A year ago no one had heard of me. That was before all this. Before a columnist in The Irish Times wrote that I was a twenty-first-century prophet. Before I was denounced from the pulpit by the Catholic Church. Before a small group in Dublin misinterpreted me and destroyed a landmark clock in my name. Before I was chased by paparazzi. Before I became the number one Irish search word on Google. Before Mam wanted a boob job. Before people wondered, I mean really wondered, “what if.” Before anyone had ever really considered the existence of an invisible world.
I can hardly remember back that far. I try to, but my old life is getting hazy.
It all started on a Monday. My birthday.
The office had gone through the birthday rigmarole and surprised me with a Victoria sandwich covered in candle wax. The sugar addicts and the easily distracted design department halfheartedly mouthed the words to “Happy Birthday.” One budding soprano stretched his neck and crackled through the high notes. I recognized him from accounts but couldn’t remember his name.
All eyes shifted from me to the cake.
I backed away and they dived in.
I’m not a fan of birthdays. It took Claire, the office manager, two years to find out my birthday date. And then it was accidental. The amorous Italian I was dating that summer sent me flowers. Carnations. He had busy hands, more suckers than hands. We’d be in a bookshop, and all of a sudden they’d be up my shirt and in my bra. He’d eat my neck as a first course in restaurants and snake his legs around mine so it was impossible to stand up. It was irritating. Anyway, Claire twigged when she saw the petrol-station flowers, and I’ve had three uncomfortable ten-minute work birthday parties since then and no more Latin lovers.
When the cake had been demolished, I slunk back to my desk and sank into my chair, happy to lie low in case they wanted a speech. This was unlikely; most of them would have learned my name for the first time when they signed the birthday card. I work with four people, am on nodding acquaintance with another ten, and have no idea who the other three hundred are.
“Happy birthday, Annie.” Matthew winked at me as he wheeled over my guests-only chair. He was trying to be funny: my name is Kate, but I was a dead ringer for Little Orphan Annie as a child, with a shock of red hair, large blue eyes, and a smattering of freckles that twenty years later still haven’t joined up. Birthdays were ruined for me by Annie, or rather by Mam’s insistence that I mark my special day by singing “Tomorroooooow” to neighbors, drunken relatives, and postmen—anyone with ears, really.
“Funny. You are funny.”
Matthew started whistling “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” his eyes tearing up with amusement.
I hadn’t been sure about working with Matthew at first. I think it was his name. Matthew, not Matt, Mattie, M, but the full-barreled shotgun Mat-thew. It’s unusual not to shorten your
name. It feels very grand and a bit unfriendly. It made him sound like an earl or a liquor. He’s none of those things, but he is a little bit grand, I suppose, by Dublin standards. He carries a briefcase and always has a black umbrella, like a banker. He uses a money clip, a gold shiny one. He asked if I thought he was “an awful eejit for having one.” I shook my head and declared, “No, maybe we should all have money clips.” And that seemed to break the ice.
I started working at Frank & Peterson, an advertising agency, five and a half years ago as a junior copywriter. Five and a half years later, I’m still a junior copywriter. I don’t know how to shout. When I get turned down for a pay raise, I say thank you. I once plucked up the courage to ask for a promotion, which I didn’t get, but I did get put on the summer party fund-raising committee and somehow offered to babysit my boss Colin’s kids. I panic in the face of authority, and even though Colin speaks like a Disney character and twiddles his mustache in a friendly fashion, I’m still intimidated by him.
That was all going to change this year, though. My birthday is my New Year’s Eve. I make resolutions. This year I was going to get a promotion, a proper promotion with a pay raise and a new job title. For four days now, I had told the universe I was grateful. I embraced the power of now while still managing to feel the fear and do it anyway. I had repeated affirmations in my head like “I am a rich, successful copywriter who is moments away from a promotion.”
The good news was, in spite of my self-help mantras, or because of them—I hadn’t made up my mind—the promotion was looking like a possibility. Through a series of errors, Matthew and I had landed one of the biggest accounts in the agency, the Starshoot Chocolate account. So far, the client didn’t like us or any of our ideas, but I was optimistic. I was always optimistic.
Frank & Peterson is a giant multinational advertising agency, one of the shiny corporate ones where decisions are made from a head office in outer space, based on gravity pull and lotto numbers. They colonized a small indigenous agency about fifteen years ago, introducing new jobs and a corporate language and ethos to which most employees were happy to be shackled. Corporate life has a lot of perks—good Christmas parties and an excellent dental plan. My teeth have never looked better.
The offices are on the top floor of a building in the financial district of Dublin. If this were any other city, F & P would be at a dizzying height, inducing wobbly knees and shortness of breath, but not in Dublin, where the hand of God rests firmly on the skyline to stop it from getting too proud. Modesty is a much-respected Dublin trait, in the people and in the city.
The office overlooks the River Liffey and its ancient bridges, gray and heaving under the heavy commuter plod. The IV drip to Dublin is the river. It splits the city in two and serves as our very own Berlin Wall. Northsiders and southsiders seldom see the need to cross over and mix with each other, and only bad jokes about passports and visa stamps unite the two sides. It used to be that the north side was poor and the south side was rich, but for the past few years the economy had been booming, so everyone was rich and the jokes weren’t funny anymore. Life was plentiful in Ireland. We were riding the crest of a wave that wasn’t showing any sign of crashing. Kids born in the 1990s couldn’t remember life before BMWs, stone massages, and organic-coffee shops. The past few months there’d been rumors that the good times were coming to an end, but no one seemed to be paying any heed to the naysayers.
The north side of Dublin feels gritty and disheveled. A lot of the buildings are tired and need a reality TV makeover. The main shopping street, Henry Street, moves at a frantic pace: elbows are
out, necks jut forward, and there’s a sense of urgency that that coat will be 20 percent off for only the next two minutes. In contrast, the south side is lazy. Grafton Street shoppers move slowly down the burnt-orange brickwork, like cows out to pasture. Shopfronts are charming and freshly painted, maintaining the feel of an older, grander Dublin. It helps that Grafton Street is anchored by the beauty and dignity of Trinity College, which is hundreds of years old, and capped on the far end by Stephens Green, home since the seventeenth century to the friendliest ducks in Ireland.
I’m a southsider. I went to a south-side school and a south-side university, my ex-boyfriends have all been southsiders and most of my friends are, too. Except for Matthew. He’s a northsider through and through. We’re very proud that we’ve managed to crash through the barricades to become friends.
Matthew ripped open his 2,453rd Starshoot, the reason he’d put on seven pounds in the past month. He pulled on his nose. He has a big nose and big eyebrows, features that don’t work in isolation but together are quite attractive, and short dark hair and lovely olive skin that you wouldn’t expect to find on an Irishman (he reckons a Spanish sailor wandered into his gene pool many generations back).
“The caramel in these is too chewy. My fillings shake when I’m near one. Will we go with that? ‘Rip the fillings out of your head with Starshoot.’”
He drew a line on a blank page and dramatically placed a full stop after it. “Starshoot, in association with the dentists of Ireland.”
I long-blinked in agreement. “How are we going to crack this campaign?” I started chewing the skin around my nails, always a sign that I’m nervous.
A slow mournful creak distracted us. In our agency the
postman always howls twice. Dudley from dispatch was approaching with his cart. He could deliver the mail and cop a perve at the same time—it was award-winning stuff.
With a heavy sigh, and never taking his eyes from my chest, which isn’t particularly flat or buxom and normally doesn’t warrant many glances, Dudley did a three-point turn and parallel parked. “Happy birthday, Kate.” White spittle gathered at the corner of his mouth. He gave a little giggle and wiggled his shoulders. “So, are you two, you know . . . ?” He raised his unibrow.
It’s impossible for some people to understand that Matthew and I are just friends. We’ve never had a sneaky snog or a drunken fumble. There’s never been any sexual tension between us, and neither of us is closeted gay. We really like each other but have just never fancied one another.
“Well, are you and Connie, you know?” Matthew had caught him out. Connie worked in the canteen and was 874 years old.
“That’s disgusting.” Dudley coughed and straightened up. “This came for you. It’s registered. Looks important.” He passed me a large white envelope, reversed his cart, and left, muttering “disgusting” under his breath.
“Oh, registered.” Matthew looked delighted to have a distraction. “A birthday present?”
I did an I-don’t-know face and ripped open the envelope, which, disappointingly, was not car- or house-shaped. Still, I felt giddy and then confused when I pulled a legal-looking letter out of the envelope. I cleared my throat and in a professional, BBC-newsreader manner turned to Matthew.
“‘Dear Miss McDaid. You are invited to attend the reading of the will of Miss Kate McDaid in our offices on Monday, May 5, at nine a.m.’” I looked up over the heavy cream paper. “What? Have I died and nobody told me?”
Matthew looked as baffled as me.
“Is this one of those weird after-death dreams?” I said. “I don’t remember a white light.”
“What else does it say?”
“‘You are cited as a benefactor in her will and are required to attend our offices for a reading of said will. Yours sincerely, Seamus MacMurphy.’ How can I be a benefactor of my own will?”
Matthew reached over and grabbed the letter from my hand.
“It must be a typo or a mail merge gone wrong or something.” I gulped loudly.
“Very wrong if it’s killed you off,” Mathew said. “There must be another Kate McDaid. It’s not that uncommon a name. We could google her.”
“We’d just be googling me.”
“You should ring this guy, Seamus MacMurphy. Find out if it’s a typo.”
“When did you get so wise?”
“Cagney and Lacey reruns.”
I laughed and picked up the phone. This had to be a typo.
“MacMurphy Solicitors. How can I help you?” The woman on the other end of the line sounded startled, as if the phone had woken her from a deep sleep.
“Can I speak to Seamus MacMurphy, please?”
“I’m afraid Mr. MacMurphy isn’t available. Can I take a message?”
“Well, em . . .” How do I say this? I’ve been invited to my own will reading?
“I just got a letter and I’m invited to the reading of a will
tomorrow and I don’t know who the person is who died. Is that normal?”
“Your name, please?”
There was some paper rustling on the other end of the line. “Yes, Miss McDaid. You are invited to the reading of the will of Miss Kate McDaid.” She paused. “Oh, same name.”
“Yeah, that’s why I was wondering if there’s an error or a typo?”
“No, no typo.” Her voice lowered. “We’ve been waiting for the reading of this will for quite some time. There’s a real buzz in the office about it.”
“About the will?”
“Yes. We’ve had it in the office for over one hundred and thirty years,” she whispered. “It’s one of those we never thought would come about.” I heard a door banging behind her. She cleared her throat. “See you at nine a.m. tomorrow. Thank you.” And she hung up.
I turned to Matthew, excitedly. “The will is over one hundred and thirty years old. This other Kate McDaid died back in 1880 or something. How did she know to invite me now? And why? Who is she?”
Matthew looked at me, chewing pensively. “I wonder if she had any money.”
“And I wonder if any of it is going to come my way.”