‘Everybody remembers where they were the day they heard that Paddy de Courcy was getting married’
Slick, handsome politician Paddy de Courcy is on the up. His party is set to do well in the elections and he’s just announced his engagement to the beautiful Alicia. Which is news to his girlfriend, Lola, who, within hours, finds herself dumped and warned not to talk to the press.
Yet journalist Grace is on the prowl. She has been after Paddy ever since he ruined her sister Marnie’s life way back in college. Grace is looking for the inside story and thinks Lola holds the key.
But do any of them know the real Paddy?
‘It takes real talent to make a reader laugh and cry ... the story will stay with you long after you've read the last page’
'Keyes’s protagonists shine, even at their darkest'
‘Keyes juggles the serious and the comic with ease’
‘It takes real talent to make a reader laugh and cry ... the story will stay with you long after you've read the last page’
'Keyes’s protagonists shine, even at their darkest'
‘Keyes juggles the serious and the comic with ease’
‘Everyone remembers where they were the day they heard that Paddy de Courcy was getting married. I was one of the ﬁrst to know, what with working in a newspaper when word came in from David Thornberry, political correspondent (and tallest man in Dublin), that de Courcy was calling it a day. I was surprised. I mean, we all were. But I was extra surprised and that was even before I heard who the lucky woman was. But I couldn’t act upset. Not that anybody would have noticed. I could fall down dead in the street and people would still ask me to drive them to the station. That’s what life is like when you’re the healthy one of a pair of twins. Anyway, Jacinta Kinsella (boss) needed a quick piece on the engage- ment so I had to put my personal feelings to one side and be a professional.’
‘It would have been nice if you had asked me ﬁrst.’
‘I was on the net, checking e-bid for owl handbag (by Stella McCartney, not just any ‘oul’ handbag) for a client to wear to a wildlife charity thing when I saw the headline. De Courcy to Wed. Thought it was a hoax. The media are always making stuff up and faking cellulite on girls who don’t have it and taking it off girls who do. When I discovered that it was true, I went into shock. Actually thought I was having heart attack. Would have called an ambulance but couldn’t remember 999. Kept thinking 666. Number of the beast.’
Fionnola ‘Lola’ Daly
‘Don’t you dare be happy, you bastard. That’s what I thought when I heard. Don’t you dare be happy.’
De Courcy to Wed
Women throughout the land will be donning black armbands with the news that Ireland’s most eli- gible politician, Paddy ‘Quicksilver’ de Courcy, is to hang up his gloves and settle down. Over the last decade, de Courcy, a popular figure in the VIP rooms of Dublin’s hot nightspots, and often said to physically resemble JohnJohn Kennedy, has been linked with a number of glamorous women, including the model-turned-actress Zara Kaletsky and Everest mountaineer Selma Teeley, but, until now, showed no signs of making a permanent com- mitment.
Not much is known of the woman who has won his notoriously wayward heart, one Alicia Thornton, but she’s certainly no model or mountaineer – the only climbing she seems interested in, is social. Ms Thornton (35), allegedly a widow, has been working for a well-known property agency but plans to give up her job once married, in order to ‘devote herself ’ to her husband’s burgeoning political career. As the wife of the famously ambitious ‘Quicksilver’, she’ll have her work cut out for her.
De Courcy (37) is the deputy leader of New- Ireland, the party founded three years ago by Dee Rossini and other TDs disaffected with the culture of corruption and croneyism prevailing in Ire- land’s main political parties. Contrary to popular opinion, de Courcy is not one of NewIreland’s founding members, but joined eight months after the party’s inception, when it became clear that it was a viable prospect.
Day Zero. Monday, 25 August 14.25
The worst day of my life. When the first wave of shock released me from its fiendish grip, I couldn’t help but notice that Paddy hadn’t called me. Ominous. I was his girlfriend, the media was going wild that he was getting married to another woman, and he hadn’t called me. Bad sign.
Called his private mobile. Not his ordinary private one, but the private private one that only I and his personal trainer have. It rang four times, then went to message, then I knew it was true.
End of world.
Called his office, called his home, kept ringing his mobile, left fifty-one messages for him – counted.
Phone rang – it was him!
He said, ‘You’ve seen the evening papers?’
‘Online,’ I said. ‘I never read the papers.’ (Not relevant, but people say the oddest things when in shock.)
‘Sorry you had to find out in such a brutal way. Wanted to tell you myself but some journalist – ’
‘What? So it’s true?’ I cried.
‘I’m sorry, Lola. I didn’t think you’d take us so seriously. We were just a bit of fun.’
‘Yes, only a few months.’
‘Few? Sixteen of them. Sixteen months, Paddy. That’s a long time. Are you really marrying this woman?’
‘Why? Do you love her?’
‘Of course. Wouldn’t be marrying her if I didn’t.’
‘But I thought you loved me.’
In a sad voice, he said, ‘Never made you any promises, Lola. But you are a great, great girl. One in a million. Be good to yourself.’
‘Wait, don’t go! I have to see you, Paddy, please, just for five minutes.’ (No dignity, but couldn’t help myself. Was badly distraught.)
‘Try not to think badly of me,’ he said. ‘I’ll always think fondly of you and our time together. And remember . . .’
‘Yes?’ I gasped, desperate to hear something to take edge off the terrible, unbearable pain.
‘Don’t talk to the press.’
18.05 to midnight
Rang everyone. Including him. Lost count of number of times, but many. Can be certain of that. Double, possibly triple figures.
Phone was also red-hot with incoming calls. Bridie, Treese and Jem – genuine friends – offered much comfort even though they didn’t like Paddy. (Never admitted it to me, but I knew.) Also many fake friends – rubberneckers! – ringing to gloat. General gist: ‘Is it true that Paddy de Courcy is getting married and not to you? Poor you. Is terrible. Is really, really terrible for you. Is so humILiating. Is so MORTifying. Is so SHAMEing! Is so –’
Kept my dignity. Said, ‘Thank you for kind wishes. Must go now.’
Bridie came to see me in person. ‘You were never cut out to be a politician’s wife,’ she said. ‘Your clothes are too cool and you have purple highlights.’
‘Molichino, please!’ I cried. ‘Purple makes me sound like a . . . a teenager.’
‘He was too controlling,’ she said. ‘We never got to see you. Especially in the last few months.’
‘We were in love! You know what it’s like to be in love.’ Bridie had got married last year, but Bridie unsentimental. ‘Love, yes, very nice, but no need to live in each other’s pockets. You were always cancelling on us.’
‘Paddy’s time is precious! He’s a busy man! I had to take what I could get!’
‘Also,’ Bridie said, ‘you never read the papers, you know nothing of current affairs.’
‘I could have learnt,’ I said. ‘I could have changed!’
Tuesday, 26 August
Feel the whole country is looking at me, pointing and laugh- ing. Had boasted to all friends and many clients about Paddy and now they know he is marrying someone else.
My equilibrium destroyed. On a photo-shoot in the Wicklow Hills for Harvey Nichols Christmas catalogue, I ironed oyster-coloured silk bias-cut Chloe´ evening dress (you know the one I mean?) at too high a heat and burnt it! Scorch mark in the shape of the iron on the crotch of iconic dress worth 2,035 euro (retail). Destroyed. Dress was intended to be the pivot of the shoot. Was lucky they didn’t charge me (i.e. bill me, not have me arrested, but could be either, actually, now that I think about it).
Nkechi insisted on taking control – she is an excellent assistant, so excellent that everyone thinks she is my boss – because my hands were trembling, my concentration was in ribbons and I kept having to go to portaloo to vomit.
And worse. Bowels like jelly. Will spare you the details.
Bridie and Treese visited me at home and physically restrained me from driving round to Paddy’s apartment and demanding audience with him.
I woke up and thought, Now, will go! Then noticed Treese was in bed beside me. Worse, was awake and prepared to wrestle.
Wednesday, 27 August 11.05
Constant loop in my head: He is marrying another woman, He is marrying another woman, He is marrying another woman. Then every few hours I think, What? What do you mean, he is marrying another woman? As if discovering it for the first time, and SIMPLY CANNOT BELIEVE IT. Then am compelled to ring him, to try to change his mind, but he never picks up.
Then the loop starts again, then the surprise, then I have to ring him, then I get no answer – again and again and again.
Saw picture of this so-called Alicia Thornton. (In the newsagent buying a Crunchie when I saw it on the front page of the Independent.) Snapper had caught her coming out of her Ballsbridge offices. Hard to be certain but looked like she was wearing Louise Kennedy. Said it all. Safe. Elegant but safe.
Realized I recognized Alicia Thornton – she had been photographed four times with Paddy in glossy society pages over last few months. Caption had always read, ‘Paddy de Courcy and companion’. When photo number three appeared, I had felt emboldened enough to question him about her. He accused me of not trusting him and said she was a family friend. I believed him. But what family? He has no family!
Call from Bridie. ‘We are going out tonight.’
‘No!’ I cried. ‘Cannot face world!’
‘Yes, you can! Hold your head up high!’
Bridie is very bossy. Known as Sergeant-Major to her nearest and dearest.
‘Bridie, I’m in shreds. Shaking and everything. Cannot go anywhere. I’m begging you.’
She said, ‘Is for your good. We will take care of you.’
‘Can you not come over to my flat?’
Big long pause. Pointless putting up a fight. Bridie is the strongest-willed person I’ve ever met.
I sighed. Said, ‘Who is going?’
‘The four of us. You, me, Treese, Jem –’
‘Even Jem? He got a pass from Claudia?’
Claudia is Jem’s fiancé. Very possessive of him, even though she’s good-looking and thin.
‘Yes, he got pass from Claudia,’ Bridie said. ‘I fixed her.’ Bridie and Claudia shared much mutual antipathy.
Jem was great friends with me, Bridie and Treese, but oddly he wasn’t gay. Not even metrosexual. (Once he actually bought a pair of jeans in Marks & Spencer. Saw nothing wrong with it, until I gently pointed out the error of his ways.) We lived on the same road when teenagers, him and me. Bonded at cold bus stops, on rainy mornings, in duffel coats, on our way to college. Him to be brainy engineer, me to get diploma in fashion. (Just for the record, my duffel coat was electric-blue vinyl.)
Shaky legs. Nearly fell down the stairs into the restaurant. Stumbled on the bottom three steps and almost made my entrance skidding across the floor on my knees like Chuck Berry. Worse, didn’t care. Couldn’t possibly be more of a laughing stock than I currently am. Bridie and Treese were waiting.
Bridie – like always – was working a most peculiar look. Her straight blondey-red hair was gathered into a low granny-style bun and she was sporting an astonishing green jumper – shrunken, lopsided and embroidered with tiny jockeys. The oddest taste, she always had – right from her first day at school, aged four, when she insisted on wearing tights the colour of dried blood. But she couldn’t care less. Treese, a fund-raiser for a big charity, was much more chic. Flaxen hair in screen-goddess-of-the-forties waves and wearing an impressive dress-and-jacket combo. (From Whistles but on Treese you might mistake it for Prada.) You would think if you worked for a charity you could come to work in beige cords and a hoodie but you’d be wrong. Treese’s is a big charity working in the developing world (not third world, cannot say that any more, not PC). Sometimes she has to meet government ministers and ask for money, some- times she even has to go to The Hague and ask EU for cash.
I asked, ‘Where’s Jem?’
Was sure he had cancelled because it was a very rare occasion when all four of us managed to get together, even when the arrangement was made several weeks in advance, never mind a mere matter of hours, as in this case. (Had to admit that in recent months I’d been the worst offender.)
‘Here he is now!’ Bridie said.
Jem, rushing, briefcase, raincoat, pleasant roundy face. Wine ordered. Drink flowed. Tongues loosened. As I said,
I’d always suspected that my friends didn’t like Paddy. But now that he had publicly shamed me, they could speak freely.
‘Never trusted him,’ Jem said. ‘He was too charming.’
‘Too charming?’ I said. ‘How can you say he was too charming? Charming is a wonderful thing. Like ice-cream. No such thing as too much!’
‘There is,’ Jem said. ‘You can eat a litre carton of Chunky Monkey, then a litre carton of Cherry Garcia, then get sick.’
‘Not me,’ I said. ‘Anyway I remember that night and it was the doobie, not the ice-cream, that made you sick.’
‘He was too good-looking,’ Bridie said.
Again I expressed incredulity. ‘Too good-looking? How can such a thing be? It’s impossible. Goes against laws of physics. Or laws of something. Laws of land, maybe.’
And had I been insulted? ‘Are you saying he was too good-looking for me?’
‘No!’ they exclaim. ‘Not!’
‘You are as cute as a button,’ Jem said. ‘Button! Easily as good-looking as him!’
‘Better!’ Treese said.
‘Yes, better!’ Bridie said. ‘Just different. He’s too obvious. You look at him and think, There is a tall, dark, handsome man. Too perfect! But with you, you think, There is a very pretty, medium-height, girlish woman with a well-cut bob, lovely brown colour with bits of purple –’
‘– and a very neat figure considering you’re a non-smoker.
A twinkle in your eye – both eyes, in point of fact – and a small symmetrical nose.’ (Bridie was convinced her nose pointed to the left. Was envious of all those with noses poking out of their fizzogs with straight-ahead precision.) ‘The more you look at you, Lola, the more attractive you get. The more you look at Paddy de Courcy, the less attractive he gets. Have I left anything out?’ she asked Treese and Jem.
‘Her smile lights up her face,’ Jem said.
‘Yes,’ Bridie said. ‘Your smile lights up your face. Not like him.’
‘Paddy de Courcy’s a fake smiler. Like the Joker in Batman,’ Jem said.
‘Yes! Like the Joker in Batman!’
I protested, ‘He’s not like the Joker in Batman!’
‘Yes, he IS like the Joker in Batman.’ Bridie was adamant.
Bridie’s mobile rang. She looked at the number and said, ‘Must take this call.’
She got up to leave, but we indicated, Stay! Stay!
We wanted to hear. It was her boss (important banker). Sounded like he wanted to go to Milan and for Bridie to organize flights and a hotel. Bridie got a big diary out of bag. (Very nice bag. Mulberry. Why a nice bag but peculiar clothes? Makes no sense.)
‘No,’ she said to the boss. ‘You cannot go to Milan. Is your wife’s birthday tomorrow. No, not booking flights for you. Yes, refusing. You will thank me for this. Am keeping you out of the divorce courts.’
She listened a bit more, then gave very scornful laugh.
‘Sack me? Don’t be so silly!’ Then she hung up. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Where were we?’
‘Bridie.’ Treese sounded anxious. ‘It’s not right to refuse to book flights to Milan for your boss. It might be important.’
‘Not!’ Bridie dismissed it with a flourish of her hand. ‘I know all that goes on. Situation in Milan doesn’t require his presence. I suspect he has his eye on an Italian lady. Will not facilitate his philandering.’
Desserts. I ordered Banoffee pie. Bananas tasted slimy, like wet leaves in November. I threw down my spoon and spat the bananas into my napkin. Bridie tried my pie. Said it wasn’t slimy. Nothing like wet leaves in November. Treese tried it. Said it wasn’t slimy. Jem tried it. Said it wasn’t slimy. He finished it. As compensation, he offered me his cold chocolate slab. But it tasted like chocolate-flavoured lard. Bridie tried it. Said it didn’t taste like chocolate- flavoured lard. Chocolate, yes, but lard, no. Treese concurred. So did Jem.
Bridie offered me her apple tart, but the pastry tasted of damp cardboard and the apple pieces like dead things. Others did not concur.
Treese didn’t offer me her dessert because she had no dessert to offer – once upon a time, she’d been a tubster and now tried to stay away from sugar. It was okay to eat other people’s desserts but not to order one for herself.
Her overeating was mostly under control now but she could still have bad days. Example, if stressed at work because she’d been turned down by the EU for a grant for latrines in Addis Ababa, she could eat up to twenty Mars bars in one go. (Could possibly manage more but the woman in the shop beside her office won’t sell them to her. She says to Treese, ‘You’ve had enough, love.’ Like a kindly publican. She says, ‘You worked hard to lose all that weight, Treese, love, you don’t want be a porker again. Think of that nice husband of yours. He didn’t know you when you were stout, did he?’)
I decided to give up on desserts and ordered a glass of port instead.
‘What’s it taste of?’ Bridie asked. ‘Rotting ankle boots? Maggots’ eyeballs?’
‘Alcohol,’ I said. ‘It tastes of alcohol.’
After the port, had an amaretto. After the amaretto had a Cointreau.
I braced myself to be forced to attend a nightclub, so I could ‘hold my head up high’ there also.
But no! No mention of nightclub. Talk of taxis and work in the morning. Everyone returning to their loved ones – Bridie got married last year, Treese got married this year, Jem was living with possessive Claudia. Why go out for steak when you’ve hamburger at home?
Jem dropped me off in a taxi and insisted that any time I wanted to hang out with him and Claudia, I was welcome. He is lovely, Jem. A kind, kind person.
But lying, of course. Claudia doesn’t like me. Not as much as she doesn’t like Bridie, but still.
(Quick aside. You know how they told me Paddy was far too good-looking for me? Well, the same could be said for Claudia and Jem. Claudia is ‘leggy’ – marvellous word, so sixties – tanned, blonde and has breast enlargements. She is the only person I know who’s actually had them done. To be fair, they aren’t grotesquely large but, nonetheless, you can’t miss them. Also I suspect her of hair extensions – one week I met her and she had shoulder-length hair, the following week it was twenty inches longer. But perhaps she had simply been taking lots of selenium.
She looks like a model. In fact, she used to be a model. Sort of. She sat on car bonnets in bikinis. She also tried to be a singer – auditioned for You’re A Star (reality TV talent thing). She also tried to be a dancer. (On another reality TV show.) She also tried to be an actress. (Spent small fortune on headshots, but was told to piss off for being crap.) Also a rumour circulated that she had been sighted in a queue for Big Brother auditions but she denies that.
But am not judging. Good lord, I only came by my own career by trial and error, failing at everything else, etc. Fair play to Claudia for her have-a-go spirit.
The only reason I don’t like Claudia is because she is not pleasant. She barely bothers to speak to me, Treese and especially Bridie. Her body language always says, Can’t ABIDE being with you dullards. Would prefer to be in a nightclub snorting cocaine off a newsreader’s thigh.
She behaves as though we would all steal Jem from under her nose, given half a chance. But she has nothing to worry about. None of us has designs on Jem. We all got off with him when we were teenagers. His face was not as round and trustworthy back then. Had slight rakish edge.
If you want my honest opinion, sometimes I worry that Claudia doesn’t even like Jem. Feel she treats him like an idiotic, repeat-offender dog, who would chew good shoes and tear open goosedown pillows if he wasn’t watched with a basilisk eye.
Jem is a lovely, lovely person. He deserves a lovely, lovely girlfriend.
Final piece of information. Jem is very well paid. Am not implying anything. Just making an observation.)
Let myself into my tiny flat. I looked around at a life that amounted to nothing and thought, I am all alone. And will be for the rest of my days.
Not self-pity. Simply facing facts.
Thursday, 28 August 9.00
Phone rang. Very friendly female voice said, ‘Lola, hi!’ Cautiously I said, ‘Hi.’
Because it could be a client. I have to pretend I always know who they are and must never say, ‘Who’s that?’ They like to think they are the only one. (Don’t we all?)
‘Lola, hi!’ the female voice goes on, very friendly. ‘My name is Grace. Grace Gildee. I wonder if we could have a chat.’
‘Certainly,’ I said. (Because thought it was woman looking to be styled.)
‘About a good friend of mine,’ she said. ‘Believe you know him too. Paddy de Courcy?’
‘Yes,’ I replied, wondering what this was all about. Suddenly I got it! Oh no! ‘Are you . . . a journalist?’
‘Yes!’ she said, like it was all okay. ‘I’d love to have a chat about your relationship with Paddy.’
But Paddy had said, No talking to the press.
‘Obviously we will compensate you well,’ the woman says. ‘Believe you’ve lost a couple of clients recently. Money might come in handy.’
What? Had I lost a couple of clients? News to me.
She said, ‘It’ll be your chance to give your side of the story. I know you feel badly betrayed by him.’
‘No, I . . .’
I was afraid. Really quite afraid. Didn’t want a story about Paddy and me in the paper. I shouldn’t even have admitted I knew him.
‘I don’t want to talk about it!’
She said, ‘But you did have a relationship with Paddy?’
‘No, I, er . . . No comment.’
Never thought I’d have a conversation where I said the words, No comment.
‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ the Grace woman said. She laughed.
‘Don’t!’ I said. ‘Don’t take it as a yes. I must go now.’
‘If you change your mind,’ she said, ‘give me a shout. Grace Gildee. Features writer for the Spokesman. We’d do a lovely job.’
Call from Marcia Fitzgibbons, captain of industry and important client. ‘Lola,’ she said, ‘I heard you were jonesing at the Harvey Nichols shoot.’
‘Jonesing?’ I said, high-pitched.
‘Having withdrawals,’ she said.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I heard you were a shaking mess,’ she said. ‘Sweating, vomiting, unable to do a simple task like press a dress without destroying it.’
‘No, no,’ I insisted. ‘Marcia, I mean Ms Fitzgibbons, I wasn’t jonesing. All that is wrong is that my heart is broken. Paddy de Courcy is my boyfriend but he’s getting married to some- one else.’
‘So you keep telling people, I hear. But Paddy de Courcy your boyfriend? Don’t be ridiculous! You have purple hair!’
‘Molichino,’ I cry. ‘Molichino!’
‘Cannot work with you any longer,’ she said. ‘I have strict zero-tolerance policy on druggies. You are an excellent stylist but rules are rules.’
That is why she is a captain of industry, I suppose.
Further attempts to defend myself proved futile, as she hung up on me. Time, after all, is money.
Missed my mammy very much. Could really have done with her now. I remembered when she was dying – although I didn’t really know that was what was happening, no one said as such, I just thought she needed lots of bed-rest. In the afternoons when I came home from school, I’d get into bed beside her, still in my uniform, and we’d hold hands and watch EastEnders repeats. I’d love to do that now, to get into bed beside her and hold hands and go to sleep for ever.
Or if only I had a big extended family who would cosset me and surround me and say, ‘Well, we love you. Even if you do know nothing about current affairs.’
But I was all alone in the world. Lola, the little orphan girl. Which was a terrible thing to say, as Dad was still alive. I could have gone and visited him in Birmingham. But I knew that would be unendurable. It would be like after Mum died and we were living side by side in a silent house, neither of us with half a clue how to operate a washing machine or roast a chicken and both of us on anti-depressants.
Even though I knew it was a pointless exercise, I rang him.
‘Hello, Dad, my boyfriend is marrying another woman.’
Then he gave big, long, heavy sigh and said, ‘I just want you to be happy, Lola. If only you could be happy, I would be happy.’
I was sorry I’d rung. I’d upset him, he takes everything so hard. And just listening to him, so obviously depressed . . . I mean, I suffered from depression too but didn’t go on about it.
Also he was a liar. He wouldn’t be happy if I was happy. The only thing that would make him happy would be if Mum came back.
‘So how’s Birmingham?’ I asked.
At least I got on with my life after Mum died. At least I didn’t move to Birmingham, not even Birmingham proper, which has good shops, including Harvey Nichols, but a Birmingham suburb, where nothing ever happened. He was in such a hurry to move. The minute I turned twenty-one, he was off like a shot, saying his older brother needed him; but I suspected he moved because we found it so hard being with each other. (In fairness, I must admit I was considering moving to New York myself but he saved me the bother.)
‘Birmingham’s grand,’ he said.
Big, long pause.
‘Well, I’ll be off so,’ I said. ‘I love you, Dad.’ ‘Good girl,’ he said. ‘That’s right.’
‘And you love me too, Dad.’