Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Time for a MANicure?
I'm looking at my friend, the Secret Woman. Or Martin, as everyone else knows him. I'm actually looking at his nails - his fingernails. I've never noticed before, but they're very long and well looked after. I'm tempted to take a sneaky photo - get the phone out and pretend I'm checking the football scores - and fire it off to the daughter, to get her verdict.
About a year back, Martin told me he identifies as a woman. But - now, here, beside me in the local - he looks exactly the same as he did before that confession. Except for the nails. I think he might even be wearing the same hoodie. I know I am. I'm no fashion guru but his hoodie looks exactly like what a 62-year-old heterosexual widower would throw on first thing in the morning.
I'm probably being stupid. But it's a tricky one.
He's tapping the counter now, with the new nails - like he wants me to notice them. "Love your nails." "The nails look terrific." "I see you've been working on the cuticles there, Martin."
What do I say? What can I say? Or do I say nothing? I don't want to upset or belittle the man. I want to support him - whatever that means.
A few weeks after he told me he identified as a woman, I said something to him, just after the barman, Jerzy, put a pair of fresh pints in front of us.
- Pass us a beer mat there, Martina, I said.
And the dig he gave me - it wasn't playful. Actions speak louder than words, they say, and the message was loud and very clear. That thump left a bruise on my chest, right beside my little grandson's Spongebob tattoo. It hurt, and I knew I'd hurt him.
- Sorry, I said, eventually.
- Okay, he said, eventually.
Then I gave him a quick kick in the ankle and we called it quits.
I told the grandson that the bruise was Daffy Duck. When it started to fade, I told him Daffy was flying south for the winter.
I asked the daughter about it, back when Martin had told me. He might have identified as a woman but all I could identify was a grey-haired oul' lad who groaned when he was lowering his arse onto the bar stool. It definitely wasn't Gina Lollobrigida sitting beside me, or a man who wanted to be Gina Lollobrigida.
I'll be honest: it was disappointing.
So I asked the daughter: why wasn't my pal changing into a 1960s Italian sex symbol?
- You have to see past the traditional male-female dichotomy, Dad, she said.
- Gender roles.
- What about them?
There was something about the look on her face: glee. I knew I was in for an education.
- The traditional divisions are, like, cultural constructs, she said.
- Go 'way, I said.
I actually knew what she was on about. I was only pretending to be a slack-jawed gobs***e because it seems to bring out the best in her.
We were sitting at the kitchen table, having the dinner. The wife was over at her mother's, so it was just the two of us. The grandson was asleep on my lap. I had to be careful with the spaghetti on its way to my mouth. There were gobs of bolognese on his nose and his forehead but they hadn't woken him.
- You cooked the dinner, like, she says.
- That's a woman's job, she says.
- What's wrong with the dinner?
- Nothing, she says. - It's lovely, like. And that's my point. Look at yourself. You cooked the dinner and you're holding the baby. You wouldn't have done that 50 years ago.
She's right. My father never changed a nappy. He made his own toast once and he boasted about it for the rest of his life.
- It's acceptable for men to cook now, she says. - It's cool.
- Mammy says it's the sexiest thing about you, like.
- Ah, Jaysis, I say. - It's only spaghetti.
But I'm delighted. Apparently, there's something sexy about me - even if I have to fling it into boiling water for eight minutes and it comes out soft and bland.
- So, I say. - What you're saying is I can show my feminine side and still be a man.
- And it's the same with Martin? I say. - He can identify as a woman and still be an oul' lad.
She nods again. Lesson over.
I'm looking at Martin's nails.
- You're looking after the nails, Martin, I say.
He examines them. He holds them up to the light.
- Yeah, he says.
- They're looking nice and long, I tell him.
- Well, he says. - I need them long.
I'm nearly afraid to ask.
- Playing the banjo, he says.
- The banjo?
- Eileen got me a banjo for my birthday, he says.