The afternoon seemed long. There was nothing on the radio, and nothing to read. She washed her two blouses and put them out on the line. She remembered with great annoyance that nobody, not even her mother, had remarked on her perm. What was the point of getting one if people didn't notice? Paying good money for one of the newest perms. Well, paying money if she had had to: fortunately she hadn't. At six she heard the banging of car doors and voices.
"Oh, there you are, Nancy." Her mother always seemed surprised to see her. "Mrs. Casey and I've been for a great drive altogether."
"Hallo, Mrs. Casey. That's nice," Nancy said grumpily.
"Did you get us any supper?" Her mother looked expectant.
"No. Well, you didn't say. There wasn't anything there." Nancy was confused.
"Oh, come on, Maura, she's only joking. Surely you've something made for your mother, Nancy?"
Nancy hated Mrs. Casey's arch voice treating her as if she were a slow-minded five-year-old.
"No, why should I have? There was no food there. I presumed my mam was getting something."
There was a silence.
"And there was nothing for lunch either," she said in an aggrieved tone. "I had to go over to Kennedy's to get rashers."
"Well, we'll have rashers for our supper." Mrs. Morris brightened up.
"I've eaten them," Nancy said.
"All of them?" Mrs. Casey was disbelieving.
"I only got two," she said.
There was another silence.
"Right," Mrs. Casey said, "that settles it. I wanted your mother to come back with me but she said no, that you'd probably have the tea made for us all and she didn't want to disappoint you. I said it wasfar from likely, judging from what I'd heard. But she had to come back, nothing would do her." She was halfway back to the door. "Come on, Maura, leave the young people be. . . . They have better things to do than getting tea for the likes of us." Nancy looked at her mother, whose face was set in a hard line of disappointment and shame.
"Enjoy your evening then, Nance," she said. And they were gone. The car was starting with a series of jumps and leaps.
What could Mrs. Casey have heard? What did she mean? The only person she could have heard anything from was Mairead, or Mairead's mother. What could they have been saying--that Nancy was irritating? Was that it?
She didn't want to be in when they came back, but where could she go? She had arranged no lift to the dance: she would as soon be hanged as to go out on the straight road and hitch all the way to the night entertainment--which she wouldn't enjoy anyway. She supposed she could always go to Ryan's pub. She'd be bound to know people and it was her own hometown and she was twenty-five years of age so she could do what she liked. She put on one of her freshly cleaned blouses, which she ironed with great care. She decided the perm was an undoubted success and gave herself a spray of the perfume she had bought her mother last Christmas and set out.
It wasn't bad in Ryan's; some of the golfing people were buying big rounds, shouting at each other from the counter: What did you want with the vodka, Brian; Did you want water with the Power's, Derek? Celia was behind the counter helping her mother.
"You don't usually come in here," Celia said.
"It's a free country and I'm over twenty-one," Nancy said snappishly.
"Oh Jesus, take it easy," Celia had said. "It's too early for the fights."
There was a phone in a booth and she saw Dee Burke making a call; their phone must be out of order at home. Nancy waved but Dee didn't see her. Biddy Brady, who had been two classes below Nancy at school, had got engaged and she was celebrating with a group of the girls. The ring was being passed around and admired. She waved Nancy over to the group, and rather than sit on her own she went.
"We're putting a sum into the kitty each and then the drinks keep coming and we pay for it until the money runs out," said one girl helpfully.
"Oh, I don't think I'll be here all that long," Nancy said hastily, and noticed a few odd looks being exchanged.
She waved at Mikey Burns, who was carrying two drinks over to a corner.
"Have you any pub jokes?" Nancy asked, hoping he might stop and entertain them for a moment.
"Not tonight, Nancy," he said, and didn't even pause. Mikey! Who would do anything for an audience! He was heading for the corner; a woman with her head down sat there; it looked like Billy Burns's wife.
Billy was Mikey's brother, the one that got the looks and the brains and the luck, people said.
There was a bit of commotion behind the bar and Celia's mother seemed to be shouting at her. It was hushed up, but Celia looked very anxious. One of the Kennedy brothers had stepped in behind the bar to help wash glasses.
Nancy felt a bit dizzy. She had drunk two gins and orange, which she had bought for herself, and two as part of Biddy Brady's celebration. She had had nothing to eat since lunchtime. She decided to get some fresh air and some chips in that order. She could always come back. She sat on the wall near the chip shop and ate them slowly. You could see the whole town from here: the Burkes' house with all that lovely creeper cut away from the windows so neatly. She thought she saw Dee leaning out a window smoking, but it was darkish, she couldn't be certain. Then there was the Fitzgeralds' drapery, Tom's family's business. His two brothers and their wives worked there, as well as his father. They had a craft shop now attached to it, and they made up Irish tweeds into skirts for the visitors. Mrs. Casey lived about a mile out, so she couldn't glare at her windows and imagine her mother eating lamb chops and looking at television, counting the days with Mrs. Casey until the Late Late Show came back from its summer break. When they had been planning the Dublin trip they had wanted Mairead and Nancy to get them tickets for the show, and Mairead had actually written and found out what the chances were. Nancy had thought it was madness of the first order.
It was chilly and the last chip was gone. She walked back to Ryan's and thought she would go in the side entrance and visit the Ladies' on the way. She nearly fell over Mrs. Ryan, who was sitting on the step.
"Oh, it's Miss Morris," the woman said with a very snide little laugh.
"Good night, Mrs. Ryan," said Nancy a bit nervously.
"Oh, Miss Morris, Miss Mean Morris. Mean as all get-out, they say about you."
She didn't sound drunk. Her voice was steady and cold.
"Who says that about me?" Nancy was equally cold.
"Everyone. Every single person who ever speaks your name. Poor Biddy Brady's crowd of girls, just to mention a few. You sat down and took a couple of spirits off them and walked off. That's class, Miss Morris, strong men have wanted to be able to do that and they're not."
"Why do you call me Miss Morris?"
"Because that's what you call yourself, that's what you think you are. And by God that's the way you're going to stay. No man would take you on, Miss Morris, a mean woman is worse than a nag and a slut put together. . . ."
"I'll be off, I think, Mrs. Ryan."
"Oh, I would, Miss Morris; those little girls in there have had a few drinks now and if you haven't come back to put a couple of fivers into their kitty, I think you'd be far better to be off."
"Put what into their kitty?" Nancy was stunned.
"Oh, be off, Miss Morris, I beg of you."
But her blood was up now. She pushed past the woman and went into the smoke and heat.
"Sorry, Biddy," she said loudly, "I went home for change. I hadn't my money with me. Can I put this into the kitty and I'm having a gin and orange when the round comes."
They looked at her in disbelief and with some guilt. Those who had been loudest against her were abashed.
"A large gin and orange for Nancy," they called; and Celia, who was working alone with only Bart Kennedy to help her, raised her eyebrows. Nancy Morris ordering large ones.
"They cost a fair whack nowadays, Nancy," she said.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, will you give me a drink, not a sermon," Nancy said, and the others all laughed.
They were singing "By the River of Babylon, Where I Sat Down," but Nancy was only mouthing the words.
Mean, Mean, Mean. That was what Mairead thought, what she told her mother and her aunt, why she wanted her out of the flat; that's what Mrs. Casey thought, that's what her mother had felt tonight, that's what the Kennedys' father had been jeering at in the shop. That's what Celia meant now, talking about the price of a drink. That is what Mrs. Ryan, who must have gone stone mad tonight, meant, sitting on the floor of her own public house in the side entrance.
But she wasn't mean: she was careful, she was sensible, she was not going to throw away her money. She was going to spend it on what she wanted. Which was . . . which was . . . Well, she didn't know yet. It certainly wasn't clothes, or a holiday, or a car. And it wasn't on dear things to furnish rented accommodation, and it wasn't on going to dances or discos or to hotels with fancy prices. And it wasn't on smart hairdressers or Italian shoes or fillet steaks or a stereo radio with headphones.
They had linked arms now and they were singing "Sailing" and swaying from side to side. Mrs. Ryan had come back and was singing with the best; in fact, she was standing up in the middle of the circle and playing the Rod Stewart role with somebody's golf club as a microphone.
Celia was pulling pints still; she looked at her mother with neither embarrassment nor pride--it was just as if she were another customer. Tom Fitzgerald was talking to her over the bar. They were very thick, those two. Tears came down Nancy's face at Mrs. Ryan's words. A mean woman. She wasn't at all mean. But if people thought she was, then she must be. Mustn't she?
Deirdre had once said she was a bit tight with money, but she had thought that was Deirdre being all-American and accusing people face to face of things. Her brother in Cork had once said that she must own massive property up in Dublin now, what with her earning a good salary and paying hardly a penny out a week except her rent and the Lilac Bus. She had said nonsense, that it cost a packet to live in Dublin. He had pointed out that she had a bicycle and she got a three-course meal in the hospital at midday, and what else did she spend it on? The conversation had ended fairly unsatisfactorily, she had thought. Now she realized that he was saying she was mean. Mean.
Suppose people really thought she was mean? Should she explain that it wasn't meanness, and she was only making sure she didn't throw money away? No, somehow it was one of those things that you couldn't explain. It was either there, the belief, or it wasn't there. And so, unfair as it was, she was now going to have to go overboard the other way.
Tomorrow she would suggest to her mother that she take them both to a nice Sunday lunch in the hotel as a treat. It was too late to do anything about Mairead, there was no promising to be more generous or to spend more or whatever it was people wanted. And maybe she could get some posters of Ireland and send them to Deirdre's children. Happy birthday Shane or April or Erin from your auntie Nancy in the Emerald Isle. And to the silent brother in Cork, some book about fishing and a pressing invitation to visit her when next he came up for the Spring Show.
It must work: look at Biddy Brady's party, they were delighted with her. But why shouldn't they be, she had put ten whole pounds into their bowl on the table. But it seemed to please them a lot and they were raising their glasses a bit crookedly and saying Nancy Whiskey and things to her that they'd never have said otherwise.
There was no sign of Mrs. Ryan; she had gone out again after her party piece. Nancy would like to have thanked her. Because now she had a lot of problems licked. And the great thing, the really great thing was this: It needn't cost a lot of money. In fact, if she was very careful, it need cost hardly anything. She could take a lot of those glucose sweets and put them in a box, say, that could be a present for her mother one week. And she could give as presents those paperweights that she got from the drug companies--sometimes you could hardly see the name of the medicine they were advertising. And wasn't it just as well she had told nobody about the rise in her wages. She had negotiated it herself quietly, so no one need ever know about that at all.