"No, she does have a gift. All kinds of high-up people consult her. They wouldn't if she didn't have the power."
"And where did she see all this good health and the fellow called M and no children? In tea leaves?"
"No, on my hand. Look at the little lines under your little finger around the side of your hand. You've got two, I've got none."
"Hilary, don't be ridiculous. Mam has three lines. . . ."
"And remember there was another baby who died, so that makes three, right."
"You are serious! You do believe it."
"You asked so I'm telling you."
"And everyone who is going to have children has those little lines and those who aren't haven't?"
"You have to know how to look." Hilary was defensive.
"You have to know how to charge, it seems." Ria was distressed to see the normally levelheaded Hilary so easily taken in.
"It's not that dear when you consider--" Hilary began.
"Ah, Hilary, please. A week's wages to hear that kind of rubbish! Where does she live, in a penthouse?"
"No, a caravan as it happens, on a caravan halting site."
"You're joking me."
"True, she doesn't care about money. It's not a racket or a job, it's a gift."
"So it looks like I can do what I like without getting pregnant." Hilary sounded very confident.
"It might be dangerous to throw out the Pill," said Ria. "I wouldn't rely totally on Madam Fifi or whatever she's called."
"Mrs. Connor," Ria repeated. "Isn't that amazing? Mam used to consult St. Anne or someone when she was young. We thought that was mad enough, now it's Mrs. Connor in the halting site."
"Wait until you need to know something, you'll be along to her like a flash."
It was very hard to know what a job was going to be like until you were in it and then it was too late.
Hilary had office jobs in a bakery, a laundry, and then settled in a school. There wasn't much chance of meeting a husband there, she said, but the pay was a bit better and she got her lunch free, which meant she could save a bit more. She was determined to have something to put toward a house when the time came.
Ria was saving too, but to travel the world. She worked first in the office of a hardware shop, then in a company that made hairdressing supplies. And then settled in a big, busy real estate agency. Ria was on the reception desk and answered the phone. It was a world she knew nothing of when she went in, but it was obviously a business with a huge buzz. Prosperity had come to Ireland in the early eighties and the property market was the first to reflect this. There was huge competition between the various real estate agents and Ria found they worked closely as a team.
On the first day she met Rosemary. Slim, blond, and gorgeous, but as friendly as any of the girls she had ever met at school or secretarial college. Rosemary also lived at home with her mother and sister, so there was an immediate bond. Rosemary was so confident and well up in everything that was happening, Ria assumed that she must be a graduate or someone with huge knowledge of the whole property market. But no, Rosemary had only worked there for six months; it was her second job.
"There's no point in working anywhere unless we know what it's all about," Rosemary said. "It makes it twice as interesting if you know all that's going on."
It also made Rosemary twice as interesting to all the fellows who worked there. They found it very difficult to get to first base with her. In fact, Ria had heard that there was a sweepstake being run secretly on who would be the first to score. Rosemary had heard this too. She and Ria laughed over it.
"It's only a game," Rosemary said. "They don't really want me at all." Ria was not sure that she was right; almost any man in the office would have been proud to escort Rosemary Ryan. But she was adamant: a career first, fellows later. Ria listened with interest. It was such a different message than the one she got at home, where her mother and Hilary seemed to put a much greater emphasis on the marriage side of things.
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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