Wednesday 17 July 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Vincent Price and a very modern horror


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I was at a funeral there, yesterday. A cousin I hardly knew. But I'm running out of cousins, so I went along to see him off. There's so many people I know dying these days, I have a special jumper and trousers that I only wear to funerals.

The wife says my face takes on a particularly sombre look when it pops out of the neck of the jumper. But I think she's just jealous because most of her cousins are still alive, so she doesn't get out as much as I do.

Anyway, I'm at the funeral - and the wife is with me because her hairdressing appointment was cancelled. We're outside the church, after the mass, in the queue to hug the widow and the grown-up kids - when, suddenly, there's a big face right in front of mine.

- Is it Charlie Savage?

- Yeah.

- Do you remember me?

I have to take a step back because the face is so close, my eyes are starting to water.

I see now: it's the undertaker - and I recognise him.

- Vincent?

- You remember me.

- I do, yeah. 'Course I do. How's it going?

I went to school with Vincent. And he always had the face, even back in primary school. Vincent wasn't his real name. We called him Vincent Price, after your man from the horror films. We must have known that he'd end up being an undertaker.

I'm looking at him now. He has a head made for death, even though he's grinning. Actually, it's because he's grinning.

Anyway, we go in behind the hearse for a chat while all the others are hugging one another. A lovely fella, by the way. He was a nice kid and he's a very nice oul' lad.

- D'you still follow United, Charlie?

- Stupid question, Vincent.

- Fair enough, he says. - I'm not that keen on Mourinho. He's too negative for me.

- And that's coming from a man who buries people for a living.

His face nearly breaks open when he laughs.

It's like we've never been apart. We're back in the schoolyard, slagging each other. And it's great, really great - an unexpected treat.

- Come here, Vincent, I ask him. -What's your real name? I can't remember.

- It's Vincent, he says.

- You're called Vincent?

- Yeah, he says, and he looks a bit worried.

- Vincent Price? I say.

- Yeah.

He's looking really worried now.

- I thought that was your nickname, I say.

- No, Charlie, he says. - It's me real name. Sorry.

- No, no, you're grand, I say. - I'm the one with the dodgy memory. You're only the one with the dodgy name.

- Get up the yard, says Vincent.

And he's going to give me a friendly dig; I can see it in his expression. But then he thinks twice about it. There might be customers and potential customers - and all of us are potential customers - looking at him. An undertaker thumping one of the bereaved? Vincent puts his fists behind his back.

- Back to work, he says. - Duty calls.

We step out from behind the hearse. And the wife wants to know where I was.

- I was chatting with the undertaker, I tell her. - Getting the prices.

- You're gas.

- Great value, I tell her. - There's a 10pc discount if one of us snuffs it before the end of the month.

Then I see it - and I can't believe it. But I see it. There's a gobs***e over there with his phone, and he's taking a selfie. At a funeral! He's not a kid either. Judging by the head on him, he goes all the way back to Press Button B.

I'm appalled.

I am.

I know who he is now. He's another cousin. And he's come over from England for the funeral, so he's meeting people - family - he probably hasn't seen in years. Including the other man whose head is pressed against his as they both look up into his phone. But could he not wait 'til we're having the soup and the sandwiches?

And he's not the only one either. There's clutches of cousins all over the place, jamming their heads together and grinning. Including the widow!

I've never taken a selfie - and that's not a boast. Well, it is. It's a boast. It's a point of honour.

- Will you look at those gobs***es, I say to the wife.

- Sorry, Charlie?

It's Vincent.

- Any chance of an oul' selfie? he says. - For the wife. I'm always talking about you. At home, like. The oul' school days and that.

- Certainly, Vincent. No problem.

- Ah, great, he says. - She'll be chuffed. You're a legend in our house.

He hands me his phone.

- You take it there, he says. - So I don't have to take my gloves off. You just press that one there. Exactly. Right, big smile now, Charlie.

I look at the wife, and she's smirking.

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