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Authors: Sheila O'Flanagan

From The Heart (6 page)

BOOK: From The Heart
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‘How the hell did they know we were here?’ Jim wondered aloud. ‘We were keeping it a secret. We were afraid they’d turn up.’
‘It’s probably my fault.’ Laura looked apologetically at Jim. ‘I told Celine. Just in case there was an emergency. I suppose my mother managed to worm it out of her.’
‘Probably,’ agreed Jim.
‘But they didn’t turn up,’ said Laura. ‘And they worked this out between them.’
‘Christmas can be a stressful time,’ said Claire. ‘But you’ve all clearly come through it. And who knows what you’ll do next year.’
‘Who knows.’ Jim smiled and put his arm around Laura. ‘Maybe we’ll all come here!’
‘We’d love that,’ Claire said.
‘So would we,’ said Jim. ‘But I have a feeling that we’ll be having it at home. And maybe, next year, that’ll be just fine.’
This wasn’t where I’d intended to be the week before Christmas. It certainly wasn’t where I’d intended to be on my wedding anniversary. I’d already made plans for that, and it knocked me back when they were thrown into complete disarray by the twins. I’d guessed that there was something going on, but to be honest, I’d thought it was Christmas-related. The twins like Christmas, they always have. Maybe it was something to do with the two of them ratcheting up each other’s excitement over the thoughts of Santa Claus and a tree piled with presents and the whole thing. Or maybe they were just particularly sweet-natured and gullible children who turned into sweet-natured if not (fortunately) particularly gullible adults. But for them, Christmas was always a wondrous time.
For me . . . well, I reckon when you’ve seen forty-four Christmases, you’ve seen them all. There is, I guess, a certain feeling of nostalgia that comes over you when you take the decorations out of the attic where they’ve gathered dust for all of the previous year; you probably can’t help but experience flashbacks of other Christmases where you’ve hung the same bauble on the tree and where something magical happened (in my case nothing magical ever really happened – the closest was when Aidan came home one year with a voucher for a turkey which he’d won in the golf club nearest-the-pin competition. Unfortunately it was a whole turkey, not boned and rolled like I preferred – and straight from the farm, so that the entire episode of having to clean it out and pluck half of its feathers rather put me off eating it). Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that the twins arrived at the house at the beginning of December with the envelope in their hands and wide, beaming smiles on their faces and I discovered that they had booked us into the White Sands Hotel all-inclusive stretching from a few days before our anniversary until the twenty-seventh of December.
I was gobsmacked. Firstly that they remembered our anniversary. Coming as it did just before Christmas, it normally got overlooked in the great scheme of things. Secondly that they were able to afford what I knew had to be a breathtaking amount of money to send us away. White Sands was an expensive hotel. I knew that because a couple of years earlier Madge, one of my best friends, had gone there with her second husband (her fairly rich second husband) and had regaled me with stories of the expense! So I found it hard to believe that Carina and Callum (both hedonistic twenty-five-year-olds) had managed to save up enough money to send Aidan and me to the Caribbean.
‘Would you not worry about how we managed to pay for it?’ demanded Carina when I couldn’t help but murmur that it was surely way outside their earning power (both of them worked in the media – Carina as a researcher for an independent TV company; Callum in radio). ‘It’s something that we wanted to do for you and Dad. You’ve always been great to us and I know we forget your anniversary all the time. So this is a kind of accumulation of all of them. Besides,’ her dark eyes twinkled at me, ‘it’s your silver wedding anniversary. You deserve a great break.’
‘Actually,’ added Callum, ‘we wanted to send you somewhere called Silver Sands. But we couldn’t find anywhere.’
I smiled as widely as I could. ‘It’s very good of you,’ I told them. ‘Both your dad and I appreciate it very much.’
Well, I’d no idea how Aidan would feel about it. But he’d have to appreciate the gesture if nothing else.
When I told him he frowned slightly (as I’d expected) and murmured that it wasn’t a hugely convenient time to go away. And I nodded in agreement and said that he was right but that the children had gone to a lot of trouble to organise it and so the least we could do was to be totally appreciative and accept such a wonderful present as gracefully as possible.
Sometimes I still have the power to make Aidan do what I want. This was one of those times. He nodded thoughtfully and then phoned Callum to say that it was a wonderful gift and we were delighted with it.
Which is why, despite the fact that I’d made other plans, I was sitting in the sea-front restaurant of the hotel at 7.30 on the evening of our wedding anniversary and looking out over the inky blackness of the Caribbean Sea. It wasn’t completely black, of course. The underwater lights illuminated the area closest to the restaurant while, further out, the reflections bobbed on the surface of the gently lapping water, occasionally breaking into glittering shards of colour thanks to a stronger than usual wave before settling back into beads of light again. Meanwhile, in the restaurant, the impeccably trained waiters and waitresses moved swiftly and unobtrusively between the tables, making sure that every whim of every guest was catered for.
At our table, the wine waiter, DeVere, was discussing the merits of the cabernet sauvignon over the shiraz with my husband. Aidan is a bit of a wine buff and so I didn’t take part in the conversation but allowed my eyes to wander over the rest of the diners. When you’re at an all-inclusive hotel, particularly a relatively small and certainly exclusive one like White Sands, you tend to get to know your fellow guests fairly quickly. At least you get to recognise them enough to nod at them every morning, every lunchtime and every evening in a kind of complicit ‘Look, I know that there are probably loads of brilliant local restaurants out there but I’m spending a fortune to stay here and, well, what the hell!’ kind of way. I’d already spoken to the older woman, Esther, who was here on her own and who reminded me very much of those Miss Marple TV programmes. The ones starring Joan Hickson, not the more recent ones. Esther looked like Joan Hickson in the role and acted like her too – slightly dippy but not really, if you get my drift. I felt as though she was altogether stronger than she let on. I’d also spoken to the guy on his own with his son who’d arrived the previous day. He seemed really nice but terribly jumpy and I guessed that it was probably the first time he’d ever been on his own with the kid, even though the boy was about nine or ten years old.
I wondered how Aidan would have been had he ever gone on holiday on his own with the kids. Funny, I wasn’t even able to imagine that, because Aidan just wasn’t the sort of guy who thought that taking the kids away on his own was something a bloke should ever do. Sounds crazy now (at least I think it does, because more and more men talk about wanting to be proper fathers to their kids and wanting to spend time with them), but back when Aidan and I had the twins, the concept of a New Man was one who poked the fire while you fed, bathed and changed the baby before washing the dishes from the meal you’d just cooked. And having done that, he felt as though his work was done. Maybe I’m being unfair on loads of guys in their forties and fifties. But I’m talking about my experience and the experience of most of my friends. Things did change over the next twenty years or so. But not as dramatically as many women would have us believe.
Thing was, of course, I didn’t mind what Aidan’s contribution was. The fact that he was there at all was enough for me. My life without Aidan would surely have been a whole heap worse.
I met him at work. Back in the late 1970s lots of girls met their future husbands at work. Work was one of the biggest social events that existed in our calendars because there wasn’t an awful lot else to do. A few tawdry night-clubs, maybe. Getting chatted up in a dingy bar (and most of them were dingy even if they’d stippled the walls, painted them white and hung red lampshades from the ceiling in an effort to make it look faintly exotic). Meeting a guy at night class – honestly, that’s what the magazines of the day recommended. The only night class I ever went to (car maintenance for beginners) was crammed with women hoping to meet men. Work, if you worked in a big organisation, was the best option by a mile. And I worked in a big organisation. I worked in a bank.
Getting a job in the bank was like winning the jackpot. The pay was good and so were the conditions. People treated you with a level of respect. You dealt with money at a time when nobody had very much. It’s changed now, of course. You probably get more respect at a supermarket checkout than as a bank teller. (And fewer supermarket checkout workers have been replaced by machines too.) But I was thrilled when I turned up for my first day’s work. Doubly thrilled because I was in head office, and that had a certain cachet about it too. I wasn’t working in some poky little branch. I was in the modern new glass and steel building which housed a couple of hundred people all feeling slightly proud of themselves for having got a job here in the first place.
I met Aidan Rourke at my very first Christmas party. I’d been with the bank six months and was loving it. Not because of the work (although I was already studying for the banking exams because you got paid extra if you got the qualification), but because for the first time I was surrounded by people whose main aim in life was to earn enough money to have fun. Fun hadn’t been a big part of my home life. That wasn’t anyone’s fault. But, you see, I lived on my own with my widowed mother, and she wasn’t the kind of person who believed that life should be fun. She’d got religion when Dad had his first heart attack. And she stuck with it after he died. (Even after I told her that she was wearing out her knees in the church and what was the point of going to Mass every day when her prayers about Dad recovering hadn’t actually been answered?) Anyway, me and Mam didn’t see eye to eye about religion. Or illness. Or having fun.
So having fun at work was a big eye-opener. And apparently the most fun event in the entire calendar was the Christmas party. We started talking about it in October.
It was in the Burlington Hotel, a popular spot for office functions because of its vast ballroom and its ability to chuck a couple of hundred turkey and ham dinners at hungry revellers in no time. I don’t actually remember the food, but I do remember dancing to Abba and Rod Stewart and Slade and kicking up my heels in my party frock.
My party frock was the talk of the evening. I hadn’t intended it to be, of course. But when I’d gone in to town, expecting to buy something cheap and cheerful in Dunnes, I’d seen the perfect dress in the window of Richard Alan. It was the darkest blue with tiny silver stars on a chiffon skirt over a silk body. It had shoestring straps and a slit up the side. It was absolutely gorgeous. Naturally it was far, far more expensive than I could afford. But I’d got my first credit card that day and . . . well . . . The dress put me close to my limit. I had to have it, though. I knew it was absolutely perfect for me. So I went in and bought it and then spent the rest of my money on a pair of silver sandals that (quite honestly) were a bit tacky but which I thought were good with the dress.
At the party, where almost everyone else had bought chain-store dresses and tarted them up with glittery jewellery, I stood out. I know I did. There were a few snide remarks about the slit in the side from some of the girls, but most of them simply gasped at the gorgeousness of my dress and made me feel like a million dollars.
Which is why I danced with loads of guys that night. Including Aidan Rourke.
I guess he’d have been seen as a good catch. He was already a few steps up the promotional ladder. He was working in the international department. And he wasn’t at all bad-looking. Nothing tremendous. Nothing heart-stopping. But good enough for me, all the same.
I’d arrived at the party with a gang of my girlfriends but most of them left before me. That’s because I was still sitting talking to Aidan Rourke when Juliet Shanahan came over and said that they were clubbing together for a taxi and if I wanted to come I’d better come now. But I was actually sitting on Aidan’s lap at the time and I muttered to her to go on without me, that I’d manage fine on my own.
Ten minutes later I went off to get my coat and walked back into the now almost deserted ballroom. There was no sign of Aidan. There was no sign of anyone I knew very well. I cursed myself for thinking that he’d hang around for me.
It was freezing outside. I wished I’d worn tights with my silver sandals, but of course I hadn’t because the toe-seam would have looked horrible and ruined the effect. Now my toes were almost as blue as the dress with the cold. I pulled my tweed coat further around me and shivered.
‘Which way are you going?’ asked Aidan Rourke.
I hadn’t heard him come up behind me.
‘Terenure,’ I said.
‘Excellent.’ He waved at a taxi, which slid to a halt beside us. ‘We can share. I live in Templeogue.’
I grimaced. I’d been fudging things a little when I’d said Terenure. I lived in Kimmage. In the same area, certainly. But Terenure was a lot more desirable than Kimmage as an address. I directed the taxi-driver as far as the Kimmage Cross Roads, where the districts of Terenure, Templeogue and Kimmage intersected, and then I told him to let me out.
‘Hey, we’ll go as far as your house,’ said Aidan.
I shook my head and told him that I wanted to walk. I needed some fresh air, I said. I wanted to clear my head. Before I knew what had happened, Aidan was out of the cab too and walking alongside me. I debated whether or not to walk up Fortfield Road but I knew that I would only be making things worse. So I turned down the Lower Kimmage Road and shrugged slightly. I waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. He kept his arm around my shoulder as we turned into the side road which led to our red-brick terraced house. And he nodded in agreement when I asked him in for a cup of tea. (I should, of course, have said coffee. But we didn’t have any.)
BOOK: From The Heart
2.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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