Friday 20 September 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'I'm having nothing to do with Christmas - ever again'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

Never again. Did anyone ever say that and actually mean it? I'm thinking of hangovers or eating too much or spending too much, or swallowing the magic mushrooms my daft cousin told me were harmless. Those "never agains" are never really sincere.

Except for the magic mushrooms. I remember saying, "Never again," immediately after the cousin's dog looked at me and said, "What are you bleedin' looking at?" and I saw the words - "never" and "again" - coming out of my mouth in pink and yellow bubbles. Then I passed out and woke up - it must have been months - later, in the press under the cousin's sink.

My memories of the weeks that followed aren't the clearest but I've been told that I kept saying, "Never again," especially in my sleep. I never went near magic mushrooms again and I stayed well clear of the cousin. I can't even remember his name, although I occasionally wake up thinking I'm under his sink.

But anyway, I'm saying it now, emphatically: never again. I'm talking about Christmas and I'm having nothing to do with it - ever again. If I was going to pass on one piece of advice to the grandkids, it would be this: never be nice at Christmas. Because you'll only be exploited.

There's a woman across the road. I was going to write "an old woman" or "an oul' one", but she's not all that much older than me. So if she's old, what am I? Nearly an old man, or the makings of an oul' lad?

Anyway, Trixie's a widow and her kids, four boys, all live away somewhere. I think they're in Australia - or they're pretending that's where they are until after the holidays.

Anyway, the wife comes home a few days before Christmas Day.

- Poor Trixie has no one to bring her to midnight mass, she says.

- It'll be on the radio, I say back.

And I regret it, immediately, and not just because the wife is looking at me like she's caught me robbing an orphan. I heard myself as I spoke, and I don't like it. That's not me - as they say. At least, I hope it's not me. The poor woman wants to go to mass. The church is only up the road but Trixie has a hip or something and it'll be dark and probably raining.

- I'll bring her, I say.

- That's nice, says the wife.

And it is nice - until the bell rings at midday on Christmas Eve. It's Trixie and she's all set for midnight mass. In Kerry. She's from Killarney and she always goes back for the Christmas mass. Or so she tells me.

The wife is there as well, so I can't just shut the door and go back to the telly. The way Trixie's dressed, she looks like she fell out of the John Lewis ad and I haven't the heart to tell her that the mass down the road is just as good and has the same happy ending.

So I grab my jacket and keys, and that's my Christmas Eve. Driving Trixie and her hip to midnight mass in Killarney, and home again.

- No family left in Kerry, Trixie, no? I ask, early on in the safari. She shakes her head.

- They're all gone, Dessie, she says.

By the time she's listed off all her dead siblings and cousins and called me Dessie and Jimmy and Larry, we're deep into Rural Ireland and I've made up my mind to convert to Hinduism or any religion that doesn't have midnight mass. I haven't seen food since this morning but Trixie's worried we're going to be late. She whimpers whenever I slow down at a garage. My gut's crying out for an all-day breakfast roll but I have to keep going.

We're parked and into the church in loads of time. And the mass! I'm fairly certain it's English they speak down there, but the speed of it... The ceremony should be over in a couple of minutes. But it goes on forever. I'm kneeling and standing and standing and kneeling, I'm starving and dehydrated, I'm starting to hallucinate; the cousin's mushrooms are coming to life after 40 years lying dormant. I seem to be in a temple full of Jackie Healy-Raes. I kneel but I can't get back up. Trixie has to help me. I'll definitely be Googling Hinduism when I get home - if I get home.

Then something happens to Trixie.

The mass is over. We're on our way out. Trixie looks tired; I hold her elbow. Then a woman stops in front of her.

- Is that you, Trixie?

- It is, yes.

- Ah, how are you, girl?

And Trixie's face - the life in it, the joy. Someone knows her, someone from home remembers her. I'm far from home, myself, but I'm happy.

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