Pen O’Grady makes her way through the first week after her girlfriend, Cara Wall, dies in a traffic accident. She confides in the reader her thoughts and reminiscences on her life with Cara, as well as on the mundane matters of taking phone messages and arranging for time off work.
The humour and irreverence of Pen’s voice is charming in itself but there are difficult themes here and that combination makes this a book that is hard to put down.
The story is set in nineties Dublin where homosexuality is seen as something best kept secret. Pen works as a teacher at the Catholic school where the couple met as girls. The nuns they hid their relationship from as teenagers are now Pen’s colleagues but her dealings with them have changed little and at work she refers to Cara as her housemate.
Pen and Cara lived in Cara’s father’s house. They went to some lengths to conceal their relationship from him too. When the rest of Cara’s family arrive for the funeral, Pen demotes herself to something more like housekeeper.
The relationship between the two women was complicated. Cara was not faithful. She dated other women, sometimes men, sometimes they split up for weeks or years at a time but Cara always returned to Pen.
Finally there is a group of women Cara socialised with but Pen does not like. Pen knew that when Cara spent an evening with them or joined them on some adventure that she was dating someone in the group. Pen doesn’t want to know who. Cara was killed while returning from holiday with them. They gather around Pen to offer solace, wrongly assuming Pen was as happy about the openness of their relationship. Wrongly assuming Pen knows the identity of the other woman.
There is shopping to be done, a cat to be fed and Cara’s things to forever trip over or start moving to a charity shop. Tension builds as it becomes clear that the reality of the loss has not yet sunk in with Pen and that she will have to face a few more realities any day now.
Although this sounds like the stuff of melodrama it is mostly played for sometimes laughs and sometimes wry smiles. When the relationship seems at its most damaged and suffocating, when the task at hand is utterly bleak and even when the story moves into eroticism, still the tone manages to adhere to the voice of the increasingly wearied but always nonchalant and never one to make a fuss, Pen.
First published in Issue 9 of Widows and Widowers magazine