‘You want to kill the woman?’: An extract from ‘The Green Road’, by Anne Enright

“The tail lights came on and the tail lights went off and there was no rhythm or reason for it that Constance could see, on the road up ahead.” Photograph: Srosh Anwar/Getty

“The tail lights came on and the tail lights went off and there was no rhythm or reason for it that Constance could see, on the road up ahead.” Photograph: Srosh Anwar/Getty

 

In the arrivals hall at Shannon the glass doors pulled open and the glass door slipped shut.

Constance watched as one after another passenger was ambushed and claimed. People were crying and laughing and Constance couldn’t remember what she was looking out for, exactly. There would be some unchangeable thing about her brother to say he was her brother. Some glow. That is how she remembered Dan as a child and also, more surprisingly, from the last time they met – it must have been 2000, a year when Constance no longer recognised her own reflection coming at her from a shop window and Dan was looking better than ever. She did not know how he managed it. Constance actually thought there might be make-up involved, or Botox, perhaps. It was as though the light had a choice, and it still chose him.

Maybe he was just fit. Though Dan never showed the effort of being fit, or unfit, she could not imagine him breaking a sweat. Handsome people did not move their faces much; that was part of the trick. Her mother had it, and Dan had it too. It was the attitude more than the fact of good looks. A sense of expectation.

Hanna was actually the prettiest of the Madigans but Hanna was all expression, all personality, and she did not photograph well – this, in an actress, was not a good thing. Constance gripped the steel rail in the arrivals area and held her own face up like a plate for her brother to recognise, but it was, she knew, just a sad reflection of what she used to be. Her face was a shadow passing over the front of her head – like the play of light on the side of a mountain, maybe. For two seconds at a time, the old Constance was there. She inhabited the picture of herself. Everything fit.

And there was Dan – she knew him immediately – slight and alert behind his massive trolley: older than Dan should be, but looking absurdly young for his age. A gay man, as anyone might be able to discern. He checked the faces in the welcoming crowd with a nervous impeccability.

“Hell-oooo!” Dan threw out his hands, towards her, and stepped out from behind his luggage. More camp than she remembered. Every time a little more. It came up through him with age.

“Look at you!” He touched her lightly on the side of her face and then her shoulder, then leaned in, as though impulsively, for a hug. He greeted her like a friend and not a brother. He greeted her like no friend she ever had.

And he had too many bags with him. Far too many. Much of the luggage was matching. Dan noticed her noticing all this, as they walked across the concourse. They were fighting, before Constance had opened her mouth. They were doing it all over again. And Constance was utterly fed up with herself, suddenly.

I don’t care! she wanted to say. I don’t care who you sleep with or what you do!

Even though she did care. She checked the eyes of everyone who looked at him from the oncoming crowd.

“How are you?” she said to Dan.

“Good.”

“That overnight thing is a killer.”

Dan went to say something, but decided against it.

“I slept,” he said.

They were out through the main doors and in the fresh air; the beginnings of dawn to the east of them, and the lights of the airport trembling orange against the freshly blank sky.

“Hello Ireland,” said Dan.

He smiled, and she looked over to him. And there he was.

Dan was a year younger than Constance, 15 months. His growing up struck her as daft, in a way. So she was not bothered by her brother’s gayness – except, perhaps, in a social sense – because she had not believed in his straightness, either. In the place where Constance loved Dan, he was eight years old.

He stood beside her as she sorted out the ticket, then they walked across the car park together, almost amused.

This was the boy who ran alongside her in her dreams. Constance, asleep, never saw his face exactly, but it was Dan, of course it was, and they were on the beach in Lahinch coming round a headland to find something unexpected. And the thing they found was the River Inagh as it ran across the sands into the sea. Sweet water into salt. Constance had been there many times as an adult, and the mystery of it remained for her. Rainwater into seawater, you could taste where they met and mingled, and no way to tell if all this was good or bad, this turbulence, if it was corruption or return.

“You know what I want?” said Dan. “I saw it on my way through and I can’t believe it – because what I want, more than anything, is some Waterford crystal. Don’t you think it’s time? Some champagne saucers. I should have got some for Lady Madigan; she’d love them.”

“You think?”

“Or for me. I knew there was something missing in my life. I just didn’t know what it was.”

“Champagne saucers?”

“Champagne saucers?” They were both, and immediately, imitating their mother.

“Oh go ’way now,” said Dan. “I’m tired of you.”

“Actually,” said Constance, “she’s in good form.”

“How is she?”

“She’s in good form. I mean, apart from all this stuff about the house. She’s.” Constance could not find the word.

“Mellowed?” said Dan. They were at the car, which, Constance remembered, was a Lexus. She did not know if she was ashamed of this fact or proud of it, but Dan did not seem to notice, as she popped the boot with the logo on it, and he lifted it high.

“More like mood swings, I’d call it.”

Dan said nothing to this, just worked the luggage into the boot, placing her shopping carefully to one side.

“I know,” he said, shutting the lid.

Though he had no way of knowing. How could he know? He had not been there.

Dan was ducking towards the driver’s door when he realised what country he was in.

“Wrong side!” he said, and they bumbled around each other. Constance touched his waist as they swapped over and he seemed smaller than he used to be. This was not possible, of course. It was just that everyone was fatter, these days; your eyes adjusted to it. Everyone was fatter except Dan.

He noticed the car, all right, when Constance put it into reverse and a video of the rear view came up on the dash.

“Con-stance,” he said. “What is this thing you’re driving? You’re like the doctor’s wife these days.”

“Ha,” said Constance.

“Mood swings,” he said. “Is she serious about the house?”

“Yeah well,” said Constance. “I think she’s just getting old.”

“And. Not in a good way?” he said. Constance was searching through the gears for first and then reverse, and she could not laugh until she was straightened up. Then she laughed so hard she could not find the ticket for the barrier.

“Shut up,” said Constance. “I am trying to get us out of here.”

It was seven o’clock in the morning. The sun over Limerick was fat and red, and coming in from the west, a shading in the air that was the beginnings of rain.

“You hungry?” she said.

“Mmmm.”

Dan slid down in his seat, and Be like that, she thought, because he made her feel so guilty all the time, hallucinating eggs and bacon.

In fact, it was the sunrise did for Dan. He was jet-lagged. The light brought that familiar sense of wrongness (Why did Constance buy this huge, stupid car? When did she even learn how to drive?) and Dan did not catch it in time. He thought it was the smell – something like wet dog, or cheese – this sickening sense that he would rather be anywhere else but here. Dan squeezed his eyelids, trying to keep out the insistent light of home, which was the same as any other light, it was just at the wrong time.

“Have you seen the others?” he said.

“Coming down tomorrow, if Hanna gets herself together. Emmet’s working away.”

“Of course.”

“He has a new LayDee.”

“Does he, now?”

“Well yes,” said Constance, because that was always the case, with Emmet.

“And you?” said Dan.

“I beg your pardon?” said Constance.

“What are you up to these days?”

Constance tried to tease out the usual tangle of house, kids, mother, husband, mother’s house, Christmas presents, dinner for 10 or maybe 13, her children having sex, now, except for Shauna, who was too shy. What could she talk about? Looking up Pilates on the internet, trying to manage her own stupidity, a long weekend in Pisa on Ryanair, that was three months ago now. Constance was doing everything. She was “up to” damn all.

“Oh, you know,” she said. “Nothing strange or startling.”

And Dan closed his eyes, as though in pain.

“How are the kids?” he said.

“Oh!” she said.

“How’s?”

“Shauna,” she said. “You’ve got to see Shauna.”

“What age, again?”

“Beautiful,” she said. “If only she knew it. Sixteen.”

Dan never really got a fix on Shauna, but Constance knew that this would change as soon as he saw her. Dan would take one look at Shauna, a girl who was as pale as he was, and with the same red in her hair. He would take this child, all knees and elbows, and he would fabulise her.

“Skinny legs,” she said. “Shot up.”

“Mmmm,” he said.

His eyes were still closed. Dan watched the sunshine bloom on the inside of his eyelids, the way he used to as a boy, but today even this felt wrong. Purple blossoms that looked like bruises. Sick yellow clouds, with a black underbelly of shame.

Jet lag.

He opened his eyes to see tail lights, the cream and grey upholstery of his sister’s car, the beginnings of rain on the windscreen. Ireland.

Great.

Constance was talking about the boys: Donal, who was the spit of his father, putting off uni for a year to work on a building site in Australia; Rory, who was out every Saturday night.

“What about yourself?” she said, after a small silence.

“Toronto,” said Dan, as though the word contained all sorts of information, some of it surprising. “Yeah.”

“I always liked Canada,” said Constance.

“Yes,” he said. “I remember.” It sounded like he wanted to say more, but he didn’t. And when she looked over to check he was asleep.

He woke from a dream of the River Inagh entering the sea – loosely, endlessly – which made him think he was wetting the bed. Even as he blinked, Dan thought he must be pissing; he could almost hear it. A deep, intimate clunking sound startled him with the fact that they were on a garage forecourt, and there was petrol pouring into the tank behind him, and it would not stop. He looked over the back of the seat to see his sister standing at the tail end of the car, in her caramel-coloured wool coat. Constance was looking into the middle distance, her cream scarf lifting behind her, the wind annoying her thin hair. Dan bundled his way out of the car, hitched his – completely dry – trousers up at the belt. The fresh air was a welcome slap of cold.

“I’ll go into the shop,” he said. “Do you want a packet of crisps?”

Crisps. Such an Irish word – years since he had the taste of it in his mouth.

Constance looked across the glossy black roof at him.

“Oh yes,” she said.

As they travelled towards home, the landscape accumulated in Dan like a silt of meaning that was disturbed by the line of a hedgerow or the sight of winter trees along a ridge. All at once, it was familiar. He knew this place. It was a secret he had carried inside him; a map of things he had known and lost, these half-glimpsed houses and stone walls, the fields of solid green.

The road was wider than the road of his childhood and the rain felt less and less real to him as they spun along it. So much water. They were held up by it, the tyres skating over a film of rain. Aquaplaning. Flying his sister’s fancy car through the wet air. Touching nothing. Untouched.

If only he could keep his eyes open, Dan thought, everything would be all right.

Constance also dipped her lids as she spoke – they all did it, the Madigans; they blinked slow. They looked around inside themselves for a missing word, a feeling that was hard to catch or explain. They smiled into closed eyes, and shut their faces down.

“You happy?” he said, suddenly.

“Hmp,” she said.

“You should have an affair.”

“Oh, yeah?”

She drove on.

“Who says I haven’t?”

“Constance Madigan,” he said.

“Just telling you.” She used to tell him everything.

“Who?”

“Years ago,” she said. He waited for her to continue.

“I thought, you know, it would be like jumping off a cliff,” she said. “The big leap.”

“And?”

“It was like landing in a fucking puddle. A bit of a splash, that’s all. It was like standing out in the goddamn rain.”

Three miles from home they saw her little blue Citroën.

“Oh, look who,” said Constance, gearing down to tuck in behind Rosaleen, then paddling the brake as their mother surged and slowed ahead of them.

Constance flashed the headlights but there was no sign from the woman in the car in front. Forty miles per hour. Twenty. They could see the back of her little-old-lady head, low to the wheel, intrepid. The tail lights came on and the tail lights went off and there was no rhythm or reason for it that Constance could see, on the road up ahead.

“She walks a lot,” said Constance. “She goes out for her walk.”

And, though Dan had not asked, “Anywhere,” she said. “It’s the sea she likes. Along the beach maybe, or the pier at Doolin, up along the green road, or the cliffs, even.”

“What time is it anyway?” said Dan, with sudden irritation.

“Time?”

They both saw it: their mother might die in a ditch, she might be blown off the cliff top and carried out to sea.

Constance pressed the horn.

“Jesus, Constance.”

“What?”

“You want her to crash! You want to kill the woman?”

“Oh, give over.” She bipped the horn again.

“Stop it!” Dan reached across her, as though to take the wheel.

“What?” Constance was bewildered by her little brother. “What?”

“God, Constance!” Dan was eight again, shouting at his bossy sister. And it was all comical in its way, but it did not signify. Their mother, who would be killed at any moment, could not hear them from the other car.

Constance fell back to observe. Rosaleen was driving on the brake. It wasn’t clear if she was stopping or accelerating. It was a problem with her eyesight. Or with her feet, perhaps. As if she had to use them both at the same time.

This is an edited extract from The Green Road, by Anne Enright, published by Jonathan Cape

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