Home > Watermelon (Walsh Family #1)(16)

Watermelon (Walsh Family #1)(16)
Marian Keyes

52

Then, as if I wasn't feeling awful enough, I was suddenly gripped with a panicky fear that something terrible had happened to Kate.

That she'd been the victim of crib death. Or choked on vomit. Or suffoc- ated. Or something.

I raced back to my room and I was so relieved to find that she was still breathing.

She was just lying there, a wrinkled, pink, fragrant bundle, her eyes screwed shut.

As I waited for my breathing to return to normal and for the sweat to evaporate from my forehead I wondered how other parents coped. How did they let their children out to play with other children? Didn't they panic every time they were away from their children for more than five minutes?

I was finding it hard enough now. How the hell would I cope when she had to go to school? There was no way I could be expected to just abandon her like that. The school would have to let me sit at the back of the classroom.

Now I really needed a drink.

Maybe Anna was home.

I dragged myself over to her room and quietly opened the door.

The fumes hit me instantaneously.

The alcohol fumes, that is.

Bingo!

"Thank God," I thought. I'd obviously come to the right place.

Anna was curled up in bed, her long black hair spread out all around her on the pillow.

"Anna," I whispered loudly to her, and shook her a bit.

No response.

"Anna!" I whispered, a good deal more loudly this time, and shook her shoulder vigorously.

I turned on her bedside lamp and shone it into her face, Gestapo style. Wake up!

She opened her eyes and stared at me.

"Claire?" she croaked disbelievingly.

She looked really quite frightened, as though she thought she might be hallucinating.

And as this was Anna, it was quite possible.

53

That she was hallucinating, that is.

Fond of the mood-altering substances, if you follow me.

The poor girl. As far as she knew I was four hundred miles away, in another city, in another life. But here I was manifesting myself in her bedroom in the middle of the night.

"Anna, sorry to disturb you like this but have you anything I could drink?" I asked her.

She just stared at me.

"Why are you here?" she asked in a little frightened voice.

"Because I'm looking for a bloody drink," I said exasperatedly.

"Have you a message for me?" she asked, still staring at me wide-eyed.

"Oh Christ," I thought in annoyance.

Anna loved anything to do with the occult. There was nothing she would like more than to be possessed by the devil. Or to live in a haunted house. Or to be able to foretell disasters. She was obviously hoping that I was some kind of paranormal phenomenon. Either that or she was drunker than usual.

"Yes, Anna," I said, deciding to humor her but at the same time feeling a bit foolish. "They have sent me. I've been sent to get the drink."

"In my backpack," she said faintly.

Her backpack was flung on the floor with one shoe (what had happened to the other one?), her coat and a can of Budweiser. I had difficulty opening the bag as two helium balloons were attached to the cord. Anna had obvi- ously been to some kind of party.

I nearly cried with relief when I found a bottle of white wine in her bag.

"Thanks, Anna," I said. "I'll repay you tomorrow." And left.

She was still looking dazed and frightened. She nodded dumbly. "Okay," she managed to mumble.

I checked Kate. She was still sleeping peacefully.

I had half expected her to be sitting up with her arms folded, demanding to know where the father I had promised her was. But she was just asleep dreaming baby dreams about pink clouds and warm beds and soft people who smell nice

54

and lots to eat and lots of sleep and lots of people who love you.

And never having to line up for the bathroom.

I took the bottle of wine downstairs to the kitchen and wearily opened it. I knew I would feel better after having a drink. Just as I was pouring myself a glass of wine, Anna appeared at the kitchen door, rubbing her eyes, looking confused and anxious, her long black hair strewn around her white face.

"Oh, Claire, it really is you. So I didn't imagine it," she said, sounding half relieved, half disappointed. "I thought I might have the DTs. And then I thought you might be a vision. But I thought if you were a vision that you would appear in something nicer than Mum's awful nightgown."

"Yes, it really is me." I smiled at her. "Sorry if I gave you a fright. But I was dying for a drink." I went over to her and put my arms around her. It really was lovely to see her.

Anna looked a lot like Helen, little white face, slanty cat eyes, cute little nose.

But the resemblance ended there. For starters I didn't want to kill Anna about twenty times a day. Anna was a lot quieter, a lot sweeter. She was very kind to everyone. She was also, unfortunately, very vague and very ethereal.

Well, I suppose I had better be perfectly frank with you. There's no getting away from the fact that Anna was a bit of...well...a bit of a hippie, I sup- pose.

She got jobs intermittently. Usually in vegetarian restaurants. But they never seemed to last any length of time. Well, neither did the restaurants either, for some odd reason.

She went on welfare.

She, as I should have mentioned, sold drugs. But only briefly. And in the nicest possible way.

No honestly.

She never hung around school gates trying to sell high-grade heroin to eight-year-olds.

She just sold the odd bit of hash to her friends and family. And doubtless made a loss on it.

She made jewelry and occasionally even sold some.

A precarious kind of existence, but she didn't seem too bothered by the insecure nature of it.

55

Dad despaired of Anna. He called her irresponsible. And, of course, the blame for Anna's instability was laid squarely, if not particularly fairly, at my door. Dad said that I had hightailed it (his word) to London at a time when Anna was at a very impressionable age and I had given her the idea that it was perfectly acceptable to give up a good job and go off and work as a waitress. What kind of role model was I? he asked me.

Dad had desperately tried to mold Anna into a responsible, tax-paying citizen. He managed to get her a job in an office working for a construction company.

Apparently someone owed him a favor.

It must have been a very large favor.

It was a mistake to try to force Anna to work in an office. Like trying to squash a round peg into a square hole. Or wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. Unpleasant, uncomfortable and almost certainly doomed to failure.

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