Rational Thinking Thing
By sean mcnulty
That’s a day in the month of June put aside by the cultured wing of Dublin to celebrate the book Ulysses by James Joyce. The day can be celebrated elsewhere in the world, if put aside by other cultured wings, but the celebrations have more gusto in Dublin because that is where events in the book take place. We’re number one when it comes to this particular thing, said Dublin’s cultured wing, and just right they were for saying so. Caitlin had never read Ulysses, but reading the work had not been a necessary feature for candidates.
She’d been looking for a job for some time. Her last job had been four months ago. In a delicatessen. She didn’t want to work in a delicatessen again. Rational thought and sensory awareness hued this reluctance; she had come to feel nauseous around salads. But late pallid afternoons watching rain pimple her window had led her to say yes yes I will Yes to a position with a catering company serving guests at a Bloomsday party near Merrion Square. Salads aplenty would play by the plateful, she was sure of it. Boredom convinced her to accept whatever the world was presently offering.
The sky glowed phantom white across the city, the sun providing a teasing backlight for the unfortunate humans of that acre of world. Caitlin kind of liked the sky when it took on this egg-white character. She enjoyed dreaming of a private party for a host of suns behind the clouds. The world wasn’t invited, would never be. She had an hour before the job started, so she stopped for a coffee on Baggott Street in a small café which had seats outside. She needed to have seats outside so that she could smoke a cigarette or two. Even though she was in favour of the ban that existed for smoking inside public buildings, she continued to experience some degree of guilt whenever she puffed legally. Her coffee procedure was not the complete procedure others were allowed, taking on as it did the mantle of banishment. She dealt with the guilt however. Her addiction convinced her to accept whatever coffee procedure was presently on offer.
A man tripped over her outstretched feet as he was leaving the café. He didn’t fall, just stumbled a little. Sorry, she said. He gave her a look of determined disdain, and then walked on. Caitlin considered why he had been irritated by the incident so very much as to refuse her apology. She usually attributed such treatment by men to her appearance. She wasn’t a pretty girl, she was certain of that, and thought that perhaps if her small elfin composition, ashen-skin, bland spectacles, fuzzy brown hair, and lazy dress sense were replaced with the trimmings of the cosmopolitan lady, vogue hairstyle, and make-up, lose the glasses and experiment with the perfumes that attract, then maybe she would be treated more favourably. Maybe that man would have accepted her apology graciously, told her not to worry about it, asked her if he could join her even, talked about all manner of things, before complimenting her frantically, and asking for her phone number. But no such good fortune; she was stuck with the disdainful look. The guilt swelled up inside of her as she put out her last cigarette with covert skill.
A weatherman from one of the news programmes was drunk and he knocked a plate out of the hands of a middle-aged woman, the wife of a tycoon from the midlands. The woman cried out in horror, her fanciful 1900’s-style dress drenched in the decorative superfluities of her chosen salad. Caitlin served a potato salad to the woman’s husband who was insensible to his wife’s catastrophe. That’s horrible, dear, he said, as he took the plate from Caitlin without saying thanks. Caitlin kept one eye on the watch her nearest colleague was wearing in aching anticipation of her break. The strap of her own watch had snapped amidst a stampede to board an evening bus recently and had fallen and been lost to the streets. Her nearest colleague’s name was Katya and she informed Caitlin that she had come from Kiev in Ukraine in pursuit of her ex-boyfriend who had stolen some money from her. She kept a switchblade in her purse in case she ran into him.
Why are these people dressed like this? Katya asked Caitlin, surveying an ocean of nostalgic high-class fashion.
The book is set early in the last century, replied Caitlin. I think that’s why they’re dressed like this.
What book? asked Katya.
Ulysses. You know? That’s what this is all about. Bloomsday is all about that book.
I thought Bloom was a saint. Like Patrick. It’s just a book? What a big deal.
During her break, Caitlin measured her financial situation. With the money she earned from this Bloomsday job, she could pay an electricity bill that had been worrying her for some time. The digits in the bill had been slowly expanding and developing. The 2 on the last bill that had unnerved her considerably had reformed itself as a frightful 3 on the current bill. As she measured her situation, she came to the conclusion that the principal source of her anxieties throughout the course of her experience as a human had been these digits, constantly the same individually, but changing according to context in the daily business of living. She stubbed out her cigarette under her shoe, and returned to the Bloomsday proceedings, cursing digits as she marched past guffawing bow-tied dandies.
I am so happy you are back, said Katya, when Caitlin returned. That means I can go for my break. These people are strange. They keep saying these things to me I don’t understand. I wish they would all just get sick now and go home so we finish.
Caitlin herself had begun to feel a little sick as she’d been walking back; the odour of the salads, which she had been able to deal with up until now, was suddenly stronger, and the whole function was bathed in it. She found it quite rank. She resumed her stationery role and attempted to guard her nose from the smells as Katya walked off muttering to herself.
Three women in their early thirties approached Caitlin’s table just then seeking salads. Caitlin studied their lavish and evocative hats as they continued talking to one another, making her stand waiting for them to issue their personal preferences.
But, that’s it, you see, said one of the ladies, deep in conversation. I would not have dined there at all if I had known it would be like that. And their wine selection, oh my God. How awful.
Yes, but they have a wonderful vegetarian menu, did you not think? said another lady.
Passable, yes, I agree, said the first lady.
Do I know you? the third lady suddenly asked Caitlin.
Her face did not match any in Caitlin’s memory. Maybe a rugby player’s wife she had seen in a newspaper once. That could be it.
I’m not sure, smiled Caitlin. I don’t think so.
Yes, I think I know you. I seem to recall you. I think I may have been in some classes with you all those years ago. UCD?
No, I didn’t go to UCD, said Caitlin.
No? Are you sure? I could swear that’s where I know you from. If not, you look awfully like that girl. She looked just like you. She wasn’t a friend of mine or anything, but I certainly remember her.
Very peculiar, said the first lady.
Yes, she looks just like that girl, said the third lady. A funny little thing she was. Always wore these ghastly orange leggings. The revolutionary brigade, you know.
Oh, yes, laughed the second lady. I remember the type. Screaming for attention.
Yes, this one was very quiet, said the third lady. A real loner, you know. Maybe she dressed like that to compensate, I don’t know.
Yes, it’s funny actually, Caitlin said then to the third lady. Because you look familiar to me too.
Yes. Are you that rugby player’s wife?
The woman looked blankly at Caitlin.
No, that’s not me.
Later that night in bed Caitlin reflected on her Bloomsday experience and especially took to considering the incident with the three hat-wearing women. Loners all over the world were trying to erase their histories while rugby player’s wives were prone to denying theirs. Maybe behind the changing faces, a shared desire to run off and join the circus lay for all. She thought it best not to try and pinpoint the moment she’d become the person she was now; for all she knew, her identity had changed once more without her being aware of it. One matter she was certain of in relation to her existing identity though: she was a rational thinking thing who was sick and tired of salads. For sure.
FATAL STABBING PROMPTS INQUIRY
A murder investigation has been launched after a 32 year old man from Belarus was attacked and stabbed to death, Gardai said. Dmitri Kosciusko, originally from Minsk in Belarus, was set upon by an as yet unknown assailant on Lower Dorset Street on Tuesday evening. He suffered serious injuries and was hospitalised at Mater Hospital, but died early Wednesday morning.