Rolling with James Joyce on an Irish hill
“I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time Joyce.”
“It’s the only place in the world it can be done Madeliene!”
We were climbing up an Irish hill, my ballet slippers sinking in the soft green marsh every time. It was not a warm day but it hadn’t rained, so the path we were walking on was dry and we could look ahead, rather than down, and get lost in the shapes of the clouds.It was an older James Joyce who joined me, with his mustache shying away from the corners of his lips and donning his round silver specs which shimmered in the weak Irish sun. I wanted to snatch them and wear them to see what he sees.
We both kept our sleeves close to our wrists, winter white and knitwear for me and a bow tie and a grey suit for him, Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can’t wear grey trousers, we walked uphill for a long time, talking to each other and to the others in our head.
“I am tired of telling stories Joyce, I am tired of talking to myself. I am tired of arguing with the demons in my head.”
“But who else will you talk to Madeliene? Where will you go? How will you live? I have lived a life jumping into unknown seas — in snotgreen, scrotumtightening seas. I was broke and then not and then broke and then not and then broke more times than I can count but I always wrote. Begone! he said. The world is before you.”
“It was an older James Joyce who joined me, with his mustache shying away from the corners of his lips and donning his round silver specs which shimmered in the weak Irish sun.”
“You’re being a touch dramatic now darling, don’t you think?”
“I have lived a lifetime in a night, Madeliene. The sense of beauty leads us astray, said beautifulsadness. It wouldn’t be so bad to listen to it. Follow me.”
“Where are we going?”
“To la belle dame sans merci,” he said, his hands high and his head back, smiling at the sky. “We shall keep walking Madeliene because we walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves. And, well, we are almost at the top.”
It had felt like a fun idea in theory but fear kicked in the moment we were there. I remember only ideas and sensations. I remember the thrill of being at the top. Lying down on the grass, keeping some distance from each other. I remember the smell of wet marsh and the bug Joyce moved for me so that I wouldn’t end its life on that day. I remember him saying go and giving myself that first push downhill and then gravity took over. I remember the patch of rocks that hit me hard on my elbows and hip bones and I remember finding myself at the bottom again, with Joyce in his rumpled suit, knowing that we would climb up the hill all over again together.