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Sushi for Beginners(10)
Marian Keyes

They traipsed into the bijou sitting-room, Joy plucked a card from the deck, then turned it to Ashling. ‘Ten of swords. That’s a shite one, isn’t it?’

‘Shite,’ Ashling agreed.

Joy grasped the bundle of cards and at high speed flicked through them until she found one she liked. ‘The Queen of Wands, now that’s more like it! Now you pick one.’

‘Three of Cups.’ Ashling held it up. ‘Beginnings.’

‘That means you’re going to meet a man too.’

Ashling laughed.

‘It’s ages since Phelim went to Australia, no?’ Joy interrogated. ‘It’s about time you got over him.’

‘I am over him. I was the one who ended it, remember?’

‘Only because he wouldn’t do the decent thing. Although good for you, even when they won’t do the decent thing by me, I still can’t give them their marching orders. You’re very strong.’

‘It’s not strength. It was because I couldn’t stand the tension of waiting for him to make up his mind. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.’

Phelim had been Ashling’s on-off boyfriend for five years. They’d had good times and not-so-good times because Phelim always lost his nerve at the last minute when it came to fullblown, grown-up commitment.

To make the relationship work, Ashling spent her life avoiding cracks in the pavement, saluting lone magpies, picking up pennies and consulting both her and Phelim’s horoscopes. Her pockets were always weighed down with lucky pebbles, rose-quartz and miraculous medals and she’d rubbed nearly all the gold paint off her lucky Buddha.

Each time they got back together the well of hope was further depleted, and eventually Ashling’s love just burnt out from all his dithering. Like every break-up, the final one had been unacrimonious. Ashling said calmly, ‘You’re always talking about how you hate being trapped in Dublin and how you want to travel the world, so go on. Do it.’

Even now a faint line of connection hummed between them, across twelve thousand miles. He’d come home in February for his brother’s wedding and the first person he’d gone to see was Ashling. They’d walked into each other’s arms and stood, squeezing each other for minutes on end, tears in their eyes from the close-but-no-cigar air of it all.

‘Bastard,’ Joy said, energetically.

‘He wasn’t,’ Ashling insisted. ‘He couldn’t give me what I wanted but that doesn’t mean I hate him.’

‘I hate all my ex-boyfriends,’ Joy boasted. ‘I can’t wait for Half-man-half-badger to be one, then he won’t have this hold on me. Now what if he’s there tonight? I need to seem unavailable. If only… no, an engagement ring would be going too far. A love-bite might do the trick, though.’

‘Where are you going to get one of those?’

‘From you! Here,’ Joy swept aside a mass of curls from her neck. ‘Would you mind?’



And because she was an obliging type, Ashling pushed away her reluctance, half-heartedly put her teeth on Joy’s neck and gave her a hickey.

Mid hickey-giving, someone said, ‘Oh.’ They looked up, frozen in a pose that was somehow sodden with guilt. Ted was standing, looking at them. He seemed upset. ‘The door was open… I didn’t realize…’ Then he gathered himself. ‘I hope you’ll both be very happy.’

Ashling and Joy looked at each other and roared laughing, until Ashling took pity on him and explained all.

He saw the tarot cards on the table and pounced. ‘Eight of Wands, Ashling, what does that mean?’

‘Success in business,’ Ashling said. ‘Your act will go down a storm tonight.’

‘Yeah, but will I be a big hit with the goils?’

Ted had become a stand-up comedian for one reason and one reason only – to get a girlfriend. He’d seen the way women flung themselves at the comedians working the Dublin circuit, and thought that his chances of pulling were higher than at a dating agency. Not that he’d go to a real dating agency. The only one he’d have anything to do with was the Ashling Kennedy dating agency – Ashling regularly sought to matchmake all her single friends. But the only one of Ashling’s pals Ted had liked was Clodagh and unfortunately she was unavailable. Very.

‘Take another card,’ Ashling invited him.

The one he picked was the Hanged Man.

‘You’ll definitely get lucky tonight,’ Ashling promised.

‘But it’s the Hanged Man!’

‘Doesn’t matter.’

Ashling knew that if you put a man on a stage, no matter how plug-ugly he is – and be it strumming a guitar, lepping around in doublets and purple hose or observing that you can wait for a bus for ages, then three come at once – you can guarantee that women will find him attractive. Even when it’s only standing on a dusty, foot-high platform in a twenty-foot-square room, he assumes a strange, seductive glamour.

‘I’ve decided to change my act, go slightly surreal. Talk about owls.’


‘Owls have worked for lots of people.’ Ted was defensive. ‘Look at Harry Hill, Kevin McAleer.’

Oh Christ. Ashling’s heart sank. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

As they left the flat there was a little pile-up in the hall as everyone sought to rub the lucky Buddha.

The comedy gig was in a packed, rowdy club. Ted wasn’t on until the middle of the show and though the proper comedians were clever and slick, Ashling couldn’t let go and enjoy herself. Too worried about how Ted would go down.

Like a lead balloon, if the performance of the other first-timer was anything to go by. He was an odd, hairy little boy whose act consisted almost entirely of ‘doing’ Beavis and Butthead. The audience were unforgiving. As they booed and shouted, ‘Get off, you’re crap,’ Ashling’s heart twisted for Ted.

Then it was Ted’s turn. Ashling and Joy clasped hands, like proud but justifiably anxious parents. Within seconds, their hands were so slippery with sweat that they had to let go.

Under the lone spotlight, Ted looked frail and vulnerable. Absently, he rubbed his stomach, lifting up his T-shirt, giving a brief glimpse of the waistband of his Calvins and his narrow, dark-haired midriff. Ashling approved. That might get the girls interested.

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