Ria's mother had always been very fond of film stars. It was a matter of sadness to her that Clark Gable had died on the day Ria was born. Tyrone Power had died on the day Hilary had been born just two years earlier. But somehow that wasn't as bad. Hilary hadn't seen off the great king of cinema as Ria had. Ria could never see Gone With the Wind without feeling somehow guilty.
She told this to Ken Murray, the first boy who kissed her. She told him in the cinema. Just as he was kissing her, in fact.
"You're very boring," he said, trying to open her blouse.
"I'm not boring," Ria cried with some spirit. "Clark Gable is there on the screen and I've told you something interesting. A coincidence. It's not boring."
Ken Murray was embarrassed, as so much attention had been called to them. People were shushing them and others were laughing. Ken moved away and huddled down in his seat as if he didn't want to be seen with her.
Ria could have kicked herself. She was almost sixteen. Everyone at school liked kissing, or said they did. Now she was starting to do it and she had made such a mess of it. She reached out her hand for him.
"I thought you wanted to look at the film," he muttered.
"I thought you wanted to put your arm around me," Ria said hopefully.
He took out a bag of toffees and ate one. Without even passing her the bag. The romantic bit was over.
Sometimes you could talk to Hilary, Ria had noticed. This wasn't one of those nights.
"Should you not talk when people kiss you?" she asked her sister.
"Jesus, Mary, and Holy St. Joseph," said Hilary, who was getting dressed to go out.
"I just asked," Ria said. "You'd know, with all your experience with fellows."
Hilary looked around nervously in case anyone had heard. "Will you shut up about my experience with fellows," she hissed. "Mam will hear you and that will be the end of either of us going anywhere ever again."
Their mother had warned them many times that she was not going to stand for any cheap behavior in the family. A widow woman left with two daughters had enough to worry her without thinking that her girls were tramps and would never get a husband. She would die happy if Hilary and Ria had nice respectable men and homes of their own. Nice homes, in a classier part of Dublin, places with a garden even. Nora Johnson had great hopes that they would all be able to move a little upward. Somewhere nicer than the big, sprawling housing estate where they lived now. And the way to find a good man was not by flaunting yourself at every man that came along.
"Sorry, Hilary." Ria looked contrite. "But anyway she didn't hear, she's watching TV."
Their mother did little else during an evening. She was tired, she said, when she got back from the dry cleaners where she worked at the counter. All day on your feet, it was nice to sit down and get transported to another world. Mam wouldn't have heard anything untoward from upstairs about experience with fellows.
Hilary forgave her--after all she needed Ria to help her tonight. Mam had a system that as soon as Hilary got in she was to leave her handbag on the landing floor. That way when Mam got up to go to the bathroom in the night she'd know Hilary was home and would go to sleep happily. Sometimes it was Ria's job to leave the handbag out there at midnight, allowing Hilary to creep in at any hour, having taken only her keys and lipstick in her pocket.
"Who'll do it for me when the time comes?" Ria wondered.
"You won't need it if you're going to be blabbing and yattering on to fellows when they try to kiss you," Hilary said. "You'll not want to stay out late because you'll have nowhere to go."
Excerpted from Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. Copyright© 1998 by Maeve Binchy. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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