Erin Kaye
Erin Kay
Mothers and Daughters
Choices
Second Chances
Errin
 
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Second Time Around. A new book from Irish Author Erin Kaye. - Second Time Around. A new book from Irish Author Erin Kaye
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My Husband's Lover - Erin Kaye Irish Author - When Chris’s old friend Bernie turns up, all the way from sunny Australia, she welcomes her with open arms. But that’s before Bernie steals her husband, Paul. Now she must rebuild her life.
Closer To Home - Erin Kaye - Jilted businesswoman turns back on successful career to save family from ruin, and finds love along the way…
Second Chances - Erin Kaye - Broken marriages, jilted lovers and two-timing boyfriends with a thirst for revenge thrown in…
“Another impressive novel…” (Ireland on Sunday).
“Thoughtful and entertaining – this is a great read…” (Irish independent).
Choices - Erin Kaye - Sisters face difficult decisions as events from the past threaten to send the entire family into freefall…
“Way beyond the realms of chicklit…great writing skills here and an enjoyable read.” (Evening Herald).
Mothers And Daughters - Erin Kaye - Lives and loves of two smalltown Irish girls and their polarized families, inextricably linked by fate…
“Heart-rending.” (Sunday Life)

 

CHOICES

Sisters face difficult decisions as events from the past threaten to send the entire family into freefall… “Way beyond the realms of chicklit…great writing skills here and an enjoyable read.” (Evening Herald).

Synopsis: When Sheila gave birth to Claire she was just sixteen years of age. Persuaded by her family to give the baby up for adoption, this choice would affect her life – and the lives of those she loved – forever.

Two decades later, Sheila and her older sister, Eileen, face heartache. Eileen’s cancer has returned and Sheila can no longer live with the decision she made all those years ago. She wants her daughter back.

Soon Sheila’s desperate yearning threatens to pull the family apart. Her marriage to Jimmy in under strain and her eldest son, Conor, is in serious trouble.

With her entire family in crisis, Sheila takes reckless measures to heal the wounds of the past. Then events take an unexpected turn, offering Sheila hope for the future, but she faces one final, life-changing choice…

Sample Chapter:

Chapter 1

The sound of slow footsteps on the gravel path made Sheila glance up, through the rain-soaked window. It was Eileen, familiar in her dowdy mac and flat loafers, her battered handbag clasped protectively to her side, like an old woman. Then Sheila noticed something peculiar about her sister’s bearing that made her freeze, her hands suddenly idle in the sud-filled sink. Eileen held her head uncharacteristically erect and stared straight ahead, as though her thoughts were far removed from the few feet of gravel in front of her.

Intuitively, Sheila knew that something was wrong. Her thoughts turned to Claire, the instinct to protect her own unblunted after all these years. Had something happened to her? An accident? She sought for an answer in her sister’s inscrutable face.

Sheila dried her hands quickly. Her long red nails flashed amongst the folds of the towel, like unhealed wounds on the tips of her manicured fingers. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her right ear and adjusted her black silk-knit jumper, preparing herself.

“Eileen, what’s wrong?” she blurted out as soon as her sister stepped into the kitchen.

Eileen did not answer at once but unbuttoned her navy raincoat slowly, shook it gently and draped it on the back of a pine chair before sitting down. Silvery droplets of rain spotted the kitchen floor.

“Is it Claire?” demanded Sheila, her voice suddenly shrill and anxious, “Has something happened to Claire?”

Eileen shook her head. Sheila’s sigh of relief was audible.

“Paddy then?”

“No,” said Eileen wearily. “It’s me, Sheila. It’s me.” A wry smile darted across Eileen’s face. “It’s me and that bloody cancer.”

“Oh,” said Sheila and she sat down abruptly in the chair opposite Eileen.

They sat silently for a few moments, the soft buzz of activity audible from other parts of the semi-detached house. Sheila prepared herself to be positive, upbeat even, as she waited for Eileen to speak. But she did not meet her eye. She already knew what she was going to say.

“You know the way I’ve been exhausted lately?” said Eileen.

Sheila nodded.

“Too tired some days even to get out of bed. And I’ve been losing weight – not that I couldn’t do with losing a stone,” she glanced down, “or two.”

Sheila forced a thin smile and shook her head gently.

Eileen sighed softly and continued. “Well, Dr Crory thinks it … well, he thinks the cancer might have come back.”

Fearing she would burst into tears, Sheila sought to keep Eileen talking while she composed herself. “Did he actually say that?” she responded quickly.

“No, but as good as. He wants me to go for tests in Belfast as soon as possible. On Friday. He arranged it on the phone while I was in the surgery.”

“Friday!” repeated Sheila, “But that’s only three days away!”

Eileen nodded, and folded her lips in on each other until they both disappeared.

Sheila sought desperately for words of comfort.

“We don’t know anything for sure yet, Eileen. And there’s no point worrying until we do. He’s probably just being thorough, sending you up there so promptly. He’s a good doctor, very conscientious. For goodness sake, we don’t even know if it is cancer, and even if it is … well, you beat it before and you’ll beat it again!”

Eileen regarded her calmly, her brown eyes full of tears, and Sheila felt like the little sister she was.

“You know as well as I do,” said Eileen gently, “that the cancer never really goes away. It’s just in remission. We all knew this would happen one day. I just thought … I thought I’d have longer. Much longer than this …”

“You’re so brave, Eileen,” said Sheila and she put her hands out and enveloped Eileen’s in hers. Her sister’s palms were rough in comparison to her own and the nails short and unpolished.

“I’m not brave, Sheila. I’m not brave at all. To tell you the truth, I’m terrified. I’m just trying very hard not to show it.”

The door to the kitchen burst open. It was Sheila’s middle son, Martin.

“Hi, Auntie Eileen! I’m starving. Any chance of a sandwich, Mum?”

Eileen put her hands to her face and swiftly brushed away two tears that had crept out of the corners of her eyes.

“Can’t you see we’re talking?” snapped Sheila, “Your tea will be ready soon. I don’t want you spoiling it. Go on, out!” She glared at Martin and pointed at the door. “I said, out. Now.”

“OK, OK,” said Martin indignantly as he backed out of the room, “Keep your shirt on, Mum. I was only asking.”

The door closed again and Sheila turned her attention back to Eileen.

“Does Claire know?” she asked softly.

Eileen shook her head.

“And Paddy?”

“No. I’m going to pretend I’m just going for a routine check-up. There’s no point worrying them until we know one way or the other.”

“OK,” said Sheila, “I understand. Did the doctor say what these tests would involve?”

“They want to do a mammogram to see if there’s anything there. And if they find a lump then they’ll need to remove it for analysis.”

“A biopsy?”

“Just a tiny bit of breast tissue. Dr Crory said it would be done under local anaesthetic.”

“I see,” said Sheila, remembering the last time they’d been through this over four years ago.

She recalled the trauma of each hospital visit and the dreadful treatment Eileen had to endure. She remembered the first time she’d seen the scar where they'd removed Eileen’s breast. How hard she’d tried not to recoil in horror and how Eileen had seen through her. The strain of being optimistic and cheerful in the face of the statistics. And then the sheer and utter relief when Eileen got the all-clear.

And now they were going to have to go through it again. Except this time maybe there would be no all-clear at the end … Sheila gave herself a mental prod in the back. She wouldn’t allow herself to entertain morose sentiments. She had to be strong for Eileen.

“Anyway,” said Eileen, interrupting her thoughts, “I’m not the only one who should be seeing a doctor. Have you been to see about your periods yet?”

“That’s hardly a priority at the moment. Not until we get you sorted out …”

“No, I’ve been thinking about it, Sheila. It might be a symptom of something serious. If I’ve got – had – cancer, well, they say it runs in families. You should get checked out. Just to be on the safe side.”

A wave of panic swept over Sheila. Could she have cancer nestling deep inside, in the very heart of her? She told herself not to be so silly. There could be any number of explanations for her erratic and often absent periods. She’d put it down to hormones. She’d been emotional and weepy these last few months and she knew from her training as a nurse that symptoms of illness were often psychosomatic. The mind was sometimes more powerful than the body.

“I’m not convinced it’s anything serious, Eileen. But you’re right. I’ll go to the doctor next week.”

After Eileen had gone Sheila got on with the preparation of the meal. She set the table and tended the pots but her mind was elsewhere, racing ahead of events. What if the cancer had come back? What if Eileen couldn’t fight it this time? She couldn’t die without Claire knowing the truth. Eileen would have to tell her. But how would Claire react? Suddenly, after years of yearning for the truth to come out, Sheila wasn’t sure she wanted it to. What if Claire rejected her and Jimmy?

The pot of potatoes boiled over, water hissing as it hit the gleaming hob.

“Shit,” said Sheila.

She lifted the lid off the pot and the hissing subsided.

She told herself to stop getting carried away. She had Eileen dead and buried and she was only going for a check-up! And how selfish, concentrating on her own interests when she should be focusing on Eileen. There would be plenty of time to cross the other bridges. When they came to them.

*****

Jimmy Gallagher watched as Bridget Kelly shoved the council papers into her large canvas shopping bag. As well as being his long-time friend, Bridget was the only other Catholic, and therefore Jimmy’s ally, on the twelve-strong Ballyfergus council.

“Come on,” she said, “I’ll give you a lift home.”

Bridget was one of those fat women who carry their weight gracefully and, in spite of her girth, she glided effortlessly down the stairs and across the carpark. He followed her dumpy figure out of the council chambers reflecting with frustration on tonight’s unproductive meeting, which had disintegrated, as usual, into sectarian bickering.

“There’s so much we should be doing and all we ever seem to do is argue over politics,” said Jimmy. “We never even got round to talking about Redhill.”

“Well, that’s the nature of local government in this country, dear. Look, don’t be so down. Sure didn’t we get the dry bar for teenagers up and running? The summer school activities last year had the best ever attendance figures. And we’ll get Redhill redeveloped too.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

They got in the car and drove off. Jimmy sighed and stared at the grainy grey night outside. Bridget was right of course. He mustn’t let it get to him but he was disappointed in himself – he’d allowed himself to be sucked into an undignified squabble.

The car pulled up in front of the semi-detached house where Jimmy lived with his wife and three sons. The lights were on downstairs.

“Give my love to Sheila and the kids,” said Bridget. “They all right?”

“Aye, fine. Conor’s starting to be a bit of a handful, though. Answering his mother back when I’m not there – that sort of thing.”

“That’s boys for you, Jimmy. Girls are more of a worry but boys are harder to handle. My Seamus was a terror once he got into his teens but the girls were no bother. He grew out of it, mind, and now he’s settled down with that wee Rosemary Clunie, happy as the day is long. You can’t ask for more than that, now, can you?”

“No, indeed, you cannot. That’s all I want for my boys, too. Just to be happily married, have kids. All the usual stuff. Though it would be nice if one of them became a millionaire and kept me in me old age!”

Bridget laughed heartily.

“Thanks for the lift, Bridget. Goodnight.”

Thinking of his family put a spring in Jimmy’s step and almost erased the frustration of the last few hours.

“Are you there, love?” he called, stepping gratefully into the warmth and smell of home.

There was no reply but the sound of the TV in the front room told him that’s where he’d find the boys. He popped his head round the door. Danny and Martin, the two youngest, were sitting on the floor in their pyjamas. Conor lounged on the sofa. All three were engrossed in wrestling on TV.

“Hello, boys,” said Jimmy.

Only Danny got up off the floor to greet him.

Martin said, “Hello Dad,” and Conor grunted.

“Dad, Dad, come and watch the wrestling,” said Danny excitedly, and he pulled him into the middle of the room.

“Not tonight, son. Anyway, shouldn’t you boys be in bed?” he said sternly, and was greeted with a chorus of wails.

“Ach, no, Dad,” said Danny, stamping his foot childishly even though he was nearly ten years old, “I want to watch the wrestling.”

“It’ll be over in ten minutes,” interrupted Conor. “Sure they can go up then.”

“Aye, all right,” said Jimmy, suppressing the smile that Danny’s antics brought to his lips.

These boys would never know how much he loved them. Sometimes he longed to hold them in his arms like they were still babies but they hardly needed him now they were so grown up and independent. Only Danny would still come to him for a cuddle but he knew the days of that were numbered. Once he left primary school he’d want to leave all that childishness behind him.

Sheila was in the kitchen, reading the evening paper over a cup of coffee, blonde hair fallen over her face like a veil.

“You didn’t fancy watching the wrestling then?” he asked.

She raised her head to reveal a pained expression on her face. Indicating the small black-and-white portable TV perched on the kitchen counter between the toaster and the sink she said, “That’s all I get to watch nowadays with four men in the house. They hog that TV morning, noon and night.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t let them watch so much,” he said.

“Sure you can’t stop them the age they’re at, especially Conor.”

“Well, so long as they’re not falling behind with their homework.”

Sheila bristled and Jimmy immediately regretted those words. He couldn’t seem to get on the right side of her these days. She folded the paper sharply with a dry brittle crack.

“I take care of that,” she said and got up.

She rinsed her cup under the tap and placed it on the draining-board to dry. Then she turned and looked at him directly for the first time. Her emerald-green eyes were carefully made up as was the rest of her face, the brown eyebrows expertly shaped into two exquisite arches. He still thought her the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.

“How was the meeting tonight, then?” she asked.

“Oh, the usual. You know,” said Jimmy noncommittally.

She nodded silently, disinterested.

“Look,” she said brusquely, changing the subject, “I’ve got something to tell you. It’s about Eileen. Dr Crory wants her to go up to Belfast for a check-up on Friday. It sounds as though the cancer’s come back.”

She told him about Eileen’s tiredness, weight loss and the mammogram.

It sounded bad all right. Poor Eileen – what that girl had gone through! Jimmy shivered and glanced at Sheila. Thank God it hadn’t happened to her – he couldn’t bear it.

“The doctor must think it’s serious to get her referred so quickly,” he said.

“That’s what I thought,” said Sheila, gloomily. “And I can’t go with her either – I’ve got to work Friday.”

“Listen, love, I’m sorry,” said Jimmy and he put his arm out to comfort Sheila but she crouched down suddenly and opened the oven door.

“Sit down at the table and have your dinner before it’s ruined,” she said briskly. “I’d better go over and see Eileen now.”

As he obeyed a little stab of pain went through Jimmy’s heart. Over the last few months Sheila had been avoiding intimacy with him – it was almost as though she couldn’t bear him to touch her. And mentally she was shutting herself off from him as well. They used to be soul mates. And the frustrating thing was that he couldn’t remember exactly when things had started to go wrong. Little by little the crack between them had widened until now it seemed like a chasm.

Sheila placed a plate in front of him and removed the metal foil covering it. White curls of steam escaped from a hearty stew.

“Anyway,” she went on, as he began to eat, “we don’t know for sure that it is cancer. It could be something else. So don’t go saying anything to Paddy or Claire until we find out.”

Jimmy nodded his agreement.

Sheila put the metal foil in the bin, her cup in a cupboard and the oven gloves in a drawer. Then she wiped round the spotless sink with the dishcloth. After checking there was nothing else to be done she sat down opposite Jimmy.

“I thought you said you were going over to Eileen’s,” he said, between mouthfuls.

“I am,” she answered, “ but I want to talk to you about Conor first.”

“Oh?”

“He came home again today with his shirt ripped and when I asked him how it’d happened he wouldn’t tell me.”

“Sure that’s just boys’ horseplay.”

“No, it’s more than that, I’m sure of it. He’s been asking for extra money for school lunches and when I ask him what he's done with his allowance he won’t tell me.”

“What do you thinking he’s spending it on? Girly magazines?”

“I don’t think he’s spending it on anything. I think somebody’s taking it off him.”

Jimmy stopped eating and looked quizzically at Sheila.

“What are you saying?” he asked.

“I think he’s being bullied.”

Jimmy put his knife and fork down and considered this. True, Conor had always been a quiet, gentle child but Jimmy had worked hard to build up the boys’ confidence. He spent time with them, teaching them the skills they’d need to survive in a cruel world. Was it possible his son was a victim? He found it hard to believe.

“Have you asked him about it?” asked Jimmy.

“I tried to but he won’t talk to me.”

“And he’s more likely to talk to you than me,” observed Jimmy, dryly.

“True, but it wouldn’t do any harm to try,” said Sheila, lifting Jimmy’s cleared plate.

“OK, I’ll try. You go over to Eileen’s and I’ll have a word with Conor. We’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.”

*****

Aiden O’Neill woke up shivering. The sheet was wrapped round his naked body several times and the blankets had somehow found their way onto the floor. He got out of bed gingerly and rearranged the bedcovers before getting back under them. He lay quite wide awake now, and waited for his body-heat to warm the bed.

He’d had another broken night’s sleep but that was something Aiden had got used to over the years. That and the nightmares. They were rarely exactly the same, though they all induced the same terror and anxiety that overwhelmed him. Sometimes he’d wake up sobbing like a child and it was then he realised he was completely alone.

The best part of each day was that precious moment on wakening when his mind was a complete blank. He’d tried to prolong the experience but could not prevent himself from remembering. As soon as it was conscious, his brain would seek out the memories, faces, references by which it defined Aiden O’Neill, age thirty, bachelor and loner. The rest of the time Aiden spent consciously focusing on the here and now, avoiding the painful memories that haunted him and marred his experience of life.

He looked about the miserable little room and wondered what it would be like to wake up somewhere where you were safe and happy, with a woman you loved lying beside you. Somewhere that, when you realised who and where you were, you actually smiled and thought, “Yeah, life is great. This is where I want to be.”

“Sod it,” said Aiden angrily, throwing back the heavy blankets and jumping out of bed.

He wasn’t going to let a bout of depression drag him down. Not today. Today he was going to do something positive. He was due money from Social Services for the three weeks he’d been unemployed when he’d first come to Ballyfergus. The giro should have been through by now and he could do with the money.

He showered in the bathroom he shared with two other lodgers on the same floor, changed and put on fresh clothes. He forced himself to notice that, in spite of the cold, it was sunny outside – the first sign of spring. In his room he boiled up a pot of tea and ate the remains of a loaf of bread spread with marmalade. Then he was ready to face the world with a smile on his face if not in his heart.

The Social Security Office was an ugly grey block of a building built in the 1970’s. Surrounded by high wire fencing and a security gate it looked as inviting as a police station.

Aiden gave his name to the receptionist and joined the subdued claimants in the waiting-room for the optimistically named “Job Seeker’s Allowance.” He found the wait quite pleasant – it was warm and dry and people-watching provided a diversion by which to pass the time. He studied the overweight, coughing, wheezing claimants and thought they were more like patients in a doctor’s waiting-room than a potential workforce actively seeking employment. Eventually his name was called.

The girl behind the counter, who looked like she was barely out of her teens, asked him to sit down. He sat and explained why he was there.

Competently, she punched his details into the keyboard on the desk in front of her and waited for the computer to respond. Up close she was pretty. Her eyes were greeny-blue, the colour of the sea on a cloudy day, and her shoulder-length brown hair looked freshly washed. Aiden had a sudden urge to lean over and smell it. ‘Ms C O’Connor’ said her name badge, giving little away. He wondered what her name was – Cathy, Catriona, Catherine, Cassandra? He laughed to himself – no she didn’t look like a Cassandra. And she looked too young to be a ‘Mrs’.

Ms O’Connor knitted her eyebrows into a frown and he could see the lines of computer text reflected in her dilated pupils.

“Hmm . . .” she said and turned her gaze on him, “there seems to be a bit of a problem, Mr O’Neill. Your details went on the system all right but I think because you came off the Job Seeker’s Allowance after only three weeks somehow your payments got cancelled. I’ll have to get someone from the payments office to look into it and phone you. When would be a good time?”

“Well, I’m working shifts now so I’m not sure …”

“Oh, where are you working?” she asked brightly.

Her interest and smile were genuine and uncharacteristic of the breed, thought Aiden. As a Social Security employee she was supposed to be unfriendly and unhelpful – at least that had been Aiden’s experience to date. Her directness and naivety were attractive qualities, he decided. No doubt in a few years they’d have that knocked out of her.

“I’m on the ferries,” he said. “I’m a steward.”

“Do you have to do the night boats as well?”

“Somebody has to,” he replied.

“Right,” she said, and he was immediately sorry he’d been short. “Well, I’m really sorry about this delay with your giro. We’ll get it sorted as soon as we can. Now when did you say would be a good time to call?”

“I didn’t,” he replied. “Look, I’ll leave you my landlady’s number. I don’t have a phone in my room. But you can leave a message there for me.”

“OK. Thank you, Mr O’Neill.”

He turned to go but couldn’t resist asking her.

“Ms O’Connor,” he said, “what does the ‘C’ on your badge stand for? Only I’ve been trying to guess.”

“Oh,” she said and she looked down at the badge above her left breast as though noticing it for the first time, “it stands for Claire.” She blushed and looked around her. “Though strictly speaking I’m not supposed to tell you. Security and all that.”

“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me, Claire,” he said and left.

*****

“What’re you doing telling him your name?” said Deirdre, across the table in the staff room.

Claire watched her friend grimace before taking a bite of brown sandwich filled with salad. The pause allowed Claire time to decide how to answer.

“Who?” she said, affecting indifference, as she concentrated on peeling an orange.

“Oh, don’t come over all innocent with me. That O’Neill guy. I heard you,” said Deirdre triumphantly.

“He only asked,” replied Claire, somewhat defensively.

“And you’ve been mooning around all morning. Since you interviewed him in fact.”

“Don’t be daft, Deirdre. He’s just a client.”

“Right.”

“Jesus,” said Deirdre all of a sudden, “I’m sick of these healthy sandwiches. Give me chicken mayo any day. Two months I’ve been on this stupid diet and I’ve hardly lost any weight!”

She got up and threw the remains of her lunch into the bin with a vengeance. She returned to the table, removed a Mars bar from her lunchbox and, with a satisfied air, took a bite.

Claire stifled a giggle. “What did you think of him?” she asked at last.

Deirdre answered immediately, between mouthfuls, as though she’d been anticipating the question. “Not my type. A bit too skinny. But he did have nice eyes, all dark and broody like.” She paused and then, screwing up her face, added, “But he’s a bit old, isn’t he?”

“He’s thirty. That’s only nine, no, eight years older than me seeing as it’s my birthday soon.”

“You really do fancy him, don’t you?” said Deirdre.

“I thought he was nice. That’s all.”

“But he’s unemployed.”

“No, he’s not. He works on the ferries as a steward. He only came in to see about money he’s due from before.”

Someone came into the room, effectively ending the conversation.

“Come on, we’d better get back. It’s past one,” said Deirdre.

The rest of the day was uneventful and Claire was glad when the hands of the clock finally crawled round to five o’clock.

On the bus home, she sat by the window looking out as it chugged and spluttered through the town. The rhythm was soothing, almost hypnotic, and her thoughts wandered to Aiden O’Neill, just as they had done a hundred times that afternoon. She knew he wasn’t from Ballyfergus but apart from that she knew very little about him. He’d made his claim for Job Seeker’s Allowance six weeks ago so that was how long he must have been in town. She’d never seen him before, that was certain, for she wouldn’t have forgotten him in a hurry.

She alighted at her stop and walked the short distance in the dusk to the house. She thought of her mum and wondered what she would make of Aiden. Not a lot probably – she’d think he wasn’t good enough for her. Mum had these daft notions about Claire marrying above herself, to a doctor or a lawyer. God knows where she got her ideas from. Claire just wanted to be happy and in love and she couldn’t think of a better reason for marrying than that.

Inside, Claire shouted a greeting up the hall before going up to her room where she changed into comfortable jeans and a top. Downstairs, her dad was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. He smiled and looked up when she came in.

“Hello, love,” he said, in his gentle voice. “How was work?”

So she sat down and told him about her day, omitting any mention of Aiden O’Neill, while her mum Eileen served pork chops, applesauce, potatoes and carrots.

After her dad said grace quickly, they began to eat.

“Are you going out tonight?” Claire asked her father.

“Aye, I was thinking about going to the Club for a jar or two,” he replied.

“Ugh, Dad! I’m going with Deirdre and Jacqui! Mum, tell him he can’t go!”

He chuckled and they both looked at Eileen but she appeared not to be listening.

“Eileen, love, are you all right?” he said.

“What? Yes, I’m fine. What were you saying?”

“Tell Dad he can’t go to the Social Club tonight. I’m going with my friends. There’s a band playing. You’ll hate it, Dad.”

“I’m sure your father won’t cramp your style, will you, Paddy? Not unless you’re man-hunting,” she said, sharing a conspiratorial smile with him.

“Oh, Mum!” exclaimed Claire in disgust and they all laughed.

Afterwards, Claire went upstairs and got ready. She decided on flared jeans and a tight T-shirt with high heels, put on heavier make-up than she wore during the day and brushed her hair. A spot of lippy and she was ready to go.

Downstairs, her dad was watching the TV in the front room. She found Eileen in the kitchen, sitting perfectly still with her folded hands resting on the kitchen table. The dishes had been washed and left to dry on the draining-board and the rest of the kitchen was as tidy as usual, that is to say not tidy at all.

“Mum, are you all right?” asked Claire.

“Mmm, I’m fine, love. Just fine. Oh, let me see you. You look nice.”

“It’s just that you seem a bit …” Claire sought for the right word, “a bit preoccupied. You’re not worrying about that check-up tomorrow, are you? I thought you said it was just routine.”

“Worried? Me?” said her mum, too brightly. “Don’t be daft. Now you get along or you’ll be late.”

Before Claire had the opportunity to quiz her further, Aunt Sheila came through the back door. Her face lit into a broad smile when she saw Claire.

“You look lovely,” she said admiringly. “Off out?”

“Yes, and she’s going to be late if she doesn’t get a move on,” said Eileen, shooing Claire out into the hallway.

*****

Eileen was relieved when she shut the door behind Claire. Sometimes the child was too perceptive for comfort. Illogically she found Sheila’s appearance at that precise moment irritating. She couldn’t put her finger on why.

Sheila was waiting for her in the kitchen.

“You haven’t told them then?” she asked.

“Sshh,” said Eileen putting her forefinger to her lips and gently closing the door on the noise of the TV. “No, I told you I wouldn’t,” she said in her normal voice, once she was satisfied Paddy could not hear them, “but I think Claire’s guessed something’s wrong. It’s my fault. I’ve probably been acting strangely. To tell you the truth, I’m worried sick about tomorrow.”

“Oh, Eileen.”

“I’ve had a headache all day. I feel as though there’s this terrible weight on my head making everything all foggy.”

“Have you taken anything for it? I’ve some painkillers in the house,” said Sheila, making a move for the back door.

“No, it’s all right, I’ve got something here,” said Eileen, rummaging in the back of a cupboard. “He usually keeps … ah, here we are,” she said, emerging with a half-bottle of Jameson’s whisky in her hand. “Want some?”

Sheila shook her head in a way that conveyed her disapproval as her sister poured a generous measure into a tumbler.

“Cheers,” said Eileen and took a large swig, feeling reckless.

The taste was unfamiliar and vile and, when she swallowed, the fiery liquid burned her gullet. Undeterred, she took another swig. It was only a means to an end, she told herself, and that end was to get some relief from the pain inside her head.

The noise of the TV stopped and they heard Paddy heave himself off the sofa. Guiltily, Eileen hid the bottle and glass in the cupboard.

“Didn’t hear you come in,” he said to Sheila, entering the kitchen. “Is Jimmy going down the Club later on?”

“I think so. He’s out at some meeting about Redhill. I don’t know what time he’ll be back.”

“Redhill, that’s that old estate out by Carrickdun, isn’t it?” said Paddy.

“Yes, the council are thinking of opening it to the public, restoring the gardens and holiday cottages. They’re talking about holding open-air concerts there in the summer.”

“That would be nice all right,” said Paddy. He looked at the clock on the wall and went on, “Well, I think I’ll head on down there myself. You don’t mind, do you, love?”

“No, of course not,” said Eileen hurriedly. “You go on and enjoy yourself. Me and Sheila are just going to have a cup of tea.”

Paddy moved towards Eileen and she held her breath while he kissed her on the lips. After he’d left she finished the remaining whisky in the glass she had hidden and poured herself another one.

Unable to contain herself any longer Sheila ventured, “Eileen, I don’t think that’s helping matters.”

“What do you know about it?” snapped Eileen. “You’re not the one going for the mammogram. You’re not the one facing the prospect of telling Paddy and Claire …”

Her voice trailed off as she covered her face with her hands. She’d hardly eaten at tea-time and the whisky was taking effect quickly, releasing the emotions she’d pent up so effectively these last few days. She felt the light weight of Sheila’s arm around her shoulders and she sobbed quietly for a few moments.

She looked up when she’d composed herself and went on, “It’s not me I’m worried for, Sheila. It’s Paddy and Claire. I don’t think Paddy would be able to cope without me. And what about Claire? Oh, God, I always thought I’d be there to see her married, have children. It’s so unfair.”

“Steady on, Eileen,” said Sheila. “We don’t know anything for sure yet. And as for Claire, I’ll always be there for her. And Paddy.”

“I have a bad feeling about tomorrow,” said Eileen, choosing to ignore the last remark. “I just know they’re going to find something.”

“Eileen,” said Sheila crossly, “will you stop talking yourself into a hole. And give me that,” she said, snatching the glass out of Eileen’s hand and throwing the contents down the sink. “The last thing you need in the morning is a hangover.”

Eileen sighed heavily and ran her fingers through her hair. “I feel so helpless. I just want it over and done with.”

“And it will be. Tomorrow,” said Sheila firmly. “So there’s no point torturing yourself about it now.”

She paused and they were both silent for some moments. Sheila looked at her reflection in the window, then at her nails and then directly at Eileen. She seemed to be summoning up the courage to speak.

“About Claire,” she said cautiously, “I’ve been thinking about something for a while now. Don’t you think …”

“Did I ever tell you the whole story about me and Paddy?” interrupted Eileen, emboldened by the whisky and uncomfortable with her sister’s tone of voice and the direction of the conversation. Without waiting for a reply she got up and filled another glass, ignoring Sheila’s protestations.

“Come on through to the lounge,” she said.

Sheila followed her.

“I got this job as a temporary clerk in MacMaster’s,” said Eileen, settling down on the green velour sofa. “You’ll remember them, that haulage firm on the Shore Road that went bust a couple of years ago.”

Sheila nodded. She sat down in the armchair and pulled her legs up under her, curled up like a cat.

“That’s where you met Paddy,” she said.

“I wouldn’t have looked at him, you know, only he was so different from the other lorry drivers. He never swore or read dirty magazines, not in front of me anyway, and he took the time to talk to me. You know, asked me what I thought about things. To the rest of the men I was just a bit of skirt. I remember when he asked me out for the first time. He was hanging around waiting for the others to leave and I kept asking if he wanted something and he kept saying, ‘No’.” Eileen laughed at the memory. “And then, when there was just the two of us left in the office and I was about to lock up, he blurts out, ‘Will you go out with me?’ And I was so shocked, it was so unexpected, that I just stood there like an idiot with the keys in my hand.”

“But you said ‘Yes’, didn’t you?” said Sheila.

“Oh, aye, and you couldn’t get us apart after that.”

Eileen paused, took another swig of whiskey and gasped before going on.

“It was his mother told him about me, you know, when she realised we were serious about each other. I don’t think she meant any harm by it – she just didn’t want Paddy to get hurt. She’d remembered from the papers at the time that the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to have children when I grew up.”

Sheila uncurled her legs and sat upright, listening attentively.

“So you know what Paddy did? He never said a word to me, he didn’t. He went up to the Ballyfergus Times office and asked to go through their archives and read about it for himself. And I don’t think to this day he would have raised it, if I hadn’t.”

“How did you tell him?” asked Sheila.

“He’d asked me to marry him and I knew I had to tell him then. You couldn’t keep a thing like that a secret in a marriage. We were out for a walk on the promenade and I’d been summoning up the courage all week to tell him. I didn’t know how he’d react, you see. We’d never talked about children.

“Anyway, we stopped and sat down on a bench and I said that I had something to tell him. And he never said a word. He just nodded and stared straight ahead. So I told him everything I could remember and everything I’d been told about it afterwards, and how I couldn’t have children because the knife had damaged my insides so badly. And all the time he just sat there listening and never said a word.”

“And then? How did he react? What did he say?” gasped Sheila, her hand over her mouth.

“I could tell he was trying to contain himself for he didn’t say anything for a while. And when he did, at last, speak he said, ’I know’. And then he went on to tell me how he’d found out, and that he loved me and how it didn’t matter to him so long as he had me. He said if he ever got hold of the bastard that did it he’d kill him with his bare hands, but he knew he was locked up somewhere for life, and you couldn’t let hate like that destroy your life. And he said how proud he was of me, that I’d survived it. Do you know it’s the most I’ve ever heard Paddy say all in one go. And he never mentioned it again after that. We were married that summer.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Sheila. “About Paddy, I mean.”

“No,” said Eileen, “there’s a lot of things we never told you. You were only sixteen when we got married and, well, Mum wanted to protect you. That’s why she didn’t tell you about me until … she had to.” Eileen looked at the floor and then went on. “Do you remember how Mum was dead set against Paddy? She thought a lorry driver wasn’t good enough for me and that he was too old. But he’s done all right by me – he’s been a good husband and a good father to Claire.” She looked up, catching Sheila’s eye. “But he depends on me. Completely. It’s him I worry about most.”

Sheila nodded in agreement and asked, “Have you told Mum about tomorrow?”

“No, but I should. I just can’t face it tonight. Would you do it for me?”

*****

Sheila let herself into the house by the back door. All was in darkness and silent – Jimmy must still be at the Club. The kitchen was as she’d left it, spotlessly neat and tidy. She never could understand Eileen’s sloppy ways round the house – it was as though she took no pride in her home. Not for the first time she’d had to resist the urge to give the place a good going over.

She went upstairs and checked the sleeping boys, kissing each one gently on the cheek. Then she got ready for bed and reflected on what Eileen had told her. After all these years there were still secrets emerging, little details about her life that, as her sister, she should have known. But the six-year age gap between her and Eileen had ensured they would never be really close, as did the history between them.

Then she remembered her promise to Eileen to call her mum.

The phone was answered within two rings.

“What’re you doing phoning me at this hour?” asked Moira Devlin irritably.

“Sure you don’t go to bed ‘til all hours. So, what’s the problem?” said Sheila, thinking that her mother was getting very set in her ways. “Look, never mind that now, Mum, I’ve something to tell you. It’s not good news. Eileen has to go up to Belfast tomorrow, to the hospital. They want to check that the cancer’s still in remission.”

“You mean it’s come back!”

“No, we don’t know that yet, Mum, that’s why she has to have the mammogram,” said Sheila cheerfully, not sure if she could face another emotionally wrought conversation this evening. “Eileen would have told you herself except she’s a bit knackered and she’s gone to bed. I don’t think she wanted to talk about it any more.”

“I see. How’re Claire and Paddy taking the news?”

“They don’t know. Eileen didn’t want to tell them just yet. You know what Paddy’s like – he’d be worried sick.”

“Well, thank God Eileen has Claire anyway,” said Moira. “That girl is so dear to her. It’ll give her a reason to fight this thing.”

Sheila bristled. Why did her mum feel the need to remind her how precious Claire was to Eileen? Wasn’t she precious to Sheila too?

“If the cancer’s come back, Mum. The mammogram in itself won’t tell us that. It’ll only show if there’s a lump.”

“And if they find one?”

“They’ll have to take it out to see whether it’s benign or not.”

“Oh, my God,” said Moira.

“Let’s not worry until we have something to worry about, eh?” said Sheila gently, sensing her mother’s rising panic.

“It’s not good though, is it, Sheila? I mean, with her having cancer before and all.”

“I know, Mum. But we just have to wait and see and try to remain positive. Look, I’ve got to work on Friday. Can you go with her to the hospital?”

“If she wants me too.”

“She will.”

When Sheila came off the phone she brushed her teeth and went to the toilet. Her period should have come months ago. She thought about her conversation with Eileen earlier in the week – it was time she made that appointment to see the doctor.





 
Eron
Erron
Eran Kay
Larne
Northern Ireland
North Berwick

© Erin Kaye    |  Publication date - 12 May 2011   |  Admin  |  Email Erin


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