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

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

“Look at that hickey oul’ skirt on her,” Mum murmured. “People will think we’re sisters.”

“I heard that,” Maggie called, “And I don’t care.”

“Your car looks like a rhino,” was Mum’s parting shot.

“A minute ago it was an elephant. Dad, can you open out the buggy, please.”

Then JJ spotted me and became incoherent with delight. Maybe it was just the novelty value, but I was currently his favorite auntie. He squirmed out of Maggie’s grip and rushed up the drive, like a cannonball. He was always flinging himself at me, and even though three days earlier he had accidentally head-butted my dislocated knee, which was just out of plaster, and the pain had made me vomit, I still forgave him.

I would have forgiven him anything: he was an absolute scream. Being around him definitely lifted my mood, but I tried not to show it too much because the rest of them might have worried about me getting too fond of him, and they had enough to worry about with me. They might even have started with the well-meaning platitudes—that I was young, that I would eventually have a child of my own, etc., etc., and I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready to hear them.

I took JJ into the house to collect his “walk hat.” When Mum had been searching out a wide-brimmed, sun-deflecting hat for me, she’d come across an entire cache of dreadful hats she’d worn to weddings over the years. It was almost as shocking as uncovering a mass grave. There were loads, each one more overblown than the next, and for some reason JJ had fallen in love with a flat, glazed straw hat with a cluster of cherries dangling from the brim. JJ insisted it was “a cowboy hat” but really, nothing could have been further from the truth. Already, at the age of three, he was displaying a pleasing strain of eccentricity—which must have been from some recessive gene because he definitely didn’t get it from either of his parents.

When we were all ready, the cavalcade moved forward: me, leaning on Dad with my unbroken arm, Maggie pushing baby Holly in the buggy, and JJ, the marshal, leading the party.

Mum refused to join us on our daily constitutional, on the grounds that if she came there would be so many of us that “People would be looking.” And indeed we did create quite a stir: between JJ and his hat and me and my injuries, the local youths felt like the circus had come to town.

As we neared the green—it wasn’t far, it just felt that way because my knee was so sore that even JJ, a child of three, could go faster than me—one of the lads spotted us and alerted his four or five pals. An almost visible thrill passed through them and they abandoned whatever they’d been doing with matches and newspaper and prepared to welcome us.

“Howya, Frankenstein,” Alec called, when we were near enough to hear.

“Howya,” I replied with dignity.

It had upset me the first time they’d said it. Especially when they’d offered me money to lift my bandages and show them my cuts. It was like being asked to lift my T-shirt and show them my knockers, only worse. At the time tears had flooded my eyes, and shocked at how cruel people could be, I turned around to go straight back home. Then I’d heard Maggie ask, “How much? How much to see the worst one?”

A brief consultation had ensued. “A euro.”

“Give it to me,” Maggie ordered. The eldest one—he said his name was Hedwig, but it couldn’t really be—handed it over, looking at her nervously.

Maggie checked the coin was real by biting it, then she’d said to me, “Ten percent for me, the rest for you. Okay. Show them.”

So I’d shown them—obviously not for the money but because I realized I had no reason to feel ashamed, what had happened to me could have happened to anyone. After that they always called me Frankenstein, but not—and I know this might sound strange—not in an unkind way.

Today they noticed that Mum had left off some of the bandages. “You’re getting better.” They sounded disappointed. “All the ones on your forehead are nearly gone. The only good one left is the one on your cheek. And you’re walking faster than you used to, you’re nearly as fast as JJ now.”

For half an hour or so we sat on the bench taking the air. In the few weeks we’d been doing this daily walk, we’d been having un-Irishly dry weather, at least in the daytime. It was only in the evenings when Helen was sitting in hedges with her long-range lens that it seemed to rain.

The reverie was broken when Holly started screeching; according to Maggie, her nappy needed to be changed, so we all trooped back to the house, where Maggie tried, without success, to get Mum, then Dad, to change Holly. She didn’t ask me; sometimes it’s great having a broken arm.

While she was off dealing with baby wipes and nappy bags, JJ got a rust-colored lip liner from my (extremely large) makeup bag, held it to his face and, and said, “Like you.”

“What’s like me?”

“Like you,” he repeated, touching some of my cuts, then pointing at his own face with the pencil.

Ah! He wanted me to draw scars on him.

“Only a few.” I wasn’t at all sure this was something that should be encouraged, so I colored in some halfhearted cuts on his forehead. “Look.” I held a hand mirror in front of him and he liked the look of himself so much, he yelled, “More!”

“Just one more.”

He kept checking himself in the mirror and demanding more and more injuries, then Maggie came back, and when I saw the look on her face, I was filled with fear. “Oh God, Maggie, I’m sorry. I got carried away.”

But with a funny little jump, I realized she wasn’t angry about JJ looking like a patchwork quilt—it was because she’d seen my makeup bag and got The Look, the one they all get, but I’d expected better from her.

It’s been the oddest thing—despite all the horror and grief of the recent past, most days some member of my family would come and sit on my bed and ask to see the contents of my makeup bag. They were dazzled by my fantastic job and made no effort to hide their disbelief that I, of all people, had landed it.

Maggie walked toward my makeup bag like a sleepwalker. Her hand was outstretched. “Can I see?”

“Help yourself. And my wash bag is on the floor here. There’s good stuff in there, too, if Mum and Helen haven’t cleaned me out. Take anything you want.”

As if in a trance, Maggie was removing lipstick after lipstick from the bag. I had about sixteen of them. Just because I can.

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