Chapter no 46

Then She Was Gone

Joshua had given Laurel his grandparents’ phone number in Dublin. Henry and Breda Donnelly. They were both alive and both still working.

“They’re amazing,” Joshua had said. “Like really amazing. Scary as shit—you don’t want to cross them. But incredible people. Forces of nature, the pair of them.”



Laurel calls them on Sunday when she gets back from Floyd’s house.

A woman picks up the phone and says “hello” so loudly that Laurel jumps. “Hello. Is that Mrs. Donnelly?”

“Speaking.” “Breda Donnelly?” “Yes. This is she.”

“Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, you’re not eating, are you?”

“No, no. We’re not. But thank you for asking. What can I do for you?” “I’ve just met up with your grandson, Joshua.”

“Ah, yes, young Josh. And how is he these days?”

“He’s great. Really great. I went to visit him at your daughter’s house. Noelle’s house.”

There’s a brief silence on the line and then Breda Donnelly says, “Who is this, please? You haven’t said.”

“Sorry. Yes. My name’s Laurel Mack. My daughter used to be one of Noelle’s students. About ten years ago. And as a weird coincidence, my current boyfriend is Noelle’s ex-partner. Floyd Dunn? The father of Poppy?”



There’s another silence and Laurel holds her breath.

Eventually Breda says, “Ye-es,” pulling out the vowel to suggest that she needs much more information before she’ll offer any herself.

Laurel sighs. “Look,” she says, “I don’t really know why I’m calling, except that my daughter disappeared shortly after she finished her tutoring with

Noelle. And she disappeared right next to Noelle’s house. And then Noelle herself also disappeared, a few years later.”


“I suppose I just wanted to ask you about Noelle, about what you think happened to her.”

Breda Donnelly sighs. “Are you sure you’re not from the papers?”

“Honestly. I swear. You can google me if you like. Laurel Mack. Or google my daughter. Ellie Mack. It’s all there. I promise.”

“She was supposed to be coming home.” Laurel blinks. “What?”

“Noelle. That week. She was coming home. With her little girl.”

“Oh,” she says. “I didn’t realize. Floyd just said that she disappeared. He didn’t mention that she was supposed to be going back to Ireland.”

“Well, maybe she didn’t tell him that. But she was. And the papers barely cared. The police barely cared. A middle-aged woman. A bit of a loner. An ex-partner who said she was mentally unstable. I told them she was coming home but they didn’t think it was relevant. And maybe it wasn’t.”

“And she said she was coming with her daughter?”

“Yes. She was coming with her daughter. With Poppy. And that they would be staying here. At the house. And we were all ready for her, we were. Beds all made up. We’d bought the child a big bear. Yogurts and juices. Then suddenly she’s given the child to the father, packed a bag, and disappeared. I suppose we weren’t surprised. It always did strike us as faintly unbelievable that she’d had a baby in the first place, let alone that she was able to raise it on her own.”

“So you think she changed her mind? That she was going to start a new life, with you and Poppy, and then freaked out at the last minute?”

“Well, yes, it certainly seemed that way.”



“And where do you think she is, Mrs. Donnelly? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, God, I suppose, if I’m honest, I would say she’s dead.” Laurel pauses to absorb the impact of Breda’s words. “When did you last see Noelle, Mrs. Donnelly?” “Nineteen eighty-four.”

Laurel falls silent again.

“She came home for a few weeks after her PhD. Then she went to London. That was the last time we saw her. Her brothers tried to visit when they came to London but she always kept them at arm’s length. Always made excuses. We had no Christmas cards from her, no birthday cards. We’d send news on to her: new nephews and nieces, degrees and what have you. But there was never a reply. She genuinely, genuinely didn’t care about us. Not about any of us. And in the end I’d say we’d stopped caring about her, too.”

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