Monday 19 August 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: I'm with the daughter. It's just the two of us.

For my only daughter, there's no place like home

Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey

I'm with the daughter. It's just the two of us.

- How are things, love? I ask her.

- Grand, she says.

And I know: they're not. Things aren't grand at all.

Maybe it's because she was the last child and I was a bit of a veteran by the time she arrived. And maybe it's because she was going to be our only girl. But, whatever it was, I always heard her before she started crying or fussing in her cot. I'd be out of the bed before I'd decided to do it and I'd be walking her back and across the landing, coaxing her back to sleep. Her tiny hand would go down the back of my T-shirt and she'd pat my shoulder, like she was the one who'd got out of bed for me.

I remember being at my mother's funeral, standing at the graveside and feeling as bad as I've ever felt, and the daughter stood beside me and put her arm through mine, and I felt as good as I've ever felt - as good and as bad, at exactly the same time.

My childhood was in the grave and the rest of my life was standing beside me.

The daughter is sitting in front of me now and she isn't happy. I know she isn't.

I have to ask the question.

- Is he good to you, love?

The question terrifies me - or, the answer that might follow terrifies me.

She smiles, and I believe the smile. She nods, and her eyes water - a bit. And so do mine.

I get up and go around to her side of the table. She stands and I hug her; she wets my shirt.

- Is he? I ask again.

I feel her nod against my chest.

- Yeah, she says. - He's lovely, like.

Her boyfriend's name is Keith and I like the chap. I'll be honest: he's a pain in the arse but he clearly loves the daughter and that's more than enough for me. But you never know, do you? Her answer - the way she responds - is a relief. I'm still worried, though, about her health, her well-being - there's a queue of terrors pushing for attention. But she knows that I know there's something wrong and she'll tell me, when she's ready.

- I need a new pair of trousers, I tell her.

This is a lie. - Will you help me choose a pair? I ask her. - I haven't a clue. I look at the clock.

- We've a couple of hours, I say.

The little lad is at a football camp. I dropped him off this morning, with his boots and Ribena and his Paul Pogba haircut.

- Okay, she says.

And she grins. I'm doomed. She's going to squeeze me into trousers that were designed for a woman less than half my age. I'll lose all feeling in my legs. I'll go down to the local dressed like Prince. I'll be Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard... I am big! It's the trousers that got small!

We leg it into town. She talks to me in Arnotts as she decides whether my new jeans should be white or red.

Herself and Keith are being evicted. The landlord says he's selling and they've a month and a half to find another place. And they can't.

- There's nowhere we can afford, like.

She's on the other side of the curtain now.

- Have you tried them on?

- I'm trying to get them off, I tell her. -You didn't bring a can opener, by any chance, did you?

- You're gas.

The little lad's school is just down the road. Her job is near, Keith's job is near. His family, her family - they're near. They've been able to manage. She's been proud of her new life. And now she's humiliated - and scared.

The daughter isn't the only one of my children who can't afford to live in Dublin. It feels like this, sometimes: my children and grandchildren are being taken from me.

I reject the red jeans, and the tartan ones - and a pair of shorts that she says would make the most of my knees. I'll be going home without new clothes but she doesn't seem to mind.

- Evicted, she says. - It's mad, like.

We're in that newish café in Arnotts, at the Abbey Street entrance. I look at the Luas passing; it always looks like a great invention. It's packed but it feels like it'll soon be empty - a ghost train.

- Evicted, the daughter says again. - It's like the Famine or something. The word shouldn't even exist, like.

I'll know I'll be humiliating her even more, but I say it anyway; I need to say it.

- You can live with us.

She shakes her head, and nods. She smiles, and her eyes water. She pats my hand and I grab hers.

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