Janice knew she was ugly. How could she not know? It was as plain as her plain, plain face. In her youth she'd considered surgery. Then she entered a brief hopeful period in her mid-twenties where she wore lots and lots of make-up. But at 32 she began to appreciate her ugliness as a way to slip through the world unmolested.
She held a simple job at a knitting factory that no longer knitted. Instead they sat a row of phones and sold knitted items from Hong Kong to suburban housewives. Janice liked to mutter "knit one, pearl two" under her breath so the housewives would think she was knitting while she talked to them. In actuality, she took their orders on a hopelessly outmoded computer terminal under buzzing flourescent. Four hours later she got up and went home on the number 16 bus.
One day instead of getting on the number 16 bus, the number 16 bus got on her. Well, it didn't crush Janice completely. It knocked her down, while pinning her right foot and twisting her knee. "Ow," she said.
The driver got out to look at her. "No," Janice said, with remarkable calm. "You have to back the bus up now, thank you." The driver, who looked remarkably like Jack Soo, complied. Janice's foot was flat, and oozy. Jack Soo got on his radio. No passengers disembarked. No passersby enquired. Janice felt the full force of her invisibility. The world moved at its same ginger pace as her clock suspended. She decided to faint.
She woke up in, presumably, a hospital. A curtain was drawn around the bed, but Janice saw nurses and dollies and orderlies and doctors rush past in a sort of shadow-puppet display. Beeping machines. Yelled words she didn't understand.
There are things I like that are bad for me. Like anonymous sex and Frangelico liquor. For the most part I've given them up. But there are other things -- like over-reacting and falling in love -- these are things that I can't give up. As unhealthy as they are they seem definitive to my being. If I didn't have a crush on some man who lived far far away and didn't feel the same would I still be me? If I went through a day without swinging from ecstasy to abject despair could I still call myself Janice? I don't think I could. I don't think I could move through the world if I weren't completely wrong and deluded.
Three floors up, in the maternity ward, the Hoolihans were gushing over their new baby, Sinead. "Sinead" was Peggy's idea for a name. She wanted to reinvest in her celtic roots without doing any research beyond her college CD collection. Seriously. A boy would've been Bono. This had been an eighth-month decision. Peggy got sick of being pregnant. She realized what a bad idea the whole thing was. Sean was not a good husband, a promotion to father certainly wouldn't improve matters. It was too late now, of course, and in a fit of hormones she went back to what she took to be her distant Irish roots. What Peggy didn't know, and Sinead would find out in a library basement in Kilkenny years later, is that she had no Irish roots. The Legarnys in question, from whence Peggy sprang, had never left the Isle of Man until that unusually cold July in 1804.
Arr the smell of the sea. And the smell of the smell of the sea, which is what's worse. Arrr. Me loves the sea, me does. Arrr. Arr, come pour me a whiskey and I'll tell ya a story what goes way back, past when ye were born, past when ye were thought of. You never met anyone like Shedless Lou. Shedless Lou, I said, don't make me say it again. Arrr, Shedless Lou, there I said it of me own accorrrrd. What? Eh? Well it's obvious, ain't it? The man had no shed. He skinned his fish right out there on the dock, like it wasn't 40 below in the wind. Smaller men than him were blown away, what they didn't get into their sheds and haul the line in before they began a cuttin'. But Lou saved time, and the merchants took his lot first every time, because they didn't like standin' out thar in the cold neither. Lou would throw his fish, cut and clean on the scale before no one could argue, and the next man out had to take what he couldn 't. Most fellers didn't begrudge him. They knew quite well they would have done thar same ifn they could bear the cold, and bear the cutting when you can't feel your fingers. Lou had god awful hands. God awful. He cut them to ribbons every night, I tell you. Cuts on top of cuts. They were huge hands, like a giant's. He palmed them whitefish like they was nothing, looked like bait in his hands. And those big hands could toss the fish clear across the dock and land them with accuracy just about anywhere Shedless Lou considered for the half-second it took him to see which merchant was going to give him The Price. Everybody got a price, but Lou had a way of getting The Price without even haggling for it. Partly, like I said, because he was the fastest, but mostly because he was Lou.
Lou was in love, as often happens in these stories, with the sort of gal who didn't normally look once let alone twice at the riff raff on the dock. Her father bought and sold fisherman. He owned their sheds and their boats and their lives by way of loansharking. But loansharking ain't quite the right word because Boss Riley made it seem upscale, he did. He didn't have an office, for one thing. You had to go up to the house, the ridiculously outscaled mansion on the top of the only paved street, and you were shown into the parlor by the only Black man on the island.
Lou was in love with one Silvie Riley and she, though she nar would've spake it, was in love with him -- the deep true sort that the only two remarkable people in a stupid fishing village will have. When Silvie looked out at the dock through the window on High Street the world looked foggy and grey but for the vivid spot that was Lou, tossing fish the length of a city block with his gigantic hands. When Lou looked back he would've swore he saw her at the window.