Thursday 14 November 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: No sparing my blushes…


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

There are things that we give up on as we get older, and things that give up on us. Eyesight, hair, self-respect: they all walk out the door. Memory strolls out too, and it leaves the door wide open.

But it's not all bad. Take blushing, for example. I used to be a shocking blusher, the redner king of the Northside. I couldn't lie with any sort of aplomb; I was hopeless. I could come up with a good porky, no bother - there was nothing wrong with my imagination. But I couldn't deliver it. My cheeks, my whole face, my neck would be scarlet before I'd finished talking, before I'd even started. I was my own lie detector. My ears would actually hurt, they got so hot.

There's one lie I remember particularly well. I was 17 and my mother had just smelt bottled Guinness off my breath.

- I was just tasting it for Kevo's granda, I told her.

- His taste buds are gone so he asked me to check it for him.

It was a good lie, I thought. I'd have believed it myself. At least I'd have given it serious consideration before pronouncing sentence and booking the executioner.

But my mother was looking at me turning into Poolbeg Lighthouse in a Thin Lizzy T-shirt and elephant flares. I was announcing the lie as I was making it up.

So I gave up telling fibs; there was no point. I composed some good ones for my brothers and sisters.

- Here, Charlie. I'll be staying out all night, so I need two good lies and a verifiable alibi.

It was a good little earner for the last few years of school - 50p a porky. But, really, I yearned to tell my own lies. But I couldn't. I blushed well into my 30s.

I remember when it stopped. I told the wife her hair was lovely and she believed me. The hair was a disaster - she looked like your man from Kajagoogoo.

- What d'you think? she asked.

She was terrified.

- It's lovely, I said.

The terror dropped off her face. And my own face - I could feel it; it wasn't hot. My blushing days were over and I could lie with impunity.

- It accentuates your cheekbones, I told her.

I had no idea what that meant but she was all over me for days.

I never expected to blush again. And I didn't - until now.

Eileen Pidgeon has just sat on the stool beside me. My pal Martin is on the other side.

One minute I was chatting about the football, the next I'm the spare prick at the wedding.

And my face goes on fire. It's not just my imagination. I can see myself in the mirror behind the bar. I'm the same colour as the Man United jersey - and not their away jersey.

I start scratching my neck. There are fire ants starting to nest right under my chin; they're digging in and stinging like bejaysis - that's what it feels like.

But the lovebirds don't seem to notice. They're chatting over my head.

- Did you get anything interesting in town?

- Ah no, not really. Just the usual, you know.

- Grand.

Is it possible to be mortified and bored at the same time?

- I got us a couple of lasagnes from Marks & Sparks, she tells him.

- Brilliant.

- And strawberries.

- Ah, massive, he says. - I love a good strawberry.

A minute ago we were analysing some of the world's best football talent. Now he's writing poetry about soft fruit.

The man is clearly in love.

It's unbearable. I'm going to have to leave. I'm in the way. There won't be enough lasagne for three.

Anyway, I've already had lasagne today and I made it myself - none of your shop-bought s***e.

I feel homeless - even though I'll be going home.

- Are you having a drink, love? he asks her.


- Ah, no, she says. - I just came in to say hello to Charlie.

She kisses me on the cheek - I'm burning again - and slides down off the stool. Then she gathers up her bags.

I've hardly looked at her. But I look at her now.

I think I smile. She definitely does.

- See you later, pet, she says to Martin.

- Yeah, seeyeh.

I watch her leave and turn to him.

- Yis are living together?

- Tuesdays and Thursdays, he says.

- It's Wednesday, I tell him.

- I know, he says. - But I didn't have the heart to tell her.

He smiles.

- Thanks for introducing us, by the way.

It only occurs to me now: that's what I actually did. And, I'm not sure why, but it makes me happy - kind of.

-Does she know you identify as a woman? I ask him.

He stares at me now.

- I told her, yeah.

- And she's fine with it?

- Yeah, he says. - I think it's why she couldn't wait till Thursday.

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