It's 10am and Bloom is about a mile and a quarter from his home on Eccles Street. He has reached Sir John Rogerson's Quay (a well-known dock) on the south bank of the Liffey River near its mouth. He is on his way to the post office.
Bloom considers the shops and streets as he walks past. He is irritated to see a young boy smoking, but then thinks the boy has reason to smoke: his life probably isn't too easy.
Bloom thinks of the carriage maker Corny Kelleher and begins to hum a song he associates with Kelleher.
Bloom stops in Westland row before a tea company. He thinks that he needs to get some of the tea from Tom Kernan, but that he can't ask for it at Dignam's funeral.
Bloom checks to make sure the card (which we first saw in "Calypso") is still inside his hatband.
The smell of tea makes Bloom think of the east, and he imagines it as a lethargic country. He thinks about how the Dead Sea is so thick with salt that you just float in it, and then thinks about the relationship between weight and gravity. (Note that most of this chapter takes place in Bloom's mind; we get a sense of what a playful imagination he has as the chapter goes on.)
As Bloom walks away from the teashop, he takes out his Freemason newspaper and taps it against his leg. He peeks into the post office, and passes his card to the woman.
In response to his asking, the postmistress gives him a letter addressed to Henry Flower (the pseudonym Bloom has used to start up a correspondence with Martha Clifford).
Bloom slips the card and the letter into his side pocket, and looks at a military recruiting poster and thinks about the Irish troops.
As Bloom walks, he tears open the envelope while it is still in his pocket. He sees that there is something pinned inside of it, but can't make it out before he runs into M'Coy. He speaks to M'Coy reluctantly, simply because there is nothing else he can do.
They make small talk and discuss Dignam's funeral, which Bloom reminds him is at 11am.
While M'Coy is talking, Bloom sees an attractive upper-class woman talking with the porter of the Grosvenor (a fashionable hotel on Westmoreland Street). Bloom thinks dirty thoughts about her. (Aside from the fact that Bloom is acting like a creepy old man, it's clear that M'Coy's conversation isn't exactly enthralling him.)
M'Coy recounts a conversation that he had with Bob Doran when Doran explained to him that Dignam was dead. Bloom hardly listens as he is so focused on trying to get a flash of the woman's stockings. Just as he's about to, though, a tramcar passes by and blocks his view.
Bloom is very disappointed, and idly opens his paper and reads an advertisement for "Plumtree's Potted Meat." M'Coy's wife is an aspiring singer, and the two of them make small talk about their wives' careers. As Bloom explains Molly's current tour, he hums a nursery rhyme in his head.
Before leaving, M'Coy asks Bloom to put his name in at Dignam's funeral. M'Coy regrets that he won't be able to make it. Bloom agrees.
Bloom again thinks back to the attractive woman; he's amazed that M'Coy seems to think his wife is as good a singer as Molly.
Bloom stops outside of Cantrell and Cochrane's Ginger Ale store, and sees an ad for the play Leah starring Mrs. Bandman Palmer. Bloom thinks back to how much his father liked Mrs. Palmer, and begins to think sadly of his father's suicide in June of 1886. He remembers his father discussing some lines from Leah with him as a young boy. He thinks that maybe his father was better off for having killed himself.
Bloom passes a bunch of horses chomping on their gilded oats. He pulls the letter from his pocket, and thinks about ducking into a lane to read it. Bloom turns into Cumberland Street, and carefully tiptoes through a hopscotch court so as not to step on the lines. He remembers playing marbles as a boy.
Bloom opens the letter and finds that what was pinned inside was a flower. He reads it. Martha Clifford writes him about how he is a naughty boy and she is going to punish him. There was some word that Bloom wanted her to call him, but she does not like it. She says she thinks frequently of him and wants to meet him, and the letter closes with her asking what kind of perfume Flower's (Bloom's) wife wears.
Bloom re-reads the letter and puns on the names of a number of different flowers. Though he knows he will not meet Martha, he thinks that he can be a bit more forward in his wording next time.
He pulls out the pin from Martha's envelope and considers all of the pins in women's clothing. He thinks to himself, "No roses without thorns" (5.75).
Bloom hears some Dublin voices and thinks of two prostitutes he saw one night in Coombe. This leads him to think of a painting of Lazarus's sisters, Martha and Mary, talking with Jesus.
Bloom walks under a railway arch and tears up Martha' letters. He gets to thinking how you could do the same thing with a hundred pounds, how money is just a bit of paper. He then starts thinking about how to convert pints to quarts to gallons, and imagines all of this in terms of porter. He imagines a flood of liquor on the mudflats outside Dublin.
Bloom steps into the rear door of All Hallows church, and again slips the card into his headband. He reads a notice on the door for a sermon by John Conmee, and thinks about the missionary tactics of the Jesuits and how they must be perceived in China and elsewhere
(All of these details seem minor, but it's important to keep track of them because all of these things recur throughout the novel.)
As Bloom enters, he thinks about how close you can be to women in the church, how they are instructed to break the communion wafer on the roof of their mouths instead of chewing it, and the power of the Latin language.
Bloom thinks about the Catholic belief in transubstantiation (that the communion wafer actually is the body of Christ). He imagines that it would make for a good feeling of community, but then realizes: "Thing is if you really believe in it" (5.90).
Bloom observes the priest, and thinks again of meeting Martha one Sunday. As he thinks of the inconsistency of Martha's character, he thinks of Peter Carey who acted pious and then became part of the violent Irish nationalist group the Invincibles that committed the Phoenix Park murders.
Watching the priest rinse off the chalice, Bloom wonders why they don't use Guinness or ginger ale instead. He thinks of how they only give the Church participants the wafer. He imagines that if they also gave them the wine, then the Church would be filled with alcoholics begging for it.
Bloom observes the choir and the organist, and thinks of Molly's performance of Rossini's Stabat Mater. He remembers how much everyone admired her.
Bloom thinks of the greatness of Church music. The priest kisses the altar, blesses the people, and begins to read one of the two vernacular prayers that were used to close the low mass.
Bloom appreciates the fact that the prayers were said in English, and thinks how much more interesting mass would be if you could understand what was going on (About 40 years later, the Church will catch on to Bloom's observation with Vatican II).
Bloom thinks of the Church practice of confession as "God's little joke" (5.99). He then considers how complete Church theology is, how the priests have an "answer pat for everything" (5.99).
The priest finishes the vernacular prayers, and Bloom thinks that he better get out before they come around the Church and collect money offerings.
As Bloom stands up, he notices that two buttons of his waistcoat have been undone, and he imagines that the women must have enjoyed it.
He heads southward along Westland Row to the chemist Sweny's to pick up some lotion for his wife, though he realizes that he has forgotten the recipe and the latchkey.
As the chemist looks through his prescription ledger, Bloom thinks of what he knows about chemistry and alchemy. He thinks of the wonders the lotion does for Molly's skin. He wonders if he has time for a bath.
Bloom asks the chemist to make up the lotion, and says he will return later in the day with a bottle. In the meantime, he just takes a bar of lemon soap.
When Bloom leaves the store, he is accosted by Bantom Lyons. Lyons wants to see Bloom's paper to check on the horse races. Bloom tries to give it to him and says that he was just going to throw it away anyhow. Lyons mistakes this for a tip on which horse will win the race. He thanks Bloom without taking the paper and hurries off.
Bloom considers the vices of betting as he walks toward the public baths. He greets the porter, Hornblower, at the south gate of Trinity College, and makes fun of a sports poster he sees hung up outside the college.
Bloom admires the weather, and notes what a nice day it is for cricket. He thinks ahead to his visit to the public baths, and imagines "the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower" (5.142).