Home > Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(3)

Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(3)
Marian Keyes

But my family’s version of “caretaking” isn’t like other, more normal families’. They think the solution to everything lies in chocolate.

At the thought of how long and loud they’d protest, I was grabbed by another panicky seizure: I had to return to New York. I had to get back to my job. I had to get back to my friends. And although there was no way I could tell anyone this, because they would have sent for the men in the white coats, I had to get back to Aidan.

I closed my eyes and started to drift, but suddenly, like a grinding of gears in my head, I was plunged into a memory of noise and pain and darkness. I snapped my eyes open: the flowers were still pretty, the grass was still green, but my heart was pounding and I was struggling for breath.

This had started over the past few days: the painkillers weren’t working as nicely as they had in the beginning. They were wearing off faster and ragged little chinks were appearing in the blanket of mellowness they dropped on me and the horror would rush in, like water from a burst dam.

I struggled to my feet and went inside, where I watched Home and Away and had lunch (half a cheese scone, five satsuma segments, two Maltesers, eight pills), then Mum dressed my bandages again before my walk.

She loved this bit, busying about with her surgical scissors, briskly cutting lengths of cotton wool and white sticky tape, like the doctor had shown her. Nurse Walsh tending to the sick. Matron Walsh, even.

I closed my eyes. The touch of her fingertips on my face was soothing.

“The smaller ones on my forehead have started to itch; that’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

“Let’s see.” She moved my fringe aside to take a closer look. “These really are healing well,” she said, like she knew what she was talking about. “I think we can probably leave the bandages off these. And maybe the one on your chin.” (A perfect circle of flesh had been removed from the very center of my chin. It will come in handy when I want to do Kirk Douglas impersonations.) “But no scratching, missy! Of course, facial wounds are handled so well these days,” she said knowledgeably, parroting what the doctor had told us. “These sutures are far better than stitches. It’s only this one, really,” she said, gently stroking antiseptic gel onto the deep, puckered gash that ran the length of my right cheek, then pausing to let me flinch with pain. This wound wasn’t held together with sutures; instead it had dramatic Frankenstein-style stitches that looked like they’d been done with a darning needle. Of all the marks on the face this was the only one which wouldn’t eventually disappear.

“But that’s what plastic surgeons are for,” I said, also parroting what the doctor had told us.

“That’s right,” Mum agreed. But her voice sounded faraway and strangled. Quickly I opened my eyes. She was hunched in on herself and muttered something that might have been, “Your poor little face.”

“Mum, don’t cry!”

“I’m not.”

“Good.”

“Anyway, I think I hear Margaret.” Roughly, she rubbed her face with a tissue and went outside to laugh at Maggie’s new car.

Maggie had arrived for our daily walk. Maggie, the second eldest of the five of us, was the maverick of the Walsh family, our dirty secret, our white sheep. The others (even Mum, in unguarded moments) called her a “lickarse,” a word I wasn’t comfortable with because it was so mean, but admittedly did the job well. Maggie had “rebelled” by living a quiet, well-ordered life with a quiet, well-ordered man called Garv, whom, for years, my family hated. They objected to his reliability, his decency, and most of all his jumpers. (Too similar to Dad’s, was the consensus.) However, relations have softened in recent years, especially since the children came along: JJ is now three and Holly is five months.

I will admit to having entertained some jumper-based prejudice myself, of which I’m now ashamed, because about four years ago Garv helped me to change my life. I’d reached a nasty little crossroads (more details later) and Garv had been endlessly, unfathomably kind. He’d even got me a job in the actuarial firm where he worked—initially in the post room, then I got promoted to the front desk. Then he encouraged me to get a qualification, so I got a diploma in public relations. I know it’s not as impressive as a master’s degree in astrophysics and that it sounds more like a diploma in Watching Telly or Eating Sweets, but if I hadn’t got it, I would never have ended up in my current job—the Most Fabulous Job in the World™. And I would never have met Aidan.

I hobbled to the front door. Maggie was unloading children from her new car, a wide-bodied people carrier that Mum was insisting looked like it had elephantiasis.

Dad was also out there, trying to provide a foil against Mum’s contempt; he was demonstrating what a fine car it was by walking around it and kicking all four tires.

“Look at the quality on it,” he declared, and kicked a tire again to underscore his point.

“Look at the little piggy eyes on it!”

“They’re not eyes, Mum, they’re lights,” Maggie said, unbuckling something and emerging with baby Holly under her arm.

“Could you not have got a Porsche?” Mum asked.

“Too eighties.”

“A Maserati?”

“Not fast enough.”

Mum—I worried that she might have been suffering from boredom—had developed a sudden, late-in-life longing for a fast, sexy car. She watched Top Gear and she knew (a little) about Lamborghinis and Aston Martins.

Maggie’s torso disappeared into the car again, and after more unbuckling, she emerged with three-year-old JJ under her other arm.

Maggie, like Claire (the sister older than her) and Rachel (the sister younger than her) was tall and strong. The three of them come from a gene pool identical to Mum’s. Helen and I, a pair of shortarses, look astonishingly different from them and I don’t know where we get it from. Dad isn’t terribly small; it’s just the meekness that makes him seem that way.

Maggie had embraced motherhood with a passion—not just the actual mothering, but the look. One of the best things about having children, she said, was not having the time to worry about what she looked like and she boasted that she had totally given up on shopping. The previous week she’d told me that at the start of every spring and autumn she goes to Marks & Spencer and buys six identical skirts, two pairs of shoes—one high, one flat—and a selection of tops. “In and out in forty minutes,” she said, gloating, totally missing the point. Other than her hair, which was shoulder length and a lovely chestnut color (artificial—clearly she hadn’t given up completely), she looked more mumsy than Mum.

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