Lola's Secret:A Novel

By: Monica McInerney

Chapter One

EVEN AFTER more than sixty years of living in Australia, eighty-four-year-old Lola Quinlan couldn’t get used to a hot Christmas. Back home in Ireland, December had meant short days, darkness by four P.M., open fires, and frosty walks. Snow if they were lucky. Her mother had loved following Christmas traditions, many of them passed down by her own mother. The tree decorated a week before Christmas Day and not a day earlier. Carols in the chilly church before Midnight Mass. Lola’s favorite tradition of all had been the placing of a lit candle in each window of the house on Christmas Eve. It was a symbolic welcome to Mary and Joseph, but also a message to any passing stranger that they would be made welcome too. As a child, she’d begged to be the one to light the candles, carefully tying back the curtains to avoid the chance of fire. Afterward, she’d stood outside with her parents, their breath three frosty clouds, gazing up at their two-story house transformed into something almost magical.

She was a long way from Ireland and dark, frosty Decembers now. Sixteen thousand kilometers and about thirty-five degrees Celsius, to be exact. The temperature in the Clare Valley of South Australia was already heading toward forty degrees and it wasn’t even ten A.M. yet. The hills that were visible through the window were burnt golden by the sun, not a blade of green grass to be seen. There was no sound of carols or tinkling sleigh bells. The loudest noise was coming from the airconditioner behind her. If she did take a notion to start lighting candles and placing them in all the windows, there was every chance the fire brigade would come roaring up the hill, sirens blaring and water hoses at the ready. At last count, the Valley View Motel that Lola called home had more than sixty windows. Imagine that, Lola mused. Sixty candles ablaze at once. It would be quite a sight. Almost worth the trouble it would cause …

“Are you plotting mischief? I know that look.”

At the sound of her son’s voice, Lola turned from her seat at one of the dining room tables and smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You know me, harmless as a kitten.”

Jim simply raised an eyebrow, before pulling out a chair and sitting down opposite his mother. “I was talking about you with Bett and Carrie today. We’ve all agreed it’s not too late to change your mind.”

“About what? My lunch order? It’s Friday. I always have fish on Fridays.” Another tradition from her days in Ireland, even if she’d long ago stopped following any religion.

“About you sending us away and taking charge of a fifteen-room motel on your own for five days. At Christmas. At the age of eighty-four.”

“You make me sound quite mad.”

“I don’t, actually. You manage it perfectly well on your own.”

Lola stood, reached for her stick, and drew herself up to her full five foot nine inches, fixing her sixty-four-year-old son with the gaze that had worked to silence him as a child, but hadn’t had much effect for many years now. There was a brief staring contest and then she started to laugh. “Of course I’m mad, darling. You don’t live as long as I do if you have any sense. What’s the point? Hips giving up, hearing going, wits long gone—”

“So you admit it, then? Will I call off our driving trip? Tell Bett and Carrie to cancel their holidays too? Say that you’d gone temporarily insane and you didn’t mean it?”

“And what? Let you and Geraldine down? Let down my poor adorable granddaughters and their even more adorable children, not to mention their handsome husbands and their handsome husbands’ families? Never. In fact, why don’t you leave now, all of you? Begone. Leave an old lady in relative peace. Literally.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. What if we’re not leaving you in peace?”

“It’s the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. We haven’t had a drop of rain in years. The Valley is beautiful, yes, but as dry as a bone. Who on earth is going to choose to spend Christmas in a parched country motel?” She opened the bookings register to the week of December twenty-fifth and placed it in front of her son. “See? Not a sinner. Or a saint. It’ll just be poor old me rattling around the place on my own, while the turkey stays happily frozen, the puddings soak in their brandy for another twelve months and you and Geraldine and the girls hopefully get to have a proper Christmas break.”

Also By Monica McInerney

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