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A mawkish, clichéd, third-person narrative describes the summer evening on Sandymount Strand, near Mary, Star of the Sea church. Bloom stands across the beach from three girlfriends—Cissy Caffrey, Edy Boardman, and Gerty MacDowell—and their charges: Cissy’s twin toddler brothers and Edy’s baby brother. Cissy and Edy tend to the babies and occasionally tease Gerty, who is sitting some distance away. The narrative sympathetically describes Gerty as beautiful, and outlines the commercial products she uses to maintain her looks. Gerty’s crush—the boy who bicycles past her house—has been aloof lately. Gerty daydreams of marriage and domestic life with a silent, strong man. Meanwhile, Edy and Cissy deal loudly with the children’s disputes. Gerty is mortified by her friends’ unladylike obscenity, especially in front of the gentleman (Bloom). Nearby, at the Star of the Sea church, a men’s temperance retreat begins with a supplication to the Virgin.
The toddlers kick their ball too far. Bloom picks it up and throws it back—the ball rolls to a stop under Gerty’s skirt. Gerty tries to kick the ball to Cissy but misses. Gerty senses Bloom’s eyes on her and notices his sad face. She fantasizes that he is a foreigner in mourning who needs her comfort. Gerty displays her ankles and her hair for Bloom, knowing she is arousing him.
Gerty wonders aloud how late it is, hoping Cissy and Edy will take the children home. Cissy approaches Bloom and asks for the time. Bloom’s watch has stopped. Gerty watches Bloom put his hands back in his pockets and senses the onset of her menstrual cycle. She yearns to know Bloom’s story—is he married? A widower? Duty-bound to a madwoman?
Cissy and the others are preparing to leave when the fireworks from the Mirus bazaar begin. They run down the strand to watch, but Gerty remains. Gerty leans back, holding her knee in her hands, knowingly revealing her legs, while she watches a “long Roman candle” firework shoot high in the sky. At the climax of the episode and Gerty’s emotions (and Bloom’s own orgasmic climax, we soon realize) the Roman candle bursts in the air, to cries of “O! O!” on the ground.
As Gerty rises and begins to walk to the others, Bloom realizes that she is lame in one foot. He feels shock and pity, then relief that he did not know this when she was arousing him. Bloom ponders the sexual appeal of abnormalities, then women’s sexual urges as heightened by their menstrual cycles. Remembering Gerty’s two friends, he considers the competitiveness of female friendships, like Molly’s with Josie Breen. Bloom remembers that his watch was stopped at 4:30, and he wonders if that is when Molly and Boylan had sex.
Bloom rearranges his semen-stained shirt and ponders strategies for seducing women. Bloom wonders if Gerty noticed him masturbating—he guesses that she did, as women are very aware. He briefly wonders if Gerty is Martha Clifford. Bloom thinks about how soon girls become mothers, then of Mrs. Purefoy at the nearby maternity hospital. Bloom ponders the “magnetism” that could account for his watch stopping when Boylan and Molly were together, perhaps the same magnetism that draws men and women together.
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