Blog tour: Extract from What She Never Told Me by @KateMcQuaile @QuercusBooks #whatshenever

15:28





Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise's last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew.

Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter's fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott . . . but is he really the father she's been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies.


Extract:



Prologue

The little girl is underdressed for the cold night. No coat, just a jumper

and pleated skirt, and knee socks that struggle to stay up as she canters

along the pavement towards the green postbox, clutching the letter she

has written to an old man with a white beard in a snowy, distant land

without borders.

Around the square, curtains are closed against the cold and the dark.

The street lights cast their beams as far as they can, but between each

wooden pole there is a dark space that momentarily eclipses the child,

causing your heart to miss a beat each time she disappears from view.

She’s at the postbox now, looking up at the slot that she can only reach

by standing on tiptoe. She stretches and strains to push the envelope

towards the oblong mouth of the box. You watch. And wait.



Chapter One

Outside, the light is fading across the stretch of the extended

town, past the estates towards the farmland and low hills beyond.

My mother, no longer conscious, is also fading. The nurses

haven’t spelled it out in so many words, but everything they

say makes me think she is close to the end.

‘Talk to her,’ the nurses say. ‘She’ll hear you. The hearing is

the last thing to go.’

So I talk to her in a low voice, mostly about long ago when

I was a child because that was the time we were closest. I talk

about our outings to the sea, the two of us walking down to

Amiens Street Station and taking the train to Skerries, where

we would change into our bathing costumes and run as fast as

we could into the waves so that there was no time to change

our minds. Sometimes we went further, taking the train all the

way to Drogheda and then a bus to Clogherhead.

I remind her of how hungry we used to be after our dips in

the cold water, so hungry that it didn’t matter that somehow the



sand always found its way into the sandwiches she had packed.

She would point into the distance at the Mourne Mountains,

miles away to the north. And always, before we went back home,

we would walk to the harbour to watch the seals that followed

the fishing boats in from the sea.

Those memories are real, as real as everything I see before

me now, except that the colours are muted, old-fashioned. They

almost have a smell to them, the way the dark green of the

old double-decker buses that carried us about seemed to have

a smell to it.

I talk on, hoping she can still hear, losing myself in those

memories as I recall them, so that the sound my mother makes

– a ssshhh sound, repeated over and over – comes as a shock. At

first, I think she’s saying, ‘Shush,’ telling me to be quiet. But

there’s distress in the sound, as if there’s something more she’s

trying to get out but can’t.

‘What is it, Mamma? What are you trying to say?’ I ask her

gently, but there’s no answer, only the ssshhh, again and again.

Eventually, the effort of it is too great for her and she sighs and

lapses back into silence. I watch and wait. She is so calm now

that I don’t even notice the point at which she finally stops

breathing.

Hours later, morning is creeping through a gap in the curtains

into the dark bedroom where I’ve lain awake through what was

left of the night. I’m frantic, physically and mentally, my body

trying to find a place in the bed that will bring some rest, my

head trying to keep track of the thoughts that dart like arrows

through it.

And, as if from a shell picked up on the beach and held to

the ear, I keep hearing that sound she made before she died, the

ssshhh sound. I hear it over and over again, ebbing and flowing,

relentless in its rhythm, haunting and tormenting.

I can’t bear to think that something I said might have penetrated

her unconscious state to hurt her. We had our moments,

my mother and I, but even at those times when I thought I had

come close to hating her I knew that there was no escaping the

bond we had.

I talked to her about memories last night. I don’t know

whether she heard me or not. But there’s another memory that

I didn’t bring up because it hurt her once, a memory that has

punctuated most of my life and that I have never understood.

It surfaces now, unbidden, and I see a green postbox and a

small hand stretching upwards to push an envelope into its

oblong mouth. The edges of the image are blurred. It’s as if

someone has opened an old tarnished locket to reveal a silent

film playing in slow motion inside. It’s always the same. It plays

over and over, the little hand never in any position but extending

upwards, the envelope always held in those childish fingers, the

mouth of the green postbox almost within reach.

And then, as strangely as it has appeared, the grainy image

fades, leaving me puzzled and slightly disturbed, even a little

afraid.

I am never sure whether that small hand is mine. But if not

mine, whose?

My mother’s coffin stands in front of the altar. It felt strange to

leave her there through the night, alone in the locked church.

The last time she was here was for Dermot’s funeral. She wasn’t

religious. ‘You don’t need religion to be a good person,’ she used

to say. She didn’t leave any instructions for her own funeral

and probably wouldn’t have been too bothered if we had told

her we were going to put her body into a cardboard box and

tip it from a boat into the sea. The funeral is for me, because

I need something beautiful and soft and hopeful to take away

the memory of that terrible last night in the hospital. So the

choir sings Fauré’s Requiem, because, with no Dies Irae, no day of

judgement, it’s the sweetest, gentlest requiem of all, and as we

all shuffle to the altar for Communion the choir sings Duruflé’s

‘Ubi Caritas et Amor’.

We leave the church for the graveyard. It’s cold and wet,

a typical November day in Ireland, but when the undertaker

indicates one of the funeral cars I shake my head. I want to

walk behind my mother on her final journey. Ursula, my friend

since childhood, walks beside me.

A couple of relatives have turned up: my mother’s older

brother and his middle-aged son. We haven’t spoken yet. They

weren’t part of my life when I was growing up, though I had

known of their existence. Now, I have only the mildest curiosity

about them.

It’s the Keaveneys, Dermot’s people, I think of as my family,

even though I’m not related to them, and they’re out in

force—Angela and her husband, Joe, and their daughters and

grandchildren. I’ve kept my eyes on the coffin all through the

prayers at the graveside, but when it’s finally lowered I can

barely see anything because rain and tears are blurring my

sight.

Ronan, Angela’s grandson, tugs at my sleeve and puts his

little hand into mine.

‘Don’t cry, Auntie Lou,’ he says, his big eyes looking up at

me from a face filled with a kindness you don’t expect from a

five-year-old boy.

This makes me cry even more and his mother, Lizzie, squeezes

my shoulder and tries to move Ronan away, but he keeps his

grip of my hand and refuses to let it go.

‘He’s fine,’ I tell Lizzie.

After the burial, there’s a reception at one of the local hotels

and, with the worst of the funeral over and having downed a

large glass of wine, I begin to emerge from the fog that has

enveloped me over the past few days, the fog that has softened

the longing to call Sandy. Now, my mind clear but filled with

pain and loss, I am desperate to hear his voice. I slip outside to

a courtyard and dial his number.

‘Louise.’

The lack of expression in his voice hurts me almost as much

as the loss of my mother does. The end of a marriage is another

kind of bereavement and I’m still in mourning for it.

‘Sandy, I . . . my . . .’ I start choking. I can’t finish what I’m

trying to say.

‘Louise, what’s wrong?’

‘My mother died.’

‘When? What happened?’

‘A few days ago. It was lung cancer but it was very fast. We

had no idea anything was wrong. I should have told you. I’m

sorry – I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.’

‘Oh, God, I’m sorry. I wish I’d known. Where are you now?’

‘In Ireland. We buried her today.’

‘Would you like me to come over? Is there anything I can do?’

‘It’s all right . . . it’s over now. There’s not a lot else to be

done at the moment. I’m not going to stay much longer. I can

come back another time to sort her stuff out.’

‘Are you staying with Angela?’

‘Yes. She’s been great.’

‘Will you let me know when you’re back?’

‘Okay. I think I’d better go now. There are lots of people . . .

I have to talk to them.’

‘Call me when you’re back. Okay?’

‘Okay.’

There’s a faint thudding going on in my heart as I end the call.

Talking to Sandy has brought no comfort. It has just reinforced

my sense of having been cast adrift. I sit on one of the metal

garden chairs and, to take my mind away from the nothingness

of my marriage, I think about all the things I have to do.

My mother told me during her final days in the hospital that

she was leaving everything to me, everything being the small

house she moved into after Dermot died and whatever money

she had in the bank. I’ll have to go through her things and decide

whether or not to sell the house. But these are tasks I can put off

for a while. I can go back to London in the next few days and,

after a month or two, return to Ireland to sort everything out.

I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting there when Ursula

appears.

‘Oh, Lou, what are you doing out here? You’ll freeze to death

without a coat.’

‘I called Sandy.’

‘And?’

‘Nothing, really. He says to call him when I’m back in London.’

‘Good. Now, let’s get you inside and warmed up.’

My mother’s brother, Richard, comes over to talk to me with

his son, Peter, who has driven him down from Dublin. I have

no recollection of ever having met either of them, but Richard

tells me he remembers me as a very small child.

I’m not surprised when he tells me that he found out about

my mother’s death when he read the notice Angela placed in the

paper; people of a certain age in Ireland tend to go straight to

the death notices before they read the news. But I am surprised

when he tells me they had been in occasional contact over the

years. She had never mentioned it. His name rarely came up.

‘The last time we talked was during the summer. I had no

idea she was so ill,’ he says.

‘None of us did. She probably didn’t, either, until it was too

late.’

‘Still, I wish I had known. I might have been able to help.’

Richard speaks in the light, refined tones of Dublin’s more

affluent southern suburbs, as my mother did. I see the physical

resemblance between them, too. Like my mother, he’s tall and,

despite his age, moves lightly, fluidly. He’s a handsome man.

‘I’m very sorry you had to deal with Marjorie’s death by

yourself,’ he says.

‘I had Angela. Dermot’s daughter. She was very good to my

mother,’ I say, making the point that the person I have leaned

on most is not a blood relative.

He looks slightly uncomfortable, but I may be reading into

his expression what I want to see. A quick calculation tells me

that he must be close to eighty, but he wears his age well. Peter

is a different type, shorter than his father and stockier. Probably

a rugby player at whichever top boarding school he will have

attended. His slightly florid complexion, bordered by dark hair

that is flecked with grey, hints at future health issues. He won’t

age as gracefully as his father. I almost feel sorry for him; clearly,

neither of us has inherited the Redmond genes.

As Richard and I talk, Peter smiles occasionally, his small

and silent contribution to the short and difficult conversation.

Perhaps he senses some hostility from me, or maybe he feels

he has given enough of his time to the funeral of an aunt he

didn’t know, because before very long he looks at his watch and

apologises, saying they have to leave.

Richard, looking somewhat relieved, says goodbye to me. But

just as he starts to walk towards the door, he turns around and

takes my hand.

‘Will you come and see me in Dalkey, Louise?’ he says. ‘I have

some photographs you might like to see.’

I make a vague promise to visit him, but I have no intention

of keeping it. He has never been part of my life. Why should I

invite him into it now?


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