TURNING THE TABLES
By J. A. O’Brien
“A nice thing to find in one of the largest bookshops in the city. And in one of the main streets of Dublin no less,” Dan slammed the book on the manager’s desk.
Mr Molloy looked at the book. “My good man there is no way we would have that book for sale,” he said.
“It was with the Greek literature. Any young student could have picked it out thinking it was by Homer,” Dan snorted. “Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. Ulysses indeed.”
“I assure you there has been a mistake. We have never ever stocked that man Joyce’s book in our store. We have very strict rules.” Mr Molloy wiped sweat from his forehead.
“It’s a banned book.” Dan pointed to the notice that was prominently displayed around the shop and could be seen through the glass panel of the office. It read:
“THERE ARE OVER 8000 BOOKS BANNED IN IRELAND. IF BY CHANCE WE HAVE ONE ON DISPLAY, PLEASE INFORM US AND IT WILL BE DESTROYED.”
“So much for that indeed,” Dan snorted. “Not only banned by our own Irish censors but I believe it is on the Index too.”
Mr Molloy went white. “Not the Index. Oh my God, not that.” The Church’s Index of Forbidden Books, carried more weight than the censors’ list so far as he was concerned.
“A filthy piece of work. And it gets worse at the end. A married woman languishing in her bed recounting her escapades and indulging her fantasies. A disgusting soliloquy.” Dan said.
Mr Molloy reached for the book. “As bad as that?” he asked.
Dan detected more eagerness than shock in his tone. “I’ll show you,” he said and opened the book. “Forty-five pages.” He held the last chapter between his fingers.
Mr Molloy licked his lips. He leaned forward as if to try to read the vertically held pages.
“Will I read some of it to you?” Dan asked.
“Yes. Yes of course.”
Still holding the pages together, Dan turned to the last page of the chapter and read:
I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
“My God,” Mr Molloy said. “What a wanton hussy. How could any man write it?”
Dan looked him in the eyes, “A dirty mind, Mr Molloy?”
Mr Molloy’s eyes were wide, his breathing heavy. “Leave it with me then. I’ll burn it this very day. It shouldn’t be held with the tongs.”
“Ah now I think that I had better take care of it. After all you didn’t even know it was on your shelf.”
“It’s just that I wouldn’t want it to be an occasion of sin for any young man. You know what I mean.”
“Or any young woman for that matter,” Dan said, with just the right touch of innuendo.
Mr Molloy flushed a bright red. He licked his lips again. “God forbid and may He keep the women of Ireland pure,” he said. By now he was almost panting.
“I’ll take care of it for you,” Dan said. “After all there is your reputation and that of your store to be considered. You supply most of the schools in the city. And it would never do for this to get out.”
Mr Molloy sought to recover himself. “Perhaps we can come to some arrangement then.”
Afterwards Dan told his delighted friend, Mick, “Brother, I got all the books the kids need at school this year. All free of charge. A very nice little deal, Mick. We can always benefit from the influence of the obscurants in this country.”
“Yeh turned the tables there alright. But I’m glad you didn’t let him keep me book,” Mick laughed. “Brand new and smuggled across the border via Belfast. From one peculiar and closed society to another. Jayus! The bould Joyce himself would be tickled pink at it all.”
This story is based on an incident that occurred in 1950s Dublin that involved two friends of our family. They did not live to see a statue of James Joyce erected close to where the bookshop with the sign once stood. Acknowledgements to the James Joyce Estate for the lines from Ulysses. ©