Authors: Sinead Moriarty
‘Look, I’ve said I’ll do what I can and I–’
‘I have to go! She’s back, and she’d kill me if she knew I was asking you for a favour,’ whispered Mark. ‘Kate, I need an answer within the hour, or I’ll have to start calling nanny agencies. She’s going into hospital on Thursday. Call me back as soon as you’ve made your decision.’
I stared at the phone in shock. I wasn’t Mark’s biggest fan, but he’d never been rude before. I understood that he was upset, but he didn’t have to try to blackmail me into moving back. Who did he think he was, telling me I owed Fiona? Telling me she’d given up her youth for me. I knew exactly what Fiona had done – she’d been amazing and I
owe her. But I loved my job. It had taken me so long to get to this point in my career. Why did
have to give everything up and not Mark? He was her husband. They were his children. Stuff his stupid prize. He’d have to put his foot down and tell Fiona she came first, not work. I’d help as much as I could. He needed to understand that my presenting job was a one-in-a-million opportunity and as important to me as his Goldwin Prize was to him.
I called him back and told him as much. There was a deathly silence at the other end of the line.
‘What you don’t seem to be grasping here,’ he said coldly, ‘is that your sister has begged me to continue with the prize paper. Of course I’d give it up if I thought it would help, but she made me promise not to. I realize your job means a lot to you, but you’re young, you’ll pick up another job as soon as all this is over. Right now, you need to focus on Fiona.’
give it up. It’s my life! I don’t have a husband or kids – this job is it for me. I’m sorry, but giving it up just isn’t possible. I’ll talk to my producer and see if I can come back for two days a week or something.’
‘Do you have any idea what’s been going on here while you’ve been chasing your career in London? For the last eight years Fiona’s nursed your father every time he’s had the flu or a cold and she’s the one who always boosts Derek’s confidence when he gets yet another knock-back for his music. She’s spent her life looking after your family but she can’t do it anymore. She’s sick and it’s your turn now. It’s time for you to step up and be responsible. She needs to concentrate on getting better. You owe her, Kate.’
I really wish he’d stop saying that. It had got to me because he was right – I owed Fiona a lot and she had never asked me for anything.
‘Well?’ he asked.
‘I can’t decide now. I need time to think about it. I
give up my job and move home. I’ll see if I can work round it.’
‘Your sister has cancer, the same cancer your mother died from at the same age. How
you put your job first? She never put herself first when it came to
. She gave up everything to make sure you and Derek had a happy childhood. Do you have any idea how difficult that was for her? You have to come home and help her with the boys.’
look after her? To hell with your stupid maths prize! Your wife and children are more important,’ I snapped, panicking as reality hit me. I knew now I’d have to move back. I couldn’t leave her.
‘How eloquently put. I can see why you appeal so much to the dumped-down television generation. Much as I’d love to sit here and argue with you, I have to sort out care for my wife and children. If you’re not going to help, I need to start calling agencies.’
‘Wait!’ I said, and my heart sank. ‘Don’t call anyone else. I’ll come back.’
‘Thank you,’ said Mark, sounding relieved.
When I hung up I realized I was shaking, with shock about Fiona and fury with Mark for having forced my hand. Why was it up to me to look after his wife and kids? Hadn’t he married Fiona in sickness and in health? Why did responsibility for his family fall on my shoulders? How long would it be for? Would I ever work again?
How would we get on living in each other’s pockets? Fiona and I were very different. She was responsible,
-organized and happy for her career to take second place to Mark and the twins. I was restless, ambitious and impulsive. Fiona craved a secure family unit, while the thought of settling down made me feel claustrophobic. She had been a child genius and member of Mensa, while I had struggled to pass exams of any kind.
Fiona had spent her life being my surrogate mother, worrying about me, fussing over me, but as I got older and she continued to mother me it had become a bit suffocating. Moving to London had been incredibly liberating. How would Fiona react to me taking care of her and her children? It wouldn’t be easy.
I took a few deep breaths and tried to process the information: Fiona had cancer, the same cancer Mum had died from.
Mum had only lived eight months after she was diagnosed. If Fiona only had eight months to live, how could I not be there for her? On the other hand, she might get better and live to be ninety. But could I take that chance? In my heart I knew I only had one choice. My sister needed me and Mark was right: I did owe her.
I had twenty-four hours to tape the new show and beg my producer, Donna, for leave of absence. I was doing the right thing, the only thing, but I was terrified. I had left Dublin eight years ago in search of fame and fortune and had just reached D-list fame, with the fortune yet to come – but at least I was free, anonymous, away from the goldfish bowl of Dublin and Fiona’s lifelong habit of trying to fix me. I dreaded going back. I knew it would be as if the last eight years had never happened. I’d have to try and persuade Donna to keep my position open. I had to be able to come back. It was the only thing that’d get me through.
I got through to Fiona later that day.
‘Hi, Kate,’ said my sister, sounding tired.
‘Fiona, Mark told me about the result, I’m so sorry. I’m coming home tomorrow to help. I’ll stay as long as you need me. I’ll look after the twins and you and… Oh, Fiona, I can’t believe it’s happened to you,’ I said, and began to sob.
‘Don’t do that. No tears, it’ll be fine. The lump is there and it has to come out, and then I’ll have the chemo and it’ll all be over. You don’t have to come back. I’m fine,’ said Fiona, sounding hollow.
‘I’m coming home and that’s the end of it. I’m catching a flight tomorrow night. What time is the lump-thingy?’
‘It’s a lumpectomy and it’s scheduled for Thursday morning. It’s unnecessary for you to be here, Kate.’
‘Look, I’m coming and it’s non-negotiable. Have you told Dad?’
‘No,’ said Fiona, her voice catching. ‘I can’t seem to find the right time,’ she said, and broke down.
‘You’re going to be fine,’ I said, as much to reassure myself as her. ‘Do you want me to tell Dad?’
‘Yes,’ said Fiona, regaining her composure. ‘I have to go now. It’s time for the twins’ bedtime story.’
‘What are you reading them?’
‘Mark found a book called
Inventors and Inventions
, which they love.’
‘But they’re only five!’
‘It’s never too early to stimulate the brain.’
Those poor boys, I thought, having to listen to some boring story about inventions. I’d rather boil my head! For once, though, I decided to bite my tongue. Fiona didn’t need me to stick my oar in. Besides, what did I know about kids? I had little or no interest in them. Although I was fond of the twins, I found that after an hour with them I’d had enough and so had they. Fiona, on the other hand, had the patience of a saint.
‘Just, you know, it’ll be OK and–’
‘Goodbye, Kate,’ she said, cutting me off before I could get soppy on her.
After hanging up I decided to call someone and go out for a drink. I needed to talk. I thought about all the friends I’d made over the last eight years. I’d met some lovely people but none of them was a friend I could offload to about this kind of personal problem. The only person I could really talk to was Tara, my best friend from home.
Tara knew me inside-out and upside-down. Our mothers discovered we were the same age when Tara’s family, the Dennis, had bought the house across from ours and we’d been inseparable from the age of six. When Mum died, Mrs Denny had been really good to me. I spent more time in the Dennis’ house than I did in ours. It was fun over there, cosy and homely. Our house was run like an army camp, with Fiona constantly making charts that Derek and I had to fill in after each chore we’d completed.
I think the reason Tara and I got on so well was because we were fundamentally different. She had never felt the urge to run away from Dublin. She loved it. She liked the fact that everyone knew everyone: it was nice, safe and familiar. I found it small and claustrophobic. Tara was comfortable with who she was, and I’d always envied her that. She had always been happy with her lot, while I was always searching for something better.
Tara was the only friend I’d stayed in touch with. She and I had kept up to date with each other’s lives – the good, bad and ugly bits. I was always totally honest with her and had often rung her in tears, frustrated and fed up that it was taking so long for my career to get off the ground. I was the first person she’d called after she’d met Tom and realized he was ‘the one’. We shared everything. She was the person I needed to talk to now.
I picked up the phone and dialled.
‘Hi, Tara, it’s me.’
‘How’s it going?’
‘Uhm, not so good, actually.’
‘It’s Fiona. She’s got breast cancer.’
‘Oh, my God, Kate! Is it bad? Is she OK?’
‘They’re doing a lumpectomy on Thursday and she’ll probably have to have chemo, but they don’t know yet if it’s spread.’
‘Oh, Kate, that’s terrible. Poor Fiona. How are Mark and the boys?’
‘Don’t talk to me about Mark! He demanded I give up my job and move home for six months to look after everyone while he focuses on work. He was very heavy-handed with the emotional blackmail.’
‘I have to. I owe Fiona.’
‘What about your show?’
‘I’m going to ask for leave of absence, but I won’t get it. I’ll probably lose the job for good,’ I said, trying to sound as if I didn’t mind all that much. ‘Hopefully I’ll get something else in six months’ time.’
‘That can’t be easy. You worked so hard to get that job.’
I fought back tears. ‘I know, but sure it’s only a job, and Fiona needs me so I don’t have a choice.’
‘I guess it’s your kind of payback to her. How’s your poor dad?’
‘He doesn’t know yet. I’m going to ring him after this. Fiona’s too scared to tell him because of–’ I stifled a sob.
‘Oh, Kate, don’t worry. Lots of women with breast cancer get better now. And Fiona’s a fighter – she’ll be fine and I’m sure she’ll really appreciate you coming home. You’re doing the right thing. And it’ll be nice to spend some time with your family. You see them so rarely now.’
‘I’m scared of that.’
‘Spending all that time at home. I feel as if I don’t know them anymore. I mean, obviously I know them, but sometimes I feel like a bit of an outsider.’
‘That’s because you haven’t spent any length of time with them in the last few years. This is your chance to get back into the fold. It’ll be good for all of you. And I’ll be here if they start driving you round the twist.’
‘So you’ll be looking after the twins?’
‘I suppose so.’
Tara began to laugh. The very
of me looking after two five-year-olds was enough to set her off. ‘Who would have thought it, Kate? You – Mary Poppins!’
‘Don’t. I’ve no idea what to do with kids. Though, knowing Fiona, I’ll be left a rigid timetable so, hopefully, it won’t be too bad.’
‘As long as she doesn’t expect you to teach them maths,’ said Tara, giggling.
‘I doubt Fiona would leave that up to me after the fiasco with the Rubik’s cube.’
‘How long did it take you to figure it out?’
‘A mere nine months,’ I said, laughing. ‘It took Fiona about nine minutes and Derek still can’t do it.’
We laughed at the thought of Derek with a Rubik’s cube. He was so laid-back he almost sleep-walked through life. He’d sauntered through school, failing most of his exams because study came under the banner of stress – and Derek didn’t do stress. Besides, he was convinced his future lay in music, and all knock-backs and criticisms only made him more determined. He had a band, which consisted of him and his best friend Gonzo whose real name was Frank Murphy: he’d been nicknamed after Gonzo from
because he had a hook nose – he’d tried to change it to Maverick after he’d seen Tom Cruise in
but his friends had laughed at him and told him to look in the mirror. The band was called Rap-sodie and was so bad it was almost funny.
‘I’d better call Dad,’ I said, as the laughter faded and a knot formed in my stomach.
‘Thanks, I’ll need it.’
I decided I needed some Dutch courage before calling Dad so I knocked back a glass of wine. I’ve always wondered why they call it Dutch courage. Surely it should be Irish courage – aren’t we the most famous nation for drinking? Or are the Dutch all secret alcoholics?
Anyway, the wine calmed me down and I dialled home.
Derek answered. ‘Yo.’
‘Hi, Derek, it’s me. Is Dad there?’
‘Hey, sis, whazzup?’
‘Has it ever occurred to you that you are neither black nor American?’ I said, taking my nervousness out on him.
‘What has you in such a good mood?’
‘Just get Dad, will you?’
‘OK, keep your hair on. By the way, did you ask your producer if me and Gonzo can come on your show?’
‘No, Derek, I didn’t. Your stuff is crap and you’ll have to come up with something a lot better if you want to get on the show.’
‘Right. Thanks for the support. I’ll go and get Dad so you can abuse him, you grumpy cow.’
‘Derek, I’m sorry–’ I said, as Derek shouted at Dad.