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We were drinking champagne in the kitchen when the nun telephoned. I rerun the moment. What if I hadn't decided to have a party? What if we'd simply locked up and gone elsewhere for a drink? Or if the house move had been a week earlier? Would my life have continued in the safe, familiar pattern?
Maybe. But she was a determined woman. She would have tracked down the new address and telephone number. We were only moving to the other side of the Thames. We are in the telephone book.
Or she would have left a message. And I would have replied. Because my latent curiosity only wanted an excuse. I would have taken the same path into the past eventually. She is not to blame.
I go back in my mind to the day of the call. It was our second last day in the old house. I got up early and made a lamb casserole. At eight o'clock I brought Jack a cup of coffee and drew back the curtains in the bedroom.
'The wind blew the runner beans down. They look all ragged and forlorn.'
'Summer always ends with a storm'; he said. 'We're halfway through September, Lena.'
He bent his blond head over the cup and inhaled, before drinking.
'You spoil me,' he said.
'I like spoiling you.'
'Do you mind me going away?'
A blackbird flew up from the wreckage of the beans and settled on the garden wall.
I turned and smiled at him. 'Everything's under control.'
I had plotted the move on a spreadsheet, and pinned it up in the hall. After Jack left for the office, Alma and two of my neighbours arrived to help me pack up. We moved methodically from room to room, sorting, packing, and tying colour-coded labels to furniture and boxes.
Just before five o'clock, I tied a pink label to a box of cookery books. I took a bottle of champagne from the fridge and called out, 'That's the last one. Time to celebrate!'
It was Alma's birthday. I had made her a cake. It sat on the breakfast bar dividing the living space from the kitchen. A Victoria sponge. Cream and home-made raspberry jam in the middle. Soft white icing on top. Pink miniature candles matched the labels dotted around the room.
'How about some music,' Alma said. 'Some opera? Our favourite singer, perhaps?'
Rosemary and Janet clapped. I bowed to acknowledge the tribute to my daughter as I slipped Mary Molloy Sings Mozart and Rossini into the CD player. It was her first recording, and is still my favourite.
Mary's voice filled the empty space and floated up to the attics.
'Tell me fair ladies, what ails my heart?'
'Yonder cupid, is this his dart?'
Her entire personality is contained in that sparkling combination of music and words. Delight and wonder, perfectly conveyed. We had rolled up the rugs, leaving parquet and bare boards. There was nothing to deaden the sound.
'Yonder Cupid, is this his dart?' Mary reprised.
'It's like being inside a giant speaker,' Alma said.
We sat at the long oak table drinking champagne, drunk on the music. The sky cleared. Sunshine splashed into the room. Mary began the Cavatina from The Barber of Seville. I bathed in the afterglow of a job well done.
'Una voce poco fa,
Qu'nel cor m'risuono,'
I looked at the bright sky and thought of Mary on her way from Stuttgart to Heathrow. In the innocent minutes before the telephone rang, I sat in the September sunlight in a house I loved, listening to my daughter singing, in the company of friends, utterly content.
'Sono obbediente, dolce, amorosa;'
Alma said, 'Is that the telephone?'
' ... mi fo guidar.'
'Mary?' said Janet.
'She should be in the air by now. Unless her plane is late.'
Alma held open the glass door into the hall, waving me through with a flourish of her right hand. I waltzed past her, made a mock curtsy, and lifted the phone off the hook, still slightly unbalanced.
'Mrs Molloy? Mrs Lena Molloy?'
It wasn't Mary. I steadied myself against the banisters and signalled to Alma to turn down the music ...Singing Bird
A Novel. Copyright © by Roisin McAuley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.