‘Snappy writing and Keyes’ sharp eye for the absurdities of life make cracking entertainment’ Woman & Home
‘Keyes is a rare writer in the popular fiction genre in that most of her characters are as strong as her plot lines and the dialogue sparkles and rings true’ Irish Times
‘Marian Keyes is the queen of feel-good fiction. Her hip, heartwarming comedies have made her the hottest young female writer in Britain and the voice of a generation’ Daily Mirror
‘Keyes’s light touch conceals both depth and compassion; she’s sassy yet subtle; and she has a real gift for dialogue and accents’ Ireland on Sunday
‘She is a talented comic writer… laden with plot, twists, jokey asides and nicely turned bits of zeitgeisty observational humour… energetic, well-constructed prose delivers life and people in satisfyingly various shades of grey’ Guardian
‘[She] gives popular fiction a good name, no easy feat in a field dominated by overpaid imitators and charlatans’ Independent on Sunday
‘Keyes has taken over Binchy’s crown as the Queen of Irish Fiction.
[She] is a superior storyteller who seamlessly combines style and substance, humour and pathos, and thoroughly deserves her best-selling status. [This] book is filled with wonderful warm characters and dialogue that leaps off the pages’ Irish Independent
‘Her writing sparkles and the world is a better place for her books’ Irish Tatler
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marian Keyes is the international bestselling author of Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, and most recently The Other Side of the Story, a Sunday Times Number One Bestseller. She is published in twenty-nine different languages. A collection of her journalism, called Under the Duvet, is also available in Penguin. Marian lives in Dublin with her husband.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road,
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,
Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany,
Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Michael Joseph 2002
Published in Penguin Books 2003
Copyright © Marian Keyes, 2002
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
These characters are fictional and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is entirely coincidental
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
I’d like to thank the following people:
My editor Louise Moore for her clever, intuitive input, Harriet Evans for her meticulous work, and all at Penguin.
Everyone at Poolbeg, with special thanks going to Paula Campbell for the snooker story.
Jonathan Lloyd, Tara Wynne and Nick Marston at Curtis Brown.
The wonderful Ricardo Mestres, Danny Davis and Heij at Touchstone Pictures for my first LA adventure.
The equally wonderful Bob Bookman, Sharie Smiley and Jessica Tuchinsky at CAA for my second LA adventure.
And the following, for generously providing information, encouragement and/or confectionery: Guy and Julie Baker, Jenny Boland, Ailish Connelly, Siobhan Coogan, Emily Godson, Gai Griffin, Dr Declan Keane at Holles St Hospital, Caitrrsquo;edona Keyes, Mammy Keyes, Rita-Anne Keyes, Julian Plunkett-Dillon, Deirdre Prendergast, Eileen Prendergast, Suzanne Power, Morag Prunty, Jason Russell, Anne-Marie Scanlon, Emma Stafford, Louise Voss, Amy Welch and Varina Whitener. Thanks to all of you.
Finally, thanks to my beloved Tony, to whom this book is dedicated.
‘We will shortly be landing at Los Angeles International Airport. Please ensure your seat is in the upright position, that you weigh less than a hundred pounds and that you have excellent teeth.’
I’d always lived a fairly blameless life. Up until the day I left my husband and then ran away to Hollywood, I’d hardly ever put a foot wrong. Not one that many people knew about, anyway. So when, out of the blue, everything just disintegrated like wet paper, I couldn’t shake a wormy suspicion that this was long overdue. All that clean living simply isn’t natural.
Of course, I didn’t just wake up one morning and skip the country, leaving my poor sleepy fool of a husband wondering what that envelope on his pillow was. I’m making it sound much more dramatic than it actually was, which is strange because I never used to have a penchant for dramatics. Or a penchant for words like ‘penchant’, for that matter. But ever since the business with the rabbits, and possibly even before that, things with Garv had been uncomfortable and weird. Then we’d suffered a couple of what we chose to call ‘setbacks’. But instead of making our marriage stronger – as always seemed to happen to the other luckier setback souls who popped up in my mother’s women’s magazines – our particular brand of setbacks did exactly what it said on the tin. They set us back. They wedged themselves between myself and Garv and alienated us from one another. Though he never said anything, I knew Garv blamed me.
And that was OK, because I blamed me too.
His name is actually Paul Garvan, but when I first got to know him we were both teenagers and nobody called anybody by their proper names. ‘Micko’ and ‘Macker’ and ‘Toolser’ and ‘You Big Gobshite’ were some of the things our peers were known as. He was Garv, it’s all I’ve ever known him as, and I only call him Paul when I’m extremely pissed off with him.
Likewise, my name is Margaret but he calls me Maggie, except when I borrow his car and scrape the side against the pillar in the multi-storey car park (something that occurs more regularly than you might think).
I was twenty-four and he was twenty-five when we got married. He’d been my first boyfriend, as my poor mother never tires of telling people. She reckons it demonstrates what a nice girl I was, who never did any of that nasty sleeping-around business. (The only one of her five daughters who didn’t, who could blame her for parading my suspected virtue?) But what she conveniently omits to mention when she’s making her proud boast is that Garv might have been my first boyfriend, but he wasn’t my only one.
We’d been married for nine years and it would be hard to say exactly when I’d started to fantasize about it ending. Not, let me tell you, because I wanted it to be over. But because I thought
The end came with surprising suddenness. One minute my marriage was a going concern – even if I was doing strange stuff like drinking my contact lenses – the next minute it was entirely finito. Which caught me badly on the hop, as I’d always thought there was a regulation period of crockery-throwing and name-calling before the white flag could be waved. But everything caved in without a single cross word being exchanged, and I simply wasn’t prepared for it.
God knows, I should have been. A few nights previously I’d woken in the darkness for a good worry. Something I often did, usually fretting about work and money. You know, the usual. Having too much of one and not enough of the other. But recently – probably longer than recently, actually – I’d been worrying about me and Garv instead. Would things ever get better? Were they better already and I just wasn’t seeing it?
Most nights I didn’t come to any conclusions and lapsed back into an unreassured sleep. But this time I was afflicted with sudden, unwelcome x-ray vision. I could see straight through the padding of the daily routine, the private language and the shared past, right into the heart of me and Garv, into all that had happened over the last while. Everything was stripped away and I had a horrible, too-clear thought: We’re in big trouble here.
It literally made me cold. All the little hairs on my skin lifted and a chill settled somewhere between my ribs. Terrified, I tried to cheer myself up by having a little fret about the amount of work I’d have to do the following day, but no dice. So then I reminded myself that my parents were getting older and that I’d be the one who’d end up having to take care of them, and tried to scare myself with that instead.
After a while I went back to sleep, scratched my right arm raw, ground my teeth with gusto, awoke to the familiar sensation of a mouth coated with bits of grit, and carried on as normal.
I was to remember that We’re in big trouble here when it transpired that we actually were. On the evening in question we were meant to be going out for dinner with Elaine and Liam, friends of Garv’s. And who knows, if Liam’s new flatscreen television hadn’t fallen off the wall and on to his foot, breaking his big toe in the process, so that I’d gone out instead of going home, maybe Garv and I would never have split up.
The irony is, I was praying that Elaine and Liam would cancel. The chances were good – the last three times we were supposed to meet up, it hadn’t happened. The first time, Garv and I had bowed out because we were getting our new kitchen table delivered. (No, of course it didn’t come.) The next time, Elaine – who’s some bigwig in pensions – had to drive to Sligo to make a load of people redundant. (‘The new Jag arrived just in time!’) Then the last time I’d managed to come up with some spurious excuse which Garv had agreed with all too readily. This time it was their call.
Not that I didn’t like them. Well, actually I didn’t. Like I said, she’s a bigwig in pensions and he’s a stockbroker. They’re good-looking, earn tons of money and are unkind to waiters. They’re the sort of people who always seem to be getting new cars and going on holiday.
Most of Garv’s mates were lovely, but Liam was a glaring exception: the problem was that Garv was one of those types who went around seeing the good in people – most people, anyway. This is a great quality in theory, and I’d no objection to him seeing the good in people I liked myself, but it was a bit of a pain when he persisted with the ones I didn’t. Himself and Liam had been friends since junior school, in the days when Liam had been a lot nicer, and, even though Garv had tried very hard for my sake, he’d been unable to shake his residual affection for him.
But even Garv agreed that Elaine was terrifying. Shespokerealfast. Firingquestionsfromamachinemouth. How’swork? Whenareyougettinglisted? Her dynamic glamour reduced me to stammering inadequacy, and by the time I’d cobbled together an answer, she’d have lost interest and moved on.
But even if I had liked Liam and Elaine, I still wouldn’t have wanted to go out that particular night – putting on a big, fat, happy head is that much harder if you’ve an audience. Also there was a pile of scary manila envelopes to be dealt with at home. (Plus two soaps eager to tend to my needs and a couch that couldn’t do enough for me.) Time was too precious to waste an entire evening out enjoying myself.
And I was so tired. My work – like most people’s, I would imagine – was very demanding. I guess the clue is in the name: ‘work’. Otherwise they might call it ‘flat on your back on a sunlounger’ or ‘having a deep-tissue massage’. I worked in a legal firm which had a lot of dealings with the US. Specifically, entertainment law. (After we’d got married, Garv, on account of his general fabulousness, had been seconded for five years to his company’s Chicago office. I’d worked for one of the big legal firms there, so when we returned to Ireland three years ago I claimed to be well versed in US entertainment law. The kicker was that even though I’d done night classes and got some qualifications in Chicago, I wasn’t a proper lawyer. Which meant I got tons of the work, most of the abuse, but only a fraction of the moola. I was more of an interpreter, I suppose; a clause which meant one thing in Ireland could mean something different in the States, so I translated US contracts into Irish law and drafted contracts that should – hopefully – stand in both jurisdictions.)
I lived in vague but constant fear. Sometimes I had dreams where I’d left out a vital clause and my firm got sued for four trillion dollars, which they deducted from my wages at the rate of seven pounds fifty a week, and I had to work there for all eternity paying it back. Sometimes, in those dreams all my teeth fell out as well. Other times, I’m sitting in the office and I look down to find that I’m naked and that I need to get up and use the photocopier.
Anyway, the day the balloon went up, I was very busy. So busy that my new fitness regime had gone by the board. I’d recently realized that biting my nails was the only exercise I was getting so I’d hatched a cunning plan – rather than ring Sandra, my assistant, to come and collect my dictaphone tapes, I’d walk the twenty yards to her office and hand-deliver them instead. But no time for such self-indulgence that particular day. A deal with a film studio was about to fall apart: if the contract wasn’t finalized that week, the actor who’d attached himself to the project was going to walk.
For a minute there my job sounded glamorous. Take my word for it, it was as glamorous as a cold sore. Even the business lunches I occasionally had to go to at expensive restaurants weren’t all that. You could never truly relax – people always asked a question requiring a long and detailed answer just after I’d put a forkful of food into my mouth, and whenever I laughed I was haunted by an irresistible fear that I had green food stuck in my teeth.
Anyway, the scriptwriter – my client – was desperate to get the contract all sorted out so that he could get his fee and his family could eat. (And so his father might finally be proud of him, but I digress.) The US lawyers had come to work at three in the morning, their time, in order to try and close the deal, and all day e-mails and phone calls zipped back and forth. Late in the day we dotted the final ‘i’ and crossed the final ‘t’, and even though I was wrecked I felt light and happy.
Then I remembered that we were supposed to be going out with Liam and Elaine and a cloud passed over the sun. It wasn’t so bad, I consoled myself; at least I’d get a nice dinner out of it – they were fond of fancy-dan restaurants. But God, I was exhausted. If only it was our turn to cancel!
And then, just when it seemed that we were beyond all hope, the call came.
‘Liam’s broken his toe,’ Garv said. ‘His new flatscreen telly fell on it.’ (Liam and Elaine had every consumer durable known to man – and I stress man, not woman. Give me a mobile phone and a hair-curler and I’m happy. But Garv, being a man, yearned after digital this and Bang & Olufsen that.) ‘So tonight’s off.’
‘Great!’ I exclaimed. Then I remembered myself; they were his friends. ‘Well, not great for him and his toe, but I’ve had a tough day and–’
‘It’s OK,’ Garv said. ‘I didn’t want to go either. I was just about to ring them and pretend our house had been burnt down or something.’
‘Dandy. Well, see you back at the ranch.’
‘What’ll we do about food? Will I pick up something?’
‘No, you did it last night. I’ll do it.’
I had just launched into an orgy of switching stuff off when someone said, ‘Going home, Maggie?’ It was my boss, Frances, and her already? might have been silent but I still heard it.
‘That’s right.’ Lest there be any confusion. ‘Going home.’ Polite but firm. Trying to keep my prone-to-quaver-under-pressure voice free of tell-tale traces of fear.
‘That contract ready for tomorrow morning’s meeting?’
‘Yes,’ I said. No, actually it wasn’t. She was talking about a different contract, one I hadn’t even started on. There was no point whinging to Frances that all day I’d been frantically sewing up a great deal. She was an über-achiever, well on her way to being made a partner, and she’d made hard work into a performance art. She rarely left the office and popular opinion (not that she was popular, of course) had it that she slept under her desk and washed, like a bag lady, in the staff toilets.
‘Can I take a quick look?’
‘It’s not really laid out properly yet,’ I said awkwardly. ‘I’d rather wait until it’s all done before I show you.’
She gave me a watchful, too-long look. ‘Make sure it’s on my desk by nine-thirty.’
‘Right!’ But the good spirits engendered by being let off the hook for the evening had all leached away. As she hammered her heels back to her office, I looked appraisingly at the computer I’d just switched off. Should I stay and do a couple of hours on it there and then? But I couldn’t. I was all out. Of enthusiasm, of work-ethic, whatever. Instead I’d get up very early and come in and do it then.