Home > Watermelon (Walsh Family #1)(11)

Watermelon (Walsh Family #1)(11)
Marian Keyes

"Well, whatever it is, I'm not touching it," says Helen. "At least you know what you're getting with cornflakes," and she leaves the table to get herself a bowl.

So by the time my mother sat down at the table and told us what it was we would all have released ourselves from the dinner table on our own recognizance and would be foraging around in the kitchen cupboards trying to find something vaguely edible.

"Margaret," my mother would call, knowing that Margaret was the most dutiful of all of us, "wouldn't you even try it?"

And Margaret, being a good girl, would lift a silver to her lips.

"Well?" my mother would ask, hardly daring to breathe.

"You wouldn't give it [whatever it was!] to the dog," Margaret would reply. Honesty was another of her virtues, alongside obedience and bravery.

So after several years of tearful evening meals and ever-increasing breakfast cereal bills, my mother, to everyone's eternal relief, decided to stop cooking altogether.

So, if any of her daughters or her husband told her that they were hungry, she'd take them silently by the hand and into the kitchen. She'd say, "Behold the upright freezer full of frozen convenience foods," and flinging wide the freezer door, with several flourishes, exhort them to survey the myriad delights within. Then she'd cross the kitchen with the would-be diner and say, "All hail the microwave. My advice to you is to befriend these two machines. You will find them invaluable in your fight against hunger in this house."

So now you realize why I was so reluctant to take her up on her offer of soup.

But the wonderful thing about my mother's not cooking or doing any housework is that it meant that she had plenty of time for the truly import- ant things in life. She watched an average of six soap operas a day and read about four novels

36

a week, so she was expertly placed to give her daughters advice on their broken romances.

She was no stranger to romantic tragedy.

We sat there in the darkening room, listening to the sound of my baby breathing contentedly.

"She's so beautiful," Mum said.

"Yes," I said, and started to cry quietly.

"What happened?" Mum asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I thought everything was fine. I thought he was as excited about the baby as I was. I know that the pregnancy wasn't easy. I was always sick and I got fat and we hardly ever had sex, but I thought that he understood."

And my mother was so good. She didn't give me any of that nonsense about men being...well...different from us, dear. They have...needs...dear, in the same way that animals do. She didn't insult me by assuming that James left because we hadn't had sex while I was pregnant.

"What am I going to do?" I asked her, knowing that she no more had the answer to that than I did.

"You've just got to live through it," she said. "That's all you can do. Don't try to make sense of it, you'll drive yourself crazy. The only person who can tell you why James left is James, and if he doesn't want to talk to you, you can't force him. Maybe he doesn't understand it himself. But you can't change the way he feels. If he says he doesn't love you anymore and does love this other woman, you've got to accept it. Maybe he will come back, maybe he won't, but either way, you've got to live through this."

"But it hurts so much," I said helplessly.

"I know it does," she said sadly. "And if I could make it go away, you know I would."

I looked down at my little girl, asleep, so peaceful, so innocent, so safe and happy now, and felt an unbearable anguish. I wanted her to always be happy. I wanted to hug her and hug her and never let her go. I never wanted her to feel the rejection and loneliness and shock that I was feeling now.

I wanted to protect her always from pain. But I wouldn't be able to. Life would see to that.

Just then the door opened, jolting us both out of the misery

37

that we had sunk into. It was my youngest sister, Helen. (Helen, eighteen, had scraped into her first year of college by the skin of her small white even teeth to study something incredibly useful like anthropology, history of art and ancient Greek. Helen, of the long black hair, slanty cat eyes, constant laughter, extremely bad behavior, who was loved by most people, especially the men whose hearts she broke by the truckload.)

"You're here!" she shouted as she burst into the room. "Give me a look at my niece," she screeched. "Isn't it great! Imagine me being an auntie! Was it awful? Is it really like trying to shit a couch? Tell me, I've always wanted to know, what do they boil the water and tear the sheets up for?"

Without waiting for an answer, she thrust her face right into the car seat. The poor child started to cry in terror. Helen picked up the baby and held her under her arm like a rugby player just about to score the winning try for Ireland.

"Why's she crying?" she demanded.

What could I say?

"What's her name?" she asked.

"Claire hasn't decided on a name just yet," said Mum.

"No, I have," I said, deciding to add to the general confusion.

I looked at Mum. "I've decided I'm going to name her after your mother."

"What?" screeched Helen, in horror. "You can't call her Granny Maguire. That's no name for a baby."

"No, Helen," I said wearily. "I'm going to call her Kate."

She started at me for a moment, wrinkling up her beautiful little nose, as understanding dawned on her.

"Oh, I see," she said, laughing.

And then she muttered, not quite under her breath, "Well, that's still no name for a baby."

She handed the baby back to me, rather in the manner that farmers unload sacks of potatoes from their trucks. That is, clumsily, carelessly, with scant regard to the welfare or comfort of the potatoes. Then, to my horror, she said, "Hey, is James here? Where's James?"

She obviously didn't know.

I started to cry.

38

"Jesus," she said, shocked.

"Why's she crying?" she demanded of my mother.

My mother just stared dumbly at her. She couldn't answer her.

Would you believe it? She was crying.

Helen stared in baffled disgust at three generations of Walsh women, all crying.

"What's wrong with all of you? What have I said? Mum, why are you crying?" she said in exasperation.

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