| 13.4°C Dublin

A bad omen for a birthday present

"WHAT would you like for your birthday?" I ask our second-eldest at the dinner table, to which he merely squirms a little and shoves some more bread in his mouth.

"There must be something," I say encouragingly. "It's a big birthday, 17."

"Sixteen," corrects my wife, shooting me a dark look.

"Of course," I tell her. "Sixteen... The age of consent!" I announce this last bit in the sort of enthusiastic way they reveal a fact on a children's television show.

I have absolutely no idea why I said it at all, but now it's out there and I can feel my wife glaring at me, cutlery suspended mid-air.

"I think," corrects the eldest one, "the age of consent is actually... 17," he says, fiddling with his iPhone for the answer.

He looks like he's throttling some small, black, shiny animal with his thumbs.

"Right," I say. "Um... " I clear my throat. "Anyway..."

"It's 12 in Vatican City," he chortles.

"It is never..." I tell him.

"That would explain a lot, if it's true," mutters my wife.

"It's 13 in Spain," he says, squinting and scrolling, like he's looking up something as innocuous as car insurance.

"Well, we're never going to Spain then," says my wife.

"What IS the 'age of consent' anyway?" says our little girl.

"Can you just put that down at the dinner table," I hiss at the Oracle, trying to regain control of things.

"Never mind," my wife instructs our daughter. "We are never, ever going to Spain, so it doesn't matter."

"But I might quite like to go to Spain," says the little girl.


"This is all your fault, you know," I tell the eldest.

"What, that we're not going to Spain?" he says witheringly, without looking up.

Realising I have lost this conversation, I place my knife and fork on the table as if surrendering weapons.

"I only wanted to know," I tell my plate," if there was any kind of present I should...." but I notice over the rising din of world facts about sexual consent from my left, and the pros and cons of visiting Spain from my right, that the boy whose birthday is looming has already quietly cleared his place and left.

"We should count ourselves lucky, really," says my wife later from behind a book.

"He's so easy-going."

He is, actually. Always has been, in fact, from the moment I first saw him lying under the hospital heat lamp.

He didn't seem to cry or gawk sightlessly around like ordinary babies. He just looked directly at me, a little icily as it happens, as if to say, "Are you it? Really?"

It was, dare I say it, mildly disconcerting. I even recall joking at the time that I fully expected we'd be followed home from hospital by ravens – or, at the least, find a big black Rottweiler sitting outside our front door, growling ominously when we arrived.

"I know," I tell my wife, shaking off the image, but making a mental note to check out The Omen movie quadrilogy on Amazon as a possible birthday gift, "where DID we get him?"

"Well," she says quite seriously, letting her book collapse for a moment, "YOU'RE the one who was supposed to be in charge of making sure he wasn't taken away, that we got the right one...."

"It was a difficult birth," I mutter defensively. "I may have blacked out after, just for a minute."

I jest, of course – our second-eldest is not the Antichrist, he's not even a very naughty boy.

In fact, he has always been quite well-behaved, soldiering on, tolerating his family with a sort of quiet resignation.

No slaughtering of babysitters or downing airplanes using only the power of his dark will, though I still might occasionally look up to catch him regarding me with a kind of cold, calm curiosity.


"But most children do that, don't they?" I tell my wife.

"Of course they do," she says from back behind her book again but I'm not convinced she's listening.

"He DOES like horror," I fret. "I could get him some films online."

"Just do what you always do," says my wife, "and get him something that YOU would like."

Is that what I do? I wonder, as I trundle off to search Amazon for horrors.

Is that why we have all those box-set Twilight Zone collections and the like, stacked all the way to the ceiling?

I didn't buy them ALL for myself. Did I? Is that why I get so excited about the children's birthdays?

Surely not. So unfair.

I look up the original The Omen movie only to find, though it was made in 1976, starring Gregory Peck, and by now probably considered vintage by our lot, it's been rated R 'for strong graphic violence' and 'disturbing images'.

"Hmmm," I hear myself say and then proceed to fish out my credit card.

As I go around turning out lights before bed, I find the boy still ensconced in front of a screen clutching a PlayStation controller.

I look just in time to see what appears to be a human head exploding. "What is THAT?" I say.

"It's called Fallout," he tells me.

"Can I have a go?" I ask.

"I was just going to bed anyway," he sighs, handing me the controls.

"Goodnight," I say after him, adding under my breath: "Damien," and I chuckle to myself.