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Sushi for Beginners(8)
Marian Keyes

Ashling continued to protest. ‘… and you look fantastic! Two children and you’ve a better figure than me – and I’ve had no children, nor am I ever likely to, if my luck with men doesn’t turn soon. Ha ha ha.’

Ashling was keen for Clodagh to smile, but all she said was, ‘Everything feels old. Especially with Dylan.’

Ashling desperately summoned some advice. ‘You just need to recapture the magic. Try and remember what it was like when you first met.’

Where was she getting this stuff from? Oh yeah, she’d written it herself in Woman’s Place, to a woman who was going mad because her husband had retired and was forever under her feet.

‘I can’t even remember where I met him,’ Clodagh admitted. ‘Oh no, of course I do. You brought him to Lochlan Hegarty’s twenty-first, remember? God, it seems like a lifetime ago.’

‘You have to work at keeping things fresh,’ Ashling quoted. ‘Go out for romantic meals, maybe even go away for the weekend. I’ll babysit any time you like.’ She experienced a surge of alarm at this rash promise.

‘I wanted to get married.’ Clodagh seemed to be talking to herself. ‘Dylan and I seemed right for each other.’

‘That’s putting it mildly.’ Ashling remembered the frisson that had passed through the party when Clodagh and Dylan first clapped eyes on each other. Dylan was the most good-looking man in the group that he hung around with, Clodagh was undeniably the best-looking girl in her gang and people always gravitate towards their equals. When Dylan and Clodagh exchanged that fatal eye-meet, Ashling was actually on a date with Dylan – her first and, as it transpired, her last. With that one look she was toast. Not that she held it against either of them. They were meant to be together, she might as well be a good sport about it.

Clodagh gave a tired chuckle. ‘Everything is fine, really. Or at least it will be when I’ve changed the colour scheme in the front-room.’

‘More decorating!’ It seemed no time since Clodagh had got her new kitchen in. In fact, it didn’t seem much longer than that since she’d done her front-room.

In the afternoon, on the way home from Clodagh’s, Ashling ducked into Tesco to buy food. She flung packet after packet of microwaveable popcorn into the basket, then went to pay.

The woman ahead of her in the queue had such a laquered, stylish look about her that Ashling found herself leaning back, all the better to admire her. Like Ashling, she wore sweatpants, trainers and a little cardigan, but unlike Ashling, everything looked touchable and lustrous. The way things are before they’re washed for the first time and lose their sheen of perfect newness.

Her trainers were pink Nike ones that Ashling had seen in a magazine, but that you couldn’t get in Ireland yet. Her pink, parachute-silk rucksack matched the pink gel in the heel of the trainers. And her hair was lovely – shiny and swingy, thick and glossy – in the way that you could never achieve yourself.

In fascination Ashling checked out the contents of the woman’s basket. Seven cans of strawberry Slimfast, seven baking potatoes, seven apples and four… five… six… seven individually wrapped little squares of chocolate from the pick’n’mix. She hadn’t even put the chocolate into a bag, she looked as if she was treating them as seven individual purchases.

Some irresistible instinct told Ashling that this paltry basketful constituted the woman’s weekly shop. Either that or she was providing a safe house for Grumpy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy and whatever the other three were called.

5

It was pouring with rain when Lisa’s plane landed at Dublin airport early on Saturday afternoon. When she’d taken off from London, she’d foolishly assumed that she couldn’t possibly feel worse, but one look at the rain-soaked view of Dublin made her see the error of her ways.

Dermot, her taxi-driver to the city-centre, only added to her grief. He was chatty and amiable and Lisa didn’t want chatty and amiable. She thought with longing of the psychotic, uzi-carrying madman who might have been driving her taxi, if only she was in New York.

‘Have you family here?’ Dermot asked.

‘No.’

‘A boyfriend, so?’

‘No.’

When she wouldn’t talk about herself, he talked instead. ‘I love driving,’ he confided.

‘Whoop-de-doo,’ Lisa said nastily.

‘Do you know what I do on my day off?’

Lisa ignored him.

‘I go for a drive! That’s what I do. And not just down to Wicklow, either, but a long one. Up to Belfast, over to Galway, or across to Limerick. One day I made it as far as Letterkenny, that’s in Donegal, you know… I love my job.’

On and on he went, as they inched through the wet, greasy streets. When they got to the hotel in Harcourt Street, he helped her with her several bags and wished her a pleasant stay in Ireland.

Malone’s Aparthotel was a strange new breed of hostelry – it had no bar, or restaurant, or room service or anything really, except for thirty rooms, each with small kitchen areas attached. Lisa was booked in for a fortnight and hopefully by then she’d have found somewhere to live.

In a daze, she hung up a couple of things, looked out at the grey view of the busy road, then flung herself out on to the damp streets, to inspect the city that now constituted home.

Now that she was actually here, the shock hit her with unprecedented force. How had her life gone so horribly wrong? She should be strolling along Fifth Avenue right now, and not in this drenched village.

The guide-book said that it would only take half a day to walk around Dublin and see all its important sights – as if that was a good thing! Sure enough, less than two hours was enough to check out the high spots – read shopping – both north and south of the river Liffey. It was worse than she’d expected: nobody stocked La Prairie products, Stephane Kélian shoes, Vivienne Westwood or Ozwald Boeteng.

‘It’s total pants! A one-horse town,’ she thought, in mild hysteria, ‘and the horse is wearing last-season’s Hilfiger.’

She wanted to go home. She longed for London so badly, then through the mist she saw something that made her heart lift – a Marks & Spencers!

Normally she never went near them: the clothes were too dowdy, the food too tempting, but today she flung herself through the entrance like a pursued dissident seeking asylum in a foreign embassy. She resisted the urge to lie, panting, against the inside of the door. But only because the door was automatic. Then she immersed herself in the food department because it had no windows and didn’t interfere with her fantasies.

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