Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The wife and Eileen Pidgeon finally meet, and my nerves (and shirt buttons) can't take the pressure
I've cut myself shaving. The wife is staring at the triangle of toilet paper that's covering the wound.
- When did you start shaving your forehead? she asks.
I don't tell her I was trying to make my eyebrows match, like they actually belong to the same man. It serves me right for wearing my reading glasses while shaving. You know in The Great Escape, when Donald Pleasence finds out he's going blind? The lucky b****rd.
Anyway. My attempt at shaving a small corner of my left eyebrow was a bit like that Ryanair flight that landed in the wrong airport in Derry a few years back. The razor hit the runway an inch above the eyebrow and Sweeney Savage, the Demon Barber of North Dublin, had to stem the flow with a little piece of KittenSoft toilet tissue.
Thank Christ I wasn't wearing the new shirt.
The shirt is my Christmas present from the daughter. It's slate-grey, apparently, and slim-fit - definitely. Inhaling carefully is safe enough but if I exhale too quickly I might blind the wife with one of my buttons. She's done something with her eyebrows as well, by the way; what's the key to her bleedin' success?
Earlier - this afternoon - she asked me if we'd be eating. We're going to the Secret Woman's house for New Year's Eve. There'll be me and the wife, the Secret Woman and his partner, Eileen Pidgeon.
- Don't know, I told the wife. - He didn't say anything about food.
- Will you find out?
- Ask him!
- Okay, I said. - Yeah.
I texted him. Will there be grub? He texted me. I'll get back to you. He texted me again. Yeah.
- Yeah, I told the wife.
- What time? she asked.
- Ah, Jesus.
I texted him. What time? He texted me. I'll get back to you. He texted me again. Eight.
- Eight, I said.
- Should we bring anything?
I pretended to text him. I counted to 10 and looked at my phone.
- No, I said. - We're grand.
I tell the wife about Eileen when we're walking to the house.
- Will we go for a pint first?
- We'll be late.
- Okay, I say. - His partner. His girlfriend, like. Eileen. I used to know her when we were kids.
- Did you?
- Yeah, I say.
- Let me guess, she says, and she grabs my hand. - You were mad about her.
- No, I wasn't.
- Liar, she says.
- Okay, I say. - I was. A bit, just.
- And tell us, she says. - Did you ever imagine me and her meeting like this?
- No, I say. - Never.
It's the biggest lie I've told in a good few days. I imagined it the first time five minutes after I met the wife.
Anyway. She lets me ring the bell. She's grinning.
- I'm glad I brought my scissors, she whispers as the front door starts to open.
It's the Secret Woman and he's wearing trousers and a hoodie. I'm disappointed. I was half-hoping he let himself go when he was at home and he'd answer the door dressed like Melania Trump or Elizabeth I. It would distract the wife, at least. We step into the hall. I look around for something to comment on. But there's nothing; it's only a hall - the usual shite.
- Will I take your jackets? he says.
- Don't mind him, says the wife. Then we hear her.
- Is that them?!
- Ah, great!
The kitchen door opens and Eileen Pidgeon comes out with the steam. It's like she's brought her own cloud with her. She has a fag in one hand and a ladle in the other.
- It's Charlie and Mary, the Secret Woman tells her.
Who's Mary? I wonder. Then I remember: the wife.
- I'm ashamed of myself, says Eileen.
She holds up the smoke.
- I went back on them on Christmas Eve.
- Same here, says the wife.
That's news to me but I say nothing. I'm too nervous to speak.
- Hang on, says Eileen. - It's not Mary Plunkett, is it?
- Yeah, says the wife.
- D'you remember me? says Eileen.
They're looking at one another, pushing away the decades so they can see each other properly.
- Ah, no, says the wife. - Eileen!
They burst out laughing, and hug.
- We shared a boyfriend, says Eileen. - So we did.
- I know, I say. - Me.
- Ah now, it was long after you, Charlie, says Eileen.
- Long before you, Charlie, says the wife.
They're laughing again. It's not going as I'd anticipated. I'm relieved and a bit devastated. But at least I can relax. I exhale properly and a shirt button hits the photo of the Secret Woman's wife that's hanging in front of me.
I look down at my chest. The grandson's SpongeBob tattoo is staring out at the women.
- Jesus, says Eileen. - Is that who I think it is?