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Authors: Roisin Meaney

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Putting Out the Stars

BOOK: Putting Out the Stars
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To the Meaney and O’Grady clans, past, present and to come.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W. H. Auden

Contents

Cover

Title page

Dedication

Epigraph

before

during

after

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Author

About Gill & Macmillan

before

H
eaving herself into the car, pulling the door closed with an effort, she thought
toothpaste
;
I forgot toothpaste.
Everything
else was on the list – bin liners, milk, washing-up liquid, coffee – just the few things that couldn’t wait until they did the big shop at the weekend. Not that
she
needed coffee – just the smell made her gag these days, and she’d been so addicted to it before – but she couldn’t expect John to give it up too. He had enough to deal with
right now, all those extra hours at work he’d put in for, heading off at eight every morning and often not home again till after nine. Of course they were glad to have them, God knows they
could do with the money, with her contract finishing up just before she’d have had to leave anyway, and nothing else in sight for when she’d be ready to go back to work, but still . .
.

She switched on the engine and put the wipers to the fast setting – would the rain never stop? – before backing the car carefully out of the driveway, conscious of her stomach
sliding along the steering wheel as she swivelled both ways to check the road. She shouldn’t be driving at all, the size of her, but if she didn’t get the things they needed, who would?
And her legs, swollen to the width of tree trunks, wouldn’t take her as far as the end of the road. One month to go, one more month of feeling like a hippopotamus every time she moved, of
hardly being able to turn over in the bed, of heartburn and backache and at least three trips to the loo every night – and they talked about pregnant women blooming.

Toothpaste. Toothpaste.
If she didn’t keep repeating it, she’d forget it. Nothing stayed in her head these days – she couldn’t remember from one episode to the
next what had happened in
Coronation Street
, kept walking into a room and then wondering what had brought her in there, forgot to feed Bonkers – or fed him two breakfasts in a row;
the poor dog didn’t know if he was coming or going. Wait till the baby arrived.

She drove through a log of water, sending a wall of spray out to the side and feeling the car sliding on the wet ground for a terrifying second. She clutched the wheel tighter and dropped her
speed, kept her eyes riveted on the road ahead as it went from blurry to clear with every rapid slash of the wipers.
Toothpaste. Toothpaste.
A car turned out from a side road and came
towards her, blurry, clear, blurry, clear. It looked like it was wavering, tilting from side to side in the rain.

No – it wasn’t the rain – with a lurch, she realised that the other car was swerving across the central line, now back into its own side, now coming straight towards her. And
she was suddenly terrifyingly helpless, frozen with her fingers white on the wheel, foot pushing down so hard on the brake pedal that she must stop, she must, and the brakes screamed loudly but she
kept on going, wipers still flicking madly from side to side, and the other car was still heading straight for her . . . God . . . now her hands were flying to her stomach, curling around it, her
body bracing itself, her mouth open in horror, her eyes squeezing shut –

And then it was all over.

during

Y
ou could say it began with Laura and Ruth in a pub in the middle of Limerick, one mild and drizzly September afternoon. Ruth had recently got back
from Crete; the table in front of them was scattered with photos. Laura picked one up.

‘God – what I wouldn’t give to be on that beach right now, instead of here in the rain.’

Ruth smiled. ‘I know – imagine waking up to that view. Every morning, first thing, I’d go out onto the balcony to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.’

Laura arched an eyebrow. ‘First thing every morning? Really?’ One side of her mouth slid upwards. ‘Before you did anything else?’

Ruth immediately blushed scarlet and ducked her head, letting her pale blond hair swing forwards as she started fiddling with the photos. Laura gave herself a mental kick – she kept
forgetting what a bashful creature her new sister-in-law was. Imagine blushing like that though, at her age – you’d think she was fourteen instead of thirty. Mind you, just because
Laura and Donal had hardly got out of bed on
their
honeymoon didn’t mean that everyone else did the same.

‘Sorry, Ruth – me and my filthy mind; take no notice.’ She swept up the two empty glasses. ‘One for the road, as long as there’s no sign of your
chauffeur?’

Ruth, new wife of Laura’s brother Andrew, checked her watch as the blush died. Then she shook her head. ‘No more for me, thanks; I’d better be sober going home to your
mother.’

‘You mean your mother-in-law.’ Laura grinned. ‘Better get used to it; you’re stuck with her now. Right, one more beer for me, and I’ll get you a Ballygowan.’
She turned with the glasses and headed for the bar.

Laura and Ruth had known each other for eight months. They’d met when Andrew had brought Ruth home to meet his mother, and arranged for his sister Laura to be there too, to help break the
ice. Laura’s husband Donal had been included in the invitation, but he’d managed not to be available that evening.

From their first meeting, Ruth Tobin and Cecily O’Neill had seemed to hit it off. Laura’s watchful eye could detect no obvious tension between the two women, despite the fact that
they could hardly have been more different; nobody could accuse Cecily of lacking in confidence. But she and Ruth chatted pleasantly, if a little formally, over Cecily’s perfectly cooked
salmon steaks and char-grilled vegetables. Ruth wasn’t exactly the life and soul of the evening, but she coped quite well under the circumstances, Laura thought.

She used the right cutlery without hesitation. She didn’t speak with her mouth full, or drop anything. She complimented Cecily shyly on the meal, and refused second helpings of the
light-as-a-feather pineapple soufflé. She admired the Lladro collection in the cabinet in the hall, and pointed out a few books on Cecily’s shelves that she’d read too.

And Cecily responded, offering to lend Ruth a recently-read William Trevor that she herself had enjoyed.

‘It was my book club’s choice for this month; I thought it was his best so far.’

Altogether Ruth was perfectly behaved – the ideal guest in Cecily’s genteel home. Laura had watched and listened, and marvelled that this demure girlfriend of Andrew’s –
so unlike his usual choices – had somehow found favour with the woman who’d managed to get rid of all his previous ones. And then, towards the end of the evening, she’d suddenly
thought:
of course

she’ll never lose him if he marries Ruth.

When she left that evening, Ruth had tucked William Trevor into her bag and thanked Cecily for the meal; and the second time they all met, she’d finished the book and agreed to marry
Andrew.

Laura saw her often after that, whenever Ruth came down from Dublin for the weekend; she usually invited the two of them to dinner with her and Donal on Saturday night, so Ruth wouldn’t
have to endure a whole two days of Cecily.

‘Bet Andrew is sorry now he never got his own place; there’s Ruth in the spare room, and God help them if they try anything under Mother’s roof.’ Laura was melting dark
chocolate over a pot of boiling water for a mousse.

Donal raised his head from the paper. ‘Quite right too. Time enough for all that carry-on after they’re married.’

Laura grinned, turning a spoon gently through the softening chocolate. ‘You mean, like the way you stayed away from me until we were legal.’

He dropped the paper and came over to the cooker, putting his arms around her waist from behind, leaning into her. ‘That was different. You were completely irresistible – it was
beyond my control.’

‘Good answer; here.’ She dipped a little finger into the chocolate and turned around to slide it into his mouth.

Laura met Ruth’s mother and three sisters for lunch in Dublin a month before the wedding. The women washed down fettuccini and roasted vegetables with several glasses of Chianti, while
Andrew took his future father-in-law off to watch a match and eat pub grub.

And then Ruth and Andrew got married, and Ruth moved into Andrew’s room in Cecily’s house.

But just until their own was ready. Unlike Laura, who’d moved out to share a house as soon as she started her course at the Art College, Andrew had never felt the need to leave home; the
subject had simply never come up. And of course there was no question of leaving Cecily on her own after their father died suddenly, two years into Andrew’s first computer programming job, so
he continued to sleep in the room he’d taken over when Laura had moved out, bringing home the occasional girlfriend to meet his mother.

And now everything had changed, and Andrew was twenty-eight and married, and he and Ruth would be moving out of Cecily’s as soon as the house they’d bought was ready – a month
or two more, according to the builders who were doing the renovations.

Or maybe a little longer, depending.

Ruth had lived all her life in Dublin. Born and bred in the same little Northside neighbourhood, she finally moved into a flat two streets away from her parents when she turned twenty-seven,
tired of feeling slightly ridiculous whenever she admitted that yes, she was still living at home. Two years later, her flatmates persuaded her to go on her first ever sun holiday. She hadn’t
fancied the thought, not at all.

‘Look how fair I am. I’ll burn as soon as I step outside. Or get covered in freckles, which is worse.’

‘Course you won’t – you’ll slather on the sun cream and wear a giant hat, and you’ll be fine.’ Claire was big and rosy-cheeked. ‘And you’ve a
lovely figure – you’ll look brilliant in a bikini.’

‘Ah come on, Ruth – Crete is fabulous; you’ll love it.’ Maura lifted a handful of ginger curls. ‘If I can survive in the sun with this mop, so can you. And we might
even find you a hunk to have a fling with.’

And Ruth, who’d never had a fling in twenty-nine years, whose few short-lived romances had been spectacularly disappointing, shrugged and said she’d think about it, wondering what
excuse would sound the most plausible.

But of course Claire and Maura hadn’t been fooled, and she’d finally run out of reasons why they should leave her at home and go themselves. And then they’d hardly arrived in
Crete when she met Andrew, and now she was living in Limerick, never having been further west than Portlaoise up to this.

Laura came back with the drinks. ‘I got the fizzy stuff – hope that’s OK.’

‘Thanks.’ Ruth smiled and took the little bottle and the glass full of ice and a lemon slice. ‘You know, I’m so glad Andrew had a sister. After growing up in a house full
of girls, I don’t know what I’d do without a bit of female company.’ She blushed faintly again.

Laura pushed an auburn curl behind her ear. ‘Mmm; I’d have liked to have a couple of sisters myself – especially since Mother and I were never what you’d call
close.’ She lifted her beer and drank, then seeing Ruth’s look of concern, grinned and shook her head. ‘Oh, it doesn’t bother me really; I’m just glad I don’t
have to live with her any more.’ Immediately she realised what she’d said, and added quickly, ‘– but hey, that’s just me; you seem to get on fine with her, don’t
you?’

Ruth nodded. ‘Yes; Cecily’s been very nice to me since I moved in.’

And Laura looked at her sister-in-law and thought
most people would be nice to you . . . what’s not to be nice about
?

BOOK: Putting Out the Stars
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