Jumping in Puddles

An Extract - Niamh

Things I hate about my husband:

* He likes pea and ham soup – I mean who in their right mind eats something which looks like snot?

* He waits until he gets to work to shave, so that when he kisses me goodbye in the morning I get stubble rash.

* He drives too fast.

* He died because he drove too fast. Stupid bastard.

* No one else has bought pea and ham soup from our local supermarket since he died. And I've no way of telling him I was right that he was the only person in Donegal who ate the blasted stuff.

* He never said goodbye. And the last kiss we had was a stubbly one ... and I had morning breath.

* He makes me cry.

Things I hate about my ex-best friend:

* Caitlin hasn’t spoken to me since Seán died.

* She doesn't answer the phone when I call.

* She is a bitch.

* She won't tell me why she has become a bitch.

Niamh had doodled on the top corner of her page. It was a strange picture – her artist’s impression of a tin of pea and ham soup. She knew she was obsessed but if she stopped thinking about tins of soup she might just have to think about everything that was so terribly wrong in her life.

Like the fact her husband was dead – and she was now a widow with three-year-old twins. And that her best friend in the whole world had turned into a psycho-bitch from hell precisely half an hour after her husband was buried in a graveyard in the arse-end of nowhere.

And of course, she now lived in the aforementioned arse-end of nowhere – their dream home, where it was all to begin and become fabulous. Except it hadn’t begun at all, it had ended.

This was to be her Wisteria Lane. She was happy to leave the rat race of Derry behind and become a kept woman in their perfect home, with the porch swing and the designer kitchen island. But this wasn’t so much Wisteria Lane as Elm Street and her life was the nightmare. The fact that there wasn’t actually some psycho with knives for fingers ready to claw her to pieces in the middle of the night was no comfort. She would have quite liked that – at the moment.

Niamh scored through the picture, looked up at three heads bowed over their own notebooks writing furiously and she fought the urge to push her pen through her nose ‘til it hit her brain. She didn’t even know if it was a painless way to commit suicide, but looking around at her options she thought it might be worth a try,

“Niamh, are you okay?” a ridiculously smiley woman in a long flowing skirt with, what Niamh imagined, long flowing underarm hair asked.

Rolling her eyes like someone half her age in a teenage strop, Niamh nodded. She didn’t have the energy to answer that question any more and anyway she had very quickly learned that people didn’t really want to know the answer. They expected her to say she was fine. She could occasionally get away with “fine, all things considered” or “fine, given the circumstances” but no one wanted to know that at this stage, three months after her life has changed irrevocably and not in a good way, she woke up every morning seething with rage and confusion wanting to scream at the world and everyone in it.

Nor were they particularly interested in her obsession with pea and ham soup. Even Robyn, the new best friend who had stepped into the shoes of the psycho ex-best friend, had started to openly avoid all discussions on any kind of soup, never mind Seán’s favourite brand.

“I’m grand,” Niamh said, and went back to doodling hoping that Detta, the group facilitator, would leave her alone if she looked busy enough.

She hadn’t wanted to come here. She’d done it to keep Robyn, her mother and her GP happy. All had been understandably concerned that Niamh had seemed to give up the day Seán died – putting her life on hold in a haze of grief and anger.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Robyn had said, almost afraid to meet Niamh’s eye, “but you should think about some form of counselling, or support.”

“I thought that is what I had you two for,” Niamh said, looking at her friend and her mother as if they had betrayed her. Had they become tired of her grief? Should she have moved on by now? Surely three months was wee buns when it came to loss and longing?

“Of course you have us,” her mother had soothed, “but, darling, we feel we can’t reach you sometimes. And it doesn’t help that we’re up in Derry and you are all the way down here.”

“It’s only an hour away,” Niamh pouted.

“That’s a long way when you are worried about someone,” Robyn said, “and you seem to have become a hermit since – you know – since. And you never get out and talk to anyone.”

“These two keep me busy,” Niamh said, gesturing to the corner of the room where Connor and Rachel were playing contentedly with their Bob the Builder toys. “I don’t need anyone else.”

“Of course you do,” her mother said. “You must be lonely.”

It would, Niamh realised, have been churlish to reply “No shit, Sherlock” to her mother’s concern, but counselling wasn’t going to ease her loneliness – not unless the counsellor was planning on coming home and stroking her back gently each night in bed just as Seán had done. That kind of loneliness wasn’t going to go away.

“Look,” her mum said, standing up and moving to switch on the kettle, “I’ve been talking to Dr. Donnelly and she has given me the name of a woman here in Rathinch who is starting a support group for lone parents.”

“But I’m not a lone parent!” Niamh shouted. How she hated that title. She was a married woman, who along with her husband had planned her family with scary precision. The twins were conceived in May, born in February, raised in Derry until they were two and then the family moved to their dream home on the Donegal coastline. It was a home she and Seán had designed together, built together and were ridiculously proud of. They had pored over interior-design magazines, taped every episode of Grand Designs and made their house the envy of the village. They had done it all together.

Niamh hadn’t made any decisions as a lone anything and she shrugged off the title now. It was right up there with “widow” in her most hated terms in the world ever.

“Look, we’ll leave you her number. She’s Detta and Dr Donnelly said she’s a dote. Think about it, pet. What harm can it do?”

Niamh shrugged, walking out into the perfectly manicured garden and staring out at the grey sea at the bottom of the path. As the wind whistled around her, she hugged her cardigan and her grief around her.

Talking to Detta couldn’t do any harm. Compared to what she had been through lately, nothing could ever harm her again.

And of course her options were limited. She knew her mother was like a dog with a bone and wouldn’t leave her alone until she was joining in nicely with village life and at least putting forward an impression of calm and happiness to her new neighbours. It was either the Lone Parents Support Group, Niamh had realised with a sinking feeling, or the knitting club. And Niamh didn’t do knitting.
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