Home > Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(2)

Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(2)
Marian Keyes

“Yes, I got him. Ding-dong! Right, I’m off to bed.” Instead she stretched out on one of the many couches. “The man spotted me in the hedge, taking his picture.”

Mum’s hand went to her mouth, the way a person would on telly if they wanted to indicate anxiety.

“Nothing to worry about,” Helen said. “We had a little chat. He asked for my phone number. Cack-head,” she added with blistering scorn.

That’s the thing about Helen: she’s very beautiful. Men, even those she’s spying on for their wives, fall for her. Despite me being three years older than her, she and I look extremely similar: we’re short with long dark hair and almost identical faces. Mum sometimes confuses us with each other, especially when she’s not wearing her glasses. But, unlike me, Helen’s got some magic pull. She operates on an entirely unique frequency, which mesmerizes men; perhaps on the same principle of the whistle that only dogs can hear. When men meet the two of us, you can see their confusion. You can actually see them thinking, They look the same, but this Helen has bewitched me like a drug, whereas that Anna is just so what…

Not that it does the men in question any good. Helen boasts that she’s never been in love and I believe her. She’s unbothered by sentimentality and has contempt for everyone and everything.

Even Luke, Rachel’s boyfriend—well, fiancé now. Luke is so dark and sexy and testosteroney that I dread being alone with him. I mean, he’s a lovely person, really really lovely, but just, you know…all man. I both fancy him and am repelled by him, if that makes any sense, and everyone—even Mum; I’d say even Dad—is sexually attracted to him. Not Helen, though.

All of a sudden Mum seized my arm—luckily, my unbroken one—and hissed, in a voice throbbing with excitement, “Look! It’s Jolly Girl, Angela Kilfeather. With her Jolly Girl girlfriend! She must be home visiting!”

Angela Kilfeather was the most exotic creature that ever came out of our road. Well, that’s not really true, my family is far more dramatic, what with broken marriages and suicide attempts and drug addiction and Helen, but Mum uses Angela Kilfeather as the gold standard: bad and all as her daughers are, at least they’re not lesbians who French-kiss their girlfriends beside suburban leylandii.

(Helen once worked with an Indian man who mistranslated gays as “Jolly Boys.” It caught on so much that nearly everyone I knew—including all my gay friends—now referred to gay men as Jolly Boys. And always said in an Indian accent. The logical conclusion was that lesbians were “Jolly Girls,” also said in an Indian accent.)

Mum placed one eye up against the gap between the wall and the net curtain. “I can’t see, give me your binoculars,” she ordered Helen, who produced them from her rucksack with alacrity—but only for her own personal use. A small but fierce struggle ensued. “She’ll be GONE,” Mum begged. “Let me see.”

“Promise you’ll give me a Valium and the gift of long vision is yours.”

It was a dilemma for Mum but she did the right thing.

“You know I can’t do that,” she said primly. “I’m your mother and it would be irresponsible.”

“Please yourself,” Helen said, then gazed through the binoculars and murmured, “Good Christ, would you look at that!” Then: “Buh-loody hell! Ding-dong! What are they trying to do? A Jolly Girl tonsilectomy?”

Then Mum had sprung off the couch and was trying to grab the binoculars from Helen and they wrestled like children, only stopping when they bumped against my hand, the one with the missing fingernails, and my shriek of pain restored them to decorum.

2

After she’d washed me, Mum took the bandages off my face, like she did every day, then bundled me up in a blanket. I sat in the matchbox of a back garden, watching the grass grow—the painkillers made me superdopey and serene—and airing my cuts.

But the doctor had said that exposure to direct sunlight was strictly verboten, so even though there was scant chance of that in Ireland in April, I wore a stupid-looking wide-brimmed hat that Mum had worn to my sister Claire’s wedding; luckily there was no one there to see me.

The sky was blue, the day was quite warm, and all was pleasant. I listened to Helen coughing intermittently in an upstairs bedroom and dreamily watched the pretty flowers sway to the left in the light breeze, then back to the right, then to the left again…There were late daffodils and tulips and other pinkish ones whose name I didn’t know. Funny, I remembered floatily, we used to have a horrible garden, the worst on the whole road, perhaps in the whole of Blackrock. For years it was just a dumping ground for rusty bicycles (ours) and empty Johnnie Walker bottles (also ours) and that was because, unlike other, more decent, hardworking families, we had a gardener: Michael, a bad-tempered, gnarled old man who used to do nothing except make Mum stand in the freezing cold while he explained why he couldn’t cut the grass (“The germs get in through the cut bits, then it just ups and dies on you”). Or why he couldn’t trim the hedge (“The wall needs it for support, missus”). Instead of telling him to get lost, Mum used to buy him top-of-the-range biscuits, then Dad used to cut the grass in the middle of the night rather than confront him. But when Dad retired they finally had the perfect excuse to get rid of Michael. Not that he took it graciously. Amid much mutterings about amateurs who’d have the place destroyed within minutes, he left in high dudgeon and found employment with the O’Mahoneys, where he rained shame down on our entire family by telling Mrs. O’Mahoney that he’d once seen Mum drying lettuce with a dirty tea towel.

Never mind, he’s gone and the flowers, courtesy of Dad, are far nicer now. My only complaint is that the caliber of biscuits in the house has dropped dramatically since Michael’s departure. But you can’t have things every way, and that realization set me off on an entirely different train of thought, and it was only when the salt water of my tears ran into my cuts and made them sting that I discovered I was crying.

I wanted to go back to New York. For the last few days I’d been thinking about it. Not just considering it, but gripped by a powerful compulsion and unable to understand why I hadn’t gone before now. The problem was, though, that Mum and the rest of them would go mad when I told them. I could already hear their arguments—I must stay in Dublin, where my roots were, where I was loved, where they could “take care of me.”

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