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Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney PDF

Author: Alice Feeney

Publisher: Flatiron Books


Publish Date: August 30, 2022

ISBN-10: 1250843936

Pages: 352

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

I’m not naive. I know that everyone was upset about Nana’s will last night, and I do have a hunch about what might be going on here. But hunches aren’t just there to be had, they’re there to be thought about, analysed, agonized over and – most importantly – should rarely be shared. Conor stares at the words written on the piece of paper on the kitchen table, then at the VHS tape, then again at the place on the floor where Nana’s body was earlier. I just stare at Conor.

He grabs a red chequered tea towel from the kitchen worktop and does his best to dry himself off from the rain, then he reaches inside his pocket and takes out a mobile phone. It’s a dark blue Nokia, the best that 2004 has to offer, just like Lily’s, but Conor seems to have forgotten that there is no signal here. He holds it high up in the air, as though that will make it work, but of course it doesn’t. I watch as he strides out to the little table in the hallway where the landline used to live. The old pink rotary phone is still there, on a doily, but Nana wasn’t joking when she said she stopped paying the bill. She wanted peace and quiet and I guess she got her wish, because the phone is dead. I find the fact that Conor so clearly wants to call the police reassuring, despite knowing that he can’t.

There is a picture of me and my sisters by the phone. When they were here it used to ring all the time. Most calls were for them – friends from school wanting to catch up in the holidays, study partners for Rose, boyfriends for Lily – but occasionally it was my dad, calling from one city or another, between rehearsals and performances. He could never talk for more than a few minutes – long-distance calls cost a small fortune in those days – and it never took him too much time to ask Nana for more money. Sometimes publishers called for Nana, and her agent always called to wish her a happy birthday. But I can remember one Halloween when I was the only person here to help her celebrate, and the phone rang. The person calling was Conor. I suppose I must have been five or six. Nana had just blown out all of her candles – there were a lot, even back then – and we were about to eat pineapple upside-down cake with Angel Delight. The memory of that phone call is as clear now as if it had happened yesterday, not over twenty years ago.

‘Hello,’ Nana said, answering the phone with a big smile, expecting it to be someone calling to wish her a happy birthday. The smile slid straight off her face. ‘It’s going to be okay. You did the right thing calling me. Stay exactly where you are and I’ll be there soon.’

‘Who was it?’ I asked.

‘Conor. Something’s wrong, I need to go over there,’ Nana said, looking for her handbag. She could never seem to find it, even though it was both brightly coloured and enormous. The bag was made from pink and purple patches and was older than me. Nana shook her head while searching for it, and her curly white hair seemed to dance. I wondered if mine would look like that when I was older. Then I remembered that I would never be old enough to have white hair, and it made me feel so sad. It’s odd, the little things that used to upset me. Most people don’t want grey or white hair, but in that moment, I did. Maybe people wouldn’t complain about getting old all the time if they were scared that they never would. When Nana found her handbag, she slipped a wooden rolling pin inside it.

‘What should I do?’ I asked, a little scared of being left on my own at Seaglass.

Nana stared at me as though I had said something wrong. ‘Daisy Darker, do you care about Conor?’ I nodded. ‘Good, I’m glad to hear it. Caring about other people is more important than being curious about them. When someone you care about is in trouble, you do everything you can to help. Which means you are coming with me. Now find your shoes and let’s skedaddle.’

‘What about your birthday cake?’ I asked.

‘We’ll take it with us. Conor sounds like he needs cheering up.’

Ten minutes later, having crossed the causeway when the tide was already fast coming in, the two of us climbed the rocky path with wet shoes and socks. At the top of the cliff, behind the sand dunes, there was an old shed where Nana kept her only form of transport. It was an ancient bicycle with a large wicker trailer attached to the back, which, now that I think about it, can’t have been legal. I climbed into the wicker trailer and Nana climbed onto the saddle, dangling her handbag on the handlebars.

Nana pedalled faster than I knew she could along the coastal road, until we reached Conor’s cottage, a mile or so away on the other side of Blacksand Bay. The place was really nothing more than a dilapidated two-bedroom bungalow on a rocky stretch of the coast. One of the windows was cracked, and the blue paint on the front door was peeling right off. They’d moved there when Conor’s mum died, and the building was as abandoned and unloved as the two people who lived in it.

We didn’t knock. There was no need; the door was open.

I’d never been inside before – Conor always came to visit us, never the other way round – and I was shocked by what I saw. I think we both were. The front door opened straight into a little lounge and there was mess everywhere. The previously white net curtains were a grubby grey, and when Nana switched on the light, the place looked even worse than it had in the gloom. The old green sofa in the middle of the room had sunken seats, and holes in some of the cushions. There were dirty cups and plates stacked on the coffee table, and chip shop wrappers and crushed beer cans all over the stained carpet. Picture frames – which presumably used to hang on the rusty hooks on the walls – were smashed on the floor. They were all of Conor with his parents, before his mum died. A broken happy family. There were bits of glass and rubbish almost everywhere I looked. Conor was sitting in the corner of the room, hugging his knees to his chest.

‘Where is he?’ Nana asked.

‘In the bedroom,’ Conor whispered without looking up.

‘You stay with Conor,’ Nana said to me. ‘Be as kind to him as you would want someone to be to you if you felt broken.’ Then she took her rolling pin out of her pink and purple patchwork bag, and the way she held it made me think it wasn’t so she could do some baking. I wanted to be kind to Conor, and I knew what it was like to feel broken, but I followed Nana, even though I knew I wasn’t meant to. Curiosity doesn’t only kill cats.

The bedroom was dark and smelled bad. There were piles of clothes all over the floor, and a filthy-looking man lying on the bed with his eyes closed. Empty bottles of pills were on the stained bed sheets beside him. Nana dropped the rolling pin and used the phone on the nightstand to call for an ambulance.

He wasn’t dead, he just wished that he was. Even though I was very young, the thought of anyone feeling that unhappy made me feel overwhelmingly sad. When the nice paramedics had taken Conor’s dad to hospital, the three of us ate Nana’s birthday cake. It seems like a strange thing to have done, looking back. But then my childhood was rarely normal.

Mr Kennedy lived to tell the tale, and Nana paid for him to go to rehab. ‘We all get broken sometimes and if you can help fix someone, you should always try,’ she said. I think Conor’s dad was a bit like me in that way. But he wasn’t born with a broken heart; his heart broke when his wife died. Conor said he rarely drank at all before then and that he used to be happy. They all were.

Conor stayed at Seaglass for a little while, and the three of us – him, Nana and me – spent a week straightening out the cottage where he and his father lived. We cleared out all the rubbish and washed everything that could be cleaned. Nana pulled up the old carpet, sanded the floors, painted the walls – inside and out – and bought some new cushions and bed linen. Nana was always of the opinion that if you could help change a life, you could help change the person who leads it. She put fresh flowers in every room, and filled up the fridge and freezer with food before Conor’s dad returned. She even paid for us all to take a taxi to collect him from rehab. He looked like a different man to me, so much so I thought we’d picked up the wrong person. He’d put on some weight, his clothes were clean, he’d shaved off his horrible beard, and he didn’t stink of booze or cigarettes.

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