We're delighted to present an exclusive extract from Ask Again, Yes, the new novel from Irish-American author Mary Beth Keane.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis's wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come...
And then, on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend 1975, Lena was nursing Natalie in the rocker upstairs when she looked out the window and saw a moving truck come to a stop outside. She'd just learned she was pregnant again, two months gone already, and her doctor had joked that her Irish husband had almost given her Irish twins. The realtor’s sign had been removed a few weeks earlier, and now that she thought about it, she remembered Francis saying something about the house having finally sold. Lately she felt so tired it was hard to hold a thought in her head.
She rushed down the stairs and out onto the porch with Natalie tucked into the crook of her arm. "Hello!" she called out to her new neighbors, and later, when she recounted the meeting to Francis, she said she was afraid she’d said something corny and made a bad impression. Natalie was still hungry, and was sucking on her little fist.
A blond woman in a pretty eyelet sundress was walking up the driveway carrying a lamp in each hand.
"You bought the house," Lena said. Her voice was an octave too high. "I’m Lena. We just moved here last year. Welcome! Do you need any help?"
"I’m Anne," the new neighbor said, and Lena heard traces of a brogue. "That’s Brian, my husband." She smiled politely. "How old’s the baby?"
"Six months," Lena said. Finally, on the first warm day of the year, there was a new person to admire the baby, to offer a finger for Natalie to grip. She wanted to ask a thousand questions at once. Where had they moved from, how long had they been married, what made them choose Gillam, how did they meet, what kind of music did they like, what part of Ireland was Anne from, did they want to come over for a drink later, once they’d unpacked?
Anne was very beautiful, Lena noted, but there was something else about her, too. Once, at work, when Lena was passed over for a promotion, her boss Mr. Eden had said that it was no reflection of Lena’s performance, it was just that the other woman had more presence, and the promotion would mean greeting clients. Lena had no idea what he meant but she didn’t want to seem stupid, so she accepted his explanation and went back to her desk. It was her accent, maybe. Too Brooklyn. Maybe it was her habit of fixing her hair at her desk after lunch. One time she’d gotten a strand of celery caught between her molars and for the life of her she couldn’t get it out with her tongue, so she’d jammed her finger into her mouth and coaxed it out with her fingernail.
Now she wondered if presence was the thing her new neighbor had, if it was something a person had to be born with and could never be learned.
Anne glanced over her shoulder at her husband as she put her hand flat against her own stomach, and lowered her voice. "She’ll have company in a few months."
"How wonderful!" Lena said.
Brian Stanhope, who had not yet said hello, was crossing the lawn behind them just then and heard what his wife said. He staggered as if he’d tripped on something, and instead of approaching the women as it seemed he was about to do, he turned sharply and kept unloading the truck. Lena asked Anne if she felt tired, if she’d been sick. It was all normal, she said. Every pregnancy is different. Keeping crackers by her bed might help. If she ever let herself get hungry, she’d end up feeling sick all day. Anne nodded but the advice seemed to slide right by her, and she didn’t seem to want to discuss it with Brian listening. Lena remembered that she hadn’t heeded much advice either. Every woman learns on the job.
Eventually, Brian came over to them. "I work with Francis," he said. "Well, I used to. Until a few weeks ago I was in the Four-One."
"You’re kidding," Lena said. "What a coincidence!"
"Not really," Brian said, grinning. "He’s the one who told me about the house. He didn’t say?"
Later, when Francis got home, she wanted to know why he hadn’t told her they were coming. She could have made a welcome party, had food ready. But he had told her, he insisted. He said the house sold, she said, but not that it sold to his friend.
"Well, I don’t know about friend," Francis said.
"You work with him. You eat meals with him. You’ve known him since academy. Weren’t you partners for a while? He’s your friend," Lena said.
"I’m sorry," Francis said. "I forgot. He got transferred. I haven’t seen him in a few weeks." He pulled her to his chest. "What’s the wife like? They lost a baby, did I tell you that? A stillborn, I think. Probably going on two years ago now."
Lena gasped and thought of Natalie’s warm belly rising and falling in her crib upstairs. "How awful." She recalled with horror the advice she’d offered, how silently Anne had taken it.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Penguin) is out now.