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EXTRACT: After the Silence by Louise O’Neill

By September 12, 2020No Comments

If you enjoyed Louise O’Neill’s piece on the darker sides of life inspiring her writing, you’ll love this extract from her best-selling new release, After the Silence, the psychological thriller that everyone is talking about…


Keelin was wearing her noise-cancelling headphones, so she didn’t  hear  him come  into the study  and  yet, somehow, she could  sense  him  there,  standing behind her. The  knowing was in the stiffening  of her spine,  that  uneasy  prickle  at the nape  of her neck.  She could  taste  him on her tongue.

Her eyes flicked to the corners of the computer screen, checking  to see if she could  find his shadow, but  there  was nothing. Her  hand  rested  on the mouse, and she stopped scrolling  through the article  she’d  been  reading, waiting  for him to speak first.

‘She’s young,’ he said. There was a photo  of a woman  on the screen; it was taken on her wedding day, a slip of ivory silk clinging to her body.  ‘She can’t be more  than  mid-twenties, can she?’

Nessa  never even made  it to that age. Nessa would never turn forty-six and feel bone-deep tired all the time, like Keelin did.  She wouldn’t crawl into  bed  at ten p.m., barely able to keep  her  eyes open  any longer,  nor  would  she wake at four in the morning, her bladder fit to burst. Nessa wouldn’t have to stare at her reflection in the mirror, pinching the new folds of skin around her jawline she was certain  hadn’t been  there yesterday, wondering when,  exactly,  she  had  become old. The  Crowley  Girl would  be young  forever.

Her  husband leaned  over her and  pressed  the page-down key on the keyboard. An intake  of breath as he skimmed the article.  ‘My God,’  Henry  said. ‘The  poor  girl. Did  you read this part,  Keelin? Where  her daughter had a tummy bug and was sick all over her bedspread? And when the husband found out, he made  –’ he checked  the screen again – ‘Sarah Watson eat the vomit.’  He shivered. ‘That’s  barbaric.’

Sarah Watson  had married young, the journalist wrote, and the first time her husband hit her was on their honeymoon. By the time their youngest daughter was three,  he’d hospitalised Sarah on two occasions, breaking her jaw and dislocating her shoulder by throwing her down  a flight of stairs.  But  Sarah gave as good  as she  got,  her  mother-in-law was quoted as saying.  That girl could  start  a fight in an empty  room;  they were as bad as each other, she said. After a particularly heated argument he choked  Sarah  until  she lost consciousness, and she fled to a shelter, fearing for her life. The  husband threat- ened  to go to the  police  and  file kidnapping charges  if she

didn’t  bring the children home and so, despite  the staff ’s best efforts to persuade her to stay, she went back to him.  I can’t lose my kids, Sarah  Watson said to the shelter’s coordinator. He has rights in the eyes of the law, I’ll still have to negotiate child-visitation rights  with  him.  I’ve seen  what  the  system does  to women  like me.  It won’t  protect me.  She was dead within two weeks, the story splashed across the front pages of the newspapers, friends and colleagues  expressing  shock that the husband could  commit such a horrifying  act of violence. He  hadn’t seemed  the  type,  but  you never  know  what  goes on behind closed  doors,  do you? they said to each other  for a few days before  promptly forgetting all about it.

‘I don’t  know  why you  continue to  read  stuff  like this,’ Henry  said.  ‘It only upsets  you. Why do it to yourself?’

Keelin continued to read ‘stuff like this’ for the same reason she continued to read her psychology  books  and journals. It was why she was still a member of the Psychological Society of Ireland and subscribed to their magazine, why she scrolled through the events sections  on their website on a daily basis, imagining which conferences she would  go to, the questions she would ask the speakers, if she was capable of leaving this island.  Keelin  had  trained to  become a counsellor special- ising in domestic violence  because she’d  wanted to support women, to show them that a life free of abuse was within their grasp.  The  work had been  difficult,  but it had been  fulfilling too, in a way that seemed  impossible to imagine  now. So she read  ‘stuff like this’ because she needed to pretend she still had  a career,  a purpose.

Henry  turned the computer off. ‘Honestly,’ he said, ‘it horrifies me how these men behave,  if you can even call them “men”. When  I think about how Mark  Delaney  treated you, darling  . . .’ He  gripped the  back  of her  chair  tightly.  ‘It’s revolting.’

(Where were you? Her ex-husband screaming at her when he arrived  home  from  work.  I phoned the house  a hundred times today and there was no answer. Where were you, Keelin? Are you fucking someone else, you cunt? Fists punching into her stomach, and she was doubled over in agony, begging him to stop, she would never do that,  she would never betray him like that.  I didn’t mean it, Mark would always say afterwards, drawing  a bath  and  gently lowering  her into the water,  tears coming  to his eyes when she gasped  in pain.  I just can’t bear the thought of you cheating on me, not after everything  that happened with her. I’m terrified  of losing you,  that’s  all. I’ll get help, he promised, and Keelin  had believed  him or she’d wanted to believe him.  Maybe  they were the same  thing,  in the end.)

Henry pulled   her  to  standing, taking  her  place  on  the chair.  He  sat  Keelin  on  his lap  and  she  buried her  face  in his shoulder, breathing in the  spicy scent  of his cologne  as she thought of that  other  house, that  other  husband. Henry would  never raise a hand  to her.  She was safe with him.

‘Look at that,’  he said, checking  his Patek  Philippe watch, the delicate  strokes of silver ticking in a platinum face. When Henry’s brother turned fifty, Jonathan had given his first-born son  his  vintage  Audemars Piguet  as a birthday present; it was the sort of thing  that  should  become a family heirloom, he’d said. He gave it to Charlie, of all people! Charlie would be  as happy  wearing  a fucking  Swatch!  Her  husband had seethed when  he  watched the  videos  of Jonathan’s speech on  Facebook, accompanied by photos of a lavish  birthday party they hadn’t been invited to. He spent weeks afterwards searching for the most  expensive  piece he could  source  and sent  his father  the  bill. It’s beautiful, Keelin  told  him  when it was delivered  to  the  island,  hoping  this  would  settle  his prickly  mood  for a few weeks at least.  But  that  same  night she woke up and  the bed was empty  beside  her.  Henry?  she called out, stealing downstairs and finding her husband in the sunroom. The  new watch  in his hands, staring  at it. When will I be enough for them?  he asked  her,  so quietly.  Keelin sat at the foot of the chair, leaning her head against  his thigh. You’re enough for me, she said, wishing she could  make this better  for him.  I love you so much. When  she jolted  awake the next  morning, her neck aching,  her husband was gone.

‘I can’t  believe it’s June  21st  already,’  he said now.  He’d never  become accustomed to  this  new,  amorphous life of theirs,  the undefined edges of each day where one hour  bled into  the  next  until  finally it was over  and  they  could  go to sleep again.  ‘Remember when  we used  to—’


Henry  had always loved the summer solstice,  waiting until the  day fell fast into  night  before  setting  the  bonfire  alight, taking a breathless step back as it soared  to kiss the sky. The flames  crackling  orange, bodies  moving  in  and  around its heart,  dancing shadows cast  against  bare  skin.  The  solstice celebrations were supposed to be cleansing, meant to purify the body and soul. The  Misty Hill guests would run into the sea at midnight, gasping at the icy sting of the water, calling to the heavens  to wash their  sins away and  make them  worthy.

‘Will you go down  to Marigold Cottage and  check on the Australians? They’ve  been  on  the  island  for  over  a month now, I’m curious to know what kind of progress they’re making,’  he said. ‘Why don’t  you ask if they’d like to join us for dinner?  It’s the longest  day of the year – we should  mark it in some  way.’

Henry  missed  their  old life, she knew,  the  dinner parties and the heavy thud of wedding invites through the letter box every spring,  throwing confetti into the air outside charming little churches in the Cotswolds, the holidays  to the south  of France to stay in friends’  plush  villas. Was that  why he had agreed  to  have  the  Australians stay  in Marigold Cottage – because he was starved  for company? Was  her  husband so desperate to fill the empty  seats around the dinner table that he would  put  them  all in danger?

‘I have to check  on Alex first. He’s sick.’

‘What’s  wrong  with  him?’ Henry’s  tone  was sharp.  ‘Has he done  anything to—’

‘He’s fine, don’t  worry. It’s just a twenty-four-hour thing.’

‘Ah,  OK.  Poor  Alex.’  He  kissed  the  back  of  her  neck.

‘But you can go down  afterwards, can’t  you? To talk to the Australians.’

‘I . . .’ Keelin  pictured herself  walking  down  the  garden path,  knocking  on the yellow door  of Marigold Cottage, and she was so weary at the  thought of it she could  feel herself physically  wilt. ‘Please,  Henry,’ she said.  ‘I’m tired.’

‘We’re all tired,  darling. And  we all have to do things  we don’t  want  to do,  now,  don’t  we?’

She looked  to the ground. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘You’re always right.’

After the Silence, by
Louise O’Neill, published
by Hachette Ireland, is
available now.