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The time is 5 p.m. As evening draws in, Bloom retreats to the beach. On the beach at Sandymount are Cissy Caffrey, Edy Boardman and Gerty MacDowell. Cissie and Edy are fond of the children. They look after them efficiently, mediating their quarrels and entertaining them. Gerty sits a little apart. She is described romantically as an ideal of Irish girlhood. Although she is not young, and her beauty is the result of patent medicines, cosmetics and hints meticulously followed from the women’s journals. She is impatient with the noise of the children. Edy is teasing her with the neglectfulness of her suitor, Reggy Wylie. His father has advised him to study hard for the examination at Trinity. This, thinks Gerty, is the reason why he has been out of sight.
Gerty is embarrassed by the attentions paid to the physical needs of the children and by the vivacious slang of her companions. It might offend a romantic-looking gentleman sitting nearby. This is Leopold Bloom who is relaxing after his adventures at Barney Kiernan’s. Sounds of the evening service from the church nearby drift across the beach. The twins kick their ball to Bloom. He returns it awkwardly so that it rolls to Gerty’s feet. The two exchange casual glances. But Gerty is impressed by his face. She thinks that he looks like Sir John Martin Harvey, her favorite matinee idol. She notices that he is in mourning. She feels that she would like to take care of him. Edy notices her interest and interrupts her. They wonder if it is getting late. Cissie asks Bloom the time. His watch has stopped. But he guesses that it is past eight. The girls get ready to go. Edy asks if Gerty is "heartbroken about her best boy throwing her over." Gerty answers proudly and loudly. She feels that her reply has established her superiority over her companions.
Gerty’s tragic thoughts are interrupted by the baby’s being sick on his new bib. A fireworks display from Mirus Bazaar attracts their attention. Cissy and Edy run along the beach with the children to get a better view. But Gerty stays where she is, near Bloom. She knows how men can be stimulated by immodest women. But she feels no immodesty herself. She knows that Bloom is looking at her rather than the fireworks. The fireworks display reaches its climax. Bloom is excited to the point of emission. She glances pathetically at him, half smiles and then walks off to join the others. She reveals as she walks her lameness. Bloom feels sympathy for her.
Bloom catches a whiff of Gerty’s perfume. This turns his mind to Molly’s scents and the smells of women and men in general. Ever curious and experimental, Bloom sticks his nose inside his waistcoat to smell himself. He is surprised by the scent of lemon, which he remembers is his cake of soap. An unrecognized man walks by. Bloom, still concerned with the possibility of income from writing, imagines himself writing a prize-winning story: The Mystery Man on the Beach. He sees the lights burning around and realizes how late it is. He ought not to sit on the cold stone. A bat flies past. But he seems unable to get up and move away. Thoughts of the youthful Molly and Milly as a child come into his mind. But he is unable to dismiss the figure of Gerty MacDowell. He determines to leave some sort of message in the place. He traces out with a stick the words "I am A." He scrubs them out with his boot before completing the self-identification.