Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A problem with erosion…
They're all in the house, the wife's family. Her sister, Carmel, and the other sister, Dympna; Carmel's husband, Paddy, and Dympna's new partner whose name I won't bother remembering unless I meet him at least three more times.
Anyway. There we are. Sitting around the kitchen table, chatting away, having the crack. The food's been gobbled, the plates are in the dishwasher, the wife is taking the plastic off the After Eights.
And Carmel is staring at me.
- What? I say.
She doesn't answer, but she nudges the wife.
- Come here, she says.
- Isn't Charlie a ringer for Dad?
Then they're all staring at me, the three sisters - and Paddy.
- What? I say again.
I seem to be asking that question on the hour, every hour, these days - and it's doing me no good. Because the more I ask the question, the less I'm finding out. But I can't help myself.
It's not really a question at all. It's more a cry for help.
Anyway, they're still staring at me, the sisters. Paddy, the bastard, is grinning away. Dympna's chap is demolishing the After Eights, three at a time. I don't think we'll be meeting him again.
- My God, says the wife. - You might be right, Carmel.
- Yeah, Dympna agrees. - The same head, like.
She's passing her phone around; there must be a snap of their Da on the screen.
Paddy sits up.
- Could be worse, girls, he says. - He could be a ringer for your Ma.
I take my line from the daughter; she has me very well trained.
- You can't say that, I tell him.
- Why not?
- Well, first of all, I tell him. - They're not girls, they're women. Second of all, your comment is totally sexist and unacceptable. And, third of all, f*** off and don't annoy me.
None of the women congratulate me. I don't think they're even listening. The wife looks a bit pale; she's staring at the screen, at me, at the screen. Carmel looks a bit confused. Dympna is looking at the black chocolate on the tip of her boyfriend's nose.
I have to escape before they decide that I actually am my wife's father.
- The jacks, I say.
And I stand up.
- I'll be back in a minute, I say, although I'm not sure I mean it. I want to get out of the room, out of the house. I want to emigrate.
But I compromise and just head up to the bathroom. It's becoming my favourite room. I get in there and I stare in the mirror, at myself. The father-in-law is long dead and I can't really remember what he looked like.
I remember his voice - because there was a lot of it. The man would whisper in Dublin, and flocks of flamingos would take flight, in Kenya.
I keep looking in the mirror.
I seem to be spending a lot of time doing that these days, staring at myself. So the wife says.
- You're a bit long in the tooth for vanity, Charles, she said a few days ago.
- And you're much too old for sarcasm, I said back.
She was wrong: it wasn't vanity - it isn't vanity. It's science - I realise that now.
I go across to our bedroom. The wife keeps some old photos in the locker on her side of the bed. I hate rooting in there. It's none of my business and I'm always a bit terrified of what I'll find. Old love letters, new love letters, a flick knife, a moustache - the possibilities are endless and horrible. But I find what I want - a snap of her Da.
I bring it back to the jacks and I hold it up - I park it beside my face.
- My God, I whisper, and the flamingos in Kenya give their feathers a shake.
We're not exactly peas in the same pod, me and her Da. But - there's no getting away from it - we're alike. I'll be honest: I feel a bit sick. Was that what she was doing all those years ago, when she grabbed my shoulders, called me an eejit, and kissed me till my head was numb? Was she looking for a man who was going to become her father?
There's another photo that has other men in it besides her Da. It's a wedding snap, a line of middle-aged men. I see now: they all look the same. I've just become one of them. Paddy downstairs - he looks like them too.
That's my discovery: as we get older, we all become the same man. It's depressing but somehow reassuring. It's democratic, at least.
I think of all the women I know and have ever known, and they definitely don't become the same woman.
That's a relief.
I bounce down the stairs to tell them the news.