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"Why wouldn't you take him now?" said Mrs Geary. She was setting the evening papers to rights on the counter.
Yvonne sat astride a chair in the middle of the shop. She had it tilting precariously and was rubbing her small head animal fashion on the wood of the back, while her long legs were braced to prevent herself from toppling over. In answer to the question she said nothing.
"She's cross again," said her uncle, who was standing at the door of the inner room.
"Who's she? She's the cat!" said Yvonne. She began to rock the chair violently to and fro.
"Don't be breaking down that chair," said her mother. "It's the last we have of the decent ones till the cane man is back. Why wouldn't you take him is what I asked."
Close outside the shop the tram for Dublin came rattling by, darkening the scene for a moment and making little objects on the higher shelves jump and tinkle. It was a hot evening and the doors stood wide open to the dust of the street.
"Oh leave off, leave off!" said Yvonne. "I don't want him, I don't want to marry. He's nothing special."
"Nothing special is it?" said her uncle. "He's a nice young man in a steady job and he wants to wed you and you no longer so young. Or would you be living all your life on your ma?"
"If you won't wed him you shouldn't be leading him up the garden," said her mother, "and leave breaking that chair."
"Can't I be ordinary friends with a boy," said Yvonne, "withoutthepair of you being at me? I'm twenty-four and I know what I'm about."
"You're twenty-four indeed," said her mother, "and there's Betty Nolan and Maureen Burke are married these three years and they in a lower form than you at school."
"I'm not the like of those two," said Yvonne.
"True for you!" said her mother.
"It's the women's magazines," said her uncle, "and the little novels she's for ever reading that are putting ideas in her head until she won't marry except it's the Sheik of Araby."
"It's little enough she finds to do with her time," said her mother, "so that she's always in there in the little dark room, flat on her tum with her nose inside a novel till it's a wonder her two eyes aren't worn away in her head."
"Can't I live my life as I please," said Yvonne, "since it's the only thing I have? It's that I can't see him as something special and I won't marry him if I can't."
"He's one of the Chosen People," said her uncle. "Isn't that special enough?"
"Don't start on that thing again," said her mother. "Sam's a nice young fellow, and not like the run of the Jew-boys at all. He'd bring the children up Church of Ireland."
"At that," said her uncle, "it's better than the other lot with the little priest after them the whole time and bobbing their hats at the chapel doors so you can't even have a peaceful ride on the tram. I've nothing against the Jews."
"Our Lord was a Jew," said Yvonne.
"Don't be saying bold things like that!" said her mother.
"Our Lord was the Son of God," said her uncle, "and that's neither Jew nor Greek."
"Is it this evening the Christmas card man is coming?" said Yvonne.
"It is," said her mother, "though why they want to be bothering us with Christmas cards in the middle of summer I'm at a loss to know."
"I'll wait by and see him," said Yvonne. "You always pick the dull ones."
"I pick the ones that sell," said her mother, "and don't you be after hanging around acting the maggot when Sam comes, there's little enough room in there."
"If you were married at least you'd be out of this," said her uncle, "and it isn't your ma you'd be sharing a bed with then, and you always complaining about the poky hole this place is."
"It is a poky hole," said Yvonne, "but then I'd be in another poky hole some other place."
"I'm tired telling you," said her mother, "you could get one of those new little houses off the Drumcondra Road. The man in Macmullan's shop knows the man that keeps the list."
"I don't want a new little house," said Yvonne. "I tell you I don't see him right and that's that?
"If you wait till you marry for love," said her uncle, "you'll wait ten years and then make a foolish match. You're not Greta Garbo and you're lucky there's a young fellow after you at all. Sensible people marry because they want to be in the married state and not because of feelings they have in their breasts."
"She's still stuck on the English lad," said her mother, "the tall fellow, Tony Thingummy was his name."
"I am not!" said Yvonne. "Good riddance to bad rubbish!"
"I could not abide his voice," said her uncle. "He had his mouth all prissed up when he talked, like a man was acting in a play."
"Isn't it the like of the bloody English to win the Sweep again this year?" said her mother.
"He brought me flowers," said Yvonne.
"Flowers is it!" said her uncle. "And singing little songs to you you said once!"
"He was a jaunty boy," said her mother, "and a fine slim thing with some pretty ways to him, but he's gone now. And you wait till you see what Sam'll bring you one of these days."
"Ah, you're potty with that diamond ring story," said her uncle. "You'll turn the child's head on her. That fellow's as poor as we are."
"There's nobody is as poor as we are," said Yvonne.
"He's a hired man," said her uncle. "I don't deny he may get to have his own tailoring shop one day and be his own master. I can see that in him, that he's not a Jew for nothing. But he's no fancy worker now and he's poorly off."
"Those ones are never poor," said her mother. "They just pretend to be so their own people won't be taking their bits of money off them."
"It's near his time to come," said Yvonne. "Don't be talking about him when he comes in, it's not manners."
"Listen who's mentioning manners? said her uncle.
"You recall the time," said her mother, "we met him at poor Mr Stacey's sale and we went to Sullavan's bar after and he paid for two rounds?"
"He was for catching Yvonne's eye," said her uncle, "with flashing his wad around. I'll lay he had to walk home."
"You're a fine one," said her mother, "and you telling me to encourage the child?
"Did I ever say she should marry him for his money?" said her uncle.
"Well, you'll see," said her mother. "It's the custom of those ones. When they want to be engaged to a girl they suddenly bring the diamond ring out and the girl says yes."
"If they do it's on hire from the pop shop," said her uncle, "and it's back in the window directly."
"What's Julia Batey's ring then?" said her mother, "and what's her name, young Polly's sister, who married Jews the pair of them, and it happened that way with both. One evening quite suddenly `I want to show you something' says he, and there was the ring and they were engaged from then. I tell you it's a custom."
"Well, I hope you're right I'm sure," said her uncle. "It might be just the thing that would make up the grand young lady's mind. A diamond ring now, that would be something special, wouldn't it?"
"A diamond ring," said Yvonne, "would be a change at least."
"Perhaps he'll have it with him this very night!" said her mother.
"I don't think!" said Yvonne.
"Where are you off to anyway?" said her mother.
"I haven't the faintest," said Yvonne. "Into town, I suppose."
"You might go down the pier," said her uncle, "and see the mail boat out. That would be better for you than sitting in those stuffy bars or walking along the Liffey breathing the foul airs of the river, and coming home smelling of Guinness."
"Besides, you know Sam likes the sea," said her mother. "He's been all day long dying of suffocation in that steamy room with the clothes press."
"It's more fun in town," said Yvonne. "They've the decorations up for Ireland At Home. And I've been all day long dying of boredom in Kingstown."
"It's well for you," said her uncle, "that it's Sam that pays?
"And I don't like your going into those low places," said her mother. "That's not Sam's idea, I know, it's you. Sam's not a one for sitting dreaming in a bar. That's another thing I like about him."
"Kimball's have got a new saloon lounge," said Yvonne, "like a real drawing-room done up with flowers and those crystal lights. Maybe we'll go there."
"You'll pay extra? said her uncle.
"Let Sam worry about that!" said her mother. "It's a relief they have those saloon lounges in the pubs nowadays where you can get away from the smell of porter and a lady can sit there without being taken for something else."
"Here's the Christmas card man!" said Yvonne, and jumped up from her chair.
"Why, Mr Lynch," said Mrs Geary, "it's a pleasure to see you again, who'd think a whole year had gone by, it seems like yesterday you were here before."
"Good evening, Mrs Geary," said Mr Lynch, "it's a blessing to see you looking so well, and Miss Geary and Mr O'Brien still with you. Change and decay in all around we see. I'm told poor Mrs Taylor at the place in Monkstown has passed on since now a year ago."
"Yes, the poor old faggot," said Mrs Geary, "but after seventy years you can't complain, can you? The good Lord's lending it to you after that."
"Our time is always on loan, Mrs Geary," said Mr Lynch, "and who knows when the great Creditor will call? We are as grass which to-day flourisheth and to-morrow it is cast into the oven."
"We'll go through," said Mrs Geary, "and Mr O'Brien will mind the shop."
Yvonne and her mother went into the inner room, followed by Mr Lynch. The inner room was very dark, lit only on the far side by a window of frosted glass that gave onto the kitchen. It had a bedroom smell of ancient fabrics and perspiration and dust. Mrs Geary turned on the light. The mountainous double bed with its great white quilt and brass knobs and rails, wherein she and her daughter slept, took up half the room. A shiny horsehair sofa took up most of the other half, leaving space for a small velvet-topped table and three black chairs which stood in a row in front of the towering mantelshelf where photographs and brass animals rose in tiers to the ceiling. Mr Lynch opened his suitcase and began to spread out the Christmas cards on the faded red velvet.
"The robin and the snow go well," said Mrs Geary, "and the stage-coach is popular and the church lit up at night."
"The traditional themes of Christmas-tide," said Mr Lynch, "have a universal appeal."
"Oh look," said Yvonne, "that's the nicest one I've ever seen! Now that's really special." She held it aloft. A frame of glossy golden cardboard enclosed a little square of white silk on which some roses were embroidered.
"That's a novelty," said Mr Lynch, "and comes a bit more expensive."
"It's not like a true Christmas card, the fancy thing," said Mrs Geary. "I always think a nice picture and a nice verse is what you want. The sentiment is all."
"Here's Sam," said Mr O'Brien from the shop.
Sam came and stood in the doorway from the shop, frowning in the electric light. He was a short man, "portly" Mr O'Brien called him, and he could hardly count as handsome. He had a pale moonface and fugitive hands, but his eyes were dark, and his dark bushy head of hair was like the brave plume of a bird. He had his best suit on, which was a midnight blue with a grey stripe, and his tie was of light yellow silk.
"Come on in, Sam," said Mrs Geary. "Yvonne's been ready this long time. Mr Lynch, this is Mr Goldman."
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