It seemed that we had arrived just too late. It was our final day in Dublin and there would be no chance to visit again. The simple fact was, we had never realised that the shop was so close; had never really planned to visit; had only chanced upon it with our luggage already packed, waiting for the bus to take us to the ferry. And now that we were here, the shutters on the front door were half down.
I had been reading Ulysses since the start of our trip. A rather pretentious conceit, but my reasoning had been: if not now, when? I had been 400+ pages in––far further than I had ever managed before––but I had also reached a point where I was beginning to have doubts. My resolve was wavering. 400 pages. Sweny’s pharmacy shop had been a long way back. At least 300 pages. Except that now we were standing outside it: windows full of old bottles; black and white photographs of Joyce; strange medicants and curios. A plain, white sign advertised lemon soap.
“Sweet lemony wax.”
Leopold Bloom had purchased a cake of lemon soap at Sweny’s for the sum of fourpence. My own odyssey to purchase the same appeared doomed to failure. The shutters on the front door were still half down.
Even as we stood and looked into the darkened shop beyond––the crowded shelves, lined with glass vials and coloured jars; heavy wooden cabinets and counter; the mirrors and the weighing scales––two men emerged, stooping low beneath the half-closed shutter.
Did they recognise us as fellow pilgrims? Did they take pity upon us as sympathetic travellers through Bloom’s Dublin? Perhaps they just saw someone beset by doubts? Whatever the reason, they pushed up the shutter, when they had been about to close it, beckoning for us to come inside. Kind fellows.
We took our photos. We bought our soap. “Sweet lemony wax”. We would have liked to have stayed longer and found out more, but we had already kept our kind fellows waiting. We left, and as we left they brought the shutters full down behind us.
I never did finish Ulysses.