The sun was too close. Paddy had never given time to consider the sun, but he was sure he could feel the thing in motion now, at work in attenuating the distance that there was between him and it. It was an encroachment, and it had the same honeyed quality of a gesture made by an overly-familiar acquaintance. A pat on the shoulder or arm, a light cuff on the head in the guise of remonstrance, either way, it was something you wish that they had kept to themselves. Paddy glowered upwards, and exposed the face beneath his hat to its bleaching rays, moving themselves over millions of miles of empty space, just to make themselves felt on the surface of his skin, and to scupper his ambitions for the morning. Perhaps this was extravagant. Maybe it was just the ambient pressure of the sky’s height, all the upwardness that there was above him. So much blue air, to exert itself downwards, and downwards onto him if it felt like it. As he looked, he could carve out a shape for it, see in it a long tusk of verdant distance moving into the heavens. His vision could set them next to one another, and then move between the two prospects. A vast and unconquerable mesa which hung suspended, and then something more manageable, something that could just as easily be made out of brick, but happened not to be. He did so, until the sky began to veer drunkenly under his gaze, and thoughts of mastery over that which he looked upon, turned and were gone with it.
Dublin’s clouds could have been the clouds of any month. The quandary could be tasted in the unseasonal humidity, the city breathing an air that was fat and immobile. The roads were slick with a glaze of rain from the final hours of the day before, and the leaves of trees were mostly unstirred by the paws the breeze would give them every twenty or so minutes. Paddy thought about the rain, and about stumbling home in it, with one of the lesser orbiters. The pavement of Baggot Street was too narrow for the both of them, and their shoulders kept finding their way into one another. Paddy wondered how this was possible, were they not different heights altogether? Drunkenness; it’s what it reduces you to.
— Howayeh Paddy.
— How’re yeh.
— Rain keeping off for now.
— Tis that.
His falsity bothered him, but he reasoned that he hadn’t really spoken. He hadn’t actually said anything, he just happened to be on one end of a conversation in which two men gave the other their default greeting, two mannerisms had just changed hands. His name, Montague, was a surname that was adroit, dense with vowels, the sort of name someone in a group of people you hadn’t been introduced to yet would have. He was surprised when the faces emerged from somewhere, none of them with an expression you could put a name on, as if they were waiting to understand how Paddy emptying a bottle of stout onto the Oriental rug was actually A Good Thing.
— Ah now Paddy, there’ll be no need for that at all.
— There’s, here’s what I think now, of your dirty Protestant carpet.
As the canal turned into his view, his hand raised itself to his forehead, as if to quell the half blush that expired there. That had been stupid, there had been no shortage of meals there in that dining room, or excuses made for his unwillingness to recite. He searched himself for some picot of memory ringed in clarity, some detail in which he would be vindicated. Perhaps someone had quoted that accursed blackguard on where it is that poets end up, that would’ve justified the whole bottle. No, that was in that other drawing room, FitzSomething’s, because remember Montague had left, had offered him board if he didn’t feel up to the walk home.
He lowered himself, with a cautious pliancy over the bench. He felt his mind, dim and befuddled, in the moment that he let his body lapse and fall onto it. A tree branch rattled, in anticipation of something about to touch ground. The street seemed perfect in its nascency, tailing off in the two directions on either side of him, in a way that seemed significant. A birth was about to take place. It would explode outwards, before settling, in the quietly dignified manner of transient surmise. But the canal lock, the walls, the bench, all remained quite still, and aloof from anything outside of themselves.
Forcing an epiphany was miserable work. He took from his pocket a ledger and pen. He felt as though there had been a time when he had been more of the world, more enmeshed in it. He had once felt things change, had felt things around him change. He was in it, ensconced in its restful fluxes. But if the world was still turning now, it turned without him. He lit a cigarette with his first match, but the smoke was too hot, too eager, and it rushed his throat so he doubled over to cough it off. As he apportioned ponderously the smoke on the exhale, he tried once more to mobilise his surroundings within his imagination, to behold and not to see, recalling as he did so the barest strains of the hum that used to manifest itself in his chest, trying in this mode of remembrance to induce it into reverberating once more. A barge moved into his purview and its bulk re-focused his eyes. So thoroughly did it occupy his sight, that he found it impossible to think about — he was startled when the bargeman nodded at him, but recovered in time to nod back.
Stubbing out the cigarette unfinished, he determined that he was deceived, that he was indeed in the grip of something, and that the premature extinguishing of the cigarette was a symptom of the something. He watched the strands of tobacco disperse unblackened, merrily trickle away, full of rue. He turned the ledger over and began to write a line. It was an ambling sort of a reflection, it quickly ran over its syllabic limit, but that was no matter, that could be fixed later. It would be a sonnet. He likes sonnets. One always knew where the turns came. He gave it a once over, noting the words that glinted diamante among the pitted particles. But Paddy’s attempts to marshal the line into stricture kept disintegrating, every time he thought he had it, the internal architecture was set, another word would arise out of, or descend into, the line. You could trick yourself into chasing a word you never had across a page for a lifetime. He turned his hat over his face and though sunlight crept in at the corners (and bathed the fringing lint in a luminescence that approached the divine, it struck him), it would serve.
— Afternoon sir.
— How’re yeh. A Guinness there.
— Right you are.
He dawdled on the spot, aware of his breathing. He and the bartender together watched the pint swell, and reach its first limit. It was set down then, left to settle away from the heat of his hand. Having no other task, he rested himself against the counter top, and looked at Paddy’s face.
— Still at the poetry I suppose.
— Ah, sure, when I’m able for it.
— Wouldn’t be for me.
Paddy said to this nothing directly, but proposed basic assent, or whatever it was that he was after. After a moment had passed, the Guinness was attended to once more.
He reclined in a snug and gazed at the glass. He withheld from himself his first sip, reaching instead for the ledger, wishing to see his work anew. The wrench was always getting the words down, but once they were written, they could just be budged into place. But his fingers did not encounter what was not there, and his notebook remained where it was, on the bench’s seat. He drank, a measured but lengthy sup, waving off whatever hope he had for the day redeeming itself. He gazed at, and thought, for a good long while, about the suds which moved down the sides of the glass, restored to themselves.
He was hailed by two arrivals, sharing their view of Paddy in his snug, and sharing too, some unspoken joe miller. It was Yer Man, giving the impression of standing maladroit, the lower half of himself lunging at the bar’s lip. Rotundity was a malady known to playwrights who made sudden leaps into means. The other was lankier, and good looking. The spit of Laurel and Hardy, the two of them. Paddy would have loved to land that line well, but he was in no way fit.
— Can I stand you one? Or are you just off?
Lanky laughed. At what, Paddy didn’t know, and he therefore submitted the line to an anxious scansion, for the trace of an insult. More a condescension than an insult, perhaps, for Yer Man to assume that Paddy, having bought a pint, just the one, just for himself, was now skint, and would rely on others in order to source his grog. Paddy didn’t like it, but Yer Man was right.
— A Guinness there, thanks.
— Have you seen his stuff yet, have you?
— I’d, I’d imagine his poetry, is like himself, not worth the least damn.
— That’s not what I asked you, Paddy, I asked if you’ve read the thing.
— Nothing published by that man is of any merit, whatsoever. It is perfectly useless to me.
— Mutual friend of ours, Yer Man explained to Lanky. Lanky laughed.
— Not up to Joyce, then?
— The reason that James Joyce was a successful writer in Ulysses was that he wrote out of his own life. The fact is that that man, that bespoke journalist, has no life of his own and therefore he is incapable of writing out of it, and, and out of anything at all.
— There’s a witticism in there Paddy, somewhere. I daresay it’s near suffocated by all the words, but.
— Never read Ulysses.
One of the upstarts was introducing himself to Paddy, and it was some way into his greeting that he realised that it was taking rather a long time, running to the length of several minutes, as if in the manner of some deposition. This was a bold one, and novel as an means of introduction. Then Paddy saw Yer Man laugh out of step with the narrative, and realised that he was the one that was being spoken to. Better focus on this now. His speech has the strangest cant. Is he building up to song? O, it’s poetry. Near the end now, that’s a circulation.
Very few of the words caught. Yer Man managed a gruff disingenuity.
Some other orbiter commented on the speaker’s departure, but did so in a well- paced and conical mode, that devolved balletically before redeeming itself bathetically, missing the ictus. It was maddening, the feeling of a sentence’s rhythm imposing itself on you like that.
— Here, you, said Paddy. — Say it again. What was that?
— Ah that’s something he’s been having fun with today, some pseud in a London trade. Give us it. Brian reckons he knows the lad. Where’s it, where’s it, just here…ahhhh…I had it there awhile ago…yes, ‘the ‘altitudinous’ complacency of the Victorian Gael.’
There was a collective silence in observance of the fact of its quality if not sentiment. It was, after all, a very good sentence. But there were more eyes on Paddy, for the arrival of his stated view.
— The ballocks.
— Paddy seems to be taking that one a bit personal, what?
— He’s a ballocks, whoever he is, anyway. Just a, just an old ballocks with no merit on him, no merit on him at all.
— And with that chaps, I’ll be off. Someone please do make sure that Paddy gets himself home to bed alright.
Paddy watched him go, followed by Lanky and what possibility there remained of his next few pints. Best just sit here and let myself be consumed by this pack of bloodsuckers. I’ll listen to a poem for a pint. I’ll listen to your fifteen-book epic on each of the noble truths for a pint. Paddy stood up. Either one of his legs caught incorrectly in the final stages or his condition was such that he could not get off a stool correctly, the net result was that his seat began to fall. One of the others gave a shout and caught it, so Paddy nodded his thanks and slumped himself down at a table, populated by at least one face that didn’t look unfamiliar. No one greeted him, but Paddy wouldn’t have been aware of it if they had, being occupied at a point at which the leg of the table encountered the floor. He did not hear the company’s words, but they were cleansing as they moved through the air all the same. They existed without him, and he could depend on them being there.
— Heard they’re knocking it down, there’ll be a riot from the lot here.
— Why’s that? Sure this lot won’t have read it.
— Ah, you wouldn’t know.
— I would, no one’s read it. You wouldn’t take the trouble with it.
— I got a few chapters in.
— There y’are now, y’eejit, they’re not even chapters they’re episodes and if you got past the third one I’ll eat my foot.
— I’d say more here have read it than the average.
— Do you now? Watch this now, you’ll see the priorities of these lads. Paddy! Paddy, d’you hear me? Did you hear they’re knocking down the Joyce house on Eccles Street for the new hospital? Did you hear about that? D’you give a fig for it, Paddy? D’you think they should preserve it, the gaff I mean, for posterity, like?
Paddy did not speak, still fixated on the aforementioned juncture of leg, floor.
— I don’t see what that proves. He’s locked, sure.
Paddy stood without trouble, as he had this time chosen a low stool. He made to drain his pint to the lees, but he had none. This crowd, on his arrival, had begun to guard theirs with a proprietary hand, so he made for the door.
Double-stopping down O’Connell Street, he would right himself occasionally against the wall of a building, as if it were constructed for just such a purpose. He moved in this over-exerted dawdle, like an insect observed from above, until he came to the dark house on the resonant lane.
He confronted the door. His fingers pressed its surface, seeking a position from which it might be induced to budge. He dug his nails into the grike between the wooden frame and the brass panel, less to succeed, than to force the day into bearing witness, and he swore as the edges of the metal ate into the flesh beneath his nails. He applied pressure with his shoulder, once, twice, and then stopped. He wished it was the doorstep of his house. He might have fallen asleep there, half-slumped over his folded legs. He had once known the convenience of waking in a gutter, not far from his home, and it made sense, stretched on the roadside, to stand, and climb into your own bed. This was as easy as rolling over, when you had woken before the full span of your inebriation had been exhausted. The road cantered away from him, as he had risen too fast, and he gave the door a kick or three as he departed. But there was something in the lower half of the door’s response, neither an echo, nor a groan, but some reply. He directed the next two more consciously, then tried to leverage it, and then it was onto him, the weight of it, and some part of his spine’s assemblage made its defeat known with a pop.
The lovely light drizzle of euphoria was dulled by the ungainliness of the thing in his arms. He had to stop often to balance it against the pavement, to make an attempt to close his grip around it. When he moved, the furthest corner was just inches shy of the path. He strode past St. George’s church. What would they make of all this down the road? They would stand him a pint, at least one, at least.
He jammed its corner into the pub’s entrance to guide it and himself in, the threshold being too narrow for him to be out in front. When the door was there, standing uneven, and guilelessly sloped, only halfway visible to whoever was there to see it, he called:
— I have it! I have the thing!