Sweet Little Lies (Cat Kinsella #1)

Sweet Little Lies (Cat Kinsella #1)

Caz Frear



For Alex, Chessy, Fifi and William, and Mick





I recall the day we heard about Maryanne with high-definition clarity, although I know nothing about what happened to her, nor the manner in which she left.

I don’t offer this by way of an alibi. Neither is it a well-practised defence. After all, it’s not as if I’ve ever had to explain myself – on the scale of likely suspects I was always nestled firmly alongside Gran, hovering somewhere between ‘laughable’ and ‘nigh-on impossible’ – and yet in order to understand the demons that hound me, and indeed in the spirit of the police oath I claim to hold so dear, I feel it’s necessary to make clear that I know nothing about what happened to Maryanne Doyle, the girl who went to Riley’s for hairspray and never came back.

I have my suspicions, of course.

I speculate plenty, especially after white wine.

But when it comes right down to it, I actually know nothing.

The same cannot be said of my father.





1998

It was 31st May 1998 and we’d been kicking around Mulderrin for over a week. I was eight years old, podgy, with a head full of greasy curls and a mouth full of wobbly teeth, and I was almost certainly wearing my Pokemon T-shirt. Back home in London, my friends were getting ready to go back to school after the half-term holiday but Dad had just announced, between mouthfuls of toast, that we had ‘special dispensation’ to stay on at Gran’s for another week, earning him a high-five from my big sister Jacqui and a slap across the face from Mum.

Trying to diffuse a tension I didn’t understand, I looked up from my Pop Tarts. ‘Mum, what does “dispensation” mean?’

Mum rolled her sleeves up like a yobbo about to start a pub fight. ‘Look it up in the dictionary, sweetheart. You’ll find it near “dishonest” and “disgrace”.’

Jacqui stretched across the table for a yoghurt, her tangled blonde hair shielding her cocksure grin. ‘It means Dad told the school to go fuck themselves.’

Mum eyeballed Dad like a piece of rotten meat.

Dad, not Jacqui.

But then everything was Dad’s fault. Jacqui’s gob. Noel’s grades. My podginess. Even the good stuff, like the presents that kept appearing at the foot of our beds, and the new hi-fi – a real top-of-the-range one, according to Dad – ended up tarnished by the stain of Mum’s disapproval. Even this trip to see Gran, the first holiday we’d had in three years: ‘Call this a break?’ she’d said, as we’d queued for the boat at Holyhead. ‘It’s just cooking and cleaning in a different house. A house that doesn’t have a dryer or a decent hoover.’

Weighing up the scene before me like the shrewd little politician I’d learned to be, I stuffed a Pop Tart into the band of my leggings and made myself scarce, figuring it was only a matter of time before the spotlight shifted and I’d be switched from passive observer to sitting target. When Mum was like that it was always a fine line to tread.

*

Other things I remember.

I ate malt loaf for lunch that day. Four fat wedges slathered thick with real butter. Gran loved to watch people eat, always complaining that the only person who ever called to the house was that scrawny one from the Department of Social Protection and you’d be all day trying to get her to eat a biscuit. ‘Not like you,’ she’d say, cheerleading me through a plate of ham sandwiches that you wouldn’t give to a wrestler. ‘Now you wouldn’t get blown down in a strong wind, my Catrina.’

Later, because I’d behaved at Mass (and hadn’t told Mum about the stop at the phone box on the way back), Dad gave me two pounds to spend at Riley’s on stickers and sweets.

It was also the day that Geri left the Spice Girls.

With loved ones and family pets all still alive and kicking at this point, Geri’s departure was the first sense of loss I’d experienced in my eight short years. The first stab of betrayal. It was Jacqui who broke the story – a fantastic coup for an English girl abroad – and I can still see her now, hurtling towards me across Duffy’s field, her voice breathless with scandal, completely betraying the cool-as-ice image she’d been emulating since meeting Maryanne Doyle earlier in the week.

‘Can you believe it, the bitch! The fat ginger Judas. So much for friendship never ends! Are you OK, little one?’

I wailed into her armpit with all the power and persistence of a colicky baby.

‘There’s a helpline you can ring,’ Jacqui said, hugging me in the way that only big sisters can, smothering me in a cloud of menthol cigarettes and CK One. ‘I’ll walk you to the phone box later, if you like. Or I think I saw that Maryanne girl with a mobile? She might lend it to us if we give her something. Do you still have that two pounds?’

I didn’t have the two pounds, and I didn’t have any stickers or sugary things to show for it either. No sooner was it in my hand than Noel, my older brother and monumental shitbag, had snatched it away, warning me I wouldn’t see my ninth birthday if I even thought of grassing him up. While I was fairly sure he wouldn’t harm me – he was way too scared of Dad for a start – the mere threat of Noel’s presence with his red sniffy nose and jagged dirty nails was enough to render me silenced and frankly, most days I wished he was dead.

So what with Mum slapping Dad, Geri turning traitor and Noel stealing my hush money, May 31st 1998 hadn’t exactly been a great day for me. In fact, I wrote in my diary that it was the ‘Worst Day Ever in the Entire History of the Whole World Ever’. Even worse than the day I’d been sick on the escalators in Brent Cross and Noel told everyone I had AIDS.

It was so bad I hadn’t even noticed Maryanne was missing.

*

Maryanne was Jacqui’s friend, so Jacqui insisted anyway. I never saw them exchange anything other than the odd funny fag and back-handed compliment. If I had to sum it up, I’d say Maryanne was oblivious to Jacqui, who at just fourteen was three years her junior and still in her training bra.

I’d looked up the word ‘oblivious’ after Jacqui had stomped into Gran’s one night, raging about Maryanne and her mates going off with some ‘bog-boys,’ which meant she’d had to walk home in the dark.

‘I’m telling you, that Doyle one’s oblivious to anyone’s feelings,’ Mum said, stirring a pan of hot milk for Gran’s brandy-laced cocoa. ‘The mother was the same, though God forgive me, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.’

I certainly wasn’t oblivious to Maryanne. From the second I clapped eyes on her, I’d been dogged in my pursuit of this glittering creature in her baby-doll smocks and hoops the size of Catherine Wheels – trailing behind her and her crew, mute with reverence and pained shyness, looking to get involved in literally anything they’d let me. Not that they ever did let me. In fact, she only ever deigned to acknowledge my existence once, at the Farmers’ Market that was held every Friday in the town square.

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