Angels
Penguin Books

PENGUIN BOOKS

ANGELS

‘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.

Marian Keyes


ANGELS

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Epilogue

Follow Penguin

UK | USA | Canada | Ireland | Australia

India | New Zealand | South Africa

Penguin Books is part of the Penguin Random House group of companies whose addresses can be found at global.penguinrandomhouse.com.

Penguin Random House UK

ISBN: 978-0-141-92868-5

For Tony

Acknowledgements

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.

Penguin walking logo

1

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.

However.

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 that if I imagined the worst possible scenario, it would somehow be insurance against it actually happening. However, instead of insuring against it, it conjured the whole bloody thing into existence. Which just goes to show.

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.

I hadn’t eaten much all day. At lunch-time, instead of stopping work, I’d foraged in my desk drawer for a half-eaten Mars bar that I’d vaguely remembered abandoning some days earlier. To my delight, I found it. I dashed off the paper clips and the worst of the fluff and, I must say, it was delicious.

So as I drove home I was hungry, and I knew there would be shag-all in the house. Food was a big problem for Garv and me. We subsisted, like most people we knew, on microwaved stuff, takeaways and meals out. Now and again – at least, before things had gone weird on us – when we’d cleared our backlog of ordinary worries, we’d spend a bit of time worrying that we weren’t getting enough vitamins. So we’d vow to embrace a new, healthier way and buy a jar of multivitamins, which we’d take for a day or so, then forget about. Or else we’d go on a mad splurge in the supermarket, pulling our arms out of their scurvied sockets lugging home heads of broccoli, suspiciously orange carrots and enough apples to feed a family of eight for a week.

‘Our health is our wealth,’ we’d say, pleased as punch, because it seemed that buying raw foodstuffs was an effective thing to do in itself. It was only when it became clear that the food had to be eaten that the trouble would begin.

Immediately events would set about conspiring to thwart our cooking plans: we’d have to work late or go out for someone’s birthday. The ensuing week was usually spent in edgy awareness of all the fresh fruit and vegetables clamouring for our attention. We could hardly bear to go into the kitchen. Visions of cauliflowers and grapes constantly hovered on the corner of our consciousness, so that we were never truly at peace. Slowly, day by day, as the food went off, we’d furtively throw it out, never acknowledging to each other what we were doing. And only when the final kiwi fruit had been bounced off the inside of the bin did the black shadow lift and we could relax again.

Give me a frozen pizza any time, far less stressful.

Which is precisely what I bought for that evening’s meal. I mounted the pavement, ran into the Spar and flung a couple of pizzas and some breakfast cereals into a basket. And then Fate intervened.

I can go without chocolate for weeks at a time. OK, days. But once I have a bit I want more, and the fluff-covered, lunch-time Mars bar had roused the hungry beast. So when I saw the boxes of handmade truffles in a chilled compartment I decided in a mad splurge of go-on-you-divil justification to buy myself one.

Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t? Did something as benign as a box of chocolates alter the entire course of my life?

Garv was already home and we greeted each other a little warily. We hadn’t expected that this evening would be just the two of us; we’d been kind of depending on Liam and Elaine to dilute the funny atmosphere between us.

‘You just missed Donna,’ he said. ‘She’ll call you at work tomorrow.’

‘So what’s the latest?’ Donna had a messy, high-concept love life and, as one of her best friends, it was my duty to provide advice. But she often consulted Garv to get what she called ‘the male perspective’, and he’d been so helpful that she’d rechristened him Doctor Love.

‘Robbie wants her to stop shaving under her arms. Says he thinks it’s sexy, but she’s afraid she’ll look like a gorilla.’

‘So what did you advise?’

‘That there’s nothing wrong with women having hair –’

‘Right on, sister.’

‘– but that if she really doesn’t want it, she should say that she’ll stop shaving under her arms if he’ll start wearing girls’ knickers. Sauce for the goose and all that.’

‘You’re a genius, you really are.’

‘Thanks.’

Garv pulled off his tie, flung it over the back of a chair, then raked his fingers through his hair, shaking away the vestiges of his work persona. For the office his hair was Ivy League neat: shorn close at the neck and sleeked back off his face, but off-duty, it flopped down over his forehead.

There are some men who are so good-looking that meeting them is like being hit on the head with a mallet. Garv, however, isn’t one of them; he’s more the sort of man you could see day-in, day-out for twenty years, then just wake up one morning and think, ‘God, he’s nice, how come I never noticed him before now?’

His most obvious attraction was his height. But I was tall, too, so I’d never gone around saying, ‘Ooh, look at how he towers over me!’ All the same, I was able to wear heels with him, which I appreciated – my sister Claire had been married to a man who was the same height as her, so she’d had to wear flats in order that he wouldn’t feel inadequate. And she really loves shoes. But then he had an affair and left her, so everything works out for the best in the end, I suppose.

‘How was work?’ Garv asked.

‘Mostly awful. How was yours?’

‘Bad for most of the day. I had a nice ten minutes between four-fifteen and four-twenty-five when I stood on the fire escape and pretended I still smoked.’

Garv works as an actuary, which makes him a cheap target for accusations of being boring – and on first meeting him you might confuse his quietness with dullness. But in my opinion it’s a mistake to equate number-crunching with being boring; one of the most boring men I ever met was this gobshite novelist boyfriend of Donna’s called John – you couldn’t get more creative. We went out for dinner one night and he BORED us into the ground, loudly monologuing about other writers and what overpaid, meretricious bastards they were. Then he began questioning me about how I’d felt about something or other; probing and delving with the intimacy of a gynaecologist. ‘How did you feel? Sad? Can you be more specific? Heartbroken? Now we’re getting someplace.’Then he hurried to the gents’ and I just knew that he was writing everything I’d said into a notebook, to use in his novel.

‘You’re not to be jealous about Liam’s flatscreen telly,’ I said to Garv, happy to pretend that his subdued mood was down to his mate having more consumer durables than him. ‘Didn’t it attack him? It might have to be put down.’

‘Ah,’ Garv shrugged the way he always does when he’s bothered, ‘I’m not bothered.’ (Though happy to discuss Donna’s problems with her, you’ll note his reluctance to talk about his own feelings, even when they’re only about a telly.) ‘But do you know how much it cost?’ he blurted.

Of course I knew. Every time I went into town with Garv we had to call into the electrical department in Brown Thomas and stand before said telly, admiring it in all its twelve thousand pounds’ worth of glory. Though Garv was well paid, he didn’t earn anything like Liam’s telephone-number wedge. And what with our high mortgage, the cost of running two cars, Garv’s addiction to CDs and my addiction to face creams and handbags, funds just didn’t run to flatscreen tellies.

‘Cheer up, it probably broke when it fell off the wall. And one day soon you’ll be able to afford one of your own.’

‘Do you think?’

‘Sure I do. As soon as we finish furnishing the house.’ This seemed to do the trick. With a slight spring in his step, he helped unload the shopping. And that was when it happened.

He lifted out my box of go-on-you-divil truffles and exclaimed, ‘Hey, look!’ His eyes were a-sparkle. ‘Those sweets again. Are they following us?’

I looked at him, looked at the box, then back at him. I hadn’t a clue what he was on about.

‘You know,’ he insisted skittishly. ‘The same ones we had when – ’

He stopped abruptly and, my brow furrowed with curiosity, I stared at him. He stared back at me and, quite suddenly, several things occurred at once. The playful light in his eyes went out, to be replaced with an expression of fear. Horror, even. And before the thoughts had even formed themselves into any order in my consciousness, I knew. He was talking about someone else, an intimate moment shared with a woman other than me. And it had been recently.

I felt as if I was falling, that I would go on falling for ever. Then, abruptly, I made myself stop. And I knew something else: I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t bear to watch the downward spiral of my marriage begin to catch other people and spin them into the vortex too.

Shocked into stillness, our eyes locked, I silently beseeched him, desperate for him to say something to explain it, to make it all go away. But his face was frozen in horror – the same horror that I felt.

‘I – ’ he managed, then faltered.

A sudden stab of agony shot up into my back tooth and, as though I was dreaming, I left the room.

Garv didn’t follow me; he remained in the kitchen. I could hear no sound and I presumed he was still standing where I’d left him. This, in itself, seemed like an admission of guilt. Still in my waking nightmare, I was picking up the remote and switching on the telly. I was waiting to wake up.

Penguin walking logo

2

We didn’t exchange a word for the rest of the evening. Perhaps I should have been shrieking for details – who was she? How long? But at the best of times that wasn’t my way and after all we’d gone through over the past while, I’d no fight left in me.

If only I was more like my sisters, who were great at expressing pain – experts at slamming doors, crashing phones back into cradles, throwing things at walls, screeching. The whole world got to hear of their anger/disappointment/double-crossing man/chocolate mousse missing from the fridge. But I’d been born without the diva gene, so when devastation hit me I usually kept it inside, turning it over and over, trying to make sense of it. My misery was like an ingrowing hair, curling further and further into me. But what goes in must come out and my pain invariably re-emerged in the form of scaly, flaking, weeping eczema on my right arm – it was a cast-iron barometer of my emotional state and that night it tingled and itched so much that I scratched until it bled.

I went to bed before Garv and, to my surprise, actually managed to fall asleep – the shock, perhaps? Then I awoke at some indeterminate time and lay staring into the blanket of darkness. It was probably four a.m. Four in the morning is the bleakest time, when we’re at our lowest ebb. It’s when sick people die. It’s when people being tortured crack. My mouth tasted gritty and my jaw ached: I’d been grinding my teeth again. No wonder my back tooth was clamouring for attention – making a last desperate plea for help before I ground it into nothingness.

Then, wincing, I faced the repulsive revelation full-on. This truffle woman – was Garv really having a thing with her?

In agony, I admitted that he probably was; the signs were there. Looked at from the outside I’d conclude that he definitely was, but isn’t it always different when it’s your life that’s under scrutiny?

I’d been afraid of something like this happening, so much so that I’d half-prepared myself for it. But now that it seemed it had come to pass, I wasn’t at all ready. He’d got such a glow on when he’d noticed ‘their’ chocolates … It had been dreadful to witness. He must be up to something. But that was too much to take on and I was back to not believing it. I mean, if he’d been messing around, surely I’d have noticed?

The obvious thing would be to ask him straight out and put an end to the speculation, but he was bound to lie like a rug. Worse still, he might tell me the truth. Out of nowhere, lines came to me from some B-movie. The truth? (Accompanied by a curled lip.) You couldn’t HANDLE the truth!

The thoughts kept coming. Could she be someone he worked with? Might I have met her at their Christmas party? I shuffled through my memories of that night, endeavouring to locate a funny look or a loaded comment. But all I could remember was dancing the hora with Jessica Benson, one of his colleagues. Could it be her? But she’d been so nice to me. Mind you, if I’d been having sex with someone’s husband, maybe I’d be nice to her, too … Apart from the women Garv worked with, there were the girlfriends and wives of his mates – and then there were my friends. I was ashamed even to have that thought, but I couldn’t help myself; suddenly I trusted no one and suspected everyone.

What about Donna? Herself and Garv always had a great laugh and she called him Doctor Love. I went cold as I remembered reading somewhere that nicknames were a cast-iron indication that people were up to high jinks.

But then, with a silent sigh, I released Donna without charge: she was one of my best friends, I truly couldn’t believe she’d do that to me. Plus, for reasons best known to herself, she was mad about Robbie the flake. Unless he was an elaborate red herring, of course. But there was one thing that convinced me totally that Garv wasn’t having an affair with Donna, and that was the fact that she’d told him about her verruca. In fact, she’d pulled off her boot and sock and thrust the sole of her foot at him so that he could see for himself just how gross it was. If you’re having a passionate fling with someone, you don’t own up to things like verrucas. It’s all about mystique and impractical bras and round-the-clock upkeep on hairy legs – or so I’m told.

What about my friend Sinead? Garv was so kind to her. But it was only three months since she’d been given the road by her boyfriend, Dave. Surely she was far too fragile for an affair with her friend’s husband – and far too fragile for any normal man to try it on? Unless it was her fragility that Garv liked. But wasn’t he getting enough of that from me? Why go out for broken crockery when you’ve got it in absolute smithereens at home?

Beside me, I realized that Garv was awake too – his fake deep-breathing was the giveaway. So we could talk. Except we couldn’t, we’d been trying for months. I didn’t hear the intake of breath that precedes speech, so I was startled when the ink-dark silence was violated by Garv’s voice. ‘Sorry.’

Sorry. The worst thing he could have said. The word hung in the darkness and wouldn’t go away. In my head I heard it echo again, then again. Each time fainter, until I wondered if I’d just imagined hearing it. Minutes passed. Without ever replying, I turned my back to him and surprised myself by falling asleep again.

In the morning, we woke late, and there was blood under my nails from scratching my arm. My eczema was back in force – I’d have to start wearing gloves in bed again if this continued. But would it continue? Again I got that falling sensation.

I busied myself with showers and coffee, and when Garv said, ‘Maggie,’ and tried to stop my incessant motion, I neatly sidestepped him and said, without eye contact, ‘I’ll be late.’ I left, carrying that empty, four-in-the-morning feeling with me.

Despite sidestepping Garv, I was late for work and the contract wasn’t on Frances’s desk by nine-thirty. She sighed, ‘Oh Maggie,’ in an I’m-not-angry-with-you-I’m-disappointed way. It’s meant to reach the parts a bollocking doesn’t and make you feel shitty and ashamed. However, I appreciated not being shouted at. Not the reaction Frances was looking for, I suspect.

I felt entirely lost, but at the same time unnaturally calm – almost as if I’d been waiting for a catastrophe and it was a weird sort of relief that it had finally happened. Because I had no idea how to behave in these circumstances, I decided to mimic everyone else there and immerse myself in work. Wasn’t it strange, I thought, that after such a dreadful shock I was still functioning as normal? Then I noticed I kept botching the double-click on my mouse because my hand was trembling.

For seconds, I’d manage to lose myself in a contract clause, but all the time the knowledge surrounded me: Something is very wrong. Over the years, like every couple, Garv and I had had our rows, but not even the most vicious of those had ever felt like this. The worst scrap had been one of those odd ones which had started out as a muscular discussion over whether a new skirt of mine was brown or purple, and had unexpectedly disintegrated into a bitter stand-off, with accusations of colour-blindness and hyper-sensitivity flying about.

(Garv: ‘What’s wrong with it being brown?’

Me: ‘Everything! But it’s not brown, it’s purple, you stupid colour-blind fucker.’

Garv: ‘Look, it’s only a skirt. All I said was I was surprised at you buying a brown one.’

Me: ‘But I DIDN’t! It’s PURPLE!’

Him: ‘You’re overreacting.’

Me: ‘I’m NOT. I would NEVER buy a brown skirt. Do you know the first thing about me?’)

At the time I’d thought I’d never forgive him. I’d been wrong. But this time was different, I was horribly sure of it.

At lunch-time, I just couldn’t find it in me to care about my urgent piles of work, so I went to Grafton Street, looking for comfort. Which took the form of spending money – again. Unenthusiastically, I bought a scented candle and a cheapish (relatively speaking) copy of a Gucci bag. But neither of them did anything to fill the void. Then I stopped into a chemist to get painkillers for my tooth and got intercepted by a white-coated, orange-faced woman who told me that if I bought two Clarins products – one of which had to be skincare – I’d get a free gift. Listlessly I shrugged, ‘Fine.’

She couldn’t believe her luck, and when she suggested the dearest stuff – serums in 100 ml bottles – again I lifted and slumped my shoulders. ‘Sure.’

I liked the sound of a free gift – I found the idea of a present very consoling. But back at work, when I opened my present, it was a lot less exciting than it had looked on the picture: funny-coloured eyeshadow, a mini-mini-mini tube of foundation, four drops of eye-cream and a thimble of vinegary perfume. Anti-climax set in, and then, in an unexpected reprieve of normality, came guilt, which swelled big and ugly as the afternoon lengthened. I had to stop spending money. So as soon as I could reasonably leave, I hurried back to Grafton Street to try to return the handbag – I couldn’t return the Clarins stuff because I’d already tried the free gift – but they wouldn’t give me a refund, only a credit note. And before I’d made it back to the car, my eye was caught by yellow flowery flip-flops in a shoe-shop window and, like an out-of-body experience, I found myself inside, handing over my card and spending another thirty quid. It wasn’t safe to let me out.

That evening I went to a work thing and did something I don’t usually do at work things – I got drunk. Messy drunk, so bad that on one of my many trips back from the loo, when I met Stuart Keating, I ended up lunging at him. Stuart worked in another department and he’d always been nice to me; I can still see the surprise on his face as I zoomed in on him. Then we were kissing, but only for a second before I had to disengage. What was I doing? ‘ Sorry,’ I exclaimed and, appalled at myself, I returned to the party, picked up my jacket and left without saying goodbye to anyone. From across the room Frances watched me, her expression unreadable.

When I came home, Garv was waiting bolt upright, like an anxious parent. He tried to talk to me, but I mumbled drunkenly that I had to go to sleep and lurched to the bedroom, Garv in hot pursuit. I stripped off my clothes, letting them lie where they fell, and climbed between the sheets. ‘Drink some water.’ I heard the clatter as Garv put a glass on my bedside table. I ignored it and him, but just before I sank into the merciful oblivion of sleep, I remembered I hadn’t taken out my contact lenses. Too tired, drunk, whatever to get on my feet and go to the bathroom, I slipped them out and plopped them into the handily placed glass of water, promising myself I’d rinse them good and proper in their solution in the morning.

But when morning came, my tongue was superglued with dryness to the roof of my mouth. Automatically, I stretched out my hand for my glass of water and gulped it in one go. Only when the last of it was racing down my throat did I remember. My contact lenses. I’d drunk my contact lenses. Again. The third time in six weeks. They were only monthly disposables, but all the same.

And the following day, as luck would have it, I lost my job.

I wasn’t exactly sacked. But my contract wasn’t renewed. It was a six-month contract and since I’d moved back to Dublin from Chicago it had already been renewed five times. I had thought renewing it again was a mere formality.

‘When you first started here,’ Frances said, ‘we were impressed with you. You were hard-working and reliable.’

I nodded. That sounded like me all right. On a good day.

‘But in the last six months or so, the standard of your work and commitment has dropped dramatically. You’re often late, you leave early …’

I listened, almost in surprise. Of course, I’d known that in my head stuff hadn’t been great, but I’d thought I’d done a pretty good job of presenting a convincing business-as-usual façade to the outside world.

‘… you’ve been clearly distracted and you’ve taken ten days’ sick leave.’

I could have leapt to my feet and given a speech telling Frances why I’d been distracted and where I’d been on my ten days’ sick leave, but I remained sitting like a plank, my face closed. It was no one’s business but mine. Yet, paradoxically, I felt she should have seen that something had been very wrong over the past months and made allowances for me. I’ve been more rational, I suspect.

‘We want people who care about their work – ’

I opened my mouth to protest that I did care, until I realized, with a shock, that actually I didn’t give a damn.

‘– and it’s with regret that I have to tell you that we are unable to renew your contract with us.’

It was years since I’d been sacked. In fact, the last time had been when I was seventeen and babysitting for a neighbour. I’d smuggled my boyfriend in when the children had gone to bed, because a house with no adults in had been too much to resist. But the horrible son – appropriately enough called Damian – spotted me smuggling my boyfriend back out. I’ll never forget it: Damian was standing at the top of the stairs, and his expression was so malevolent that the Old Spice music began playing spontaneously in my head. I was never asked to babysit there again. (To be honest, it was nearly a relief.)

But since then I had never been fired. I was a pretty good worker – not so good that I was ever in danger of winning the Employee of the Month Award, but fairly reliable and productive.

‘You want me to go?’ I asked faintly.

‘Yes.’

‘When?’

‘Now would be good.’

Oddly enough, it was losing my job that finally made me decide to leave Garv. I don’t really understand why. Because, you know, it’s not easy to leave someone. Not in real life. In fiction it’s all so cut and dried and clear: if you can see no future together, then of course you leave. Simple. Or if he’s having an affair, then you’d be a total idiot to stay, right? But in real life it’s amazing the things that conspire to keep you together. You might think, OK, so we can’t seem to make each other happy any more, but I get on so well with his sister and my friends are so fond of him, and our lives are too interwoven for us to be able to extricate ourselves. And this is our house, and see those lupins in our little back garden? – I planted them. (Well, not planted planted, I didn’t actually put them in the ground with my own hands, it was a narky old man called Michael who did, but I masterminded the whole thing.)

Leaving someone is a big deal. I was walking away from a lot more than a person, it was an entire life I was saying goodbye to.

But the shock of losing my job had triggered the conviction that everything was falling apart. Once the door to one disaster had opened, the possibilities for catastrophe seemed open-ended and I felt I’d no choice but to go along with my life as it unravelled. Losing a job? Why not go for broke and lose a marriage as well? It had suffered so many body blows during the past months, it was over in all but name anyway.

By the time Garv came home from work, I was in the bedroom, waist-high in a pathetic attempt at packing. How anyone manages to do a midnight flit is beyond me. Most people (if they’re anything like me) accumulate so much stuff.

He stood and looked at me, and it was like I was dreaming the whole thing.

He seemed surprised. Or maybe not. ‘What’s going on?’

This was my cue for the dramatic exit lines people always deliver in fiction. I’m LEAVING you! It’s OVER. Instead, I hung my head and mumbled, ‘I think I’d better go. We’ve tried our best with this and …’

‘Right,’ he swallowed. ‘Right.’ Then he nodded, and the nod was the worst bit. Such resignation in it. He agreed with me.

‘I lost my job today.’

‘Christ. What happened?’

‘I’ve been distracted and taken too much sick leave.’

‘Bastards.’

‘Yeah, well.’ I sighed. ‘The thing is, I mightn’t make this month’s mortgage, so I’ll give it to you from my Ladies’ Nice Things account.’

‘Forget it, forget it. I’ll take care of it.’

Then we lapsed into silence and it became clear that the mortgage was all he was planning to take care of.

Maybe I should have been angry with him and Truffle Woman. Perhaps I should have despised him for not jumping into the breach and promising me passionately that he wouldn’t let me go and that we could work it out.

But the truth was, right then, I wanted to go.