Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The electrifying tale behind a very dark secret…
I am not a lazy man. And in fairness to her, she never actually said that I am. She's the wife, by the way. She doesn't say I'm lazy but she's got a look on her face that I interpret to mean: I'm married to a waster and it's only really dawning on me now. She's caught me reading.
Let me explain. I have a thing about lightbulbs. Actually, I have a thing about electricity in general. It makes me nervous. It goes back to the time when I witnessed my best friend, Buttsy, flying across our kitchen with smoke coming out of the top of his head. My father came into the kitchen because Buttsy was smelling like a burnt rasher and my Da thought Buttsy was his tea.
I picked up the 6in nail and put it in my pocket. It was the same nail I'd told Buttsy to stick into the socket only a few seconds before.
- What's going on here? said my Da, after he'd gone across to the kitchen table to make sure there wasn't a plate of rashers and sausages on it. He was looking at Buttsy and Buttsy's hair and the smoke that was still drifting up from Buttsy's hair. The dog had followed my Da and he was sitting beside Buttsy, whining. Or it might have been Buttsy who was whining - I'm not sure. In my memory, Buttsy and the dog are both whining away, like Simon and Garfunkel. I'm hearing Bridge Over Troubled Water but that can't be accurate because that song came out in 1970 and Buttsy electrocuted himself - at my invitation - at least two years before that.
And the dog never liked Simon and Garfunkel.
But anyway, I was a lucky boy that day because Buttsy couldn't remember what had happened. In fact, Buttsy couldn't remember anything for a while - a year or two. For months he went around with a piece of paper that said, "My name is Brendan Clarke. Point me at the shops and I'll be grand from there."
Buttsy couldn't remember, so I remembered for him.
- He stuck this in that, I told my Da.
I took the nail from my pocket and pointed at the socket beside the fridge. My father looked at the nail, then at the socket, then Buttsy.
- The gobs***e, he said. And he went back in to the football results.
Buttsy never did remember exactly what had happened, even after the rest of his memory came back. So I got away with the near-manslaughter of my best friend. But it left me nervous of anything electrical. And it was the same with Buttsy. He used to cower whenever I showed him the 6in nail.
I was at Buttsy's funeral a few months ago and his granddaughters sang Fire of Fire in the crematorium - it was Buttsy himself who'd chosen it. And I was the only one there who knew why.
That was a great day, by the way, the day Buttsy's memory came back. It was in school. Buttsy sat up suddenly - he was sitting beside me - and he put his hand up for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
- Sir? he said.
- Yes, Brendan? said Mister Taaffe, our teacher.
- Am I called Buttsy?
- Yes, Brendan.
Buttsy pointed at himself. - Am I a boy?
- Yes, Brendan.
Buttsy pointed at me. - Is he a b*****x?
Arkle - that was Mister Taaffe's nickname - let us off our homework, to celebrate the return of Buttsy's personality. Although he made Buttsy write out "Charlie Savage is not a pair of testicles, necessarily" a hundred times.
I approve of electricity but I don't trust it. I'm never happy changing light bulbs. I see the empty socket waiting for the new bulb, and I see Buttsy on his hunkers in front of the wall socket, then Buttsy flying backwards across the kitchen. It might be guilt, it might be cowardice - but even the word 'socket' makes me shiver and I often dream about being chased by a midget dressed as a schoolboy brandishing a 6in nail. I wake up sweating and there's a smell of rashers in the bedroom - always.
Anyway, the bulb goes in the kitchen, so I'm sitting at the open fridge door, holding my book up to the light, when the wife walks in - and she sees me.
- What in the name of God are you doing? she says.
- I'm reading the vegetables a bedtime story, I tell her.
In fairness, I must look a bit sinister there, sitting in the light from the fridge. I can't blame her for screaming.
- There's loads of bulbs in the press, she says. - Why didn't you bloody change it?
- Ah, what's the point? I say. - It'll be summer again in six months.