The first time I heard the last name Smith was the first time I broke my own heart. I knew somehow that it was the last time the name would sing. Smith, so often held momentarily like a brand new toy, then dragged along the asphalt until raw, then abandoned by the green sign of a small town border.
I was young and tried to pretend that each Smith was related to all the others. The massive family tree of Smith grew like ivy up a wall to the sun.
“Amanda, last name Smith. Nice to meet you. How are you related to Gerdy and Tom? And, how is Elliot?”
As I grew old I accepted that names become gray and non-descript and that Smith, especially, was the harbinger of nothing special on the horizon.
Smith, verb, meaning to be born and buried simultaneously.
Morrissey and I have been best friends since I was a baby. I’m the only one that really understands him. So, when he said that for his birthday he wanted to go to a place with a chronically depressed populace and meet some people with missing fingers, naturally, I suggested Belfast.
Belfast, the surreality factory, is the original Smith. There are no butterflies in its gardens. It is the wandering heart that builds its ship but never sails. Its haircuts are all impish and identical. No one sees inside its shutters of iron will and pathological pride. The uniformity of its subtext is terrifying and best translated as, “If I am to be the one who lives I will keep what is mine to myself. My city shall be these four walls and this roof, this porch and this hearth. For, the entity that owns Belfast does not deserve it but, Belfast still does not belong to me.”
Morrissey and I begin our first night going round and round in the Wheel of Light before eating Chinese food. The waiter explains the geographical origin of each dish we order. There is a table of Americans next to us. The women discuss their Cold War era pregnancies and the type of cigarettes they smoked. The men sulk and frequently wander to the bathroom.
Before hitting the local bars we hop back to our hostel to exchange our walking shoes for those more suited to wishful thinking. I am in love with the night clerk. Morrissey is too. We linger, asking over the most desirable nightlife, dropping hints like hail on the bullet proof glass he sits behind. We hide a bottle of Jameson in my purse and move on.
We wander into the first dull orifice we come across on University Road. We drink Guinness and fend off lingering day drinkers. We play trivia and count the pregnant girls drinking and the pregnant girls falling down. We sneak off to the bathroom for hard liquor. We inhale embryonic ghosts, slipping on their suicidal silhouettes. We ask ourselves, is this really Belfast? Belfast, is this really you? Are you so grey that you find no joy in bouncing babes or finding your first rainbow? Do you miss your Troubles so that you resurrect them on the weekends? Does your next day not begin until you have chemically induced the death of the one before?
And, why are your drugs so bad?
Morrissey and I meet Fergus, Fergus, with the missing finger, his war wound and party trick. He is rather tight and incomprehensible but his fingerlessness is all that we need to designate the evening a full-fledged adventure. He tells us the end bits of stories about ominous black taxis and the betrayal of brothers and fathers and sons. He raves on about Protestantism and Her Majesty’s Royal Army and the truth about our times and sings, “Fuck Belfast,” like an Italian waiter on a little girl’s birthday.
Amidst the reverie Morrissey notices a man standing by the door hiding his hands inside his shirtsleeves. We grow anxious watching him from across a patio of Australian tourists. Morrissey broods over our wooden table engraved with the she loves him’s and the these must die’s of Belfast. Our curiosity is potent; breaking our solemnity we embark on a petulant crawl towards the man by the door. Saying nothing to him, Morrissey extends his hand.
Morrissey tells me later that it’s just as I suspected. Somewhere in the guff a phantom hand gets a new finger. On the way back to the hostel we meet a boy named Morgan. Morgan has an inflatable sheep with anatomically correct orifices. He takes Morrissey to bed and gives me the sheep as a consolation prize. I name the sheep Smith and stuff him in my suitcase where overnight, he deflates, like my heart.