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Maria's boss, "the matron" of a laundromat run by poor women, has given her the night off as soon as the evening tea finishes up, and Maria's excited because she has already cleaned the kitchen.
"Maria is a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very long chin" (Clay.2) Among the women at the laundromat, everyone loves her because she is so kind and can soothe any tensions. No one solves a problem like Maria.
The plan for the evening requires a lot of public transportation. She's got a long ride, and she's planning to buy something along the way. But she figures that she can do everything she needs to do and still have five shillings left over.
She's pretty excited about the evening—but a little worried that Joe will arrive drunk. (This is also a concern in "The Dead," the last story of Dubliners.)
Joe has often asked Maria to come and live with his family, but Maria always declines, worried that she'll be in the way of Joe's wife.
Maria was the wet nurse for Joe and Alphy when they were kids, and they loved her as if she was their "proper mother" (Clay.7). Then, after a "break-up" at home (Clay.7), Joe and Alphy made sure that Maria got the job at the Dublin by Lamplight laundry, where she still works. Maria is Catholic, but the Laundromat is run by Protestants. She's getting used to it.
During tea, Maria passes out all the slices of cake and because it's Halloween, everyone's in a great mood.
Everyone jokes that Maria will get the ring that's baked into the cake, which would mean, according to the superstition, that she'd be the next one to get married.
One of the women, Ginger Mooney, proposes a toast to Maria, and this makes Maria very happy, even though she knows Ginger, as one of the poor women who does laundry, isn't very intelligent.
After the tea, Maria changes for her evening out and gets on the crowded tram.
She's thinking of her money—and how she has enough to make her feel "independent" (Clay.10).
It's going to be a great night, but she's a little worried about a feud between Joe and his brother Alphy. It's so bad that they aren't speaking, but Maria says, "such is life." (Clay.10)
Maria buys a big bag of cakes at Downe's shop, and then goes to a shop on Henry Street for plumcake. The cashier jokes that Maria must be buying wedding cake, but Maria doesn't get offended.
The next tram is really crowded, but one "gentleman" makes room for her and starts up a nice conversation. He's a little bit drunk, Maria recognizes, but he seems nice enough.
Everyone's excited to see Maria when she gets to Joe's house. She passes out the penny cakes but can't find the plumcakes, and nearly breaks down in tears. She has left them on the train, probably because of the "gentleman" (Clay.13).
Joe comforts her and tells her stories of his office work, including one about a snide remark he made to his boss. Maria doesn't get the joke, but laughs anyway.
Talking to Joe, she brings up Alphy, but Joe says he'd rather die than ever talk to him again. Well that's a little dramatic. Everyone stays calm, though, and soon the Halloween games start up again.
One of the games is a blindfold game, but the next-door girls trick Maria by putting something gross from the garden in one of the bowls. They get yelled at for it, and on her second go Maria gets a prayer book. According to superstition, it means she'll enter a convent within a year.
So wedding or convent? What's it gonna be?
Joe asks Maria to sing a song, and she picks one called, "I dreamt that I dwelt," which is about being rich and beautiful. But instead of singing the first and second verses, she repeats the first verse twice.
Joe says the song reminds him of the good old days, and he's so moved that "his eyes filled up so much with tears that he could not find what he was looking for" (Clay.22).