I’m only putting the pint to my lips when the text goes off in my pocket. It’s the daughter. The grandson wants to say night-night to Spongebob. I look at the text, I look at the pint. I’ll send her a photo. I’ll unbutton the new shirt, do a Spongebob selfie, and fire it back to her to show the kid before she tucks him in.
One of the sons showed me how to do that – send a photograph on your phone – when he was sending a picture of his dislocated kneecap to his girlfriend in the Philippines – because she’s a nurse, he said.
-Is she on her holidays over there? I asked him.
-Does she live there?
-Come here, I said. -Have you actually met the girl?
-No, he says. –Not really.
I tried not to sound too taken aback.
-And she’s your fuckin’ girlfriend?!
He muttered something.
-One of them, he said.
-And do any of your other girlfriends actually live in Dublin? I asked him.
-Think so, he said.
I decided I’d talk to the wife about it – my only wife, by the way – but, not for the first or the last time, I forgot.
I’d be worried she’d tell me she had three more husbands in Cambodia and a toy boy somewhere in Kimmage. Do toy boys still exist, even? I haven’t heard mention of one in ages. Maybe they’re all retired, or upskilling.
It’s my own fault, forgetting to let the grandson say night-night to the tattoo before I left the house. The child is entitled to the real thing, the flesh and blood Spongebob.
-Mind my pint, I say, and I leg it home.
Legging it isn’t what it used to be. Legging it these days means running for three or four steps, then holding my jacket shut and walking as fast as I can without toppling over. But I make it home and up the stairs – just have a short break on the landing. Into the grandson – he waves at Spongebob. Then I leg it back to the local.
So here we are.
The pint is fine and the Secret Woman is still sitting where I left him. We say nothing for a bit. And I like that, saying nothing. But there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask him.
-What sort of men do you go for?
-I don't, he says.
-You identify as a woman, I remind him.
-Yeah, he says. –But I’m kind of a retired woman.
I want to ask him about the whole internet thing, dating and that. I thought maybe he’d have been surfing for mature men who like men who identify as women, or mature women who identify as men. I never bought a book on the net, never mind a life partner, so I haven’t a clue. And I’m worried about the son – a bit.
-I’m not gay, he tells me now. –Just to be clear.
-It’s just - , he says, and stops.
He’s said nothing about my new shirt or jeans, by the way – the ones the daughter made me buy in town. He might think he’s a woman but he’s still a bollix.
-It’s the gentleness and that, he says. –You know, the things that women have that we don’t?
-Yeah, I say.
-That’s it, he says. –That’s what I want – to be near to, I suppose. The gentleness and the – I don’t know. The feminine stuff. Am I making sense?
I don’t remember his wife being particularly gentle or anything. She was a nice woman and all but she gave me a dig once – a friendly dig at a party, like – and let’s just say I felt it. Let’s just say I took a couple of Nurofen when I got home. But I do know what he means. The wife – my wife, like – takes no prisoners but when she puts her hair behind her ear, the way she does that, the little flick, it makes me feel like the luckiest man in the world.
-Yeah, I say. –You’re making sense.
-I’m taking steps, he says.
-To becoming a woman, he says.
-What? I say. –You’re taking the tablets – the hormone yokes?
-Not the whole shebang? The operation?
- Calm down, for Jaysis sake, he says. –No, I’m after joining a book club.
–That’s your first step to womanhood?
-It’s a start, he says.
He’s right, I suppose. I never met a man who was in one. I asked the wife once what her book club involved and she told me to mind my own business; it was a secret world, she said, that not even the Russians could penetrate.
I’m happy for him – I think.
-You didn’t notice my shirt, I say.
-Is that you? he says. –For a minute there I thought I was sitting beside Jamie Rednapp.