One of the grandkids wants a tattoo.
-He’s only three, I tell the wife.
-I'm aware of that, she tells me back. –But he stills wants one.
-He can’t even say ‘tattoo’, I tell her.
-‘Hattoo’ is what he says.
-I know, she says. –It’s sweet.
And she’s right. Normally, I don’t have much room for the word ‘sweet’. If I hear of an adult being described as sweet, I’m off for the hills and I stay up there till they're gone. ‘Sweet’ is just a different word for ‘mad’, ‘boring’, or ‘nearly dead’, and often it's all three. But kids – little kids – that’s different. Especially if they’re your own. Only If they’re your own. No man really cares about other people’s kids or grandkids.
-What sort of a present is a tattoo? I ask the wife.
-He has his heart set on one, she says.
Those words terrify me. I once ended up in Wales on Christmas Eve, looking for a Tamagotchi. Dublin was full of the things but the daughter's heart was set on a pink one. And Wales, as everyone knows, is the home of the pink Tamagotchis. They breed there, or something. Then there was thewife's sister's husband. He wanted us all to walk across the Sahara with him for his 50th birthday.
-Will Dollymount not do him? I said. -There's loads of sand and the pint's better.
-He has his heart set on it, said the wife. -And he doesn't drink.
-He'll regret that when he's halfway across the fuckin’ Sahara, I said.
-You're gas, she said.
And she booked the tickets, Easyjet to Casablanca. But then, thank Christ, they split up, him and the wife's sister, just before his birthday and he had to go on his own. The last we heard - an Instagram message to one of their kids – he was after joining up with ISIS. But I'm betting they threw him out for being such a pain in the hole.
Anyway. This was different. This was way more complicated than the boat to Holyhead or a plane to Morocco.
-A tattoo, but, I say. -Santy doesn’t deliver tattoos, does he?
There’s no way I’m letting Santy down the chimney with needles and ink, even if he brings all the sterilization equipment and a team of elves with verifiable first-aid experience.
-Well, says the wife. -He's after writing the letter.
-He can't write, but, I say. -He's only three.
-He dictated it, she says.
-And it's gone into the post box?
-Could we not persuade him to change his mind? I ask her. –He could-Could we not persuade him to change his mind? I ask her. –He could dictate a new letter. ‘Dear Santy, on second thoughts, I’d much prefer a scooter.’ And what gobshite brought him to the post box?
She doesn’t even stare at me. She just walks out of the kitchen.
-Well, that’s helpful, I call after her.
I don’t often have good ideas, those light-bulb ones that go off in your head. But now I have two on the trot. And I run after the wife with the first one. This is two days after she walked out – but that’s a different story.
-Typhoid Mary, I say.
-What about her?
Mary lives next door. She was there before we moved in. She was probably there before the houses were built.
-You know that tattoo she has between her shoulder blades? I say. –The seagull.
-It’s down near her arse, she corrects me.
-Exactly, I say. –But it was up on her shoulders when she got it done thirty years ago.
-So, says the wife.
And I can tell; she’s enjoying this.
-You want to traumatize the poor child by bringing Mary in and making him look at her migrating tattoo – and it’s not a seagull, by the way, it’s a butterfly. You want Mary to get up out of her wheelchair and turn around and –
-Okay, I say. –Forget it.
And I’m turning away, all set to emigrate, when the second idea slapsme.
-I’ll do it, I tell her.
-Do what? she says.
-Get the tattoo, I say.
-Go on, she says.
-Well, I explain. –Santy writes back. No problem with the tattoo but you’re too young. So we’ll put it on your grandad and he can mind it for you and you can look at it any time you want, till you’re old enough to have it yourself, on your arm or whatever.
-His chest, she says.
And she’s looking at me with – well, it’s not admiration, exactly. But it’s like she’s opened an empty tin of biscuits and discovered there’s one left.
So, that’s Christmas Eve sorted. I’m heading to a tattoo parlour in town – the daughter says she knows a good one for older people, called Wandering Skin, but I think she might be messing – and I’ll be coming home with Spongebob Squarepants hiding under my shirt.