Authors: Sinead Moriarty
After pacing up and down, praying that the news would be good and biting my nails, I decided to hop into the car and drive to the hospital. I wanted to be near Fiona physically; whatever the news, I wanted to be there.
When I arrived, Dad was in the visitors’ room, pacing like a caged tiger.
‘Any news?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he growled, ‘they’ll tell me nothing. The surgeon is in with her and Mark now. Jesus, Kate, let it be good news. Don’t let it have spread.’
I squeezed his hand and we sat watching the clock for twenty more minutes, until the nurse came in and told us we could see Fiona, but only for a minute as she was still very tired.
She looked very small and frail in her hospital gown, but she was smiling. ‘It’s good news,’ she said, and began to cry.
‘The surgeon said he was confident he’d removed all the cells and that it doesn’t appear to have spread to her lymph nodes,’ said Mark, taking over.
‘But we won’t know for sure until the test results come back in three days,’ added Fiona.
‘Fantastic news,’ said Dad, and kissed Fiona’s cheek.
‘She has invasive ductal carcinoma,’ continued Mark, as if he was addressing a conference of cancer specialists.
‘In English, please,’ I said.
He glared at me. ‘IDC is the most common form of breast cancer in those with breast tumours. The treatment for early detection has a very high success rate. Fiona is going to have chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but she’s going to be fine.’
‘Excellent,’ said Dad, beaming.
I looked at Fiona, who was smiling weakly. It was good news, but she still had to wait for the test results and then faced a pretty horrendous few months with no guarantee of success. I went over and held her hand.
‘I’m dreading the chemo,’ she whispered.
‘Don’t worry, sis. We’ll get through it. One day at a time.’
She squeezed my hand, and then, looking at Mark, she said, ‘You’d better go, you don’t want to be late. Good luck.’
He bent down to kiss her, and left.
‘Where’s he off to?’ asked Dad, trying to sound casual when it was as clear as the nose on his face that all he wanted to do was go out there and box his son-in-law for leaving Fiona.
‘He’s got a conference call with an expert from China who can help him with his paper. He’s been trying to get in touch with him for weeks.’
‘I see,’ said Dad, not seeing at all. I could tell he was thinking of what to do with Mark’s important paper and it didn’t have anything to do with prizes.
The door opened. Thank God! Mark’s seen sense, I thought. He’s come back to put his wife first rather than some Chinese mathematician.
But it was Derek, looking a bit flushed. ‘Yo, howzit going?’ he asked.
‘Good, thanks. It doesn’t appear to have spread and it’s a very treatable form of cancer so I’ll be fine,’ said Fiona.
I looked at her in amazement. She was so concerned not to upset Derek that she’d made it sound like a walk in the park.
Derek looked at the drain in Fiona’s side, then at her pinched face and winced. ‘So, like, was it savagely painful?’
‘Well, I was out for the count during the operation, but it is a bit sore now,’ she admitted.
‘Like, really bad pain?’
‘About as sore as having a big lump sliced out of one of your balls,’ I said, losing patience with Derek’s need for gory details.
‘Chill, I was just asking. I wanted to do something for you, like, make a gesture, and I couldn’t think of anything, but Roxanne came up with a brilliant idea. While you were having your operation I was having one myself. It was total agony, but it looks deadly,’ said Derek, turning round and pulling up his T-shirt to reveal a large tattoo on his lower back, which read ‘
I began to laugh. Fiona joined in, then Dad.
Derek glared at us. ‘It’s not supposed to be funny. Don’t you know what it means?’
‘I think, Derek, you’ll find that your fuck-buddy suffers from dyslexia.“Diem” is spelt backwards, you turnip.’ I giggled.
‘What the hell? Are you having me on?’
‘No, Derek, she isn’t,’ said Fiona. ‘You now have a huge misspelt tattoo on your backside. But I appreciate the thought.’
‘Roxanne’s a legend. She’d never get it wrong,’ said Derek.
‘In all fairness, Derek, she didn’t strike me as a Latin scholar,’ said Dad.
Derek ran into the bathroom to check it in the mirror. ‘I don’t fucking believe it. I suffered two hours of torture for this. I’m outta here. Man, I’m gonna kill her.’
‘It’s proud moments like these that a father dreams of,’ said Dad.
‘Hey, Derek,’ said Fiona, as he was storming out the door.
‘What?’ he asked grumpily.
‘Thanks for cheering me up.’
I left the hospital and was on my way to pick up the twins when my phone rang. It was Tara. ‘How’s Fiona?’ my friend asked, full of concern.
‘She’s OK. We still have to wait for the test result but they don’t think it’s spread to her lymph nodes, so they say that the chances of her recovery are good but she has to go through chemo.’
‘I know, and she’s trying to be brave, but I can tell she’s terrified. I feel so sorry for her.’
‘At least the diagnosis is good, that’s the most important thing, and I’m sure you being home to help is a relief to her. How are you getting on with the twins?’
‘Not great. They were late for school and I got a bollocking from the teacher. I’m on my way to pick them up. They’re hyper – and it’s going to be a long afternoon. Seven and a half hours to be precise.’
‘Do you want to hear something that’ll distract you?’
‘Is the Pope Catholic?’
‘I bumped into an old pal of yours today.’
‘Sam,’ said Tara, then paused for dramatic effect.
‘Oh, right. How is he?’ I said, trying to sound casual as I narrowly missed slamming into the car in front.
‘Very well…’ said Tara, and she told me the story, leaving nothing out.
She was sitting in the café around the corner from her office, munching her sandwich, when she heard, ‘Tara? Hi.’
She looked up. It was my first love – Sam Taylor. She hadn’t seen him in at least five years.
‘Oh, my God! Hello, stranger, how are you?’ she said, and got up to kiss him. They smiled at each other with a mixture of awkwardness and familiarity– the way people do when they used to know each other very well but haven’t met in a long time. ‘Will you join me for a coffee?’ she said, pointing to the chair opposite her.
‘I’d love to. How the hell have you been? What’s new?’ asked Sam.
‘I don’t even know where to begin.’ Tara laughed. ‘It’s been so long since I saw you. Well, the short version is that I got married and settled down. What about you?’ she asked, pretending not to know that Sam had married Nikki Jennings four years ago, a fact she had dissected in minute detail with me for weeks, months and even, possibly, years. Nikki Jennings had been in the year below us at school – she was all blonde hair, big tits and sunbed tan.
She sipped her tea and waited for Sam to tell her about his marriage. He hesitated, then said, ‘Well, I was married for three years, but we’ve been separated for almost a year now.’
Tara choked. She hadn’t seen that one coming. Separated? ‘God, Sam, I’m sorry. I had no idea. Are you OK?’ She was, trying to figure out a way of asking him what had happened without appearing nosy. Wait until Kate hears this, she thought.
‘Yeah, I’m fine now, thanks. It’s been a rough year or two, though,’ he said, looking up at her.
Wow, he still has those killer eyes, thought Tara. ‘And is there no possibility of a reconciliation?’ she asked, congratulating herself on her subtle questioning.
Sam shook his head. ‘Well, considering she’s now living with her boss – the man she was having an affair with while she was with me – I’d say the chances are slim,’ he said, smiling ruefully.
‘Yikes! I’m sorry, Sam.’
‘Yeah, me too. So, anyway, how’s married life with you?’
‘Is it OK for me to say that it’s great?’
‘Absolutely. I’m glad it’s going well.’
‘Tom, my husband, reads your column religiously. He thinks you’re the best sports writer around.’
‘And what do you think?’
‘You know me and sports – even Kate had more of an interest than I do.’
‘How’s Kate? How’s her high-flying career going?’ he asked, with just the slightest hint of sarcasm. ‘Has she married some hot-shot TV star yet?’
‘No, she’s single, actually,’ said Tara, archly. ‘But her career’s going really well. She just landed her own show.’
‘She finally got what she always wanted, then.’
Tara was annoyed with Sam for being flippant. ‘Well, it was great until last week when she found out Fiona has cancer and had to move home to look after her,’ she said.
‘What?’ said Sam, staring at her. ‘Did you say cancer?’
‘Yes, it’s breast cancer, but I shouldn’t really have told you. Don’t say anything to anyone. They don’t want people to know yet.’
‘Jesus, is she all right? How bad is it?’
‘They’ll know after today how bad it is. She was operated on this morning. Look, Sam, I shouldn’t have said anything, just forget it. I have to go back to work now.’
‘No, wait,’ said Sam, grabbing her arm. ‘Take my card and please call me when you know more. I’d really like to know how she gets on – I was always a big fan of Fiona’s and… tell Kate I was asking for her. God it must be hard on her with her mum and all.’
‘So I took the card,’ said Tara, ‘which I have here in my pocket, in case you’re interested. I’m sorry I told him about Fiona but I wanted to show him that you’d put your family first. Are you annoyed?’
‘No, it’s fine. I’m glad you did – I bet he was shocked to find out I’ve put my job on the back-burner. I can’t believe his marriage broke up. Mind you, he never should have married that cow.’
‘So he’s single,’ said Tara, ‘and you’re back in Dublin for the foreseeable future…’
‘Tara! We broke up eight years ago. It’s dead and buried.’
‘If you say so,’ she said. ‘Look, I’ve got to go. My boss is glaring at me. I’ll call you later.’
I leant back on the head-rest and sighed. Even now the mention of Sam’s name brought a knot to my stomach. I didn’t know if it was down to guilt because I’d broken up with him when I went away to London, or regret, or simply because I hadn’t had a serious relationship since him – unless you count six months going out with a producer at Channel 4 who only called me when he was bored or horny. The men I dated were never right, and I was always so busy with work that I never felt lonely– well, not often. Also, I didn’t want children so the biological-clock thing wasn’t an issue.
Sam was my first love, the guy I lost my virginity to, and the nicest guy I ever dated. When I met him I was nineteen, and itching to finish my degree in media studies then get the hell out of Ireland to seek fame and fortune in London. I talked incessantly about leaving the backwater that was Dublin. Sam was studying journalism in the same college, although we never actually met. When we were introduced by Tara’s cousin Conor – who was also studying journalism – we had the most enormous row.
I had asked Sam what newspaper he aspired to write for and when he said the
, I laughed. ‘Yeah, right! Come on, you must want to write for
or one of the big English papers. I mean the
’s a bit lame. You’ll spend your time writing about local football. How dull is that?’
‘It depends what you find interesting. Maybe in your world talking to arseholes who think they’re God and won’t give you the time of day is fascinating, but in my world that’s sad. Half the sports journalists in the UK have to make up their interviews because none of the sports stars will spit on them. Why would I want to waste my time chasing Alex Ferguson around for weeks only to be told to fuck off?’
‘Well, I’d rather spend my time chasing a great interview than waste mytalent standing on the sideline of some sad local hurley match in the pissing rain talking to spotty seventeen-year-olds.’
‘What the hell would you know about it?’
‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that writing for the
would be a lot more exciting and challenging than some crappy Irish daily. You’d be working with really talented journalists on Fleet Street where you might actually learn something. I wouldn’t dream of wasting my time working in Irish television. The UK is where it’s at for people with ambition and drive.’
‘Two very overrated virtues in my book.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with ambition. Some men are intimidated by women who strive to succeed.’
‘There’s a subtle difference between being intimidated and being turned off. And, believe me, a woman behaving like a pit-bull terrier is a real turn-off.’
‘How dare you speak to me like that? Just because you – ’
‘Down, boy, there’s no need to bite.’
‘Listen, you…’ I said to Sam’s back, as he walked away, laughing.
I was furious. Who the hell did this guy think he was, speaking to me like that? What was wrong with being ambitious and wanting a successful career? God, some men were pathetic. What a loser.
Later that day when I met up with Tara I ranted about Sam for at least an hour. Eventually Tara cut to the chase. ‘So, is he cute?’
‘Well, is he?’
I had to admit he was very attractive, in a scruffy kind of way. He had that just-got-out-of-bed look. Tousled brown hair and crumpled clothes. At first glance he wasn’t much to look at, but up close his eyes got you. They were emerald green, and when he’d looked directly at me – as he had that afternoon – they had seemed to pierce right through me. Although I had spent the day seething because he had been so rude, I couldn’t get those eyes out of my head. ‘He has nice eyes, but the personality of a pig.’
‘I dunno, Kate, I think you like this guy. He’s the first person to challenge you in ages. You’re always saying how boring the guys we know are and now you’ve met someone who in one conversation has managed to totally wind you up.’