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Sushi for Beginners(7)
Marian Keyes

The equally angelic-looking, flaxen-haired Craig had clambered into the corner cupboard in the kitchen and was swinging himself backwards and forwards on the wire shelf, cushioned on bags of rice and pasta.

Ashling walked to the kettle and switched it on. Ashling and Clodagh had grown up two doors away from each other and had been best friends since the time when it was safer for Ashling to be in Clodagh’s house than in her own.

It had been Clodagh who’d broken the news to Ashling about her waistless condition. It was also Clodagh who’d enlightened Ashling on other aspects of herself by saying, ‘You’re so fortunate to have your personality. Me, all I have is my looks.’

Not that Ashling had ever taken umbrage. Clodagh wasn’t malicious, simply candid, and it would have been a total waste of time to deny how singularly beautiful she was. Short and shapely, with Scandinavian colouring and long, burnished ropes of blonde hair, she was traffic-stopping. Not that that was saying much in Dublin, where the traffic rarely moved.

Ashling had momentous news. ‘I got a job!’

‘When?’

‘I heard over a week ago,’ Ashling admitted. ‘But I’ve been at work every night until midnight tidying it all up for the new person at Woman’s Place.’

‘I thought it was funny you hadn’t been in touch. So tell me all about it.’

But each time Ashling tried, Craig insisted on reading to her, from an upside-down book. When the spotlight moved away from him even for a second, he clawed it back.

‘Go and play outside on the swing,’ Clodagh cajoled him.

‘But it’s raining.’

‘You’re Irish, get used to it. Go on. Out!’

No sooner had Craig gone than Molly was centre-stage.

‘Want!’ she declared, pointing at Ashling’s coffee.

‘No, that’s Ashling’s,’ Clodagh said.’You can’t have it.’

‘She can if she wants…’ Ashling felt she’d better say.

‘WANT!’ Molly insisted.

‘Would you mind?’ Clodagh asked. ‘I’ll get you another.’

Ashling slid the mug along the table, but Clodagh intercepted it before it reached Molly, which started a great caterwauling.

‘I’m just blowing on it,’ Clodagh explained. ‘So you won’t burn your mouth.’

‘WANT! WANT! WANT!’

‘But it’s too hot! You’ll burn yourself.’

‘WANT IT. WANT IT NOW!!!’

‘Oh all right then. Slowly now, don’t spill it.’

Molly put her mouth to the lip of the mug, then pulled back and started screeching. ‘Hot! Sore! Waaaaaaah!’

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ Clodagh muttered.

‘Fuck’s sake,’ Molly enunciated, with crystal clarity.

‘That’s right,’ Clodagh said, with a savagery that shocked Ashling. ‘For fuck’s sake.’

Dylan rushed into the room, in response to Molly’s roaring.

‘Ashling!’ He smiled, using one big hand to shove his corn-blond hair back off his face. ‘You’re looking great. Any news on the job front?’

‘I’ve got one!’

‘Lassooing runaway stallions in Mullingar?’

‘In a magazine. A young women’s one.’

‘Fair play! More money?’

Ashling nodded proudly. Not a huge increase, but better than the barely index-linked pittance she’d been getting for the past eight years at Woman’s Place.

‘And no more Letters from Father Bennett – just as well, did you see The Catholic Judger’s gone bust? There was a thing in the paper about it.’

‘So it’s all worked out for the best, really,’ Ashling glowed. ‘Mrs O’Sullivan from Waterford is probably the best thing that ever happened to me!’

Dylan looked amused – then alarmed, as a huge commotion erupted in the garden. Craig had fallen off the swing, and judging from his screeching and bawling was in considerable pain. Ashling was already rummaging in her bag for the rescue remedy.

For herself.

‘Will you go?’ Clodagh turned weary eyes to Dylan. ‘I have them all week. And just tell me his injuries on a need-to-know basis.’

Dylan withdrew.

‘Do you want me to check on Craig… ?’ Ashling asked anxiously. ‘I have plasters.’

‘So do I.’ Clodagh gave her an exasperated look. ‘Tell me about your job. Please.’

‘OK.’ Ashling gave one last regretful look at the garden. ‘It’s a glossy magazine. Much more glamorous than Woman’s Place.’

When she got to the part about Jack Devine arguing furiously, then being bitten by the Asian girl, Clodagh finally perked up.

‘Go on,’ she urged, her eyes sparkling. ‘Tell us! Nothing, but nothing puts me in better humour than overhearing people having a right old ding-dong. One day last week, I was coming out of the gym and there was a man and a woman in a parked car and they were roaring at each other. I mean, roaring! Even with the windows up I could hear them. Put me in great form for the rest of the day.’

‘I hate that,’ Ashling admitted. ‘It’s so upsetting.’

‘But why? Oh, I suppose with your, um, background… But for most people it’s nice. They feel they’re not the only ones having a hard time.’

‘Who’s having a hard time?’ Anxiety bruised Ashling’s face.

Clodagh looked uncomfortable. ‘No one. But I really envy you!’ She suddenly exploded. ‘Single, starting a new job, all that excitement.’

Ashling was speechless. To her, Clodagh’s life was the Holy Grail. The good-looking, devoted husband with the thriving business; the tasteful, Edwardian red-brick house in the chi-chi village of Donnybrook. Nothing to do all day long except microwave Barney pasta, make plans to redecorate already perfect rooms and wait for Dylan to come home.

‘And I bet you were out clubbing last night,’ Clodagh almost accused.

‘Yes, but… Only the Sugarclub and I was home by two. Alone,’ she said with heavy emphasis. ‘Clodagh, you’ve everything. Two gorgeous children, a gorgeous husband…’

Is he gorgeous? Surprised, Clodagh realized that this wasn’t something which had occurred to her lately. Doubtfully she admitted that for a man in his mid-thirties Dylan’s body wasn’t bad – his midriff hadn’t melted into a soft cone-shaped fold of pint-drinking flab like so many of his contemporaries’ had. He still took an interest in clothes – more than she did these days, if she was honest. And he went to a proper hairdresser’s, and not the local oul’ fella barber, who sent everyone out looking like their dad.

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