Read an Excerpt
Stop the music please!” Lainey Byrne shouted, waving her arms as though she was fighting off a swarm of bees. The background music stopped with a screech. On the stage the ten dancers dressed in giant sausage costumes came to a wobbly halt.
Lainey quickly climbed the steps, looking for the lead dancer. It was hard to tell who was who when the entire troupe was dressed from head to toe in pink foam. “They look more like hot dogs than sausages,” the sound technician had muttered unkindly that morning. Or something ruder, Lainey had thought privately. But it was too late to get new costumes and she could hardly scorch each of them with a cigarette lighter to get authentic grill marks. The fabric was far too flammable.
She spoke loudly, hoping they could all hear her clearly through the foam. “Can I just remind you again how it’s supposed to go? You run on after the barbecue’s been lowered, not before. Otherwise half of you will get squashed, which isn’t exactly the look our client wants for his big event.”
There were a few muffled laughs. Lainey turned and nodded at the sound man, and the opening notes of the Beaut Barbecues jingle filled the East Melbourne venue once more. As she moved off the stage and into the middle of the room, Lainey winced again at the lyrics.
Oh, believe me, mate,
Sausages taste great
On a beaut Beaut Barbecue-oo-oo.
She’d tried to gently talk the managing director out of the jingle three months ago, when they’d first met to discuss the gala party celebrating his tenth year in the barbecue business. But it turned out hiseight-year-old daughter had written the words and he wasn’t budging. Lainey wondered now if his eight-year-old daughter had come up with the idea of the dancing sausages as well. Or perhaps it had been his four-year-old son. Or his dog. Lainey just hoped none of today’s guests would think it had been Complete Event Management’s idea. Still, it was her job to give her clients what they wanted, and if Mr. Barbecue wanted dancing sausages, he was going to get dancing sausages.
Lainey’s mobile phone rang. She took a few steps back, keeping an eye on the stage. “Complete Event Management, Lainey Byrne speaking.”
“Lainey, have I rung at a bad time?”
It was her mother. “Ma, of course not. Is everything okay? Is Dad all right?” As Lainey spoke, the dancers moved to the front of the stage to pick up the first of their props. Lainey held her breath as one of the fatter sausages teetered a little too close to the edge.
“He’s grand. Well, no, not grand, no change there. This is a brand- new problem.”
“It’s to do with his sister’s will.”
“The will? I thought that had all been sorted out. Don’t tell me she left the B&B to the cats’ home after all?” The sausages were now making waltzing movements, each holding a giant plastic bottle marked Tomato Sauce. At the launch later that day the bottles would be filled with red glitter. For now the sausages were just puffing air at each other.
“No, she did leave the B&B to your father. But we’ve just heard from her solicitor in Ireland. There’s a little bit of a hitch.”
Hitches came in sizes? “What do you mean a little bit?”
“It’s too complicated to talk about on the phone. I think it’s better if we discuss it as a family. Can you call over tonight? If you and Adam ?don’t have any plans, that is.”
“No, he’s working seven nights a week at the moment. Of course I’ll come over.”
“Thanks, love. I’m asking the boys to drop by as well.”
The boys? Her younger brothers were hardly that. Brendan was nearly thirty, Declan twenty-five and Hugh nineteen. Lainey mentally ran through her appointments for the day. The barbecue party was from noon until three, then she had two meetings and a client briefing back at the office. “Around eight-ish then—sorry, Ma, can you hold on a sec?” She shouted over the music again as the sausages put down their sauce bottles and picked up giant barbecue tongs. “That’s when the managing director comes in and you form a guard of honor with your tongs, okay? That’s it, great. Sorry about that, Ma.”
“I ?don’t think I’ll ask what you’re up to.”
Lainey laughed. “You ?wouldn’t believe it if I told you. I’ll see you tonight then. Love to Dad.” She put her mobile away and turned her full attention back to the stage. The sausages were now brandishing the barbecue tongs as though they were samurai swords. It was hard to keep a straight face—she’d been picturing this event in her head for weeks now and it had looked nothing like the chaos in front of her. She stopped the music with another wave of her hands. “All right, from the top again please.”
• • •
It was past seven by the time Lainey drove out of the office parking lot and through the Melbourne city center streets. Out of habit, she put on the language CD that she kept in the car. She listened to French language CDs while she jogged, and German CDs while she drove. Adam found it very funny. “You do realize you’ll only ever be able to speak German when you’re sitting in a car?” he’d remarked when he first noticed her system.
She listened for a few moments, repeating the words until the woman’s breathy tones finally got to her. Stopping at the Flinders Street traffic lights, she put in a new CD, a bargain basement KC and the Sunshine Band greatest hits collection. She’d bought it for her brother Declan as a joke and then discovered she liked it too much herself. She wound down the window of the car, the tiny breeze it let in giving her little relief from the muggy late-January heat. The air- conditioning had broken down again and it was like driving around in a portable oven. A portable kettle barbecue, even. She certainly knew enough about barbecues now to understand how being in one would feel. “It was all fabulous, just how I imagined it,” Mr. Beaut Barbecues had gushed as Lainey said goodbye that afternoon. “See you in ten years for our next big anniversary, sweetheart.” Over my dead body, sweetheart, she’d thought as she nodded and smiled and tried to ignore his hand doing its best to grope at her behind. She’d had quite enough of Mr. and Mrs. Barbecue and all the little Barbecues for one lifetime.
She finished singing an enthusiastic, badly out-of-tune version of “Shake Your Booty” just as she came off the freeway. She was the first to admit she had an appalling singing voice. “No offense, Lain,” Declan had said once, “but your singing sounds like a mating cat. Like a cat being slaughtered when it’s mating, in fact.” On the spur-of-the-moment, she made a detour to the local shopping center to pick up a few treats to save her mother having to cook. A proper daughter would bring homemade casseroles, she knew, but her cooking skills were basic and her cooking time nonexistent. She also knew her parents loved these ready-made meals in packs, even
if the food inside never looked anything like the picture on the box— restaurant meal on the front, gray splodge on the inside, from what Lainey had seen.
The clock on the dashboard clicked over to 8:00 p.m. as she parked in front of the house. Mr. and Mrs. Byrne’s red brick bungalow in Box Hill was the sixth house the family had lived in since they’d arrived from Ireland seventeen years ago. Of the four children, only her youngest brother Hugh had a bedroom in this house these days and even he was barely there, spending most nights at friends’ houses. She took care not to stop under the jacaranda tree that had burst into bloom just before Christmas and was now showering blue flowers all over the street. There was no sign of her brothers’ cars—she was first, as usual. She walked through the open front door, down the hallway to the kitchen and put the meals away in the fridge.
“Hello, Lainey. Oh, thanks a million, your father loves those. Shut the fridge door, would you? I ?don’t want the flies getting in there.” Mrs. Byrne specialized in greeting-and-command combinations. “I like your haircut, by the way. I ?wouldn’t have thought hair that short would work with a biggish nose like yours, but it looks very well.”
Lainey ?didn’t blink at the mixture of compliment and insult—her mother had long specialized in them too. “Thanks, Ma.” She gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek. With the same tall, very slim build, the same dark-brown hair, they were sometimes mistaken for sisters. “Where’s Dad?”
“Playing water polo. Where do you think he is? In bed, of course.”
Lainey ignored the sharp tone. “Has he been up today at all?”
“No, for a few minutes yesterday. But the way he carried on about it you’d think he wanted me to hang banners and streamers around the house in celebration. He said he’d get up tonight to see you all, but there’s been no movement yet.”
“I’ll go and say hello.” She walked through the living room to her parents’ bedroom. No, not her parents’ bedroom, she corrected herself. Her father’s bedroom. He had moved into one of the spare bedrooms several months previously, as a trial to see if he could sleep better without her mother beside him. The trial continued, still waiting on positive results, perhaps.
As she walked down the hall, she imagined what she’d like to see in her father’s room.
She knocked softly on the door. “Hi, Dad.”
“Lainey! How are you?” Her father was sitting up on his fully made bed, a book in his hands, newspapers spread all around him. She was delighted to see him taking such an interest in the outside world again.
He smiled at her. “How are you, pet? I love the haircut. Sit down now and tell me, what havoc have you been wreaking out in the world today?”
She knocked softly on the door. “Hi, Dad.”
“It’s me, Lainey, your favorite daughter.”
“My only daughter.” His Irish accent was loud in the dark room.
She came in and sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light. The curtains were drawn. She could just make out his face, the bedcovers drawn up to his neck. “Just checking you remembered me. How are you?”
“In bits, still. Why, have you been praying for a miracle cure?”
“Burning candles for you every night, you know that.” She kept up a jovial tone. “Can I bring you anything? A cup of tea? A cold drink?”
“A new life would be nice.”
Her mother had been right, he was in very bad form. She changed the subject. “Ma said there’s a bit of a problem with May’s will?”
“Of course there is. How long is it since anything ran smoothly in this family?”
Lainey tried to stay cheerful. “Nothing we ?can’t sort out, I bet. What about I get you a cup of tea while we’re waiting for the others to arrive?”
There was a long sigh. “Thanks, love, that’d be great. Tell Peg I’ll be out as soon as I can.”
Back in the kitchen, Lainey filled the kettle and tried to shake off her sudden gloom. “Honestly, the sooner he gets his own chat show the better, ?don’t you think?”
Mrs. Byrne ?didn’t smile. Lainey looked closer at her. “Are you all right? Have you been crying?”
“No, of course I haven’t. It’s hayfever.”
“In the middle of the city? Imported hay, is it?”
“No, we’ve had a rough day, that’s all. Here, look.”
Lainey took the letter, immediately noting the insurance company logo. Since her father’s accident on the building site there had been piles of correspondence bearing this logo. She scanned the latest.
re: Gerald Patrick Byrne
In regard to your claim for compensation following your recent workplace accident, please be advised we require additional proof of your injuries and incapacitation. However, please note this evidence may or may not have any bearing on your claim, which is still under consideration . . .
Lainey gave up reading midway. She’d seen enough of these sorts of letters already. She felt like inviting one of the insurance people to come and look at the mark that slab of concrete had left on her father’s back. “Ma, why ?won’t you let me take over? I’d get in there and sort them out so quickly—”
“Because your father wants to handle it his way, for some reason. And you know what he’s like with people in authority. He’s never been able to stand up to them. I’ll tell you who else wrote to us today— the physiotherapist. She says your father’s been cancelling too many appointments at the last minute, she’s going to have to start charging us soon. What am I supposed to do? I ?can’t make him go. He’s a grown man, isn’t he? Though I ?don’t know any more, half the time he’s like a bold child, sulking and skulking in there . . .”
Quick, Lainey thought, ?don’t let her get upset. Make her think of something else. “Is there something I can do in the meantime? Before the money comes through from the B&B sale? Handcuff myself to the railing in front of the insurance company, perhaps?”
That brought a faint smile. “No, it’s far too hot at the moment. In the autumn perhaps.”
“I could go on a hunger strike.”
“You’re skinny enough as it is.”
“Seriously, there must be something I can do.”
“Perhaps there is.”
Mrs. Byrne shook her head. “Wait till the other three get here.”
“You’ve collected the whole set? Well done.”
“Well, Declan said yes. And Bren said yes. But Hugh . . .”
The back door opened to admit a tall, brown-haired man with a bag slung over his shoulder. “Saintly mother figure, greetings. Laineyovich, glorious being, ahoy to you too. Hideous haircut, by the way, you look like a boy. No offense, of course.”
Lainey smiled serenely at her middle brother. “None taken, of course. How are you, Declanski? Still tunneling your way through the education system?”
“The work is hard, but yes, the rewards are endless. And how is your world of frivolous product launches and rampant commercialism? Shallow as ever?”
From the Trade Paperback edition.