I wasn’t much of a social kind of person in my early adolescence, neither was I particularly street-wise. Now, that’s not to say I was some kind of recluse or something. I was just naturally more introverted and accustomed to familiarity than the other more gregarious kids (although, as I’ll explain later, I wasn’t as utterly alien to spontaneity as you might imagine). Some weekends, during the hours that many of my classmates were likely arsing around playing knock-a-door-dash, I would sit myself down in the living room in front of the television, usually in the company of my mother, who was for the most part perfectly content to enjoy the relative scarcity of peace that only the late hours of the day could afford her (some might call it ‘respite’).
Anyway, this one evening, we sat watching this programme about missing persons and rivers. It was without doubt one of the saddest – sobering, even – things I’d seen at that time (almost as jarring as a documentary I once watched on Romanian children being forced into prostitution, also in the company of my mother). It followed men who had to dive and sift through ponds and estuaries in search of bodies. I can’t quite remember how they knew where to find them, but they did sometimes receive tip offs by passersby – dog walkers, joggers, and even potential victims themselves.
Thinking back on it now, most of the guys, who worked the most secluded places in town in search of the dead, kind of remind me of the protagonist out of that T.C. Boyle story ‘Greasy Lake’ (definitely not the Springsteen song of the same name, mind). It kicks off with this wannabe teddy boy finding a dead junkie in the river, one crazy summer evening. Of course, in the story, the guy willingly wades into the water in an attempt to flee danger, not the other way around. He also doesn’t tell another soul of his discovery. So much for doing the decent thing, hey. Still, I imagine that must take some doing, to keep a thing like that secret. I mean, the guys who do the deed aren’t privy to such a luxury. They don’t have a choice. But alas, I digress.
Where was I…?? Ah, that’s it. Okay, so. There was this one man I’ll always remember, because he had such a particular way, a routine even, of collecting the bodies from the river. He kind of reminded me of a fishmonger, only he wasn’t out to fillet anyone. He couldn’t, his quarry was already… well, dead. I suppose you could probably call him a ‘deadmonger’ then; OR maybe even ‘Forager of the Fallen’ (so the legend would go); ‘Esquire of the Expired’ (Information Age American teen fantasy novel-esque), or last but not least, ‘Consoler of the Conked Out’ (borderline fratboy romp, no. Scratch that, black comedy). Let’s just say you could think of this guy as the Grim Reaper, sans the malevolence; just the right amount of candid without any trace of levity.
Anyway, this man. He differentiated himself from all of the other deadmongers because he cared – that is to say he felt genuine grief for the bodies he exhumed – and treated each corpse with immense sensitivity and compassion.
In fact, so intense was his concern for the deceased that upon approaching a body he would gently reassure it as to his intentions – not unlike a firefighter would a stray cat atop a tree on a windy day.
‘I’m here now mate’ he would say, deftly guiding each body through the water. ‘It’s okay now, I’ve got you’. I mean, bloody hell. That really affected me in I way I’d never been affected before. I’d even go as far as saying it was pretty darn epiphanous – within the realms of telly, of course.
Nevertheless, that particular memory – and the sudden surge of mortality it instilled in me – has stayed with me ever since, and most likely always will.