Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work. She watched Rose crossing the street from sunlight into shade, carrying the new leather handbag that she had bought in Clerys in Dublin in the sale. Rose was wearing a cream-coloured cardigan over her shoulders. Her golf clubs were in the hall; in a few minutes, Eilis knew, someone would call for her and her sister would not return until the summer evening had faded.
Eilis’s bookkeeping classes were almost ended now; she had a manual on her lap about systems of accounting, and on the table behind her was a ledger where she had entered, as her homework, on the debit and credit sides, the daily business of a company whose details she had taken down in notes in the Vocational School the week before.
As soon as she heard the front door open, Eilis went downstairs. Rose, in the hall, was holding her pocket mirror in front of her face. She was studying herself closely as she applied lipstick and eye make-up before glancing at her overall appearance in the large hall mirror, settling her hair. Eilis looked on silently as her sister moistened her lips and then checked herself one more time in the pocket mirror before putting it away.
Their mother came from the kitchen to the hall.
“You look lovely, Rose,” she said. “You’ll be the belle of the golf club.”
“I’m starving,” Rose said, “but I’ve no time to eat.”
“I’ll make a special tea for you later,” her mother said. “Eilis and myself are going to have our tea now.”
Rose reached into her handbag and took out her purse. She placed a one-shilling piece on the hallstand. “That’s in case you want to go to the pictures,” she said to Eilis.
“And what about me?” her mother asked.
“She’ll tell you the story when she gets home,” Rose replied.
“That’s a nice thing to say!” her mother said.
All three laughed as they heard a car stop outside the door and beep its horn. Rose picked up her golf clubs and was gone.
Later, as her mother washed the dishes and Eilis dried them, another knock came to the door. When Eilis answered it, she found a girl whom she recognized from Kelly’s grocery shop beside the cathedral.
“Miss Kelly sent me with a message for you,” the girl said. “She wants to see you.”
“Does she?” Eilis asked. “And did she say what it was about?”
“No. You’re just to call up there tonight.”
“But why does she want to see me?”
“God, I don’t know, miss. I didn’t ask her. Do you want me to go back and ask her?”
“No, it’s all right. But are you sure the message is for me?”
“I am, miss. She says you are to call in on her.”
Since she had decided in any case to go to the pictures some other evening, and being tired of her ledger, Eilis changed her dress and put on a cardigan and left the house. She walked along Friary Street and Rafter Street into the Market Square and then up the hill to the cathedral. Miss Kelly’s shop was closed, so Eilis knocked on the side door, which led to the upstairs part where she knew Miss Kelly lived. The door was answered by the young girl who had come to the house earlier, who told her to wait in the hall.
Eilis could hear voices and movement on the floor above and then the young girl came down and said that Miss Kelly would be with her before long.
She knew Miss Kelly