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Evelyn after James Joyce, a short story By Jim Ward



Evelyn after James Joyce

Jim Ward*


‘You’re gorgeous’ Paul told her.

She did not believe him, but as she went from table to table, self-consciously smiling, walking awkwardly, a young doe, she’d catch the men looking up from their tables, feast their eyes on her then look away again when she would exchange a smile. The men, bus drivers and porters from the station round the corner, in for the carvery lunch. Solid grub of meat with potatoes and veg served with thick gravy.

She collected sloppy glasses and plates with chewed gristle or unwanted vegetables left on them, absent-mindedly. But she’d be awoken from her dreaming by these men giving her the once over. She hadn’t attracted that kind of attention before. It was all new to her and she felt both flattered and uneasy by it.

Back home in Kracow this never happened. The Railway Arms where she had landed a job as a waitress was very different from the seedy bars and musty baroque beerhalls of her home town with their whiff of desperation. Here, it was all plush carpet and refurbished provincial grandeur. Old fashioned respectability with the crude face-lifts of new found prosperity. The old photographs on the walls told her a lot.

‘Ireland still has the faith’ Fr Jerzy told her father ‘and the people the grace of God’ he added.

‘A minimum wage as well’ he informed him, jerking his head forward with emphasis.

No, in Poland she never received this kind of attention. So, she walked awkwardly from table to table, trying to deflect leers, admiringly or not, from the patrons.


She had no qualifications. At school the teachers had given up on her.

‘Now Evelyn, can you answer this one…?’ and when she couldn’t it was ‘Now just read your book to yourself Evelyn’ as the teacher concentrated on the rest of the class. But she had learned English.

At twenty-one she did not remember the old days in her native Poland. The days of the socialist state where everybody no matter how backward had a job or position in society. Her father, a devout catholic often told her about those days.

'They, the communists were bad people' he would say. ‘They had no god’. He did not like communists, though he had held a permanent job under the old regime and under it would not have to send his only daughter to a foreign country as he had her.


In the afternoons when the lunch time crowd went back to work a different clientele took over. Mostly retired men with ruddy faces and bloodshot eyes. The racing on the big screen and their eyes glued to their newspapers, quietly muttering to themselves and each other, scribbling out betting chits for the neighbourhood bookie, their voices gradually getting louder as the drinks took effect. Then they joked with her. She made them feel young and desirable again. And when they got a little bit tipsy, one of them would hold her in his arms and they’d do a little set around the floor. Yes, she considered, she made them feel young again.


So, she walked awkwardly from table to table, trying to deflect leers, admiringly or not, from the patrons.


She met Paul at a party. At twenty-one, she had never had a man in her life before – Mona, her best friend, often told her she should be more confident with boys – ‘Come on Evelyn, boys are like puttee in girls’ hands’

But she was looking for companionship and security in this new country and Paul was all the business. He was twenty-five and, he even said had his own business. She did not know what type of business he had, but he was forever answering calls to his mobile phone. His manner took on a sense of urgency whenever it would ring and he’d walk off to take the call in private. Then there was the time when he had borrowed twenty euros from her, which remained unpaid. He regularly went away. ‘To England on business’ he would explain when asked. They had not slept together yet, due to her religious convictions, and this has not deterred Paul from seeing her. She thought this was good. Then there was Paul's politics. For someone born in a country once calling itself socialist, with a father virulently anti-communist she had made a strange relationship with a businessman who declared himself a socialist, and even brought her to some meetings.

The obscure left-wing political group he belonged to was called 'The Irish Revolutionary Workers’ Movement'. Paul insisted that they were not at all like the socialists who had governed her own country for over forty years.

'We are not Stalinists' he would insist. 'We want a workers’ and small farmers’ republic for all of Ireland'. This struck her as odd. She had often heard of a workers’ republic but not of a small farmers’ republic as well. It must be an Irish thing she thought, calculating it would not do to ask any questions.

For they are a child-like people, always wanting to know what others thought of them.

‘How do you like our town?’ they would ask ‘What do you think of our Cathedral? Of our new hospital?’ and so on.

And they could be downright racist too she thought, remembering the time she heard herself and Mona being called ‘dumb Polacks’.

She asked herself what would her father think, going to a socialist meeting? After all, he was one of those Poles who had resisted communism in the home country, supporting the Solidaranosc trade union, a disciple of the late Polish pope, John Paul. A man who regularly consulted Fr Jerzy, the parish priest, before taking a course of action.


So, she walked awkwardly from table to table, trying to deflect leers, admiringly or not, from the patrons.

At the meetings she attended, in the American Bar, a city-centre, low rent hotel – all electric red outside and cheap fluorescent inside, about ten people in the back room argued about ways to increase membership. They called each other ‘comrade’ even though they knew each others’ names. What struck Evelyn most was that for a group invoking the title “Workers’ Movement” none of them seemed to work a proper job to merit being called 'proletariat' or 'working class' – you see she knew something about politics. They seemed to have either no job or they called themselves writers or, like Paul, 'businessmen'. Another curious fact was that there were no female members of this progressive group. The chairman of the group, Ralph, was a grey-haired man in his late sixties she guessed. All the others were in their twenties. Paul told her that this man, the chairperson had been politically active since the 1970s, trying to recruit volunteers to the scientifically pre-determined socialist utopian future. She remained silent, observing. Again she did not remark that all the comrades appeared to have been born years later than the 1970s. Was it, she asked perseverance, determination or simply failure on his half? Maybe she thought they would attract more members if instead of endless deliberating on dogma, they campaigned on wages and conditions.

As for her, well, she was getting the minimum wage. It was tough to make ends meet week by week and still try to send money home. Sometimes she could not afford to do both. Paul had been for some time now hinting that she could make much more money if she listened to him.

‘Come over to England with me next time’ he would say spooning lots of sugars in the many black coffees he drank in the local cafés on their dates. ‘I have contacts’.

He did not say for what, but mentioned working in the entertainment industry. She thought that could mean anything.

‘You would be ideal’, he told her.

She wondered whether or not she might accompany him. She wondered what her father might say if she upped and left for a different country. What would Fr Jerzy back home have to say about this course. She liked her present job and she knew the customers liked her and not just because of the admiring glances, which could be scary.


So, she walked awkwardly from table to table, trying to deflect leers, admiringly or not, from the patrons.


In fact, Paul said he wanted to introduce her to some special client of his. He said he would ring her mobile phone later that day to arrange a meeting and to only answer if she was seriously intent on following him. She thought of her secure job in the bar, the friendly people with the grace of God as her parish priest had said. Would she swap all this for a precarious existence in England in what Paul had called the 'entertainment industry?’ Should she ask her father before making a decision or would she surprise him?

Just then she heard her phone ring. She looked at the number. It was Paul calling as he said he would…

The phone rang…

Would she answer? …

What would she say? …

The phone still rang…

What would she do? …

The phone rang on…



*Jim Ward has previously been published for poetry in English and Irish (Cork Literary Review, Poetry Bus, Galway Advertiser, Feasta, Culture Matters’ The Children of the Nation Anthology, Live Encounters, Pendemic, The Blue Nib, Impspired), for one short story in Irish and for ‘Smoke’ his story published in The Blue Nib and for ‘Evelyn’, in Culture Matters’ From the Plough to the Stars Prose Anthology. His play Just Guff won 'Best in the West' award at Galway Fringe Festival, 2017 and has toured locally including Town Hall Studio, Galway, Kilkee Playwright Festival and Liberty Hall, Dublin as part of MayFest 2019. His poem 2016 Proclamation was runner-up in the Galway Bay FM/Thoor Ballylee Yeats Poetry Challenge,2017. His memoir piece Begging from Beggars will appear in The 32, edited by Paul McVeigh, in 2021. He has just finished a first novel and is also a published cartoonist.



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