There was blood on O’Connell Street; I saw it walking home.
I didn’t notice it at first. You don’t notice these things all at once when you live in the city and you’re just focused on keeping your head down and not looking anyone in the eye. But all it took was looking up for just half a moment, and there it was.
Even in the swarm of the early evening, when tourists nervously wander along in bunched-up groups of three or more and gaggles of college students gather in ragged crowds outside of nightclubs and local pubs, the trail stood out on the pavement: thick boot tracks of browning red which shimmered like dead stars in the dull lamplight of an empty Burger King. In the bitter cold of a January evening, they were already quickly drying into shiny, clumpy shapes of crust on the filthy concrete.
There was no puddle, no splatter – no point of origin to be seen whatsoever. They were just suddenly there, like the owner had fallen out of the sky, the soles of their boots already caked in fresh crimson, and proceeded, unbidden, down the street. Not a drip out of alignment, not a drop to be found – just fat globs of red outlining each crease, each crevice and curve, of the scarlet-soaked shoes.
I remember it clearly – we’d just past the Spire in the center of town, past the Pennys and the GPO and Abbey Street. I noticed it in the middle of a conversation I was having with a friend – she was prattling on about some make-or-break assignment she was procrastinating on for class. Or something to that degree; all I can remember is suddenly turning my head sharply to the right – like I’d been yanked that way by an invisible line – and spotting an unexpected glimmer of red keeping almost perfect pace with my stride.
Only, they weren’t so casually arranged: the tracks aligned themselves at an unsteady gait, the left foot dragging itself in scuffed-up smears behind the right. They blurred and blurred each detail with every step, so it was almost an effort to study them like I did – an effort like an echo of the effort it must have taken to haul each shattered limb, to drag the body down past the shops and the theatres and the bisecting streets while carefully avoiding a downward-facing crowd which would rather succumb to its own fears of confrontation than look you in the eye. I tried to measure each step as well as I could – the feet were bigger than my own, much bigger, and much heavier to heave when every movement was a shot of agony, scorching up the legs like thorns sprouting from the skin.
And in my mind, I suddenly felt the weight like I’d been the body – like I’d been the one to drag myself down a crowded street, head bowed, sweat dripping from my nose and my lips as every movement sent a shock through my bones and my joints. I felt the weight of ages, of time and misfortune, settling into my bloodstream and curdling like sour milk in my gut. It was a weight I could only see – could only ponder – only echoes of the one who left their bloodstained footprints on the sidewalk, but I felt it all the same.
Beside me, my friend rambled on, her hands waving excitedly as she recanted the entertainment of the day to me, unaware that I was only listening with half a mind; the other half could only search the evening crowd for a stumbling shadow and wonder, wonder, wonder what I would do if I found it.
As I wandered down the road, it began to fade.
We were almost to the corner store when I realized that the footprints had started to dissolve into the concrete like phantoms, blurring their forms as the finer details of the spectral shoes smudged into dried-up shuffles. It was like the effort to move had grown too great, the exhaustion sinking in as the body broke down bit by bit and cried, “Enough.”
Still, I studied them as I walked, tracing each remaining crease in the soles with my eyes and trying to commit them to an unreliable memory. The effort felt like trying to reattach a leaf to its branch after it had fallen: fruitless, inane, and incomprehensively exhausting.
With each step, something was lost: a canyon here, a square peg there, the outline of the heel – everything strewn together into a shapeless, formless mass. Blurred lines became smudges of red that dried into only faint streaks of brown and copper.
And then, just before we reached the little café a block away from the tram stop at Parnell, they were gone. The urban earth had soaked them up like water to desperate roots and stripped them of their lost identity, reducing blood of man to just the faintest traces of decay. Whatever might have been left was scuffed over and ignored by the passers-by, whose ground-trained eyes were never so aware as to realize what they had seen.
Shaken from my fixation, I turned away; and when we came to our crossroads – my friend to the right, myself to the left – she turned to me with a curious frown and asked, “What were you looking at back there?”
“There was blood on O’Connell Street,” I said. My hands fluttered nervously, and I bounced a few times on the balls of my feet.
“Back behind us.”
She turned to crane her neck over her shoulder, but there was only trash and pavement under the muted glow of the corner shop. I could tell by the way her eyes shifted that she didn’t believe me, but still, she looked back at the road we’d left behind and searched amidst the drifting crowds for a sign of what I’d seen – a flash of red, a smear of brown. There was nothing.
“Goodnight,” she said, finally.
From there, I wandered home, quietly aware of how the balls of my feet burned like I’d taken a stroll through a bed of nails and the hot trickle of blood was soaking through my socks with every step. Behind me, there was nothing – still nothing but shadows in doorways and vacant bus stops and gray, muck-covered stone.
That night, I sat at my desk and scoured the news for something I had missed: a brawl, a mugging, a drug deal gone wrong. But like the late evening, the news was quiet, keeping its secrets locked up in desk drawers under piles of papers to never be published for the public eye.
Blood on O’Connell Street? Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Not here, not on our O’Connell Street, not in the clear view of hundreds of people who’d surely have done something, said something if it was there, which it wasn’t.
As I laid down to sleep that night, what I’d seen – what only I had seen, what only I had caught in the crowd of hundreds milling about between the shops and the streets and the lamplight glow – was stained in my memory, alongside one last, ruminating worry:
So much blood, and no body around.