On Tuesday I had a visit from an old college friend, Big Mac, named not just because of her height, six foot two, but her addiction to McDonald’s burgers. As she says herself, she’s a “grand lump of a girl with an aptitude for finding fast food outlets off the M50”.
Big Mac has been living in Wichita, Kansas, for the last 10 years and returned home just before the auld Covid started. We used to have great craic in college. Jesus, with her sun-blocking shoulders and unruly black curly hair, she hadn’t changed at all.
“Biddy, I have to go to see an aunt of mine in Wexford,” she says. “I heard that she wants to leave me something in her will but I haven’t seen her in 35 years. Maybe it’s a wind-up, I don’t know. It’s going to be weird. On top of that, she has no idea that the family hasn’t spoken to me since I left. Would you come?”
Well, I was only too delighted to accompany her and give her a bit of auld support.
On the way up, we talked of relatives and, trust me, Big Mac’s crowd are about as messy and dysfunctional as you could get. Descended from a family of marble-mouthed, super snobs from Malahide, who consider themselves privileged by doing sweet feck all, except running a second rate restaurant, they erased Mac out of their lives years ago.
Now, I will have to mention this to fill you in. A family will and Mac’s sexual preferences became a long-standing source of enmity. After she announced she was gay in 2009, they f**ked her out of the house, the family business and cut her off from all the dosh, which was plentiful, if you know what I mean.
I witnessed it all. Poor Mac lived through a childhood of bullying, drink, drugs and pretension – what she calls, “the lowest circle of hell”. As quick as they deserted her, she deserted them and fecked off to Kansas for a quiet life and she doesn’t plan on catching up any time soon.
“Have you heard from any of them at all?” says I.
“No, no,” she says. “Don’t want to either, but I follow them online. I know more about them from Facebook and Instagram than I would if I lived with them. Sure every moment of their life is put up online.
“Do you remember that slapper of a niece of mine? They have exported her to Malaga in Spain. Here have a goo at this, I’ll find her Instagram page.”
Lo and behold, there was her niece lying over a bed, snorting cocaine with €50 notes, her tanned arse in the air. It was a big arse too.
The mind boggles.
The aunt was locking her door when we pulled up unannounced. Mac wound down the window. “Do you know who I am?”
“If you get out of the fecking car, I might,” she shrilled. Dressed in a red tartan skirt and Dubarry tweed jacket, despite the intense heat, she had a cold command about her.
The drama was just starting.
Inside the kitchen, the auld aunt, a well-known bookie, began to clear an unmerciful wad of sterling off the table, much of it bundled into rolls, to make room for three manky mugs.
“Isn’t it great when somebody pays you something they owe you all together and not in bits. I know by the weight of this that’s it’s not all there. It wasn’t a proper roll. Twas light into the hand,” she said.
Despite its grand exterior, inside was chaotic. I flinched watching two flies make out on the butter. The aunt, flicking ash from her cigarette directly on to the carpet, filled the kettle with one hand. A suggestion that we may want to share a meal of shepherd’s pie made two days ago was firmly rejected.
After semi-polite chitchat, the aunt launched straight into the family.
“Are your crowd all still married? Did they stay together?”
“Oh yes,” said the Mac, fibbing away.
“So what’s new? Do they still serve the roast beef with the bit of fat on it for lunch? I used to love that. It was always so tasty.”
Then came a barrage of questions.
“What happened to Annemarie?”
“Married a fabulous big black bloke in Baltimore,” says the Mac.
“And your nieces?” “All in London.”
Mac answered all her questions about the extended family in a polite, casual way. Mac praised each and every relative as if she’d been living with them all her life. It was weird.
“Did you ever get married?”
“Oh, I did,” says Mac.
“That’s wonderful,” says the aunt. “What’s your husband’s name?”
There was a long pause. Jenn-i-fer. I could see the name cudgelling the aunt’s brain. I thought she was going to pass into a coma.
“Are you Jennifer?” says the aunt to me. “Are you the wife?”
I was entirely unprepared for this assumption. “No,” says I, laughing.
“This is Biddy, she’s into the lads,” says Mac.
Apropos of nothing, the chats took a sudden change of direction. “I haven’t been well at all,” says the aunt, a tad dramatically.
“You don’t look ill at all,” says I.
“Ah, sure there’s many a well-looking woman laid out in a coffin,” says she. “Isn’t there?”
I decided to take a walk to the beach to give them a chance to talk. After half an hour I had a text from Big Mac. “Come back.”
On my return, the auld aunt was beaming. “It’s so extraordinary that you picked today to call because I have been trying to contact this niece of mine for months. The family had no address, no phone number for her. I couldn’t understand it.”
Mac shot me a look.
“I have made a will and I am leaving a substantial amount of it to Mac,” she says. “Can you witness our signatures and date it?”
“Of course,” says I.
“What about your own children?” says Mac.
“Those wagons are not getting a penny. They never visit, never call. I was in St Pat’s for two months and not one of them came to see me. I only hear from them when they want money. They f**king adore money. Ulrika Jonsson has a name for them, ‘the ungrateful’.
“You see I remarried five months ago. Will I show you the photograph?”
Well, you could have knocked me with a hammer. There in the photo stood two women holding hands in white dresses at the BrookLodge Hotel. Sure wasn’t it a grand day altogether?
In Dalkey, I found the broken-hearted Russian immersed in exercises on my cottage floor, press-ups no less. I was so furious. He was meant to be working.
You see, I am getting a new bathroom with a lovely clawfoot bath and I hired him to do the job because he’s back with the high-maintenance girlfriend and will need a few quid.
I have no doubt that he is a superb designer and builder but being Russian he is prone to drama. I left the cottager raging.
He ran after me and in an uncontrollable excess of affection imprinted a resounding kiss on my reluctant cheek.
“Don’t worry, Biddy, I promise this bathroom will be perfect.”
Jesus, it’s all ahead of me. I better get the Mac to sort him out.