Kat Kavanagh is not in love. She has lots of friends, an ordinary job, and she never ever thinks about her past. This is Kat's story. None of it is true. Milo McIntyre loves his mam, the peanut-butter-and-banana muffins at the Funky Banana cafe, and the lifesaving class he does after school. He never thinks about his future, until the day it changes forever. This is Milo's story. All of it is true. And then there is the other story. The one with a twist of fate which somehow brings together a boy from Brighton and a woman in Dublin, and uncovers the truth once and for all. This is the story that's just about to begin . . .
Release date: September 27, 2012
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 465
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Lifesaving for Beginners
The terrible thing about acknowledgements is that there’s always someone you forget. Like Avril Rankin. Avril taught me everything I know about dog pounds and rescue centres during the writing of Finding Mr Flood. I can’t believe I forgot to thank her, but I did. So here I am remembering. Thank you Avril. For everything.
My sincere thanks to the McGowan family, especially John, Sinead, Mary, Bernard, Dave and Lyndsey-Anne. For sharing their stories with me and for their hospitality and generosity.
A huge thank you to Aine Maguire-Keane, who told me her story with her usual sincerity and charm and good humour.
Thank you to my local G.P., Cathal Martin, who provides me with medical conditions for people who don’t exist and – more importantly – tells me how to make them better.
Thanks to the Adoption Association of Ireland who helped me with the research for this book.
Thanks to the Arch club in Portmarnock, for facilitating me.
Thank you to Neil MacLochlainn for telling me the way things are in schools in the U.K.
‘To Emma McEvoy for giving me the seed of an idea that grew and grew until it became a plant and then a bush and then a tree and then a forest and then a story. What you told me has no bearing on the story to be found within these pages but the seed, you gave me the seed to grow. Thank you.
To Owen O’Byrne, who put my manuscript on my Kindle and who fixed my laptop when the professionals told me it was hopeless . . . Thank you so much.
A big debt of gratitude is owed to Eileen Kavanagh who read a draft of this book and was so generous with her time and her expertise in providing invaluable feedback and insight. I will return the favour any time.
Thanks to my sister, Niamh Geraghty, who reads the many, many drafts of my books and laughs at the bits that you’re supposed to laugh at. Even if I had other sisters, you’d still be my favourite one. And to Niamh MacLochlainn, who read the manuscript in one sitting and who is always so generous and supportive with her feedback.
Huge thanks to the staff at Hachette Books Ireland and Hodder & Stoughton in the U.K., especially my editors, Ciara Doorley and Francesca Best. I have learned so much from your patient and careful work on my books. Thank you for helping me tell my stories.
An enormous thank you to my agent, Ger Nichol, who is always in my corner. Thank you for believing in me, even when I don’t. Especially when I don’t.
Writers need readers. Otherwise, you’re just alone, in a room, talking to yourself. It still surprises and delights me when someone contacts me to let me know that they’ve read a book that I’ve written. It’s even better when they say that they enjoyed it. And some of them aren’t even related to me. So a huge thank you to all the people who read my books. I really, really hope you enjoy this one.
I am, as always, indebted to my family: my parents Breda and Don, to whom this book is dedicated. This is one small thing I can do for you in return for the many huge things you have done for me over the years. And to my children Sadhbh, Neil and Grace. They are the people who live with the person who writes the stories. They have their own stories to tell about that experience and those stories aren’t always good . . . So thank you all, for your patience and your love.
And to my friend, Frank MacLochlainn. Thank you for your friendship, your support, your understanding and your love. I couldn’t do it without you.
Finally, to Maeve Binchy, who died this week. I will never hear your stories, on the page or the radio or the television, again. I will miss that. I will miss you. You inspired me. You told me that I could do it too. You told all of us. Thank you so much.
Ciara Geraghty, 8th August 2012
1 June 2011; Brighton
Mam says, ‘Milo, you gave me a fright. What are you doing up at this hour?’
I say, ‘I set my alarm.’
‘Ah love, you shouldn’t have. It’s five o’clock in the morning. You’ll be falling asleep in Miss Williams’s class.’
‘No way. We’re making papier-mâché masks. If everyone knows their spellings.’
‘And do you know your spellings?’
‘Sorry for asking, Einstein.’
The kitchen is colder than usual. Probably because the sun’s not properly up yet. Mam stands at the counter, with her hands wrapped round the mug I got her last Christmas. It says ‘World’s Best Mum’. I tried to find one that said ‘Mam’ but I couldn’t. They probably sell them in Ireland, where Mam is from. Still, she drinks out of it all the time. She says she doesn’t mind about the Mum bit.
‘What time is the ferry?’
Mam looks at her watch. ‘I’d better go if I’m going to catch it.’ Her suitcase is on the floor beside the table. It’s still got Dad’s old leather belt tied round it. She was supposed to get a new case ages ago. She must have forgotton. The sticker on it says ‘Elizabeth McIntyre’ but everyone calls her Beth.
‘I’ll put your suitcase in the boot.’
She smiles. ‘Don’t worry, love, I’ll do it. Besides, the boot is full. I forgot to take out the boxes of flyers I got for the café the other day. I’ll put the case on the back seat. It’ll be grand.’
I hand her the car keys and look out the window. There have been a few car robberies lately but Mam’s car is still there. I don’t think anyone would steal it. We call it the bananamobile. It’s bright yellow. The writing is pink. Shocking pink, Mam calls it. It says ‘The Funky Banana’, which happens to be the name of Mam’s café.
‘So when are you coming home?’
‘I’ve told you a million times already. I’ll be home on Sunday.’
‘I wish I could come to Auntie May’s with you.’
‘There’s the small matter of school, remember. Anyway, you’ll have a great time with your sister.’
That’s true. Faith doesn’t know how to cook so we won’t have to eat vegetables and things like that. And Rob always gives me money to get DVDs and sweets when they have to go to Faith’s room to talk. They’re always going to Faith’s room to talk.
Mam puts on her coat and hat. It’s a beret, which is a French word and that’s why you can’t pronounce the t at the end. Her lips are red on account of the lipstick. She doesn’t wear half as much make-up as Faith but she still looks nice. For an adult, I mean. She puts her hand on my head. ‘Don’t forget to brush that mop before you go to school, mister.’
I say, ‘I won’t,’ even though I probably will forget.
‘And you’ve got lifesaving class after school today, remember?’
‘My bag’s in the hall.’ As if anyone would ever forget about that. I’m still in the beginners’ class but Coach says if I keep on doing well, she’ll move me up to intermediate next year.
‘OK, so, see ya Sunday.’
‘Yeah, see ya Sunday.’
‘Are you gettin’ too big to give yer auld mam a kiss?’
Mam’s mad about kissing. So is Damo. He says he’s done it loads of times with girls but I don’t believe him. I mean, he’s my best friend and everything, but sometimes he makes stuff up. His mam says she wouldn’t believe him if he told her the time. And last summer, he said he climbed Mount Everest but when I asked him where it was, he said it was in Spain. Near Santa Ponza.
Mam holds out her arms. Before I can duck, she squeezes me so tightly I can barely move. Her hair tickles my face. She smells like soap and toothpaste. She’ll probably tell me not to forget to brush my teeth. She kisses me on the cheek and I rub it away with the back of my hand.
‘I mean it, Milo. No messin’ with Damien Sullivan, OK?’
She’s only saying that because of what happened the last time she went to Ireland. And that was only an accident. Damo’s eyebrows have nearly grown back now.
‘And make sure you brush your teeth.’
‘I’ll ring you tonight, OK?’
She presses the palm of her hand against her heart. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’ She picks up her suitcase with the leather belt wrapped round it and that’s when I have the idea. About buying her a new case for Christmas. I still have most of my First Holy Communion money in the post office. I’ll buy her a green one. Green is her favourite colour.
I stay at the window until she drives up the road and I can’t see her anymore.
2 June 2011; Dublin
‘She’s coming round.’
‘Can you hear me?’
‘Come on now. Wake up.’
‘Don’t crowd her.’
‘Easy now. Take it easy.’
‘Thomas?’ My voice sounds strange. Rusted. Like I haven’t used it in a long time.
‘Give her some space.’
‘Am I in a hospital?’
‘Get her some water.’
‘It’s all right. You were in an accident but you’re all right. You’re all right now.’
‘Tell me what happened.’
‘Calm down, Kat. Take it easy.’
My breath is quick and shallow. Panic isn’t far away. I move my legs to see if I can move my legs. They move. I can move my legs. I try to calm down, to beat panic back with both hands.
Someone puts a hand under my head. Puts a glass against my mouth. I think it’s Thomas. ‘Here, take a drink of water.’ That’s definitely him. The soft, low voice. It would make you think of Wispa bars, whether you wanted to or not.
The water goes down, cold and pure. Panic falters. Takes a step back. Thomas’s hand is solid against the back of my head. I keep my eyes closed, in case he’s looking at me. In case he sees the panic. And the gratitude. I am weak with gratitude all of a sudden.
When I open my eyes, I say, ‘I’m not forty yet, am I?’ so that we can have a laugh and everything can go back to normal. It works because everyone has a bit of a laugh and the atmosphere in the room slackens and there’s a chance that things can get back to normal.
Thomas says, ‘You’ve still a bit to go.’
The light grates against my eyes as I look around the room. The hospital room. I’m in a hospital. I hate hospitals. I haven’t been in a hospital bed since I was fifteen.
I do a headcount. Four people. They look tired, like they haven’t slept, or, if they have, they’ve slept badly. My parents. My oldest friend, Minnie. And Thomas. Almost everyone.
I say, ‘Where’s Ed?’
My mother says, ‘I had to send him home. He was too emotional. You know how he gets.’
‘He’s not on his own, is he?’
Dad steps forward. ‘Your brother’s fine, Kat. Don’t worry. I brought him to Sophie’s house and Sophie’s parents are there. They’ll look after him. You need to worry about yourself for now.’
‘What’s wrong with me?’ I feel far away, like I have to shout to make them hear me.
Dad says, ‘You got a bump on your head. The doctor says it’ll hurt for a while.’
Mum says, ‘And you’ve got a fractured rib. You either got it in the accident or afterwards, when they cut you out of the car.’
‘Jesus.’ I curl my hands into fists so no one can see the shake in them.
Minnie says, ‘It’s not even a proper fracture. It’s just a hairline one.’
Thomas says, ‘You were lucky, Kat.’
I don’t feel lucky. I feel far away.
Minnie looks at her watch. ‘Well, now that I know you’re not going to cark it, I suppose I should go back to work.’ She sounds annoyed but when I look at her, she’s got that pained expression on her face that she gets when she’s trying not to smile.
It’s only when Mum puts her hand on my forehead that I realise how hot I am. Her hand is cool and soft. I’d forgotten how soft her hands are. Her eyes are puffy, like she’s been crying. But she never cries. The last time I saw her crying was in 1989, when Samuel Beckett died.
She says, ‘We’ll go too. We’d better pick Edward up.’ She pulls at some strands of my hair that are caught in the corner of my mouth. I try to sit up but I’m like a dead weight so I stop trying and lie there and try to make sense of things.
The room smells of heat and bleach. The sheets are stiff and make a scratching sound when I move. There’s a deep crack zigzagging along the ceiling. Like the whole place is going to come tumbling down. Right down on top of me.
Dad says, ‘Get some rest, Kat. I’ll call you later, OK?’
‘Will you tell Ed I’m fine? Tell him I’ll see him soon. Tomorrow.’
‘Of course.’ Dad bends, kisses the corner of my eye. I’d say he was going for my forehead but he’s a little short-sighted.
Minnie says, ‘The next time you’re going to have a near-death experience, could you do it on a Friday? Get me out of the weekly meeting with the Pillock.’ Pillock is what Minnie calls her boss, and the funny thing is that they get on quite well. She picks up her handbag and coat and is gone in a cloud of Chanel Coco Mademoiselle.
Now it’s just Thomas and me and, all of a sudden, I feel sort of shy, like I’ve been doing the tango in my bedroom with an imaginary partner before noticing that the blinds are up and the neighbours are gawking. I grab the sharp edge of the sheet and pull it to my neck.
I say, ‘Shouldn’t you be spreading dung on some poor unfortunate turnips?’ If you ask Thomas what he does, he’ll say he’s a farmer, even though he’s a freelance journalist who happens to have inherited a smallholding in Monaghan where he grows impractical things like grapes that are never anything but sour, and sunflowers that, as soon as their heads poke above the earth, get eaten by his one goat, two pigs, three hens, a garrulous goose and a lamb-bearing ewe.
He doesn’t answer immediately. Instead, he sits on the edge of the bed. Carefully, like he’s afraid he might break something. I want to punch his arm and tell him he’s a big eejit but I can’t because of the wires attached to my wrist. I don’t think I can laugh out loud either. My head feels funny: heavy and dense. When I touch it, there’s a bandage, wrapped round and round.
I say, ‘This is a bit Grey’s Anatomy, isn’t it?’ My voice sounds nearer now but there’s a shake in it. I clear my throat.
He smiles but only briefly. Then he puts his hand on mine. His hands are huge. Like shovels, they are. I pull my hand away. ‘What?’
He says, ‘What do you mean?’
‘You look kind of . . . appalled. Is it my hair?’
He smiles a bit longer this time.
He says, ‘I’m just . . . I’m glad you’re OK. When they said the car was a write-off, I thought . . .’
‘The car’s a write-off ?’
‘I love that Mazda.’
‘I know, but it’s replaceable.’ He looks at me when he says that. A really intense look like he’s cramming me for an exam. For a terrible moment, I think he’s going to say something horrendous. About me. Not being replaceable. Something heinous like that.
But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he says this:
‘I thought you were dead.’
‘Jesus, this is actually cheesier than Grey’s Anatomy.’
‘Can’t you be serious for a moment?’
‘I’m as serious as a car crash.’
‘That’s not funny.’
‘It’s a little bit funny.’
Thomas nods, thank Christ. He’s not usually like this. He’s usually got quite a good SOH, as Minnie calls it. Even though she’s got Maurice and they’ve been smugly coupled up for years, she still reads the ads. For me, she says. I don’t know if she does it anymore. The Thomas situation has been going on a fair while now. Maybe a year and a half.
Although I think Thomas said, ‘Twenty-two months, actually,’ when I mentioned it the other day.
Thomas says, ‘Do you remember the accident?’
I nod. ‘Sort of.’
‘What do you remember?’ He can be such a journalist sometimes.
‘There was a deer on the road.’ What the hell was a deer doing on the road? ‘There was a truck. It swerved. Really suddenly. And there was a car. In front of me, I think. A yellow one. Really bright yellow. Something about a banana written on it. Then the airbag exploded in my face and then . . . I don’t know . . . I don’t think I remember anything else.’
‘You could have died.’
‘Are you going to keep on saying that?’
‘That woman . . . the one in the yellow car. She . . . she died.’
‘You’re not going to cry, are you?’
Thomas stands up. Walks to the door. Pauses. Looks back at me.
I say, ‘Can you get the doctor?’
‘Are you feeling OK?’ He looks worried, like maybe I’ve got a brain tumour or something.
‘I want to know when I can get out of here.’
‘I’m sure they’ll want to monitor you for another while. You’ve been out cold.’
‘I just want everything to get back to normal.’
He looks at me then. Says, ‘No.’ Like we’re in the middle of an argument.
‘What do you mean, no?’
‘I mean no. Things are different now. You could have died.’
‘Can you stop saying that?’
‘We’ve wasted enough time.’
I manage to prop myself up on my elbows. I ignore the pain in my head. My body. I need to nip this in the bud. I say, ‘Look, there’s no need for all this. I didn’t die. I’m fine.’
‘I don’t care.’ Thomas closes the door. Puts his back against it so no one can come in. There’s a feeling in my chest and I think it might be disquiet. ‘I’m just going to say it.’
‘I wish you wouldn’t.’
‘I know. But I’m going to say it anyway. I love you.’
‘Where are my clothes? I need to get out of here.’
‘I want to get married.’
‘Congratulations. Who’s the lucky lady?’
‘And I’d love to have a baby.’
‘Good for you. They’re making huge leaps in human biology these days so I’m thinking, any day now.’
‘Can you stop joking around, just for a minute?’
‘How about a peace settlement in the Middle East while we’re at it?’
He sighs then. ‘I’m going to get the doctor.’
‘Good idea. See how she’s getting on with that cure for pancreatic cancer.’
It’s only when Thomas leaves the room that I notice how quiet everything is. Quiet as a grave, Thomas would probably say in his current maudlin form. There’s pain down my right side. But other than that and the dull throb in my head, everything feels the same as usual. I’d love a cigarette. I don’t know where my bag is. I need my phone. I need to phone Ed – he’ll be worried – and tell him not to worry. Tell him that everything is the same as usual.
Nothing has changed.
Even Thomas, when he returns, seems to have gone back to his usual self. He couldn’t find the doctor but he has somehow discovered that one of the nurses keeps hens in her back garden and they’ve been discussing feeds and eggs and coops and what have you.
It’s only when Thomas is leaving – I have to stay another night for ‘observation’– that he goes all funny again. He says, ‘I want you to think about what I’ve said.’
I say, ‘Can you put the telly on before you leave?’
Thomas hands me the remote. ‘Here.’ His tone is brusque but then he bends down from his great height and kisses me. Right on the mouth. As if I’m not lying defenceless in a hospital bed, with no access to a toothbrush or toothpaste or mouthwash or anything. He just kisses me like he always does. No lead-up. No warning. Just his mouth on top of mine. It always gets me. How soft his mouth is. He’s so big and farmer-ish, you’d be expecting dry, chapped lips from being out in all sorts of weather. He kisses me for longer than would be considered appropriate in a hospital visit sort of scenario. I don’t tell him to stop.
‘I’ll pick you up tomorrow. Take you home.’
I think the accident has had some effect on me after all because, all of a sudden, there’s a chance I might cry. I’d say it’s the medication they have me on. Because of the shattered ribs. Well, OK then, a hairline fracture on one rib.
I nod and close my eyes as if I’m going to have a nap.
When he leaves, I open my eyes and – this is the strange part – I do cry. Not loud enough for anyone to hear. But still. There are tears. I’m crying all right. They gave me something for the pain and they said it was strong. I’d say it’s that. I blow my nose and lie down and close my eyes. I want to go to sleep as quickly as I can so it’ll be tomorrow as soon as possible then I can go home and everything can get back to normal.
2 June 2011; Brighton
I’m sitting on my bed.
The house is dead quiet even though Adrian is here. I know he’s here because, a while ago, he knocked on the door and poked his head in and said, ‘All right, Milo? You hungry, mate?’
He never knocks on the door.
Faith and Dad and Ant are gone to Ireland. I think they’re staying in Auntie May’s house. That’s where Mam is supposed to be. I don’t know where she is now. I hope it’s not a morgue. I saw a morgue on the telly once. They put people in drawers and it’s really cold. Mam hates the cold. Her hands turn blue when she’s cold.
Dad said I couldn’t go to Ireland with them. His jumper was inside out and his breath smelled like cigarettes, which is weird because he doesn’t even smoke anymore. Not since he went to Scotland to live with Celia.
Faith said, ‘Don’t worry,’ when she left. ‘We’ll be back tomorrow.’ Her eyes were all red and puffy and her skin was even whiter than usual so I didn’t want to ask, ‘What time tomorrow?’ I look at my watch again but it’s still only twenty past nine in the morning. I think Adrian is in the kitchen but I don’t want to go to the kitchen because that’s where Mam is supposed to be. When she’s not at the café, she’s in the kitchen, baking something. Or just sitting down, listening to the radio. Adrian is not supposed to be in the kitchen. He’s supposed to be at the university in London with Ant. And I’m supposed to be in Miss Williams’s class, probably writing some story, like My Plans for the Summer Holidays. Something boring like that.
Everything is sort of back to front. Like breakfast. Me and Adrian ate slices of pizza, left over from last night. We drank Coke as well. Even if it was my birthday, Mam wouldn’t let me drink Coke for breakfast and my birthday is the same day as Christmas Day, which is sort of like two celebrations in one, I suppose.
People keep knocking on the front door. Neighbours, mostly. Mrs Barber from across the road left a gigantic bowl with a lid on the top. She said it was beef casserole. There’s celery in it. I hate celery. I put it in the fridge. Mam would call it a terrible waste if I threw it in the bin.
The clothes I wore yesterday are on the floor. I’m supposed to put my socks and boxers into the linen basket every night. ‘There’re no skivvies in this house.’ That’s what Mam says.
I’m going to have to remember to brush my teeth from now on. Every day. Otherwise they’ll rot in my head. Mrs Barber’s teeth look lovely and white and straight but that’s only because they’re not real. Her real teeth rotted in her head because she never took care of them. She told me that one day, when she was in the house and Mam was giving out because I hadn’t brushed my teeth.
Damo didn’t call for me this morning. He always calls for me. Or else I call for him. Whoever’s ready first. Usually me, because of Damo and the way he stays in bed way after his mam tells him to get up. She says one of these days she won’t bother calling him. She’ll call Mr Pilkington, the head master, instead. But she hasn’t done that so far.
Here comes Adrian again. He knocks and pops his head round the door. He says, ‘You wanna go out, mate? We could go to the park? Or the cinema? I think the new Batman one is out.’
I look at my watch. It’s still twenty past nine. I say, ‘The cinema’s not open yet.’
‘We could go to the park first.’
‘Batman’s not out till next week. Mam said she’d take me. She said she’d be back on Sunday.’
Adrian walks towards me. He stands on my clothes but I don’t think he notices. He sits on my bed. He looks like he’s going to say something but then he doesn’t.
I say, ‘Half four.’
Adrian looks at me. ‘What?’
‘She said she’d be back at half four if the ferry was on time, which it usually is at this time of the year on account of the weather being nice.’
Adrian looks at me like I’m talking some foreign language. Italian, maybe. He can’t speak Italian. He’s not too bad at French, though.
We don’t say anything for ages and then I say, ‘Is today Thursday?’ If today is Thursday, that means that Mam left yesterday but it doesn’t feel like yesterday. It feels like ages ago.
Adrian doesn’t say anything. He covers his face with his hands and, even though he doesn’t make a sound, I think he’s crying. His shoulders are sort of moving up and down.
Adrian never cries. Even when he was a kid and was always getting into tricky situations. Like nettles, for example. He was always falling into bunches of nettles. Getting stung by wasps. And bees. And horseflies. Except I don’t think horseflies sting. I think they bite. He even fractured his skull once. The time he cycled his bike along the back wall, pretending it was a tightrope. Mam said that was the last time she’d take him to the circus. He still has the scar on his forehead from the stitches. Mam said he could have supplied a blood bank for a week with the amount that poured out of his head. The doctor said he was very lucky.
But he never cried. Not when he got the stings from the nettles or the wasps, or the bites from the horseflies or even the fracture in his skull. Everyone says that Adrian never cried.
He’s crying now.
I wish he’d stop.
I wish it were yesterday.
I wish it was Wednesday and the ferry got cancelled because the weather was really stormy. But it’s not Wednesday. It’s Thursday. And the ferry didn’t get cancelled because it’s June and the weather is lovely in June. Glorious. That’s what Mam says when the weather’s good. She says, ‘Isn’t it a glorious day?’ to the regulars at the Funky Banana.
The phone rings and I run down the stairs and answer it. I don’t know why but I keep thinking it’ll be Mam, laughing her head off and saying she’s grand and there’s been a mix-up and she’s coming home and could I put the kettle on because she’s gasping for a mug of tea. She’s always gasping for mugs of tea.
I answer it and I say, ‘Hello? The McIntyre Residence,’ in a posh voice cos I know that’ll make Mam laugh, except it’s not Mam. It’s a woman and she wants to know what the arrangements are. I don’t know what the arrangements are. She says, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ I think she means Mam.
I go into the kitchen and put the kettle on anyway. If it were Wednesday and the ferry got cancelled, Mam would be here and we wouldn’t be eating leftover pizza and drinking Coke for our breakfast and Adrian would be at the university in London learning about science and Damo would have called at the door and I’d be in school writing a boring story about what I’m going to do for the summer holidays or something like that.
11 June 2011; Dublin
I say, ‘Ouch.’
Thomas says, ‘You OK?’
‘You’re rushing me.’
‘I’m going at a snail’s pace. In fact, no. Look, there’s a snail, overtaking us.’
‘That’s a slug.’
‘He’s still pretty slow. Sluggish, you might say.’
‘I’m glad you think this is funny.’
‘You’re not, though, are you? You’re not glad.’
‘It’s an expression.’
‘Here’s another expression. Cheer up!’
‘I hate people who say, “Cheer up” . . .’
‘What am I supposed to say to you in your current form?’
‘. . . And “Relax”. That’s a horrible thing to say to anyone. Telling someone to relax never makes them relax. It makes them more tense. It’s a stupid thing to say.’
‘Here we are.’
We’re at the restaurant. Thomas invited me when we were at the garage, ordering the Mazda this morning. He still calls them dates. He says, ‘Do you want to go on a date tonight? Celebrate you ordering the new car?’ I wonder how many dates we’ve been on. A fair few by now.
Before Thomas, I was – strictly – a three-date woman. First date I called the ‘give it a go’ date. I only ever went after unmerciful pressure from Minnie. She said, ‘There’s a Maurice out there for everybody.’ Let’s hope that’s not true.
The second date I liked to call the ‘benefit of the doubt’ date. Again, usually Minnie-induced.
The third and often final one was when I usually said, ‘It’s not you. It’s me.’ Even though it’s never me. Hardly ever.
On our third date, I said to Thomas, ‘It’s not you. It’s me.’
He said, ‘What do you mean?’
I said, ‘My life is a bit . . . complicated.’
Thomas said, ‘Isn’t it well for you?’ He used one of his gigantic hands to push his hair – long and grey and curly – out of his I’m-not-as-old-as-I-look face.
‘No, I mean it’s too complicated for a . . . a relationship.’
‘A relationship?’ He looked amused at the word and – in fairness – in his Monaghan accent it did sound a little absurd. ‘I just asked you to come to the Galway Races with me. Do you want to?’
‘Well . . .’
‘I suppose I might be able to . . .’
‘Grand, so. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at ten.’
And I nodded and said OK and I went with him. To the Galway Races. It was hard to say why, exactly. H
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