Authors: Sinead Moriarty
‘Who’d like tea?’ asked Fiona.
‘I’d love some,’ I said, as she went into the kitchen to boil the kettle.
‘Imagine how insufferable he’ll be if he wins this prize.’ I sighed.
‘Perish the thought,’ said Dad, with a shudder.
The phone rang. Fiona mustn’t have heard it in the kitchen so I picked it up. ‘Hello.’
‘Hello, Mrs Kennedy, your biopsy results have come through and Dr Summer needs to see you right away. I’ve scheduled you in for nine tomorrow morning.’
‘OK,’ I said, as the phone went dead.
What the hell was going on?
I sprang up from the chair and went to find Fiona, who was in the kitchen with the twins.
‘Hey, boys, will you go to Granddad? He wants to talk to you,’ I said, and ushered them out.
I took the teapot out of Fiona’s hand and led her to the table to sit down. ‘What’s going on?’ she asked.
‘My question exactly. You’ve just had a phone call from Dr Summer’s secretary. Your biopsy results are back and he wants to see you at nine tomorrow morning.’ Fiona’s face crumpled. ‘Are you OK? Why are you having biopsies?’
‘You should have called me. That was a private phone call,’ she said, trying to compose herself.
‘The woman didn’t give me a chance to say I wasn’t you? Anyway, that’s irrelevant. Are you sick?’
‘If they’re calling me back first thing tomorrow it must be bad news,’ she said, fighting tears.
‘Jesus, Fiona, what is it?’
‘Oh, God, where?’
I stared at her, speechless.
‘Freaky, isn’t it?’ said Fiona, laughing bitterly. ‘She was exactly the same age as me when she died.’
‘Don’t think about that. It was a long time ago and the treatment now is much better. Besides, Mum’s was very advanced. Yours is probably just a little lump that they need to take out,’ I said, grabbing at straws.
‘Does anyone know?’ I asked.
She shook her head. ‘I didn’t want to worry Mark unnecessarily.’
‘I’ll go with you tomorrow.’
‘You’re flying back to London in the morning.’
‘I’ll change my flight.’
‘Don’t you have to work?’
‘Yes, but I can sort something out. Come on, I’d like to go with you.’
‘No, it’s fine. I’ll tell Mark tonight and he’ll come with me.’
‘Well, if you change your mind I’m happy to stay.’
Fiona smiled at me. ‘You’ll break out in a rash if you stay in Dublin for more than twenty-four hours. It’s OK, I’ll be fine.’
‘Come on, Kate, you’re allergic to Dublin.’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Yes, you are. You always look uncomfortable and edgy after a couple of hours.’
‘Do I?’ I asked, knowing fine well I did. ‘I don’t mean to. I love catching up with all of you.’
I did like the idea of coming home and seeing my family, but after an hour or two I always began to feel claustrophobic. In the last three years I’d only come home for Christmas, and once during the summer for a weekend. I could never wait to get back to the airport. A weight lifted off me when I boarded the plane to London. I was always glad to see my family, but after the initial catching up, I never knew what to do with myself. I didn’t seem to fit in. Dad, Fiona and Derek had moved on with their lives and were closer to each other than they were to me. I felt like an outsider as they told stories about things that had happened while I was away. I spent most of my time lurking about the house, clock-watching.
‘Maybe if you came home more regularly it’d be more comfortable for you. I know Dad would like to see more of you. I would too.’
‘Sure, absolutely, I’ll try and do that,’ I lied. ‘Anyway, what are we talking about this for when there are much more important things going on? How are you feeling? Have you been sick?’
‘No, not at all. I only noticed the lump a few weeks ago, so I decided to get it checked out and they sent me for a biopsy.’
‘It’ll be OK, Fiona. You’ve caught it early.’
‘What if I haven’t? What if the boys end up like us, with no mother? I couldn’t bear that, Kate. Life can be so unfair. I hated not having Mum around. It meant having to grow up so quickly. I want the boys to be children for as long as possible.’
I tried desperately to think of something reassuring to say. I owed her so much. She had given up her youth to raise me and Derek. While we were playing with our friends on the road, Fiona was cooking dinner or doing our laundry. Because of her selflessness, Derek and I had had a very stable upbringing. She was the one who made all the sacrifices.
‘Fiona, the boys will be fine and so will you. Women are always having lumps removed and go on to live long, healthy lives. I bet when you see the doctor tomorrow he’ll tell you it’s nothing to worry about.’
Before we could continue the conversation, Dad barged in, with the twins hanging off his back, screeching with laughter. ‘Jesus, did you go to India to pick the tealeaves?’ he puffed, as Fiona and I peeled the boys off him. ‘My God, Fiona, they’re very lively. I don’t know how you do it. I’m worn out after ten minutes,’ he said, plonking himself down on a chair while the twins chased each other round the table.
‘You get used to it,’ she said.
‘Well, you look tired to me,’ said Dad. ‘I hope Mark’s doing his fair share, Goldwin Prize or no Goldwin Prize.’
‘Yes, Dad, he is. Mark’s a very hands-on father.’
‘Here you go,’ I said, pouring his tea to shut him up.
you met a nice lad yet?’ he asked, ricocheting from one interfering question to the next.
‘No, I’m too busy with work to meet men,’ I said.
‘You’ve always been far too focused on your career. You should spend more time trying to meet a nice fellow like your sister and settle down. You’re no spring chicken any more.’
I almost choked on my tea. Mark had never been Dad’s idea of a great son-in-law. He had hoped Fiona would meet someone who’d spoil her and pamper her and take away all her worries and responsibilities. Give her back some of the childhood that had been robbed from her. But you can’t turn back the clock and change the past. Fiona was responsible, efficient, reliable and dependable, and she wasn’t going to change regardless of whom she married. Besides, she really did seem to love Mark and he adored her.
They had met at a chess competition – Mum had taught Fiona how to play. When she was too sick to get out of bed, Fiona would go up to her room and they’d play for hours. After Mum had died, Dad signed Fiona up to a chess club and made her go every week. At first she didn’t want to, but then she began to enjoy it, especially after she met Mark.
For Fiona it was love at first checkmate. She had finally met someone who was passionate about chess and maths. Living with Derek and me must have been torture for her – we could barely add. They spent hours discussing linear programming, genetic algorithms and differential equations. Fiona thought she had died and gone to heaven. After years of trying to teach me and Derek to play chess – I got bored after five minutes and Derek tried to shove the pieces up his nose – she had found a true kindred spirit.
‘Thanks for reminding me of my age, Dad,’ I said. ‘And, by the way, in case you ever meet anyone I work with, I’m twenty-six,’ I said.
‘In my line of work once you reach thirty you’re over the hill, unless you’re hugely successful. So, I’ll be twenty-six for a couple of years.’
‘What kind of a job is that? You should come home and–’
‘Get a real job,’ I said, finishing his sentence for him. ‘No, thanks, Dad. I love my job and I’m where I want to be. If I have to starve myself and go to the gym five days a week to look younger, so be it. It’s worth the effort.’
‘You’re looking very thin,’ Fiona said.
‘I have to be. TV adds on ten pounds – and you should see the girls I’m in competition with. They’re stunning and rail thin. It’s dog eat dog out there.’
‘Who’s eating dogs?’ asked Jack.
‘That’s mean,’ said Bobby, putting a protective arm round Teddy.
‘No one’s eating dogs, sweetie, it’s just an expression,’ said Fiona, giving Jack a hug.
‘Mummy, will you light the candles again?’ he asked.
‘Of course. Will we sing “Happy Birthday” again too?’ Fiona asked.
‘Yes, please,’ they said, jumping up and down.
‘OK, here we go.’ She lit the candles and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ for the fifth time.
I watched Fiona’s face looking lovingly down on the twins as they blew out their candles, and remembered my mother lighting my birthday cake and felt a pang of emptiness. I prayed that everything would be all right with Fiona’s lump. Children need their mothers, and Fiona was incredible with the twins. They were lucky to have her, and she deserved to be their mum for a very long time.
I sat smiling tersely at the teenager sitting opposite me and watched the clock tick. I had ten minutes with her and was supposed to air the interview on the show later that week. Some interview, I thought glumly. So far the kid had answered every question with either a shrug or a barely audible monosyllable. The bolshie Hollywood starlet scowled and pulled on her cigarette, exhaling smoke into my face. I took a deep breath and tried again: ‘So, did you find the role of Amy challenging?’
‘Is Louisa May Alcott your favourite author?’
‘Who?’ said the star, frowning.
‘The author who wrote
, the book of the film you’ve just made,’ I said, beginning to lose the screed of patience I had left.
‘Dunno, never read books.’
‘So you made a film, based on a classic tale, and didn’t read the book?’
‘Are you as good at reading as you are at conversing?’ I snapped.
‘Talking. You know, having a conversation,’ I said, letting my temper get the better of me. ‘Is that concept alien to you? Because I’d like to know why you’ve wasted my time today. I’ve spent five hours waiting in a draughty hotel corridor to interview you for ten minutes and all you can say is,“don’t know”,“yes” and “no”. Do you not understand English?’
As my cameraman, Gary, sniggered, the PR woman, who had been nodding off in the chair behind him, leaped to her feet and said that the interview was over. How dare I speak to her star like that? She called Security and I was promptly escorted out of the hotel by two large bodyguards.
‘Bloody hell, Kate, what’s got into you today?’ asked Gary.
‘I’m sorry. I’m in a really bad mood and I’m sick to death of interviewing mind-numbingly stupid child actors with attitude.’
‘Yeah, but Donna’s going to do her nut when she hears about this.’
‘Fuck Donna,’ I snapped. Gary stared at me in shock. I never lost my cool in interviews – I had plenty of experience with uncooperative stars. He knew something was up.
‘Sorry, Gary, I didn’t mean to be so grumpy. Look, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you back in the office. We’ll sort something out,’ I said, smiling weakly at him.
Gary shrugged and walked off to his van.
I sighed as I watched him go, then set off for the tube, putting my sunglasses on to hide my tears. What was I going to do? For the first time in my life, my sister needed me. I knew going home to Dublin was the right thing to do but I also knew that the sick feeling in my stomach wasn’t just concern and fear for Fiona. If I was being totally honest, a big part of it was selfish anger. I knew that by leaving London I’d lose everything I’d worked so hard to achieve.
I went over that morning’s disastrous phone conversation with Mark.
‘Hello, Kate. Are you alone?’ he asked, sounding strained.
‘Yes, what’s up?’
‘I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Fiona’s biopsy has shown the lump to be malignant. She has breast cancer. She’s having the lump removed and then she’s probably going to need chemotherapy.’
My hands began to shake violently.
‘Is she going to be OK? Is it bad?’
‘We won’t know until after the lumpectomy, which she’s having on Thursday.’
‘How is she?’
‘Not good. She seems to have fallen apart.’
‘Can I talk to her?’
‘No. She’s gone to drop the boys to music lessons. Besides, she doesn’t know I’m calling you. You know what she’s like, never wants to worry anyone.’
My head was throbbing. ‘Does Dad know?’
‘She’s too afraid to tell him. Especially with your mother’s history.’
‘Oh, God – poor Dad! This’ll kill him. Do the boys know?’
‘Not yet,’ said Mark, choking up. ‘We’re going to need help with them, so I don’t want to say anything until we’ve arranged something. Actually, that’s why I’m calling. Could you come home and look after them?’
‘Sure, I’ll come home tomorrow for the day and try to get back every chance I have between recording the show.’
‘The problem is, Fiona’s going to need full-time help for the foreseeable future. It could be three months, it could be six.’
‘But if I come home every opportunity I can, and if you work part-time, we should be able to manage.’
‘Unfortunately the timing couldn’t be worse. I’m completely swamped with this Goldwin Prize paper and Fiona won’t hear of me giving it up. She became hysterical when I mentioned it. She said my work on the paper would keep her going, that it would be a really positive focus for us in the middle of this nightmare. She thinks she can manage on her own, but she can’t, Kate. She’s struggling already. She needs someone to be there all the time for the boys, someone she trusts and who knows them,’ he said getting emotional again.
‘But, Mark, I can’t give up my job and move back. I’ve only just got my own show after eight years’ hard slog. I’ll help in anyway I can – I’ll come back at every opportunity – but I can’t be there full-time. You can work on your project when the boys are asleep and I’ll be back every week and Dad can pitch in. We’ll muddle through.’
‘Muddling through isn’t good enough,’ said Mark, suddenly sounding angry. ‘We have a crisis on our hands. Fiona has cancer. She’s always been there for you – she gave up her youth to bring you up when your mother died. You owe her, Kate.’