Published in The Cathach, A Literary Journal, Vol II, Summer 2011
It is a measure of [James Joyce’s] faith in himself and sense of purpose that, during those angry, anarchic months when his “home” – rooms shared with two babies, an angry wife, and a resentful brother – was in an uproar, he recast Stephen Hero into Portrait of the Artist, conceived Ulysses and Exiles, and finished “The Dead.”
– Brenda Maddox, Nora – The Real Life of Molly Bloom
“James,” said Nora, “I think I may be pregnant again.”
My brother looked up from the kitchen table. “Are you quite certain, dear?”
Lucia’s pacifier, a rubber dummy with a soiled pink ribbon, fell out of her bassinet with a clatter, and she began to cry. I leaned over to retrieve it from the floor, but Giorgio snatched it up and ran into the bedroom.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Nora was saying. “You know how unpredictable my insides are… Stannie, would you be a dear?”
I took the wine-bottle and corkscrew that she held out to me. On the stove, a teakettle began a wet wail, and Lucia cried more loudly in her crib.
“Where is Eileen?” I asked. Our childless sister seemed to have a soothing touch with Lucia.
Giorgio peeked out of the bedroom, doing his best to look innocent and wide-eyed. The dummy was nowhere in sight.
“Eileen is at the market,” Nora was saying, “and if she doesn’t get back soon…” She looked at the three boiling pots on the stove. Steam filled the small kitchen, and streaks of condensation ran down the walls.
The corkscrew squeaked as I twisted it. “Is this an old bottle?” I asked.
“I believe that Eileen borrowed it from Signora Lombardi down the hall,” said James. “Nora, can nothing be done about Lucia?”
“Stannie,” said Nora, “perhaps if you held her for a while…”
“Do you want me to hold the baby or open the wine?”
“Mama,” said Giorgio, “I think Uncle Stannie took Lucia’s dummy.”
“Did you, Stannie?” asked James.
The corkscrew bent in my hands, and I slammed the bottle down on the table. “I did not take Lucia’s dummy! Or anybody’s dummy! I am the dummy here!” I pushed away from the table and headed for the stairwell, desperate for a breath of cool air.
“Perhaps a screwdriver would work, Stannie” said James. “You could force the cork down with a screwdriver.”
The cat jumped down from the shelf, dragging a sheet of paper from the stack where it had been sleeping. The page was thick with notes and corrections surrounding a column of printed words. “James,” I said, “is that the proof copy of Dubliners?”
“No, that’s Stephen Hero,” said Nora. “At least I think it is. Does it have any scorch marks on it?”
“I believe that’s a cigarette burn,” said James.
I tried to read the marked-up page. “Weren’t we supposed to send the page proofs back to Dublin last week?”
James looked at Nora. She said, “I think Eileen mailed them.”
“Eileen? Does Eileen speak Italian? Does she even know where the post office is?”
“I remember explaining to her about getting the stamps at the tobacco shop,” James said. “And there are plenty of fellows on the street to rescue Eileen if she gets lost.”
“Do I hear someone calling my name?” Eileen pushed the door open with her foot as she carried in a sack of onions. “Oh, hello, Stannie,” she said. “James, you won’t believe what Mrs. Lombardi gave me…”
“Eileen,” said James, “did you remember to get matches?”
“Here are some matches, Papa,” said Giorgio, producing a box from his pocket. The dummy also popped out of his pocket and landed in the cat’s water-dish.
“For God’s sake, James,” I said, “do you permit Giorgio to play with matches?”
“Did you know that Mrs. Lombardi has a brother in the Army?” said Eileen. “He’s dreamy.”
Defeated, I sat down again at the table across from my brother. He was scribbling notes on the tablet where Nora wrote her shopping lists. “What are you working at, James?” I asked.
“It’s an outline,” he said. “I have a notion to write about a night when I drank too much and lost my way…”
“You have plenty of those for inspiration,” said Nora.
“…and father’s friend Mr. Epstein found me and dusted me off and took me to his home for a cup of tea.”
“Is that supposed to be a story?” asked Eileen.
“I’m thinking there may be a novel in it, actually,” said James. “With classical references.”
Giorgio retrieved the dummy from the water-dish and put it in his mouth. Lucia continued to wail.
Copyright © Tom Sigafoos 2011