?”
“Ah, it’s just a story.”
“But if someone were to find it?”
“Then that person would be an absolute gobaloon.”
“Well better to be a gobaloon than a dead fish.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I can feel it coming at times.”
“Feel what coming?”
“Ah… nothing. I’m talking nonsense now.”
“No, no. It’s OK, you’re with God here.”
“And can he grant me eternal life?”
“Well of course. You must live a rich, full, Christian life in order to gain eternal rapture.”
“But what if a man were to do something to get God’s attention while still on earth?”
“Our Lord sees all.”
“Does he now?”
“I mean mostly your actions are judged and inspected upon death. But there are exceptions, an act of heroism, self-sacrifice.”
“Self-sacrifice? Like Jesus.”
“I suppose but… what are you getting at here Conal?”
“Ah nothing your grace. Just ruminating.”
The Bishop stared at a nearby crucifix and thought deeply about what Conal had said.
“Well I better head off. Back to reality.”
“Of course, Conal. Well I’ve enjoyed our chat, will you come back for another?”
“I will, I will. I’d like to search for that cod.”
“Well… we might just do that some evening.”
And with that Conal turned, slid out of Christchurch and back onto the wet streets of Dublin.
Dublin has a pair of duelling clocks.
Clery’s and Easons.
They’ve been donging each other for decades and the clattering they make goes all but unnoticed by the majority of Dubliners. It is a battle of sound, of timbre and of time. The patterns and permutations they weave bring Dubs both in and out of time. The landscape of the city always changing, past and present dancing together, guided by the all-seeing eye of the future. Framed by these lunatic clocks.
On the day of Conal’s resurrection and funeral the clocks chimed together in unison. The first and last time this would happen.
And the mouths were gaping.
And the arses were flapping.
And the people were present.
Conal walked down the North Circular and turned right onto Oxmantown, passing the hissing chipper where boiling oil cooked Coddle Balls for waiting tradesmen. They shivered excitedly as he passed the chipper, involuntarily looked at the image of Padre Pio on the wall and blessed themselves with the shape of the cod.
The final turn onto Ashford Place brought Conal face to face with his own hearse drawn carriage.
A dark hearse that was pulled by a pair of peat brown Irish draughts. Mighty beasts with hind quarters the size of a pair of plump mothers.
The pallbearer was dismounting and spotted Conal nearing. He removed his ashen top-hat revealing a balding head with Brylcreemed strands of white hair plastered to the cheesy dome. His grin seemed destined to shatter and he aimed it at the resurrected man.
“Are you here for the procession?”
“Indeed.” replied Conal.
“Kin of yours?”
“He’s of my blood alright. A moment sir, I’ll prepare my family.”
Conal rapped the weighty knocker upon the sun-bleached door and almost instantly it opened a crack. A great shriek came from the other side and Conal pressed hard forcing the door open.
He turned to the pallbearer, who had respectfully lowered his gaze, and then entered the cottage.
On the floor in the living room was his brother Martin who was huddling behind a pile of empty Guinness crates. Conal regarded him and chuckled.
“And I suppose you’ve got me stacked on a few of those crates too.”
Martin lay petrified and shat an almighty shite. In his jocks.
Conal made his way to the room where his body lay and opened the door. Within he saw Maibh, who looked at him with farthing eyes, Bishop Greene, who began slumping over his glowing staff, and his own dead body that seemed to be decaying by the second. It was so pale and small.
Collapsing upon itself.
He looked to Maibh who was starting to weep, she fell to his feet as he turned to her.
“Would you ever get up out of that?”
“Who? Who are you?”
“I’m your Ma, who do you think I am?”
Bishop Greene fainted, Conal rushed and caught him just as he was hitting the floor. Maibh quickly grabbed a bowl of coddle from the pot and brought it to aid the Bishop. Soon enough the aromas reignited his senses, which in turn activated his consciousness and that meant he was waking up. The Bishop looked down at the cod filled coddle, back to Conal and promptly passed out again.
“Well,” said Conal, “would you look at that… cod.”
And with that he took an almighty slurp from the bowl. Maibh smiled as he offered her some, she supped a sup of the new coddle and delighted in the new concoction.
“What now?” she asked.
“We’re going to catch a cod. Come on, get him up, I’ll get the pallbearer. We need me other self.”
Ten minutes later Conal’s body was loaded into the hearse and Conal, Maibh and Bishop Greene were sitting atop the carriage, where Conal proceeded to guide his own funeral procession down Oxmantown, onto Manor Place, Manor Street, Blackhall, then Arran Quay and on towards Christchurch.
The ride was riddled with offerings of cod filled coddle and cod heads and tails and entrails and scales. By the time the carriage creaked its way to the summit of Winetavern Street it was covered in cod and the funeral march had grown to contain most of Stoneybatter, Smithfield, The Liberties, Pimlico and surrounding environs. The masses swelled around the hearse though they knew not why. All they knew was this dead lad needed a ton of cod as they hummed a low hum that pricked the ears of the Gods. But the Gods were already paying attention, they had been ogling events since Conal’s watery return, but they could never have imagined he would actually end up here at Christchurch.
The carriage stopped in front of Christchurch and Conal descended the steps. A great stillness was in the air, a distant tune seemed to blow up the hill from St. Patrick’s.
A group of six women in white came forward and shouldered the coffin out of the hearse and walked into the cathedral led by Conal, the head of the new trinity.
They did not go to the altar, nor the nave, nor the confessional box; instead they descended to the crypts. First the upper crypts, then the lower crypts and then the even lower crypts until finally they reached the lowest crypts. The sextet of women left them there in the dark.
The Bishop’s crozier began to glow. He regarded it with a mixture of fear and wonder, the same feelings he had felt since that first meeting with Conal.
Maibh stood a few feet away from him holding a bowl of coddle and a bottle of stout.
Conal opened his coffin and dragged out his doppel-corpse onto the stone floor. He cracked the stiff limbs and extended them, so the body was the shape of a star. When he was finished he stood and took his place at the head of the body.
The three of them had naturally formed a triangle and were filled with some unknown knowledge, as if they’d done this a thousand times. Almost on cue Maibh stepped forward and drowned the cadaver with coddle and stout. Bishop Greene lowered his crozier and touched the moist carcass while Conal stamped his feet to an unheard rhythm.
The wide chamber began to vibrate and the ancient stones under the body started shrinking, the loss of matter made Conal’s corpse jiggle and dance until finally it fell through the floor.
A huge hole appeared, and the trinity stared into the green waters beneath. There they saw a small stone island upon which another body was crumpled, a bearded skeleton.
“Sigtrygg,” whispered the Bishop.
“And that cheeky cod is here no doubt.” replied Conal.
As the two men were talking, rapt by the vision before them, Maibh began lowering herself into the maw of the catacombs. There was no easy way to do it, so she just jumped into the water.
They watched as Maibh was submerged beneath the ancient waters for eons within seconds upon epochs. Finally, she emerged on the back of the grandest fish either men had ever seen.
The creature seemed to be smiling at them and blinked a wink that fluttered their souls into waking. Maibh was majestic, terrifying and powerful. She grinned at Conal and then was gone again beneath the water. A few bubbles blubbed and then all was still.
Bishop Greene put his hand on Conal’s shoulder.
“Into the Poddle, out to the Liffey and into the Celtic Sea.”
“It’s her go now. Fair play Maibh. Good cod.”
Upon the banks of the Liffey their multitude of faces smile as I rush past, the waters cut open to allow us passage and I breathe with joy the green river whiskey. Gone the weight of responsibility. Gone the stench of despair. Carried by this fish, it ushers me into depths unknown. A Gobaloon liberated me and now a sea queen I be.