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Watermelon (Walsh Family #1)(10)
Marian Keyes


weeks. They worried about me when I gave up my job and went to London to work as a waitress when I was twenty-three.

And here I was nearly thirty, married with a baby of my own and they were still having to worry about me. I mean, it wasn't very fair, was it? Just as they'd taken a big sigh of relief and thought, "Thank God, she's managed to land herself a fairly respectable man, maybe we can let him worry about her from now on and get on with the business of worrying about her four younger sisters," I had the audacity to turn around and say, "Sorry, folks, false alarm, I'm back and this one is worse than any of the other things I've forced you to worry about."

No wonder they were looking a little bit gray and cowed.

"Oh thank God," said my mother when she saw me. "We thought you'd missed the flight."

"I'm sorry," I said, and burst into tears again. And we all hugged each other and they both cried when they saw my baby, their first grandchild.

I really would have to give her a name soon.

We negotiated the maze that is the parking lot in Dublin Airport. Pro- ceedings were delayed slightly when my father attempted to leave by the prepaid exit, when he hadn't, and all the cars backed up behind him had to reverse to let him out. He lost his temper slightly and so did another driver, but let's not dwell on that.

When we got out on the road we drove for a while in silence. It was a very strange situation. My mother sat in the back with me and she held the baby and rocked her gently. I wished that I was still a baby and that my mother could hold me and make me feel so safe and that everything was going to be all right.

"So Unlucky Jim took off," my father said abruptly.

"Yes, Dad," I said tearfully.

My father had never really liked James. My father is the only man in a house full of women and he craves male company, someone to talk to about football and that kind of thing. James didn't play enough rugby and knew far too much about cooking for his liking. It didn't matter that my father did all the housework in our house, cooking was a different matter--


women's work, he called it. But the last thing he wanted was to see me unhappy.

"Now look, Claire," he said in a voice that I recognized as the "I'm about to make a speech concerning emotional issues, I'm not used to doing it and I'm very uncomfortable doing it, but it has to be done and I do actually mean it" voice. "We're your family and we love you and this is always your home. You and the baby can stay with us for as long as you like. And...er...both your mother and I know how unhappy you are and if we can help in any way just let us know. Ah...er...right." And with that he accelerated, mightily relieved that he'd gotten that out of the way.

"Thanks, Dad," I said, crying again. "I do know it."

I was immensely grateful. It was wonderful knowing that they loved me. It was just that it was no substitute for losing a man who was my soulmate, my best friend, my lover, my one reliable thing in an unreliable world.

We finally reached home. It looked just the same. Why shouldn't it? Life, against its better judgment, goes on. And it smelled just the same. It was so familiar, so comforting. We carried the bags and car seat up the stairs to the room that I shared with my sister Margaret all my life until I moved to London. (Margaret, was twenty-six, sporty, outgoing, living in Chicago, working as a paralegal, married to the only boyfriend she'd ever had.) The room looked really funny, because no one had stayed in it for so long. Some of Margaret's shoes were on the floor, but covered in dust. Some of her old clothes were still hanging in the wardrobe. It was like some kind of shrine to our teenage years.

I flung a few of the bags on the floor, I set up the car seat and put the baby in it, I put the bottle warmer with the picture of the cow jumping over the moon on the side on the dressing table, I sat on the bed and kicked off my shoes, I put my books on the shelves, I left my makeup bag spilling over on the bedside table. And in no time at all the place looked like a pigsty.

There, that was miles better.

"So, who's here?" I asked Mum.

"Well, just us and Dad at the moment," she said. "Helen


is at college, she should be home later. God alone knows where Anna is. I haven't seen her for days."

Anna and Helen were my two youngest sisters. They were the only ones still living at home.

My mother sat with me while I fed the baby. After I had burped the baby and put her back to sleep, my mother and I sat quietly on the bed, saying nothing. The rain stopped and the sun came out. The smell of the wet garden came in through the open window, and the sound of the breeze blowing through the branches of the trees. It was a peaceful February evening.

"Will you eat something?" she finally asked.

I shook my head.

"But you must eat, especially now that you've got the baby to look after. You have to keep strong. Can I make you some soup?"

I winced involuntarily. "No, really, Mum, I'm fine."

Perhaps I'd better explain. The ability to cook skips a generation. I could cook. Ergo, my daughter wouldn't be able to. God love her. What kind of start in life was she getting? And by the same token my mother couldn't cook.

Nightmarish memories of family dinners came flooding back to me. Was I out of my mind? What the hell had I come home for? Did I really want to starve to death?

The next time you have to lose a lot of weight very quickly--that two- week beach vacation? your sister's wedding? a date with the office hunk?--don't bother joining Weight Watchers, or try to subsist on Lean Cuisine, or fiddle around with powdered meals. Just come and stay in our house for a couple of weeks and insist that Mum cook for you.

Seriously, there's plenty of space; you can have Rachel's room. You'll be skin and bone at the end of the two weeks. Because no matter how hungry you are you still won't be able to bring yourself to eat a thing my mother makes.

I'm amazed that none of us was ever hospitalized for malnutrition when we were younger.

My siblings and I would be summoned for our evening meal. We would all sit down and stare silently at the plates in front of us for a few perplexed moments. Finally one of us would speak.


"Any ideas?"

"Would it be chicken?" says Margaret doubtfully, poking it tentatively with her fork.

"Oh no, I thought it was cauliflower," says Rachel, the vegetarian, rushing off to gag.

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