Authors: Nesta Tuomey
A moving story of an Irish family, of passion and tragedy.
Claire Shannon, the child of a broken marriage, experiences happiness for the first time when drawn into the warmth of the McArdle's family circle. She shares their hopes and dreams, is included in all of the family outings. The mother is kindly and careful of her but the father abuses her and she becomes pregnant. Later, as consequences unfold, a double tragedy occurs in the family. In its aftermath she believes that her childhood secret is buried and forgotten ...until she falls in love with the son of the man who abused her.
Â© 2013, 1999 Nesta Tuomey
Nesta Tuomey has asserted her rights in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Published by Nesta Tuomey
Originally published in 1999 by Mount Eagle Publications Ltd.
First published in eBook format in 2013
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the Publisher.
All names, characters, places, organisations, businesses and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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For Larry and my children with love.
“Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown.”
Song of Songs.
I am grateful to my brother Dr Donal O'Holohan for sharing his medical knowledge on the rare disease porphyria and my good friend Mary Dowling for her Spanish expertise. Thanks too, to Comdt. Kevin Byrne for his patience and good humour when answering my questions about the Irish Air Corps.
“Moving and memorable, this page-turner is one you will not be able to put down. Sensitive, powerfully written and one of the best books by an Irish author this year.”
Alice Sheridan, Commuting Times.
“Tuomey wastes no time in pushing the boundaries of the sensitivities of recent Irish social history.”
“This is a remarkable tale â although this book is primarily a love story, its theme is one of sexual abuse compounded by tragedy. All the ingredients of a best seller!”
If anyone had said she was in love Claire would have pooh-poohed the idea. She might have felt love for her parents but with the death of her baby sister they had been too occupied with their own grief to notice they were neglecting her. By the time they did, it was too late. By then Claire was helplessly, hopelessly enamoured with the McArdle family.
Claire was a solitary child given to reading a lot and playing imaginary games by herself in the wilderness that passed for a garden behind their house. Her mother had been a teacher and believed it was never too early to become acquainted with books. Claire's first memory was sitting in her bath turning the vinyl pages of
Puss in Boots
. She remembered the water slopping the shiny plastic cat and crooning sadly because he had gotten his fur âall wet.'
Christopher, who was two years younger than Claire, never opened a book. He spent all his time hopping, throwing or kicking a ball which pleased their father who was also sport crazy and spent his weekends glued to the television watching
Match of the Day.
Claire didn't feel much, if any, affinity with Christopher.
When Claire was ten, another baby had been born; a little girl with hair a shade blonder than Claire's and grey eyes fringed with sooty lashes. She and Christopher had doted on Bella, bonded together this one and only time out of mutual adoration. “Make an angel face,” Claire would coax and the little darling would show her pearly teeth in a smile. “Now a devil face,” and she would scowl and wrinkle her button nose obediently. Claire was besotted by this tiny sibling, willing the school bell to ring so that she could run home, eager for the reality of her.
The baby was her mother's joy and delight and her death from meningitis when she was two cast Annette into a deep depression. She lost her optimistic view of life, her sweetness of expression. At thirty-eight years of age she became weepy and withdrawn, lying in bed with her face to the wall, refusing to take an interest in anything. When she got up at last and resumed her normal routine she performed her tasks like an automaton, without flair, the spirit gone out of her. Claire's father, Jim, tried to cheer her but could not break through the barrier Annette had erected about her. There was a marked difference in their relationship. He became hesitant, almost apologetic, as if it was somehow his fault. Her mother no longer laughed at his clowning and he had lost his faith in his ability to make her laugh.
Claire's tummy began to hurt, a niggling discomfort at first, which deepened to a sort of sour ache. Somehow it was always night-time when the pains got bad and her moans woke her up. Her parents heard her but put it down to the trauma surrounding the baby's death. In the nights after the death she had woken up sobbing, turning away from them, refusing to be comforted. They would have been slow to take action, even in normal times, but now they were so locked in their own private misery that they hardly heard her anymore.
Eventually, they took her to a doctor who diagnosed colic and she was put on a gluten free diet. Now her stomach pained from hunger and all that week she cried herself to sleep. When the pains persisted only a hot water bottle or her mother's hand moving in soothing, concentric circles brought relief. They took her back to the doctor, who put his hands on her stomach, poking and prodding and feeling her. He could find nothing.
The pain became a red-hot pincers which dragged her regularly from her dreams and demanded attention. She was frightened by the intensity of her tears. Other doctors were consulted, more examinations carried out. She would point to the middle of her stomach since, by then, the pain had faded and she couldn't remember exactly where it had been. “Just somewhere around there.” Back home again. For a while near starvation and then normal food until the next time. Claire missed school sixteen days that term, too tired in the mornings after a disturbed night to get up and dress herself in time for the bus.
Across the street a house was sold and two shiny brass plates went up on the fence.
âTwo doctors, no less!' her father reported, coming in when the tea table was cleared and his liver and bacon crisping in the oven. He had a flush about his cheeks, an air of foolish bonhomie. These days he was never home on time, spending longer hours “at the office”. âI suppose there's nothing like keeping it in the family.'
âYou mean they're married,' her mother stated without interest. âI wonder have they children?'
Claire could have told her. She had sat at the window all afternoon watching the unloading of the removal van and spied a cot and a playpen, bunk beds. Later, the men had staggered in with a roll-top desk and a piano. Claire imagined what it would be like to play it and saw herself in a long, silver evening gown, moving her hands fluidly over the keys as she was doing now on the arm of her chair. It distracted her from the dull pain in her stomach. If she pretended she was playing a Scott Joplin number she could almost ignore it. Her fingers bounced rhythmically up and down, her brow furrowed in concentration.
âLook at her,' her father said, with maudlin affection. âshe'll be a concert pianist yet.' He looked down at his own tobacco-stained fingers regretfully. Her mother turned the page of a magazine. She might have been stone deaf for all the notice she paid him.
That night Claire dreamed the walls of her bedroom were closing in on her like a tomb, crushing breath out of her, squeezing her forehead in a vice. Her screams wakened her.
âHush, hush,' her mother murmured, rocking her distractedly in her arms. She had got into bed beside Claire and was lying under the quilt. Claire felt raging hot. Bile rushed to her throat. She half sat up and then her throat spasmed and the stench and taste of vomit was in her nostrils, burning her tonsils. She began to cry with relief and fright.
Her mother got out of the bed. Claire heard her speaking to someone on the landing and then she was back, sponging her hands and face, towelling her down, putting her in a clean night-dress. âI'm going over now,' Annette said. âI don't give a bloody damn if they have just moved in.' Her laugh was mirthless. âSurely between the pair of them with all their qualifications they can find time to come. It's not ten o'clock.'
Claire lay and drifted. It felt like the middle of the night. Every so often pain jerked her awake. There was the sound of feet on the stairs. The dividing wall between her room and the landing did not quite meet the ceiling and every sound was magnified, especially at night. A lamp was switched on in the room and she felt someone bending over her. She squinted upwards but whoever it was blocked the light. She felt gentle hands pressing her stomach.
Dr McArdle said kindly, âDoes that hurt, Claire? Won't you tell me now if it does?'
She was surprised it was a woman and it was a minute before she could answer, âNo.' Strangely, it was true. Throwing up, or something, had eased the agony. She began to say so when something was put into her mouth and cool fingers held it there. She closed her eyes and she must have dropped off because when she opened them she was lying in a strange bed in a shadowy room full of sleeping figures. From a lighted corridor just beyond the shadows a voice said clearly, âIt'll probably rupture before they get her on the table.' Claire wondered what she was talking about.
She had her appendix taken out during the night. It didn't burst but it was a close thing. Nine inches long, her mother told her, when she came out of the ether to find her sitting by the bed. Claire wondered why none of the doctors had realised what was wrong with her. When she said so her mother explained that her appendix had not been in the usual spot but was tucked away behind some other organ, making it difficult to find. âOnly for Jane McArdle you'd have been in a bad way.' There was a note of respect in Annette's voice.
Jane? When had they become so friendly?
It turned out that her mother and Jane McArdle - or Jane Mannion as she was then - had been to college together. They had been great friends at one time and even gone on holidays to Spain together.
âI couldn't get over it when she opened the door and saw her standing there,' Annette said with a reminiscent smile. âShe knew what was wrong with you straight away and to think none of those doctors I brought you to had any idea.'
Claire wondered if her appendix had started growing when the baby died and if she too would have died only for Dr McArdle. She felt the beginnings of a sense of obligation to her unknown saviour, which was to increase upon acquaintance and to remain with her for the rest of her life.
Claire was in the children's hospital almost a week and ate her meals from pink plastic dishes which tasted of washing-up liquid. There were six other children in the ward, all younger than her, one a toddler with his torso encased in a plaster cast, who wept all day. Christopher only came to see her once. He was spending all his time playing with their new neighbours.
âThere's a boy my age,' he told her. âHe's smaller than me.' He went on to describe the dressing-up games they played in the McArdle's garage and the stage they had erected out of packing cases. Claire thought it sounded fun.
After five days they took her stitches out and she was allowed home. She was glad to go. The sound of the wailing babies through the wall kept her awake nights and reminded her of their own baby they had lost.
Her house seemed smaller on her return, darker too after the wide windows in the ward. Claire climbed the stairs gingerly, afraid of making her wound bleed. She lay weakly against the pillow and stared at her book through a blur of tears, suddenly lonely for the antiseptic efficiency of hospital routine.