Authors: Faith Hogan
MY HUSBAND'S WIVES
Paul Starr, Irelands leading cardiologist dies in a car crash with a pregnant young women by his side.
United in their grief and the love of one man, four women are thrown together in an attempt to come to terms with life after Paul. They soon realise they never really knew him at all.
The love they shared for Paul in his life and which incensed a feeling of mistrust and dislike for each other, in his death turns into the very thing that bonds them and their children to each other forever.
As they begin to form unlikely friendships, Paul's death proves to be the catalyst that enables them to become the people they always wanted to be.
To Christine Cafferkey, who always told the best stories and without whom none of this would be possibleâ¦
âMum, there's a funny old lady at the door who says she's married to Dad?' Delilah wore an expression that sat somewhere between amused and unsettled. Grace supposed anything was better than bored and indifferent. It seemed that had been the permanent expression since she turned fifteen a few months earlier.
âShe's at the wrong house,' Grace said absently. They were going for a picnic. The sun was shining and Grace hoped a day at the seaside might recapture some of the closeness she'd shared with her daughter before it was just the two of them here.
âNo, she's sure. She says her name is Evieâ¦' Her usually ambivalent voice held a note of perplexity. âEvie Considine Starr â but Mum, I think, she's a generation out.' She stuck a finger to the side of her head and wound it around. It was her shorthand language for mental health issues. Grace tried to discourage it, but still never mentioned the antidepressants deep in her own handbag.
âOh. Evie?' The name registered deep in her brain; still, it sounded strange on her daughter's lips. âEvie is here?' Grace's hand shot up to smooth her hair back, an involuntary movement, hated herself for it. Why did she care what Evie Considine thought of her? âAt the front door, now?'
âWell, yes.' Delilah stumbled over her words, for once thrown by her mother's reaction. âYou know her? She's actuallyâ¦' The words petered out, same as Paul's â Evie Considine it seemed was still an unfinished chapter in Paul's life.
Grace stood straight, imagined herself being pulled by an invisible central rope, lengthening her out, just as the nuns had taught her. She threw her shoulders back with more confidence than she really felt, and made her way to the front door.
âHello Evie.' She stuck out a hand. âIt's nice to meet you at lastâ¦' It was a lie, but only a white one.
Paul Starr was tall â well, anyone was tall to Grace â he might have been gangly, but his thick dark flop of hair and chestnut eyes distracted her from noticing. His smile was easy, his voice low so it made her lean closer; she was charmed instantly. He was the most successful surgeon in Ireland. He was confident, sophisticated and, rumour had it, married. Grace knew who he was. Everyone in Ireland knew who he was. It was said that he was responsible for keeping a former U.S. President alive, as well as half the royal family over sixty.
âYou don't want to believe everything you read,' he said, and she realized that she'd never felt so equal to anyone who towered over her so much. She was used to being the short one; five foot just, before she put on her heels. She fingered the amulet that hung always at her neck. It was her father's; a token to enhance the artist within. Its green gemstone brought out the emerald of her eyes and it made her feel safe, as though her father was still near.
âWho said I'd be reading about you?' She couldn't help fidgeting with her long dark hair any more than he could stop his eyes drinking in every moment of her.
âThis is impressive.' He waved a hand about the exhibition. It was her second in a year. She felt she'd rushed it, but maybe some things were meant to be. They stood for a few minutes, making small talk. He wasn't a collector â she could spot them a mile off â not of art anyway. She was about to move away, but he reached out, touched her lightly on the arm. The silver stacking bracelets that she wore jangled, the only sound between them that mattered in the crowded room. The effect was electrifying. âI'm just looking at this oneâ¦' He walked towards a watercolour she'd painted two winters earlier, a stark white lighthouse against the rocks and grey waves of the western coastline. âIt's breathtaking.' He caught her eye as he murmured the words. The look sent ripples of what she supposed was desire through her; she'd never felt anything like it before in her life. âI'm making changes,' he said, moving closer to her so his voice was little over a whisper. âMaking changes and it might suit; do you think anyone has their eye on it, yet?'
âI wouldn't know,' she smiled at him, flirting in some strange subconscious way, couldn't stop herself, even though she'd spotted his wedding ring immediately. âYou'd need to talk to Patrick.' Her eyes skimmed the room for Patrick Marshall. Usually she could find him easily â he was never far away. His languid easy pose tended to dominate whatever space he was in, and she spotted him now surrounded by a coterie of enchanted hangers-on, regaling them with one of the funny stories he always had to hand. He was all she had here; Patrick knew this without ever having to mention it. âOh, he looks busy. Anyway, you can always leave your name with the gallery.'
âPerhaps I could commission a piece for my rooms,' he smiled, catching her by surprise, ââ¦at the clinic.' His voice was light, she guessed they were a similar age, but she had a feeling he knew much more of life than she. He reached into his pocket; he wore an elegant off-the-peg navy jacket that moved fluidly. âTake my card. Maybe you could drop by, if you're passing. We couldâ¦' his eyes held an unmistakeable promise, ââ¦have coffee.'
Grace wasn't sure how she managed to walk away from him, but she made it to the other side of the room, her legs like jelly, her stomach a wasp's nest of restless commotion. She silently cursed herself. The last thing she needed was to fall for a married man. She'd stay well clear of him, or so she told herself. She sipped sparkling wine gently â there were still speeches to be made, people to talk to, sales to close. Even if there weren't, she'd had enough of being attached to people. She'd spent a lifetime taking care of her sisters and her mother. Her father had taken the easy way out â a double barrel, kept for foxes, in the end. She'd been the one who found him in his studio. He'd probably wanted it to be her. âYou're the strong one, Grace.' He'd said it so many times.
In the end, it was all she could remember of him. She'd spent almost ten years being the one who had to hold it together. All the time, her mother descended further into a bleak haze, clouded by prescription drugs for a series of spurious health problems, one of which would surely stick, someday. Grace got out at twenty-three. It took almost two years to make the break completely, for them to understand that they were on their own. She did what she could. It was either get away or die slowly, as her mother seemed intent on doing.
Painting saved her. It made no demands, beyond those she was prepared to sacrifice and it gave her solace when she had nowhere else to turn. It kept her world together, and now it was her life.
This was her biggest exhibition yet and she'd been nervous when Patrick suggested it. It made good sense, he said last time round, the paintings were picking up a minimum of ten thousand a canvas; of course it made sense. Once she had said yes, Patrick came up with the venue. She had a feeling he'd had it up his sleeve for a while, what she couldn't understand was why he'd decided to let her have it rather than some of the bigger names he represented. The Dublin City Library and Archive had only reopened months earlier after a total revamp. She had to concede as she had stood beneath its imposing faÃ§ade â it was overwhelming. The exhibition room seemed vast when she'd come here first. A daunting space filled with echoes of great Dubliners lingering within the repointed stone and polished timbers. How would she fill it? Could she really be good enough to sit with collections like Yeats and Stoker and Swift? Somehow, the building made her nervy and calm all at once. A strange mix of expectation and complete confidence ran through her and propelled her from the moment she set foot in the great hall. She'd pulled out some of the work that she'd started years ago. It added poignancy to the exhibition, she thought. True, it was darker than her more recent work, but it held the loneliness of her past, something that seemed to draw people. The first exhibition had been an unexpected success; it was the reason Patrick suggested a second.
âWhat do you expect when all you do is work?' Patrick had said when they'd met a few months earlier. âNote to yourself, Grace Kennedy:
get a life
.' He flapped his arms about in that theatrical way he had, so she only half took him seriously and never took his advice, unless it was professional. This was as close as Grace got to friendship. âWhat about family?' Patrick asked her one bleary night after they'd been drinking wine in her little studio; she, feeling creatively stuck, he, depressed because he'd lost the love of his life. To be fair, every man he dated seemed to be the love of his life for the first six weeks, and thenâ¦
expect,' she fired back at him, âwhen all you do is work?'
âTouchÃ©,' and they clinked glasses. By virtue of common ground and both loners at heart, unwilling to let anyone else in, their friendship suited them both. It was lucrative too, and there were no real strings or obligations.
âSo, tell me, has he bought anything?' she nodded in the direction of the heart surgeon. He was standing among a group of other men but seemed to dominate the crowd. Even then, she could see it was his way of listening that really marked him out. He had deep set brown eyes, clear skin and hair that buckled insolently across his forehead.
âNot yet. I got the distinct impression when I saw you talking to him that he was more interested in the artist than the art.' Patrick smiled at a heavily bejewelled woman who may have had her face frozen somewhere in her fifties, but her body and posture had traitorously kept on marching towards their eighth decade. âDon't stare. If she starts collecting your stuff, the prices will rocket.'
âThen tell me about Paul Starr,' she said. She smiled at the strange-looking woman who was holding court among a group of youngsters who might have had artistic leanings or not, but they certainly had a bent towards free champagne.
âI think they're trying to lure him away from the public sector completely.' Patrick gestured towards a group of middle-aged men in suits.
âAh,' Grace said. âSoâ¦ he could be interested in picking something up for new offices?' Had she been imagining that fusion of electricity that had passed between them? âAnd he's not gay?' She knew intuitively from the way Paul Starr had looked at her that he was not gay.