The King of Dirty Water: A Noir Testimonial
Mary Boland talks to herself in the mirror
By William Boyle
Reading time 4 Minutes
Imagine imagining the end of things. That’s what you do, Mary. Smitty. Imagine imagining the rough hands of time. What you see from the stage you’re on is darkness, and that’s it, the end, the curtain drops and everything is all the way dark.
It’s not so hard to imagine when you’ve been up there and practiced every night. So many roles where you’ve died. You get to learn about death that way, what those people say as you or you say as them becomes what you think.
So many roles, so many deaths.
You’re old now, but so what? What’s old mean?
Your face is a story. Your body is a story. They wish they had that, these doe-eyed dames moving in, all young and supple, clean curves and golden smiles.
Let the cruel say what they will. Nothing like that matters. All these dreamers walking around full of dead dreams.
You knew a man once back home in Philadelphia who bathed in puddles and danced around lanterns and wore a suit of armor made of scraps. You were a child, and you envied his life. He was happy, with his long dirty beard and ragged clothes. The King of Dirty Water, he was called about town. You really thought he was a king!
Imagine being so happy with so little. Imagine craving that life of dirt and cold and sleeping on stones. Madness. You were young. You didn’t know. You didn’t know the power of a big room with fire and plenty of champagne. You didn’t yet know what there was to lose. You were so young, with your face pressed to the glass and dried flowers hidden in your chest of drawers. You were young, and you loved to smell soap. You were dew on the grass in the morning. You didn’t think about death. You didn’t know that death hovered over everything. In every house, on every street, someone had died or was dying or would die.
Now is the hour of not knowing. Now is the hour of sending something to the camera, anything, a feeling, something that can be read across the years, a final something. Now is the not now. Now is the knot. Untangle it. Untangle the red dream of death. Untangle the package of youth. Remember the King of Dirty Water and the way he danced.
So much loss, so many deaths.
This is only your latest. And maybe your last. Don’t look over your shoulder. Show your pain. Show your memories. Show that girl who wanted to dance with the King of Dirty Water that there is still something left to lose.
William Boyle is the author of the novels Gravesend, Everything is Broken,The Lonely Witness, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, and City of Margins, and a story collection, Death Don’t Have No Mercy. His books have been nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France, the New Blood Dagger in the UK, and the Hammett Prize in the U.S. He is from Brooklyn, New York and currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi.