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Heart And Soul (UK Edition)by Maeve Binchy
They had told Clara Casey that there was a small budget to furnish her new office. A tiresome administrator with a loud voice, tousled hair and irritating body language had gestured around the dull, awkward-looking room with its gray walls and ill-fitting steel filing cabinets. Not the kind of room that a senior consultant would consider much of a prize after thirty years studying and practicing medicine. Still, it was never wise to be negative at the outset.
She struggled for the man's name. "Yes, indeed . . . um . . . Frank," she said. "It certainly has a lot of what might be called potential."
This was not the response he had expected. The handsome, dark-haired woman in her forties, wearing a smart lilac-colored knitted suit, was striding around the small room like a caged lioness.
He spoke quickly. "Not unlimited potential, Dr. Casey, not financially speaking, I fear. But a coat of paint here and a piece of nice furniture there--a feminine touch will do wonders." He smiled indulgently.
Clara fought hard to keep her temper.
"Yes, of course, those are just the kind of judgments I would bring to decorating my own home. This is entirely different. For one thing, I can't have a room hidden miles away down a corridor. If I am to run this place I have to be in the center of it and run it."
"But everyone will know where you are. Your name will be on the door," he spluttered.
"I have no intention of being locked away in here," she said.
"Dr. Casey, you have seen the funding. You were aware of the setup when you took the position."
"Nothing was said about where my desk would be. Nothing at all. It was left to be discussed at a later date. This is the date."
He didn't like her tone. It was definitely like the tone of a schoolmistress.
"And this is the room," he said.
She was tempted to ask him to call her Clara, but remembered he would have to recognize her status here if she was to get anything done. She knew his type.
"I think not, Frank," she said.
"Can you show me where else you could be placed? The dietitian's room is even smaller, and the secretary has just room for herself and the files. The physio has to have his room laid out with equipment, the nurses need their station, the waiting room must be near the door. Can you kindly inspire me as to where we can find you another room if this perfectly serviceable place doesn't suit?"
"I'll sit in the hall," Clara said simply.
"The hall? What hall?"
"The space when you come in the glass doors."
"But, Dr. Casey, that wouldn't do at all."
"And exactly why not, Frank?"
"You'd be at everyone's beck and call," he began.
"There would be no privacy, it wouldn't look . . . it wouldn't be right. There would only be room for a desk."
"All I need is a desk."
"No, Doctor, with respect, you need much more than a desk. Much more. Things like a filing cabinet," he finished lamely.
"I can have one of those in the secretary's office."
"A place for your patients' case histories?"
"In the nurses' room."
"You'll need some privacy sometimes to talk to patients."
"We can call this room that you like so much the consultation room. We can all use it when needed. You could paint it calm, restful colors, get new curtains; I'll choose them if you like. A few chairs, a round table. Okay?"
He knew it was over, but he gave one final bleat.
"That was never the way before, Dr. Casey, it just wasn't the way."
"There never was a heart clinic here before, Frank, so there is no point in trying to compare it with something that didn't exist. We are setting this place up from scratch, and if I am going to run it then I'm going to run it properly."
Clara knew that he was still looking at her disapprovingly from the door as she walked toward her car. She kept her head high and a false smile nailed to her face.
She zapped to unlock the car and swung herself into the driving seat.
After work today someone would certainly ask Frank what she was like. She knew just what he would say. "Ballbreaker, big time."
If pressed he would say that she was power-hungry and couldn't wait to get into the job and throw her weight around. If only he knew. No one must ever know. No one would know just how much Clara Casey did not want this new job. But she had agreed to do it for a year, and do it she would.
She pulled out into the afternoon traffic and felt it safe to let the false smile fade from her face. She was going to go to the supermarket and buy three kinds of pasta sauce. Whatever she got, one of the girls objected. The cheese was too strong, the tomato was too dull, the pesto too self-consciously trendy. But out of three they might find something that would suit. Please, may they be in good humor tonight.
She couldn't bear it if Adi and her boyfriend, Gerry, had yet another ideological disagreement about the environment or the whales or factory farming. Or if Linda had yet another one-night stand with some loser who ha
dn't bothered to call her. Clara sighed.
People had told her that girls were terrible in their teens but became fine in their twenties. As usual, Clara had it wrong. They were horrific now at twenty-three and twenty-one. When they had been teenagers they hadn't been too bad. But of course their father, That Bastard Alan, had been around then, so things had been easier. Sort of easier.
Adi Casey let herself into the house where she lived with her mother and her sister, Linda, who used to call the place Menopause Manor. Very funny, really humorous.
Mam wasn't home yet. That was good, Adi thought. She would go and have a nice long bath, use the new oils she had bought at the market on the way home. She had also bought some organic vegetables; who knew what kind of shop-bought thing Mam might bring home, filled with additives and chemicals.
To her annoyance she heard music from the bathroom. Linda had beaten her to the bath. Mam had been talking about a second bathroom. Shower room, anyway. But there had been no mention of it recently. And what with Mam not getting the big job she had hoped for, this wasn't the time to bring it up. Adi gave a little at home, but she didn't earn much as a teacher. Linda gave nothing. She was still a student, but it never crossed her mind to get a part-time job. Mam ran the show and was entitled to call the shots.
Before Adi got to her room, the phone rang. It was her father.
"How's my beautiful daughter?" he asked.
"I think she's having a bath, Dad. Will I get her?"
"I meant you, Adi."
"You mean whoever you're talking to, Dad, you always do."
"Adi, please. I'm only trying to be nice. Don't be so cross over nothing."
"Right, Dad. Sorry. What is it?"
"Can't I just call to say hello to my--"
"You don't do that. You ring when you want something." Adi was sharp.
"Will your mother be at home this evening?"
"This is a family, Dad, not a facility where people check in and sign books."
"I want to talk to her."
"So call her, then."
"She doesn't return my calls."
"So turn up."
"She doesn't like that, you know. Her space and all that."
"I'm too old. This game between you has gone on too long. Sort it, Dad, please."
"Could you and Linda be out tonight? I want to talk to her about something."
"No, we will not be out."
"I'll treat you to supper somewhere."
"You'll pay for us to go out of our own home?"
"Try to help me on this."
"Why should I? You never tried to help anyone anywhere along the line."
"Why won't you do this small thing?"
"Because Mam has arranged to cook us a supper to celebrate taking a new job. Because it's long planned and I am not canceling it now. Sorry, Dad."
"I'm coming over anyway." He hung up.
Linda came dripping out of the bathroom wrapped in a damp towel. Adi looked at her without pleasure. Linda, who ate junk food, who smoked and drank, looked just beautiful, her long wet hair as good as anyone else's would look coming from a salon. There was no fairness in life.
"Who was on the phone?" Linda wanted to know.
"Dad. Like a bag of weasels."
"What did he want?"
"To talk to Mam. He said he would pay us to go out tonight."
Linda brightened. "Really? How much?"
"I said no. No way."
"That was very high-handed of you."
"You call him and renegotiate if you want to. I'm not going out."
"I suppose it's the big D," Linda said.
"Why should they bother to get divorced now? She didn't throw him out when she should have. Aren't they fine as they are? Him with the bimbo and Mam here with us?" Adi saw no reason to change things.
Linda was shruggy. "Bet she's pregnant, the bimbo, bet you that's what he's coming to tell her."
"God," said Adi, "now I wish I had agreed to take his bribe if that's what it's all going to be about. I think I'll call him back."
In the end she sent him a text: "House will be daughter-free from 7:30 tonight. We have gone to Quentins. Will send you the bill. Love, Adi."
"Alan? Alan, the phone is a bit fuzzy. Can you hear me? It's Cinta."
"I know it is, darling."
"Have you told her?"
"I'm just on the way to her house, darling."
"You won't bottle out like last week."
"That's not exactly what happened . . ."
"Don't let it happen again, please, Alan."
"No, darling, you can rely on me."
"I'll need to, Alan. This time I need to."
Clara let herself in. The house was suspiciously quiet. She would have expected both girls to be at home. There were wet towels on the bathroom floor. Linda had been home having a bath. There were leaflets about recycling plastic on the kitchen table, so Adi had been back too. But no sign of them now. Then she saw the note on the fridge.
Dad is coming round at 8 to talk to you; he sort of implied he wanted this to be a one to one. Without us being there. He implied rather heavily, as it happens. Actually, he offered to pay for a meal out for us, so we're going to Quentins.
Love from us both,
What could he want tonight of all nights? At the end of a long, tiring, disappointing day that had involved seeing the place without a soul that was going to be the center of her work for the next year?
At the end of hours of role-playing and attitude-taking about territory with a tiresome bureaucratic hospital official. After hunting through three different delicatessen sections to get pasta sauces for her picky daughters. And now they were both going out to a fancy restaurant and Clara had to face Alan and whatever cracked scheme he had worked out to take something back from their financial settlement.
Clara put the food away. There would be no sharing of anything with Alan. Not any longer. Those years were long over. She took two bottles of fizzy water out of the fridge. She put the two bottles of Australian Sauvignon Blanc at the very back of the fridge behind the yogurts and low-fat spreads. He would never find them there. And she might well need them badly after he had gone.
At Quentins restaurant Adi and Linda settled down happily.
"You could run a small country for a week on what they're paying at that table over there." Adi was disapproving.
"Yeah, but not with any sense of fun," Linda said.
"I wonder are we really blood sisters?" Adi asked.
"You've always wondered that." Linda slowly sipped her tequila sunrise.
"What time do you think he'll go?"
"Who, the guy at the table?"
"No, Dad, you fool."
"As soon as he gets what he wants. What makes him different from any other man?" Linda caught the waiter's eye. Another tequila sunrise and she would be ready to order.
Clara had intended to change into home clothes, but the phone never stopped ringing so there was no time. Her mother wanted to know what the new office was like.
"Do you have a carpet on the floor?" Her mother was down to basics.
"It's sort of modern flooring throughout the whole place."
"You don't, then." She could see her mother's mouth closing like a trap. The way it had when she had got engaged to Alan, got married to Alan and got separated from Alan. There had been many closed-trap moments.
Her friend Dervla had called to know what the mood of the place was like.
"Mushroom and magnolia," Clara had told her.
"God, what on earth does that mean?"
"That's the colors it's painted in at the moment."
"But you can change all that."
"Oh, yes. Definitely."
"So it's not really just the color scheme that's upsetting you."
"I can't imagine. Did you meet any of the people you'll be working with?"
"Nope. It was tombstone city."
"It's a question of nothing will please you? Am I right?"
"As always, you are right, Dervla." Clara sighed.
"Listen, Philip is out at a meeting and he won't be baying for food. Would it help if I were to bring round a bottle of wine and a half kilo of sausages? Used to work in the old days."
"Not tonight, Dervla. That Bastard Alan has paid the girls to go out to Quentins because he wants to tell me something, ask me something."
"I was at a meeting yesterday and one of the items on the agenda said TBA. I actually thought it meant That Bastard Alan, because you never call him anything else."
Clara laughed. "What did it mean?"
"I don't know. To Be Agreed, To Be Arranged, something like that." Dervla wasn't certain.
"No one would ever know you had a brain, Dervla. You always put on this vague fluffy act."
"For all the good it does me."
"I wish I had your know-how. I don't know what he wants, but whatever it is I don't want to give it to him."
"If it doesn't matter to you, then give it to him. Make a big deal out of it, of course, but if you don't care, then give it and walk away."
Excerpted from Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy Copyright © 2009 by Maeve Binchy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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