Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A mysterious meeting…
I get to the door of the local. But I hesitate. I'm a man on a mission. Don't get me wrong now - I don't fancy myself as Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossibles. I wouldn't get a part in Mission: Possible, or even Mission: Quite Straightforward. But I'm going in there and not for a pint - or, not just for a pint.
It's quiet. Maybe ominous. Or maybe just empty.
I push open the door.
And it's the usual gang, dispersed around the shop. It's pub policy: the under- 40s are barred, or at least discouraged. It's very clever, actually - something discrete about the décor and the clientèle. Walk into my local and you just want to lie down and die. And if that's how you feel before you get there, it's like walking right into your natural habitat, the room of your dreams.
Anyway. The place is just quiet. I'd never really noticed it before - all the punters are staring at their phones. There's only two lads talking and they're leaning into each other, whispering like they're in a library.
There's a round table with four men at it. They've known one another for more than 30 years but they're all holding their phones right up to their faces. They're all half-blind and one of them has actually taken off his glasses so he can read what's on the screen.
Maybe they've run out of things to talk about. Maybe they're looking for the name of the footballer whose name they can't remember. Maybe it's just a break in the conversation. But I don't think so. I think it's an indication of something profoundly wrong about the way we live now. Because a woman walks past and not one of them looks up to have a gawk at her.
I know the woman.
It's Eileen Pidgeon.
- Ah, Charlie, she says. - How's yourself?
- Not too bad, Eileen. How's the hip?
In case you're thinking, "Oh, good Jesus, he's having a fling with Eileen Pidgeon," I'm not. I'm not even dreaming about it. Well, I'm not dreaming seriously about it.
Eileen phoned me this morning. But she was using my pal Martin's phone. So, when I put my phone to my ear and heard "Charlie?", I thought Martin was after having the sex change - the hormone injections, or whatever's involved.
Martin told me a while back that he identified as a woman, so I'm always a bit surprised when he turns up to the pub in the same jeans and jumper he's been wearing since the Yanks were hoisted out of Saigon.
- Martin, I said. - You cut the oul' balls off. Good man.
- It's Eileen.
- Eileen, she said. - Pidgeon. I'm using Martin's phone.
I believed her. I also wanted to climb into the washing machine and shut the roundy door.
- He doesn't know, she said.
- Sorry, what?
Now it was me who was sounding like the man who'd been having the hormone injections.
- I thought if I used my own phone, you wouldn't answer me, she said.
I coughed, and got a bit of the masculinity back up from my stomach.
- Why wouldn't I answer you? I asked.
- Well, she said. - I know. We have history.
I wasn't that pushed about history in school. But the way Eileen says 'history', the way the word slides into my ear, I want to run all the way in to Trinity College and sign up for a f****** master's.
She wanted to meet me.
- For a chat.
- What about Martin? I ask.
- Never mind Martin, she says.
Martin and Eileen have been doing a line since I kind of accidentally introduced them to each other. He's a widower who wishes he was a woman and she's a widow who seemed to think she'd met her ideal partner - some kind of a male lesbian. I'm trying not to sound bitter - but Eileen Pidgeon has been sitting in a little corner of my mind since I was 16, since the first and the last time she kissed me.
Anyway. Here I am. Nearly half a century later, and Eileen Pidgeon is standing right in front of me.
- Why are we here, Eileen? I ask her.
It sounds like a line from a film, even if I don't sound like the actor who should be delivering it.
- We'll have a drink first, Charlie, she says.
And fair enough; I'm forgetting my manners.
- Where's Martin? I ask her.
- He's at home with his football, she says.
- Does he know you're here?
- So, I say. - Why are we here?
My heart is in my head; I'm sure the whole pub can hear it.
- I want to talk to you about Martin, she says.
She puts her hand on my arm.
- I love him so much, Charlie.