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Extract: Dubliners 100, a modern re-telling of Joyce's tales of life in the capital

Fifteen Irish writers have contributed to a modern re-telling of James Joyce’s classic short story collection, Dubliners, to mark the centenary of its publication.

Elske Rahill

Dubliners 100 is a modern re-telling of James Joyce’s short story collection, Dubliners, by 15 contributing Irish writers. It celebrates the centenary of the publication of Joyce’s original collection, depicting life in Dublin in the early years of the 20th century.

Below is a selection from Elske Rahill’s version of A Mother…

THAT’S HOW IT started, really. During coffee with the girls Ger had taken a laminated wedding picture from her handbag and sighed before handing it around, ‘Look what I found in the bits and bobs drawer! I’d never fit in to that dress now – would I girls?’ The bride in the photo was slender with pink cheeks. Her close-mouthed lipstick smile was neither happy nor sad. And it made an ache in Kathleen’s chest to recognise, in the little creases around her eyes, in the dimples, in the small hands; big, dough-faced Ger. It made Kathleen’s stomach tighten so that she couldn’t finish her latte. That afternoon she had screamed like a banshee because the kids were laughing too loudly in the back of the car. She had noticed, in her rear-view mirror, that the blue lines under her eyes were worse than ever. When she got home she pressed fifty euro into Marillia’s hand and asked her to take the kids to Wagamama and Leisureplex, even though it was a school night. Then she had climbed under the duvet with a few little pieces of rose flavoured Turkish delight and watched the whole of Pride and Prejudice on the new wall-mounted flat-screen.

That night, while everyone slept, Kathleen lay looking at her husband’s back. His skin was very white and there were a few sparse black hairs between his shoulder blades. He hadn’t showered before bed, and his skin gave off a sour, oily smell. At 2am she crept down to the hallway and poured a glass of Chianti. She sat on the cold polished-oak floor with the glass and gazed at her own wedding snap, tastefully framed and presented on the hall table for all to see. She thought of poor fat Ger with the beautiful Thai au pair. ‘Did she not have a photo with her CV?’ Ruth had asked.

‘I would worry,’ Kathleen had said, ‘about an au pair like that… does she go about in her nightie?’

‘Ha!’ Ger had said, picking up a mini croissant and pushing it through her pillar-box lips – and she a diabetic, ‘I wish she would! One less job for me to worry about!’

It was that kind of attitude, of course, that lead to messy houses, poorly adjusted children, wandering husbands, but, thought Kathleen, but… That young, slim Ger in the photo, with the excitement in her cheeks, with her uncertain lips turned up very slightly at the edges, with the tense dimples and the disappointment already creeping into the corner of her eyes – hadn’t she been a good girl, trying her best? Weren’t they – all of them on the parents’ committee – good women, good mothers trying their best? Staying married, staying faithful, staying respectable? What gave her the right – the young single mum – ‘she’s a researcher’ Ruth had said as though she knew what that even meant – what gave her the right to swanny about in a rickety tin can and no trousers on, call her bastard Blaise, of all things, Blaise – to swanny about like Lady Muck as though she had no shame in the world with her wild black hair and her pert little ass? What thanks did they get, people like Kathleen and Ger, for doing the right thing? Why did they deserve to feel unattractive and useless and petty? If it weren’t for people like them there would be no parents’ committee, no present for the teacher at Christmas. They deserved to feel excited and pretty again. They deserved to feel, every day, the way they did on their wedding days – like the most beautiful woman in the world.

 

Dubliners 100, edited by Thomas Morris, is the second title from Tramp Press, Ireland’s newest independent publisher. The title can be bought direct from tramp.ie and costs €15: it’s also available in all good bookshops. 

Elske Rahill’s debut novel, ‘Between Dog and Wolf’, was published by The Lilliput Press in 2013 and is available from lilliputpress.ie.

D100 Final Cover

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Elske Rahill

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