We're delighted to present an extract from After The Silence, (published by riverrun), the new book from Louise O'Neill, the author of Asking For It and Almost Love.
Nessa Crowley's murderer has been protected by silence for ten years. Until a team of documentary makers decide to find out the truth...
There were three of them, in the beginning, and we called them the Crowley Girls. They were born of this island, as we were; sister-children, brethren, kin. Soil and bone. A common blood running through our veins, for our ancestors had been family, once, if you went back far enough. We tell you this for you must understand the ways of Inisrún before we begin our story – we were all connected here.
But those girls were not like us.
Since they were children, we had whispered to one another of their other-worldly beauty. Their golden waves of hair, their eyes so green, their long legs in short skirts or tight jeans. We watched them but they watched each other. They had no need of anyone else. Three is a magic number, of course. Three wishes granted
TheWayward Sisters. The Moirai. The Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Those girls were pro- tected when they were still three. They were blessed, they were charmed. Born under a blood moon, made of stardust, shimmering bright.
But then the island was swallowed whole by the night and one of the Crowley Girls was taken from us, breaking the spell. Death came to this land and we were never the same after that. Which one of the girls, you might ask? Which one of the sisters lost her life on that terrible day?
Oh, but the best one.
The best one of all
Keelin wasn't sure how she was supposed to react when Henry told her that he had agreed to participate in the documentary. 'It’ll be on Channel Three in the UK,’ he said, cracking his knuckles one by one. He always did that when he was excited, the snap-snap noise making Keelin grit her teeth. ‘It’s a huge opportunity for us, darling.’
‘An opportunity for us to do what, exactly?’ she asked. Could Henry truly believe that by agreeing to this – this documentary meant questions, it meant people in their home, riffling through their belongings in search of clues – that Misty Hill could somehow be resurrected to its former glory? The mere thought of more interviews gave Keelin an unpleasant swoop in her chest. What on earth was her husband doing?
‘It’s the ten-year anniversary next March,’ Henry said as if she might have forgotten about it, the date simply slipping her mind. ‘And with the success of all these true-crime pod- casts and what not – people are rather keen on them, aren’t they? – there’s an appetite for this kind of story, it seems.’
It was two Australian men who would be here filming, he explained. One of the men had family in west Cork; he’d heard the story about Misty Hill from his Irish cousins. Henry
showed Keelin the email they’d sent, waiting for her to find her reading glasses so she could see the phone screen clearly.
We don’t have an agenda, MrKinsella, and we don’t have any theories about what happened that night either. We just want to give you and your wife a chance to tell your side of the story.
It was blatantly untrue; everyone had theories about the Crowley Girl and who, exactly, was responsible for her death. Keelin very much doubted that these men would be any different. She handed Henry back his phone in silence. ‘Marvellous,’ he said. ‘I’m glad we’re in agreement, darling.’
Later that evening, she picked up her husband’s iPad and crept into her dressing room. Sitting at the marble-top vanity table, she googled the two documentary makers. She left the door slightly ajar so she would have time to hide the device if she heard Henry approaching, but all she could make out was the sound of his feet slapping against the belt of the treadmill in the gym downstairs. Noah Wilson, film-maker, Australia, she typed, finding an article in the Sydney Morning Herald the man had written about the role of St Patrick’s Day in Coogee, the suburb he’d grown up in. His pale, freckled skin and blue eyes betrayed his Irish heritage; even without the article she would have guessed he was the one whose mother hailed from west Cork. The Herald piece linked to his Twitter account, which was mostly retweets of praise their previous documentary, Closed Doors, had received.
Jake, that’s what Henry had said the other film-maker was called. He’s Chinese or something, he added, waving away the unfamiliar surname. I can’t remember exactly.
Jake Nguyen wasn’t Chinese, as it turned out, but of Vietnamese descent, as he explained to a chat-show host when he and Noah were on morning television to promote Closed Doors. Keelin had found the clip on YouTube, and she was struck by how handsome Jake was, his dark eyes deep set in perfect, smooth skin, a small cleft in his stubbled chin.
‘What do you think?’
Keelin froze, jabbing at the off button. ‘I didn’t hear you come in, Henry.’
He reached down to take the iPad from her. ‘They’re good, aren’t they?’ he said, squinting at the screen, holding it out at arm’s length so he could see.
‘They’re on the bed stand,’ she said, but her husband ignored her. He hated his reading glasses and refused to wear them in public, as if no one would notice he was almost fifty as long as he pretended his eyesight was still perfect. You’re getting older, Henry, she wanted to say. We both are.
‘You really should watch Closed Doors, darling,’ he said.
‘It’s beautifully shot, and a rather damning indictment of the manner in which society deals with domestic violence. It’s had a huge impact in Australia, or so I’m told.’ He shook his head. ‘The things these women have to endure, Keelin. It would break your heart.’
‘Hmm.’ Keelin resisted the urge to remind her husband that she had seen plenty of things that had broken her heart all the years she’d worked in the women’s shelter in Cork city. She reached for the bottle of cleanser on her desk, pumping some into her palms
and massaging it into her skin. ‘I thought you were in the gym,’ she said, wiping the mascara off with a cotton pad. She usually preferred to remove her make-up in private, staring at the mirror while Keelin Kinsella dis- appeared and her old face returned to her. She was still
Keelin Ní Mhordha then, she would think, underneath all the artifice. Still the island girl, born and bred. ‘I heard the treadmill.’
‘Couldn’t have been me,’ he said, gesturing at his shirt and pressed chinos. ‘Not exactly dressed for working out, am I?’
‘But I heard th—’ She stopped. There was no point in having this conversation, she knew. ‘Have you talked to Alex about the documentary?’ she asked, changing the subject.
‘I thought you should probably do it. He’ll take it better coming from you.’
‘Henry,’ she said, struggling to keep her voice level, ‘he’s not going to be happy about this, especially if they’re staying in his cottage. You know how particular Alex gets about his things. I don’t know if—’
‘He’ll understand how important this doc is, for all of us. Alex is smart.’
‘Alex is fragile.’
‘And that’s my fault, I suppose,’ he said. ‘Really, why must the parents be blamed for everything these days? It hardly seems fair.’
He’s not your son, she thought, dropping her head in case he would see the flash of anger spiking through her. He was never your son.
‘Keelin.’ Henry crouched down, resting his hands on her knees for balance. ‘I know you’re not happy about this. I’m not exactly thrilled either.’ She could feel a smile twisting on her mouth, and she pressed her lips together to suppress it. She loved her husband, but she wasn’t blind to his faults, not least of which was his insatiable need to be the centre of attention. Henry had been born searching for a stage, a spot- light in which to shine. He was withering away on this island without it. ‘But these men are coming to Inisrún whether we like it or not,’ he continued. ‘This film is going to happen, even if we don’t take part. But I think we should, all three of us.’ He took her hands in his. ‘It will look bad if we refuse to cooperate with them. It’ll look suspicious. We can’t afford for anything to look suspicious, can we?’
‘No,’ she replied, for what else could she say? ‘You’re right,
Henry. Email the Australians back and say we’ll do it.’
After The Silence by Louise O’Neill is published by riverrun on 3rd September 2020.