Read Cathy Kelly 3-book Bundle Online
Authors: Cathy Kelly
‘And you felt it would be disloyal to Bess and me to ask,’ he finished for her.
‘Exactly, but I need to know. I need to know why we never talk about her. Was it so awful, her dying? Or did you just want to put it all behind you and start again? I need to understand, Dad.’
Now that she’d started, she couldn’t stop.
‘Molly’s father dying has made me think about my mother. The day at David’s funeral, when I fainted, I think–’ She broke off; it sounded crazy to say it out loud. ‘I think I was remembering my mother’s funeral.’ She barely dared look at her father, thinking how painful this must be for him.
‘My darling Natalie, I’m so sorry,’ he said, and reached across the table to take her hands. ‘It was never meant to be like this.’
‘But you understand, don’t you, Dad? And Bess will understand? It’s not that I don’t love the two of you, I just need to know about my real mum.’
It felt weird to even be saying
She’d always thought of her mother as her real mother, but not
That was what you called someone you saw every day, hugged and kissed.
‘I knew that Molly’s father’s death had affected you,’ her father said quietly. ‘It’s the same graveyard, you see. When you told me you’d fainted, I wondered if you’d remembered something.’
‘The same graveyard?’ Natalie was stunned.
‘I can show you. I can take you to see the grave.’
Natalie’s hand flew to her mouth. She hadn’t been going crazy–those had been real memories of her mother’s burial.
‘I was there when she was buried?’
He nodded. ‘Natalie, it wasn’t my idea not to tell you all this,’ her father was saying.
‘Was it Bess?’ she asked cautiously. It would be so unlike her stepmother to want to wipe out Natalie’s mother from everyone’s memory and yet, it could have been. Maybe Bess had found it too hard to live with the memory of her predecessor.
‘No, it wasn’t Bess. She thought it was the dumbest idea she’d ever heard. She was against it when she found out. It wasn’t right, she said, to keep your mother a mystery from you. No, it wasn’t Bess; it was what your mother wanted, Natalie.’
‘Your mother,’ he said. ‘She was an amazing woman. God, I loved her. Her dying was just about the worst thing that ever happened to me, but she didn’t want you to be…’ He was clearly trying to find the right words. ‘Sorry, love, if you knew how often I’ve had this conversation with you in my mind. I had it word-perfect when you were little, but it’s one thing telling a small child this stuff, it’s another entirely telling a grown-up. Your mother had a hard life and she worked very hard trying to escape that. She wanted you to escape it too. That was the plan, she didn’t want the past to destroy you.’
Natalie looked at her father in bewilderment. ‘She didn’t want the past to destroy me?’ she repeated. ‘What past?’
‘I’ll try and explain, love.’
Dara Murphy loved watching television. Her favourite shows were
Little House on the Prairie
–programmes about families where, no matter what disaster occurred, they were there for each other at the end of the day.
Her friend, Ruth, had read the Little House on the Prairie books and she said they were a lot different from the television series.
‘More stuff happens in the books and it’s about setting up home in tough places, sometimes with no school or not a lot of food. There’s no Nellie Olesen in the books, well, not that I saw.’
Dara didn’t read much; had never found reading easy. She occasionally took books from the library, but books didn’t fare well in her house. They went missing or had food spilt on them.
Her father hated books: ‘Bloody priests,’ he used to say every time he saw one.
In his mind, the written word was linked with education, which was linked to the Christian Brothers who’d taught him in school. These educationalists were infamous for their love of corporal punishment, and there were many former pupils who had no time the Christian Brothers and their messianic fondness for the leather. Dara’s father, as usual, took this dislike to the nth degree. If they were on the bus and passed by his old school, he’d spit out the window. Greg, Dara’s brother, used to laugh. ‘It’s not funny,’ Dara said.
‘You might as well laugh,’ said Greg.
He was better at laughing than Dara was.
‘I’d like to live in a world like
Little House on the Prairie,
’ Dara said to Ruth. ‘Imagine a place where everyone cares about everyone else. On the TV show, if somebody’s being horrible, everyone in the whole town knows by the end of the episode.’
‘It’s only television,’ Ruth said. ‘Real life isn’t like that.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ said Dara, ‘I was just saying.’
The two friends talked about most things but there were some topics that were untouchable. Like what happened to make a boy’s mickey get inside you if it was all floppy normally, or why Eric, who lived beside Ruth, did drugs when he was so clever and could have gone to college and everything. Dara’s dad was another topic in this forbidden area.
Sometimes, Dara talked about what would have happened if her mother hadn’t been killed in a car crash when Dara was six. This was fantasyland, where Dara, her mum and Greg lived in a big house with lots of dogs–Dara loved dogs–and had a big telly and heating that worked.
‘If you live in the big house, what about us?’ Ruth would demand when Dara dreamily went into fantasyland.
‘I’m only kidding,’ Dara would say. ‘Wouldn’t I go mad if I didn’t have you!’
Ruth lived across from Dara’s, in a sprawling Dublin estate where the blocks of houses were arranged around small
playing greens. The streets had beautiful names, like Snowdrop View and Daffodil Avenue, obviously thought up by someone with a supreme sense either of irony or optimism. Ruth and Dara’s houses on Snowdrop Park looked exactly the same on the outside: small, two-storey redbrick houses with a post-it-sized piece of garden at the front and a yard at the back. Ruth’s dad had racing pigeons in his yard and her mother used to give out about them all the time.
‘Those damn birds–the smell and the noise of them,’ she would mutter.
She didn’t mind them really. Complaining about the pigeons was part of the tradition of the whole sport, Ruth’s dad liked to say. If women couldn’t give out about their husbands’ hobbies, what else would they have to occupy their time? One of the pigeons was called Lulu because Ruth’s dad reckoned it sounded the way Lulu did when she screamed the first syllable of the song ‘Shout’.
‘I swear he loves those pigeons more than he loves the rest of us,’ said Ruth’s mum.
She was only kidding, though.
Ruth’s mum and dad and two older brothers filled the house with good-humoured squabbling. Ruth’s mum was a terrible cook, but nobody minded. Dara loved eating there because she felt welcome.
Inside, the houses were as different as chalk from cheese.
If houses could be colours, then Ruth’s home was a deep rose pink, full of warmth. Dara’s house was grey, a cold grey like endless rain. Her favourite room was the dining room because her father rarely went in there. He preferred the living room with its fire and the big chairs where he and his cronies could sit for hours drinking. Dara always knew when they were there: she’d come home from school and the atmosphere in the house would be so tense and threatening it scared her. On those days, she’d sometimes run over to Ruth’s house and stay there for the afternoon. But she didn’t like to impose
herself too often. Ruth had her own life. Dara didn’t want to rely on her friends too much, it wasn’t fair.
Most grown-ups were no use either.
‘What happened to your homework?’ Miss Daniels would say, examining the empty copybook.
‘Dunno, Miss,’ Dara would say, looking as blank as the pages. She spent a lot of time looking blank. And nobody picked up on it. No teacher came to their house asking why she never did her homework or why she was so tired in class, or even why her lunch consisted of a packet of crisps. Teachers didn’t notice much, or if they did notice, Dara decided, they didn’t want to get involved.
Her brother Greg fancied Ruth. Dara wasn’t sure how it happened. They saw each other often, living across the green from each other as they did, and sometimes Greg travelled to school with Dara—something that was almost unheard of in Greg’s school, St Dominic’s. Big brothers didn’t usually walk with little sisters. But Greg and Dara were different; they were very close: they had to be. They didn’t have anyone else, just their dad and no mum. On those walks to school, Ruth and Greg somehow fell for each other. Greg was tall and good-looking, Dara could see that. And Ruth was pretty, even though she didn’t have good clothes or much money for make-up. She had a glow and a beauty that came from the inside.
Dara wasn’t jealous, she loved them both. But she didn’t want Ruth to know everything, especially when it came to what really went on in their house. She’d never told her. It was too shaming. And now if Greg was going out with Ruth, he’d tell her everything.
‘You won’t, will you, please?’ she asked him.
‘Don’t be daft, Dara,’ he said. ‘What am I going to say?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said quietly.
‘She is your best friend,’ Greg went on.
‘I just don’t want her to know,’ Dana said, ‘that’s all.’
‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell her.’
At night, when all the kids in the neighbourhood played football on the green or sprawled on the grass, Greg and Ruth sat on the low wall near the swings and talked. Sitting on the wall was like taking out an ad in the newspaper:
We’re going out,
it proclaimed. It was the couples’ wall, dotted with people sitting beside each other, not always touching, but close. There was never too much open affection between the couples on the wall. They might be laughed at. The boys playing five-aside would jeer, rude jokes would be made. They might roar lustily that the girl needed an aspirin for contraception.
‘Keep it between your knees,’ they’d shout. ‘If it falls out, you’re fucked!’
Dara went in early the first evening Ruth and Greg sat together on the wall. Not that Dad cared what time she went home. She could come home at three in the morning with the Rolling Stones trailing behind and he wouldn’t mind. The more the merrier, especially if they brought booze.
When Dara left school she went to work in the bank. She both loved and hated the bank. It was her first proper job–working Saturdays in the supermarket near home didn’t count. She loved the fact that people weren’t allowed to shout at you no matter what happened, but she hated the groaning inevitability of it. The long, slow slog of the week would be followed by a veritable titbit of a weekend, like a teeny taste of chocolate cake and you’d barely have enough before the week was back, dull and tiring.
Work itself was a disappointment to Dara. Everyone wanted a job in the bank. Pensionable and safe in a time of uncertainty, the bank was a dream job–according to everyone else. But they didn’t have to put up with being a junior in the Inchicore branch of Harp Bank, and spending their days sorting the reams of post into piles according to the eight-digit account
numbers and then matching each item with a piece of microfiche–a four-inch by six-inch piece of see-through plastic that could be viewed through a magnifier–on to which eight sheets of paper could be copied. The letters were then taken to the microfiche department for transferring on to the tiny plastic sheets. Once copied, the letters were delivered to their destinations within the bank and Dara had to file the microfiche in the correct filing cabinet. This process had to happen within one day. It was tortuous work and searching through boxes of microfiche hurt like hell when the hard plastic scratched against her fingers. Worse was trying to decipher people’s writing on their letters. Possible account numbers had to be checked against their microfiche matches in order to find out whether a number was supposed to be a 6 instead of a 0.
‘Why can’t people write clearly?’ complained Dara’s friend Elaine. ‘How hard can it be to write their account numbers legibly? Monkeys would write better than most of these idiots.’
‘Hey, some of my best friends are monkeys,’ joked Dara. Then she moved on to their favourite subject: ‘What are we going to do for lunch?’
Elaine stopped filing for a minute and looked thoughtful.
Sometimes, the whole staff piled into cars and went up to Kitty O’Shea’s, which was always fun. The problem was getting the last customers out of the bank before it closed at 1.25 p.m.
On Kitty O’Shea mass exodus days, there was always some mad old bat who came in at precisely 1.24 p.m. with sack-loads of ha’pennies to be weighed.
The counter staff would then have to stay at their posts, smiling and trying to look as if they didn’t mind the stench of dirty coppers when what they really wanted to be smelling was vegetable soup and a ham sandwich.
And the people without cars, like Dara and Elaine, had to hop from foot to foot, waiting for their lifts.
‘We’re broke,’ Elaine reminded Dara now. ‘We brought in sandwiches, remember?’
‘Cheese on its own, because I’ve no butter,’ said Dara with a certain gloom at the memory. ‘I hate my own sandwiches. They always taste horrible. The same thing in a pub is delicious. Why is that?’
‘Because you can’t cook?’
‘You don’t cook sandwiches.’
‘OK then, because you can’t have a lager with your sandwich if you eat it here,’ Elaine pointed out.
‘Yeah, that’s it. Magic ingredient in sandwiches is lager.’
The uniform didn’t help. Harp Bank’s uniform was Kelly green, with an ill-fitting A-line skirt clearly designed by someone who’d never seen a skirt before, a cream polyester blouse with little green harps scattered over it, and a jaunty little green scarf tied like a bow in the collar. In summer, the polyester made the wearer smell of perspiration, and in winter it made them shiver with cold. The plus of the uniform was that it transformed the most unbanklike person into a demure office worker because it was simply impossible to look either cool or uninterested when wearing Kelly green harps. The colour went well with dark hair like Dara’s, and Elaine believed that the bank hired more brunettes than any other hair colour because of this.
‘You’d be fired long ago if you were a blonde,’ she said sometimes.
‘If I was a blonde, I’d be sitting on the manager’s lap all afternoon–and nobody who does that ever gets fired,’ replied Dara. The bank manager had never even so much as flirted with her, for which she was profoundly grateful. She didn’t know what she’d do if he did. Her defence was a bold, slightly confrontational stare and a slash of dusty purple shadow blazed above her brown eyes.
Don’t mess with me
was the message from both the stare and the cosmetics.
‘Where should we start tonight?’ Jean asked Dara and Elaine.
It was Friday, the cue for major partying. Dara had been
astonished and thrilled to find that people who worked in banks were mental. Once the clock hit the magic number five, the whole place cleared out.
‘Dunno,’ said Dara.
Jean was new and was not entirely allowed into Dara and Elaine’s little gang of two, but she was nearly there.
‘Captain Americas?’ said Elaine.
‘Ace,’ said Dara, relenting. ‘I love that place.’
‘I’ll phone Jason,’ Elaine said. ‘It’s only a quarter past, he’ll still be at his desk.’ Jason was Elaine’s sort-of boyfriend, He worked in a bank in town with lots of people who also loved to party.
When Elaine had mustered up a crowd, they took turns in the small women’s toilet, changing clothes and applying make-up.
Dara owned one fabulous going-out coat: a long, velvet, frock-coat. The sort of thing Siouxsie Sioux might wear. With her crochet fingerless gloves, plenty of eyeliner and her fishnets, Dara felt she could do Siouxsie better than Siouxsie herself. Her hair wasn’t the right colour and her eyes weren’t as feline despite the eyeliner, but still.
Jean, who had forgotten to bring black tights to replace her work American tan ones, almost spat with jealousy at the sight of Dara in her finery.
‘You look cool! I look like a dork.’
‘You look fine,’ Dara said. ‘You could buy black tights when we’re out.’
Jean grimaced. She was saving up to buy a moped. She had her eye on a lilac one. She’d be mobile, no more waiting at bus stops. ‘It’s a waste when I’ve so many black ones at home.’
Dara shrugged. Saving was an alien concept to her. She never had a penny to her name. As soon as she got paid, the money was tied up: on rent, on paying people she owed, on going out.
When she was dressed, she went back to her desk to collect the rest of her stuff.
‘Where are you and your little peachy friends going?’ said James. James was three levels above her in bank hierarchy, and therefore couldn’t be cheeked. He perched on the edge of Dara’s desk, leaning ominously over her. Dara’s radar fizzed when he was near, she couldn’t quite get a reading on him. Was he harmless and interesting, or dangerous? It was impossible to tell.