Authors: Roisin Meaney
Roisin Meaney was born in Listowel, County Kerry and has lived in the US, Canada, Africa and Europe. She is the author of three previously published novels
The Daisy Picker, Putting Out The Stars
and the number one bestseller
The Last Week of May,
along with a children’s book
Don’t Even Think About It.
Roisin is currently based in Limerick where she also teaches part-time.
The People Next Door
First published in Ireland in 2008 by Hachette Books Ireland
An Hachette Livre UK company
Copyright © Roisin Meaney 2008
The right of Roisin Meaney to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 444 74390 6
Hachette Books Ireland
Hachette Livre UK Ltd
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
For the coffee gang
When you leave Belford’s main street and turn down Miller’s Lane – the alley that runs between O’Brien’s Quality Meats and Kennedy’s Shoe Repairs and Key Cutting – there isn’t that much to see at first. A couple of smallish, grimy windows set high up in Kennedy’s graffti-covered blue side wall on your right; the steel back door of the butcher’s opposite; a huddle of recycling bins futher on with the usual dishevelment of crumpled boxes propped against them; and the odd skinny cat streaking away from the tap of your shoe on the worn cobbles.
About twenty-five steps beyond the bins, the path veers to the right, around by the back of Kennedy’s. No more cobbles now, only a raggedy-edged strip of tarmac, frilled with bobbing dandelions in the summer and bordered by a cement wall on one side, high enough to hide whatever’s behind it (as it happens, the long since boarded-up flour mill of Miller’s Lane), and tall green metal railings on the other.
Beyond the railings there’s a small park. A line of unremarkable trees, clumps of variously coloured bushes, a few randomly scattered dark red wooden benches and splashes of flowers here and there, depending on the season. A scrap of a children’s play area in the far corner – two swings, a slide, a seesaw, a boxed square of grainy sand. Lots of pale green, carelessly mown grass.
And then, at the end of the path, between a trio of thigh-high metal bollards, Miller’s Lane opens out and becomes Miller’s Avenue. And right across from the bollards stand three tall, narrow red-brick houses.
Now take the time to look a little more closely at these three joined-together houses, with their small front gardens and black wrought iron gates and railings. You might notice the brass numbers screwed into each of the three differently coloured front doors: seven on the first (deep blue), eight on the second (burgundy) and nine on the third (furze yellow).
And once you get that far, there really isn’t much to stop you from pushing open the gate of number seven and walking up the short path – three or four steps, no more – and pressing the small brass bell beside the dark blue door.
‘You don’t have to come with me.’ Yvonne O’Mahony lifted the bundles of milky-yellow freesias from the white basin in the sink and wrapped a paper towel around their dripping stems. The spicy scent of them wafted up to her. ‘If you’re tired, I mean. You’ve had a long day, and I don’t mind going on my own.’
Her daughter stood, brushing crumbs from the folds of her green top, pushing her dark blonde hair off her forehead. ‘Of course I’ll come. Don’t I always come?’ The heat often made Clara slightly cranky. ‘Here, give me those.’
She reached for Brian’s flowers and Yvonne, after a second, handed them over. Clara strode ahead of her, out the back door and down the long gravel path. Yvonne pulled the door closed behind her and glanced around the garden. No sign of Magoo – off on his travels again, sniffing around the apartment block, probably, where someone would be sure to throw him a bit of food.
In the neighbouring garden, a small grey cat sitting on the black bin in a corner of the patio lifted his head and gazed at her.
‘Hello, Picasso. Don’t suppose you’ve seen Magoo?’ The cat lowered his head on to his paws again and closed his eyes, and Yvonne followed Clara down the path.
‘God, the heat, still.’ Clara stood by the car, flapping her skirt. ‘At this hour.’
‘I know.’ Yvonne opened Clara’s door and walked around to the driver’s side. The car was like a furnace. She wound her window all the way down, turned the key in the red Micra’s ignition and reversed crookedly, curving into the corner of the lane.
As she straightened up and they began to bump gently down the lane to the road, she glanced at Clara – mouth set, shoulders hunched, flowers dangling in front of her knees – before giving in, as she’d been giving in all day, to thoughts of Brian.
His face when she’d told him she was pregnant all those years ago. Both of them eighteen, Brian nearly a year with the civil service, working behind the counter in the motor tax office. Yvonne about to start college, her place in UCG waiting for her finally, after two Leaving Cert attempts.
‘I’m pregnant.’ Her nails digging into her palms, her teeth gritted against whatever was coming. Sitting on the hard bench outside the library.
His face, turning towards her. The horrified expression that had made her want to smash her fist into it – unfairly, because hadn’t she been just as appalled when she’d found out?
‘What?’ The shocked look of him, the way his mouth twisted, as if she’d done something disgusting in front of him.
She couldn’t answer. Her hands stayed clenched in her lap. She turned away from his face and watched his shoes instead. A half-inch of the left lace was stained with something green.
‘Are you sure?’
She nodded, eyes still fixed on his shoes. They were brown nubbly suede and very round at the toes. There was a little dent in the dome of the left one. Yvonne wondered if it would spring out if she pushed it from inside. She bit into her cheek, as hard as she could bear.
‘Was it the night of the results?’
She nodded again. The one night they’d forgotten the condom. The library door swished open behind them and she turned to watch an elderly man coming out.
She felt Brian’s foot kicking against the leg of the bench, the thump of it up through her.
She’d been so happy, enough points at last to get into the arts course she wanted, worth the extra year in school. They’d gone with a gang to the pub at half three, staggered out of it at nine, back to his room in the house he shared with two other civil servants.
It was only the fifth time they’d had sex. She didn’t remember it.
Brian reached over and pulled one of her clenched hands towards him. ‘No, it’s OK, really it is.’ His hand was cold, it offered no comfort. ‘It’s OK, it was just a shock, honest to God.’
She nodded, still unable to look at him.
‘Yvonne … love, it’s OK.’ He pressed her still clenched fingers. ‘We’ll be OK. We’ll manage.’
His other hand reached under her face and pulled her chin up gently. ‘I love you. We’ll be fine.’
She nodded again, watching his mouth, looking at the words coming out. He was smiling now, an awful forced smile. Worse, far worse, than before.
‘Yeah.’ She didn’t smile back. ‘We’ll manage.’
The ridiculous jacket he’d worn for the wedding, all lapels and unnecessary pockets, that she’d never seen before. The expression on his face as she’d walked up the aisle towards him – God, that walk had taken forever. The flash of an uncle’s camera, the smiles of her friends, some child crying and being immediately shushed, her mother in the front row in her green suit, smiling, wiping her eyes with a fluff of lace Yvonne had never seen before or since.
Brian’s mother in the opposite pew, looking at her son’s fiancée with a very different expression.
Yvonne’s second cousin Orla, standing inside the altar rails in a yellow dress and black hat, playing ‘Here Comes the Bride’ on a side flute, because she’d offered and they hadn’t had the heart to say no.
The expression on Brian’s face, when all Yvonne had wanted to do was turn and run back over the cracked maroon tiles, fly down the aisle through the thick wooden doors, and not stop until she had to.
His tears when Clara was born four months later, only the second time she’d ever seen him cry. The necklace he’d bought for Yvonne the following day, that she’d killed him for buying – ridiculous, what did she want with jewellery? What about the washing machine? How were they going to afford that now?