In honour of Bloomsday, here’s a short story I wrote back in 2013 for A Telmetale Bloomnibus. This was a reading event that took place in the Irish Writers’ Centre to celebrate Bloomsday. 18 writers were invited to use the 18 episodes, or chapters, of Ulysses as their source material to create their own original modern-day interpretations.
I loved taking part in this collaboration and the night itself was a lot of fun. The 18 stories were also published as an ebook which is still available if you fancy reading all of them.
Billy, it’s me. Anto. I never wrote you a letter before. Never had reason to. Fiona suggested it. She’s been pretty cut up about things. Started seeing a counsellor and he told her it might help. Get her thoughts straight. She said it did, that I should give it a go. Just write to you and tell you what’s going on, how things are. So…
Your mam got a telescope from Argos. Said she wanted to see where you were headed. You shoulda seen the state of it, Billy. I told her she’d be lucky to see as far as the lounge in Madigans never mind Mars. She binned that and she’s after ordering another one now special off eBay. Cost a fair bit: computerised, multi-lens… I said to give me a ring when it arrives and I’d call over to her. We can watch the constellations instead of the Late Late. Says she’s getting bored of it these days anyways. Never wins those phone-in raffles. Reckons they’re fixed.
You should hear the lads, Billy. They’re all experts on science all of a sudden. Watching every documentary, reading every article. Shite-ing on about air locks, zero gravity, black holes, and space time continuum like they know what they’re talking about. Not like back in school. Mr. Boyle would be only delighted. Real science nerds at last, paying attention instead of spraying deodorant into Bunsen burners. D’ya remember back in third year when I told you to mix those two chemicals together in that plastic bottle, put the lid on it and shake it? And it all bubbled up and there was this massive bang when the lid went flying off and hit the ceiling. The lab was filled with smoke and there was this rank smell and Boyler was shouting “Don’t inhale, boys! Don’t inhale!” and we all had to leg it outside. You got detention for a week but you never ratted me out. Said it was all your idea.
I missed the trial. Your mam showed me all the papers when I got back. There were protests and all over it. They’re saying it’s like the way they’d send you to Australia years ago if you stole a sliced pan or something. One way ticket, no coming back. Except that’s not what you took. But maybe stealing laptops is like the modern version of stealing bread.
There’s been a bit about it on the news. They said it takes seven months to get there so you should be arriving soon. They said they don’t have the technology yet for a return trip. One way only. They showed pictures of it. Just this rock floating in space. It looked so lonely, so far away. I don’t… But you know, back years ago being sent to Australia was probably like that. It would’ve seemed like a life sentence. But now, sure half the country heads over there. Christmas day on Bondi Beach, living it up. Maybe Mars will be like that in a few years. We’ll all be coming up there to visit you and…
It’s strange you not being here. You were always here. Always. I can’t get my head around it, Billy. I keep going to ring your phone, knock up to your house and then remembering. And this letter, you won’t even get to read this. Unless you get to come back somehow. I don’t know… but what I wanted to say is I feel bad I didn’t get to see you before you went. Thought it’d be better to keep a low profile until it was over. But I’d no idea, Billy. I’d no idea that’s what was gonna happen. I thought community service, or a few months maybe. Jesus.
How were we to know what was on those computers? If they were as important as they said they shoulda kept them somewhere harder to break into, in fairness like. Stealing a few laptops is hardly treason. They weren’t even MacBooks. I can still see you there, dangling over that wall. The security guard dragging you back down. The dogs barking. I had to leg it, Billy. I know you’d have done the same. You would have. You would. You were my best mate… are my best mate.
We’re still mates, Billy, aren’t we? We are, Billy. Aren’t we?