Authors: Sinead Moriarty
– Kate’s on the phone. She’s in great form, a regular ray of sunshine. She just ate the face off me, so watch what you say.’
‘What’s he on about?’ said Dad, picking up the phone.
‘I was a bit mean about his music.’
‘Jesus, don’t talk to me. It’s the worst tripe I’ve ever heard. That lad needs to accept that he’s not going to end up in Madison Square Garden. Anyway, how are you, pet? Did you get back all right?’
‘Dad, I need to come home for a bit, if that’s OK,’ I said, as my voice broke. Just hearing him made me want to weep. He’d been through so much and I was about to land him with more heartbreak.
‘Hey, now, Katie. What’s wrong? What’s happened? Was some bastard mean to you? Did you break up with a boyfriend?’
‘No, Dad, you need to have a boyfriend before you can break up with him. It’s Fiona, she’s kind of sick and I have to come home to help out.’
‘Sick?’ said Dad. I could tell he didn’t like the sound of that. Fiona was never sick. ‘What do you mean? What’s wrong with her?’
‘She’s found a lump, Dad. It’s not a good one.’ Silence.
‘Dad? Are you all right?’
‘Jesus Christ, I think I’m having a heart-attack. Hold on till I sit down. My heart is pounding.
,’ he roared, ‘get me a drink, I’m having a heart-attack.’
‘Do you not think an ambulance would be more useful?’ I heard Derek drawl.
‘Get up off your lazy arse and get me a drink.’
‘Dad, I hate to interrupt your shouting-match with Derek, but Fiona’s sick so I’m afraid you can’t have a heart-attack right now.’
‘I’m all right now. Sorry, pet. What exactly is it?’ asked Dad, still panting from the near coronary.
‘It’s a little lump. They want to take it out and examine it. It’s probably not that bad at all,’ I said.
‘Where’s the lump?’
I winced. ‘It’s on her breast.’
‘So it’s breast cancer?’ Dad whispered. I knew he was thinking his beautiful Fiona couldn’t have breast cancer. This couldn’t be happening to him again. God couldn’t be so cruel as to take his wife and his daughter.
‘It looks like it. They’re going to cut it out and examine it,’ I said, as my father shuddered. ‘I’m sure it’ll be
.’ I burst into tears. This wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. I had planned to be strong and reassuring and already I was failing miserably
Dad forgot about his heart and went into organizing mode. ‘OK, don’t get upset. Have you booked your flight?’
‘What time do you land?’
‘I’ll be there to meet you and we’ll get the best doctors in the country to look after her. We’ll fix this, Katie, don’t you worry. We will sort this mess out. Fiona is not going to die. Not from that bastard of a disease. Just you get home and I’ll take care of everything else,’ he said.
‘I won’t be working for a while so I might need you to help me with my rent.’
‘For God’s sake, Kate, you’re thirty years old. You need to take responsibility for your life. I thought you were getting paid a fortune on this new show.’
‘The salary was better but I’ll have to give it up to come home, so I’ll be broke again.’
‘At your age! It’s ridiculous. How many times did I say it to you? You have to put something aside for a rainy day –’
‘Dad! Can you save the rainy-day speech for another time? I don’t need you shouting at me. I’m stressed enough as it is.’
The extension phone clicked. ‘Yo, I don’t know what’s up with you two, but the ambulance is on its way for you, Dad, and FYI, I don’t think you’re supposed to be shouting when you’re having a heart-attack. If you need CPR, can you hurry up and let me know coz I’m going out to a gig with Gonzo in ten momentos,’ drawled Derek.
Sleep evaded me that night: I woke up time and again from a recurring nightmare of giant breasts chasing me down a street. Finally I dragged myself out of bed and made a large cup of strong coffee. I shuddered as I remembered Fiona’s voice – so lifeless.
On automatic pilot, I showered, dressed and went to work. I got there before anyone else did and found two large Post-its stuck to my computer screen. One was from my producer, Donna, wanting to know why the hell I’d freaked out during an important interview, and the other was from Gary, the cameraman, telling me that Donna was doing her nut.
I went through the tapes of the interview with the teenage star. There was very little we could use, but maybe if we interspersed it with trailers from the film, we’d get away with it. I sat down to write a grovelling email to the PR lady who had evicted me from Claridges. I decided to try the woman-to-woman approach and explained that I was having some personal problems and that I’d never meant to insult the wonderful Anna-Lisa and I was planning to give the film a rave review. By the time Donna arrived in, I had managed – with the help of super-editor Gordon – to piece together a usable five minutes of footage. I spent the rest of the morning compiling the other segments of the show, then went to tell Donna I was leaving.
I knocked on her office door and popped my head in. ‘Hi, Donna.’
‘What the bloody hell’s going on? I’ve had the PR woman from Warner Brothers screaming down the phone at me because my presenter abused her precious star.’
‘Donna, calm down. I can explain.’
‘It’d better be good.’
‘I found out yesterday that my sister has breast cancer. I was upset and a bit distracted during the interview, but it’s all sorted now. I’ve apologized and pieced together a decent segment for the show. The thing is, though, I have to go home and be with my family for a while. It’ll just be for a month or so,’ I lied. ‘I was thinking maybe I could tape the show from Dublin or something.’ I was grasping at straws.
‘Look, Kate, I’m really sorry to hear about your sister, but we can’t shoot the show from Dublin,’ said Donna, cursing under her breath. She had a show to air and no presenter.
‘I’ll be back before you know it,’ I said, trying to sound
. ‘Why don’t you get Colin to fill in for a few weeks?’ I was desperate not to have some younger, fitter girl take over my precious show.
‘Yeah, maybe. I’ll have a think,’ said Donna. ‘How many weeks will you be gone? We need to know.’
‘It’s hard to say exactly, but it’ll probably stretch to a couple of months,’ I said, and watched Donna’s face fall.
‘Maybe three or four,’ I said, hating the words.
‘Bloody typical! I manage to find someone really good and now this happens. You’re one of the best we’ve had and, let’s be honest, the male audience doesn’t just tune in for your accent or your one-liners – your legs were a big asset. Anyway, I’d better get on with finding someone to take your place. Good luck, keep in touch.’ Donna already considered me old goods.
In this business you get one shot and you work hard and cling to it until a better offer comes your way. You never, ever walk away from a good job in the limelight and hand your profile over to someone else on a silver platter. My heart plummeted. I’d be forgotten in no time. I felt sick.
I thanked Donna and went into the bathroom and wept – for Fiona, my mother and myself.
As I sat on the plane, looking out the window, I thought about Dad and the difficult life he had led. Born and reared in a small town ten miles outside Galway, he was the eldest of seven children. His father had died when he was thirteen and his mother was barely able to make ends meet. So, aged fourteen he left school and went out to find work. His first job was as an usher in a small cinema in Galway. There and then he fell in love with the movies. Within three years he was manager, and two years later he took out a loan to buy a run-down building in the centre of Galway, which he transformed into a three-screen cinema – the first in the city. A few years later, he was in Dublin, looking at the way the big cinemas were run, when he met and fell head over heels in love with Sarah Boland, a beautiful nurse. He was a plain, working-class man, but he was funny and made her laugh like no one else could. Within a year they were married. He sold up in Galway and bought the George cinema in Dublin. Nine years later they had accumulated two daughters, a son and two more cinemas.
From what I can remember they were happy to gether. So, when Mum died, not only was he heartbroken but he had been left alone to raise three young children. Poor Dad had no idea how to cope with two growing daughters, not to mind a babyson. When Fiona had come into his room aged thirteen to say she had just got her period, Dad had turned a deep shade of purple, then taken her to the chemist and asked the assistant to show her what products she needed while he waited outside. By the time I got my period, at twelve, Dad was used to seeing Tampax and sanitary towels on the shopping list.
However, he had struggled with the sex-education issue. He knew what it was like to be a horny teenager and he didn’t want pimply youths with raging hormones near his girls. So he gave Fiona and me a book on how the body works – which he discreetly wrapped in brown paper so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed when he handed it over. Then he told us that boys were off limits until we were thirty. He regularly mentioned how wonderful he thought Mother Teresa was and how she seemed to be in desperate need of helpers: would we not think of becoming nuns and helping the poor? This was met with much eye-rolling and ‘As if!’ from his healthy, heterosexual teenage daughters.
When I decided I wanted to go to discos, Dad was at a loss. When I asked, he said no.
‘Because I said no and that’s the end of it.’
‘You have to let me go. Everyone’s going. I’ll be the only person in my class not there.’
‘It’s good to be different. It’ll make you stand out from the crowd.’
‘Different! I’ll be the laughing-stock of the school. Do you want me to be the class loser? The person everyone feels sorry for because she’s never allowed out? Do you want me to have no friends?’ I screeched.
‘Jesus, my eardrums. Calm down. No one’s going to think you’re an outcast because you don’t go to this dance.’
‘It’s a disco, not a stupid dance, and I have to go. Give me one good reason why I can’t go.’
‘Because I said so.’
‘Everyone else’s parents are letting them go.’
‘Good for them.’
‘Dad, you can’t do this to me! I have to go! I don’t want to be the class nerd! Do you want me to be bullied and cast out of my group?’
‘Your sister’s never gone to a disco and she’s plenty friends. Now, stop your nonsense, you’re not going.’
Bloody Fiona, I thought bitterly. All she did was study. She had been the school super-brain and was now in her first year at university, studying pure mathematics. She’d never wanted to go to discos when she was still at school because she spent her spare time at chess or maths clubs.
‘Fiona and I are different,’ I reminded him, determined to wear him down. ‘Different people have different needs. Fiona likes playing chess with other nerds, I want to go and dance with my friends.’
‘You’d be much better off playing chess.’
‘Dad, Fiona was born with brains, I was born with…’ I wasn’t sure what I’d been born with. Average height, average looks, and average ability in sports and schoolwork. I didn’t shine at anything. My friends told me I was funny, but who wanted to be funny when guys were only interested in looks?
‘I’m waiting with bated breath. What were you born with, apart from a big mouth?’ said Dad, grinning behind his newspaper.
‘Pizzazz,’ I announced, delighted with myself for having thought that one up.
‘Pizzazz!’ snorted Dad. ‘And is that going to get you into college?’
‘Liza Minnelli has it, Judy Garland had it, uhm…’ I racked my brain to come up with other successful movie stars.
‘Judy Garland died of drugs and poor Liza’s been on a rocky road. A bit less pizzazz from you, madam, and a bit more studying. This conversation is over,’ he said, muttering that I was a handful.
‘Dad,’ I said, voice quavering, ‘if you don’t let me go to this disco I will never forgive you.’
‘Kate,’ said Dad, ‘if you don’t get out of my sight I will send you to a boarding-school where they only let you out to go to mass and pray for your lost soul.’
I never made it to that disco, but after a weekend of following Dad around in my pyjamas crying, and asking him to drive me to the Samaritans so I could get counselling on how to cope without friends, he let me go the following month. Anything for an easy life.
As I walked through the Arrivals door, I felt nervous. I had no idea what the next six months would hold. Would Fiona get better? How would I cope with the twins? What was I going to do when they didn’t need me anymore? I had no job, no life. I wanted to turn round and run. ‘Get a grip,’ I muttered angrily to myself.
I took a deep breath and walked through the Arrivals door, dragging my enormous suitcase. Dad was at the barrier, hopping from one foot to the other, with Derek beside him, eyeing up the young bronzed chicks coming back from their holidays.
Earlier, Dad had told Derek that I was moving home because Fiona was sick and asked him to come to the airport because he was afraid he might have a heart-attack in the car. He didn’t want to die on the way to the airport, and have me arrive with nobody to collect me. Derek pointed out that if he did have a heart-attack while he was driving the car, the chances were that Derek would die in the crash, too, or end up paralysed, so maybe they should get a taxi. But Dad said he needed to drive: it would keep his mind occupied and stop him panicking about Fiona.
‘So what exactly is wrong with her?’ asked Derek, clutching the dashboard as Dad skidded out of the driveway on two wheels.
‘She’s found a lump and they think it cancer.’
‘Bummer,’ said Derek, exhaling deeply.
‘I’ve just told you your sister might have cancer and all you can say is “bummer”. That’s all you can come up with after I spent thirty thousand shagging pounds on a private education for you?’
‘Chill, Dad, she’ll be fine.’