Home > Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(11)

Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(11)
Marian Keyes

Man: Yes.

Me: It’s not looking good for you, but it’s your dime. We can try and find her. Give all the details to the old woman over there.

“Excellent, isn’t it?” Helen said. “Especially the line about the knocking shop? And about it being his dime. Hard-boiled, isn’t it?”

“Yes, very good.”

“I’ll do more tomorrow, maybe we could even act it out. Right, I better get ready for work.”

At about 10 P.M. she reappeared at my door; she was dressed for surveillance work. (Dark, close-fitting clothes that are meant to be waterproof but aren’t.)

“You need fresh air,” she said.

“I got fresh air earlier.” No way was I going to sit in a wet hedge for eleven hours while she tried to catch photos of unfaithful men leaving their girlfriends’ apartments.

“But I want you to come with me.”

Even though it would have been hard for Helen and me to be more different, we were close: maybe it was because we were the two youngest. Whatever the reason, Helen treated me like an extension of herself, the part that got up to bring her glasses of water in the middle of the night. I was her playmate/toy/slave/best friend, and needless to say, everything I owned was automatically hers.

“I can’t come,” I said. “I’m injured.”

“Boo hoo,” she said. “Boo bloody hoo.”

It wasn’t that she was trying to be cruel, it’s just that my family doesn’t believe in oversentimentality. They think it makes you more upset. Brusque chivvying, making no allowances—that’s their modus operandi.

Mum appeared and Helen turned to her in complaint. “She won’t come with me. It’ll have to be you.”

“I can’t,” Mum said. Dramatically she flicked her eyes in my direction, like I was mentally ill—and blind. “I’d better stick around here.”

“Oh, ding-dong,” Helen griped. “I’m off to spend the whole night sitting in a wet hedge and none of you care.”

“Of course we care.” Mum produced something from a pocket and gave it to Helen. “Vitamin-C sucky sweets; it might stop you getting those sore throats.”

“No.” Helen squirmed away and this confirmed something I’d suspected—she actually enjoyed the sore throats, they were an excuse to stay in bed, eat ice cream, and be horrible to people.

“Take the vitamin C.”

“No.”

“Take the vitamin C.”

“No.”

“TAKE THE FECKING VITAMIN C!”

“Christ, don’t have a cow. All right, then. But it won’t work.”

After she’d slammed out of the house, Mum got her sheet of paper and administered my final dose of pills for the day.

“Good night,” she said. “Sleep tight.” Anxiously, she said, “I don’t like leaving you stuck down here on your own, with the rest of us all upstairs.”

“It’s okay, Mum. I mean, with my busted knee, it’s easier for me to be downstairs.”

“I blame myself,” she burst out, with sudden emotion.

She did? Now, how did she figure that one?

“If only we lived in a bungalow! Then we could all be together. We looked at one, you know, your father and I, before you were all born. A bungalow. But it was too far from his work. And it smelled a bit funny. But now I regret it!”

This was twice in the one day I’d seen Mum upset. Normally, she was as tough as the steaks she used to make until we begged her to stop.

“Mum, I’m fine, don’t blame yourself, don’t feel guilty.”

“I’m a mother, it’s my job to feel guilty.” In another burst of anxiety, she asked, “You’re not having nightmares?”

“No nightmares, Mum, I don’t dream about anything.” It must be the pills.

She frowned. “That’s not right,” she said. “You should be having nightmares.”

“I’ll try,” I promised.

“Good girl.” She kissed me on the forehead and turned off the light.

“You were always a good girl,” she called affectionately from the doorway. “A bit odd at times, but good.”

7

Actually, I’m not really that odd at all—well, no more than anyone is; I’m just not like the rest of them.

All four of my sisters are noisy and volatile and—they’d be the first to admit it—they love a good row. Or a bad row. Any kind of row, really—they’ve always seen bickering as a perfectly legitimate means of communication. I spent my life watching them like a mouse watches a cat, curled up small and quiet, like a tiny, fringey-skirted sand mite, hoping that if they didn’t realize I was there, they couldn’t start a fight with me.

My eldest three sisters—Claire, Maggie, and Rachel—were like Mum: tall, fabulous women with cast-iron opinions. They seemed like a different race from me and I made sure never to get into disagreements with them, because any puny thing I said got dashed on the rocks of their robust, shouty certainty.

Claire, the firstborn, recently turned forty. Despite this, she remains a strong-willed, upbeat type who “really knows how to enjoy herself.” (Euphemism for “unbridled party animal.”) Back in the distant past, her life had a little hiccup, when her husband, patronizing James, left her on the same day she gave birth to their first child. This meant that she had the stuffing knocked out of her—for oh, close on half an hour—then she got over it. She met another bloke, Adam, and she had the good sense to make sure he was younger than her and easy to scare into submission. Mind you, she also had the good sense to make sure he was a dark, handsome hunk with lovely, broad shoulders and—according to Helen (don’t ask)—a fine, big mickey. As well as Kate, the “abandoned child,” Adam and Claire have two other children and they live in London.

Second sister: Maggie, the lickarse. Three years younger than Claire, Maggie distinguishes herself by refusing to be deliberately obstructive. But—and it’s a big but—she’s well able to stand up for herself, and when she gets an idea into her head, she can be as stubborn as a mule. Maggie lives in Dublin, less than a mile from Mum and Dad. (See, lickarse.)

Then comes Rachel, a year younger than Maggie and the middle of the five of us. Even before Rachel began being accompanied everywhere by Luke, she used to cause a bit of a stir—she was sexy, fun, a bit wild, and her little hiccup was quite a big one, really. Probably the worst of the lot—at least, until mine. Several years ago, while she’d first been living in New York, she’d developed a fondness for the devil’s dandruff (cocaine). Things got very messy, and after a dramatic suicide attempt, she landed in an expensive Irish rehab.

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