The Boarding House

Here’s an ending I wrote to James Joyce’s The Boarding House. You can read the beginning here, but the ending’s pretty easy to understand without reading the part by Joyce.

The Boarding House–Alternate Ending

Polly sat by the front window, gazing out across the wide, busy street. She could hear the carriage wheels rolling along the cobblestones, the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves, and the muffled sounds of conversation down below. The Dublin sky seemed to glare at her with steel-grey eyes, and the clouds hung low over the city, enveloping it in a swath of mist. Polly wondered how she ended up here, in the grandiose house, full of guest rooms that were always empty, tended by servants who rarely spoke. She instinctively glanced up at the gilt clock over the mantle, a parting gift from her mother.

“Nearly 6 o’clock,” She said to herself. “Bob should be home soon…” Her husband, Robert Doran, was the owner of a wine company in the Mediterranean, and had been since the previous owner died ten years ago. He would bring his work home each night, often staying at his desk, pouring over sales projections and expense reports. He usually returned to bed in the early morning, catching a few hours of rest before he left for the office.

“Mama,” A little voice called, accompanied by a tug on Polly’s skirt. “I’m hungry!” Polly looked down at Maggie, her 6-year-old daughter. Maggie’s long, fiery red hair was tangled and her pinafore was splashed with mud.

“Now, Maggie. Look at the mess you’ve gotten in!” Polly exclaimed, brushing dirt from the little girl’s cheek. “Run down to the kitchen and ask Cook to give you a scone. And tell Caroline to clean you up,” Polly paused to listen as she heard James’ clomping footsteps in the hall above her. “And, please tell your brother to stop making that racket, when Caroline’s finished!”

“Yes, mama,” Maggie said over her shoulder, skipping through the green baize door to the staff quarters. Polly sighed and walked back to the window, gazing solemnly out upon the road. She saw a red-bearded man step out of a hackney cab, tip the driver, and pull his worn leather briefcase out of the compartment. Bob was home. He walked up the steps with the gait of a man much older than his 46 years, wearily unlocked the front door, and stepped inside.

“Hello, Bob,” Polly greeted her husband with a quick peck on the cheek. He swept her into a reluctant embrace, awkwardly fumbling with the briefcase.

“Time for dinner, I suppose. What is it today, Polly?” Bob asked of his wife.

“Salmon. And for dessert, bread pudding.” Polly answered. Bread pudding was Bob’s favorite, and she’d ordered it especially for him.

“Oh, very good then. And have the children had their supper?” Bob said, not remarking on the dessert his wife had chosen so thoughtfully.

“Yes, Bob,”

The couple walked to the dining room; the table was set with a lace tablecloth and china plates. As Polly passed Caroline, the housemaid, she instructed her to put the children in bed. Caroline nodded and curtseyed, before rushing upstairs. Bob sat down at one end of the long mahogany table, and Polly sat at the other.

“Good day at work?” Polly asked, silently begging him to make conversation.

“Same as always.” Bob answered, in a dull, flat tone. He really wasn’t in the mood to chat with his wife at the moment. They continued to eat in silence, the only sounds made were the clinking of cutlery on china, and the occasional cough or sneeze. Polly sat in agony, waiting for him to say something, anything.

“I hear that merlot sales have been up,” Polly began hesitantly.

“Yes they have,” Bob replied, with just a hint of coldness in his voice. “Who on earth told you that?”

“I read about it in the paper this morning. Did you happen to come across the article?”

“No,” Came his predictable, monosyllabic response. Bob finished off his last bite of salmon and pushed his chair out.

“Aren’t you going to stay for dessert?” Polly asked him. He brushed past her without saying a word, and stormed into his study. Polly winced at the sharp click of the door locking. Why did this have to happen every day? Polly began to wonder how she ever married him in the first place. She had been young, a girl of nineteen, when she fell in love with the reserved Mr. Doran, who was staying at her mother’s boarding house. The scandal that led to the birth of James, their eldest son, also led to Polly and Bob’s marriage, to save both her husband’s reputation and her child’s well-being.

Bob remembered the slim, fair-haired girl he had met nearly a decade ago. How carefree that girl seemed, and how different she was from the solemn wife she had become. He missed coming down from his room at the boarding house, to find a pitcher of punch or a glass of lemonade and an amorous note, written in that girlish, rounded handwriting. The little reminders of what their relationship could have evolved into made the days so much more exciting back then. But then the scandal came along, and all hope of falling in love was erased. Bob got married too early, before he was ready. And now he could never love her, not the way she needed him to.

The audible ticking of the clock in the library attacked Polly’s ears like the ceaseless clatter of horses’ hooves in the evening. She snapped her book shut as her anger mounted, and all the thoughts of Bob’s icy attitude surfacing once more. She thought of hurling the book into the framed picture of a flowerpot watching her from across the room, but decided against it and instead replaced the volume in its place on the shelf. But her mind turned again to the wretchedness of the evening, and she rushed downstairs to her husband’s study door.

“Let me in, please,” She called through the door. Her plea was followed by a slow metallic sound of the bolt being undone, and a voice inviting her in.

“What is it, dear?” Bob asked. The way his voice cracked when he said dear confirmed Polly’s fear.

“You don’t love me,” Polly said. It was not meant as a question, just a statement that she was hoping he would negate. There was a brief pause before Bob spoke.

“Of course I do, Polly,” Bob began slowly, loosening his collar. “Now would you please run along and amuse yourself? I do have work, you know.” Polly nodded and backed out of the small, ornate room. She knew that her previous statement had been true, but was content with the superficial attempt to soothe her fears.

Late that night, Polly awoke to the sound of footsteps on the carpet outside her bedroom. She was aware of the creak of the door, the sound of clothes being tossed onto the floor, and the squeak of the mattress beside her.

“Polly?” He whispered, bending over as if to stroke her hair. Polly let out a humming sound in acknowledgement of his presence. There was a long silence as Bob weighed the pros and cons of telling her what she wanted so desperately to hear. “Nothing,” He finally murmured before turning away, waiting for sleep to come.

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