Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Normally, I'd be up off the couch like a cat with a banger up its a**e, and straight down to the pub. But I stay where I am.'
I'm a bit of a lost soul. So the wife is saying, anyway. I think she's just a bit sick of me moping around the place, especially in the evenings. She puts her head on my shoulder when she says it, but it's still a bit hurtful. And, just as her head touches the side of my neck, her hand reaches out and she grabs the remote control off me.
She wants me out of the house.
And so do I.
She says it again.
- You're a bit of a lost soul these days, Charlie.
And she turns from Brighton v Newcastle to The Great British Bake Off. Normally, I'd be up off the couch like a cat with a banger up its a**e, and straight down to the pub. But I stay where I am.
I grab hold of her iPad and I google 'lost soul'. I've been hearing the phrase all my life but, now that I'm one of them, I want to know exactly what it means.
So, I type in 'lost soul' and this is what I get back: 'A soul that is damned.'
And that sends me down to the local for the first time in ages. If I'm on my way to eternal damnation, I'll need a pint before the trip.
And that's the problem. Walking to the local has become a short stroll to a possible hell.
Will he be there, will he be there? My pal, Martin, has become as rare as a Leitrim man in Croke Park, and I hate drinking alone. Even just the one slow pint - I hate it.
Martin has fallen in love. He admitted it, himself, the last time we met.
- I heard 'Puppy Love' on the radio this morning, he told me.
- And I started crying. I couldn't help it.
- Donny Osmond?
- The song spoke to me, he said.
- Martin, I remind him.
- You're over 60.
- I know.
- You've enough grandkids to play against Bayern Munich.
- I know.
- With subs.
- I f**kin' know.
- It makes no sense, he admitted.
- But... He took a slug from his pint and started singing.
- I hope and I pray that maybe some day...
- Martin, stop
- You'll be back in my arms once again.
- Jesus, Martin - please...
He was pining for Eileen Pidgeon, who was actually in my arms - for an hour or so, anyway - years and years ago, when Donny Osmond was bleating his way to the top of the charts.
-Has she left you? I asked him, and I tried not to sound too hopeful.
- No, said Martin.
- But I love imagining she has.
His eyes filled.
- It makes me so happy, Charlie.
- Ah, Jesus.
I got out of there without finishing my pint. Well, that's not true. I finished the pint but I didn't enjoy it. I was belching all the way home.
And now, tonight, I'm walking towards two equally dreadful possibilities: Martin won't be there, and Martin will be there.
He won't be there and I'll have to endure my own company. I'll sit up at the bar and text the grandkids and hope they text me back, so I can keep my head down and look busy.
Or, he will be there and I'll have to endure his love-sick elderly teenager routine.
He's not wearing the Tommy Hilfiger jumper Eileen Pidgeon got him for his birthday.
So far, so good.
The jumper's pink, by the way, and way too small for him. It makes him look like a sausage before it hits the pan.
- Good man, says Martin.
He lifts a finger and the barman, Jerzy, sees him. He puts a glass under the Guinness tap and starts doing his job.
Jerzy's from Poland and the lads from the football club started calling him Away Jerzy - or just Away. And now everyone does, including his wife and kids.
- How are things? I ask Martin.
Is he going to sing? Or cry? I'm all set to run - well, walk - if I have to.
- Grand, he says.
Is there a nicer, more reassuring word in the English language?
Especially the way we use it in Ireland. It covers everything - the weather, your health, global politics, the quality of the pint in front of you, the points your granddaughter got in her Junior Cert.
It covers - it hides - everything, including reality, that's right in front of your eyes.
There could be a chap holding his scalp in his hand, blood pouring over his eyes, but if he tells you he's grand, it's official: he's grand. Leave him alone and move on - quick.
Martin doesn't look grand. He looks wretched; his skin's a strange grey colour. I'm guessing Puppy Love isn't speaking to him anymore.
But he said he's grand, and I'm thrilled.