| 9.8°C Dublin

Daddy-shaped dent in the sofa gives me away

IT'S a day or so before my wife is to overnight out west for an awards ceremony, but she's already firing off short, ear-shattering bursts of instructions. It's like being near a Gatling gun.

When all three boys understandably retreat to the cover of the house's furthest crawlspaces, she resorts to mortar fire, barraging the ceiling with salvos, like "SOCKS . . . OFF . . . STAIRS . . . NOW!"

Her sights turn to where I'm elbow deep in dishes, as if digging a foxhole, when she notices I'm actually looking past her, mouth ajar, at the sudden spectacle of 10-year-old Jessica tip-toeing by in a turquoise fedora hat, a tiny purple halter top and what looks like a pair of denim underpants over black tights.

"Where. . ." begins my wife, just as I say "What . . ?" But Jessica's first in with something coherent: "Em, who's in charge when you're away?" she asks her mother. "Daddy," sighs my wife, somewhat despondently, I can't help noticing.

Jessica makes a little clenched fist and hisses the word "Yessss!" before vanishing.

"What's THAT supposed to mean?" I say, faking bewilderment, secretly pleased.

"Evidently you let her do whatever she wants," says my wife.

"That's not quite true," I say in a small voice, meaning we both know it is.

Next day, the boys emerge long enough to see their mum off. "Don't worry about a thing," I tell her. "Business as usual," I say. She lobs me a disbelieving look.

"Remember when WE went away," giggles Jessica, "but YOU stayed -- and there was this BIG daddy-shaped dent in the sofa when we got back?" I make a shushing noise.

Once my wife's gone, I track down Jessica again where, terrifyingly, she appears to be shopping online for high heels. "So," I say, shaking off this image, "what are we . . ." but she cuts me off with news that she's due at a sleepover at a friend's house shortly. "It's on the calendar," she scolds. "Oh," I say.

With Jessica soon gone and the boys still glued to screens in far-flung corners, I'm left with just the dog, now parked by the front door wearing an anxious expression.


I glance longingly at the sofa, but say "Come on," and take the dog to the seashore where I let the lead go and she promptly sprints off to the only occupied bench for miles, hunches into a quivering muscle-bound knot and proceeds to strain.

I catch up just as she's celebrating being finished, using her back paws to shower clumps of sand over a clearly horrified couple still frozen in the act of eating rolls.

"Sorry," I puff as I clear up, but they've already crumpled up their meals. "Cheers," says one hoarsely.

We flee home where I close the curtains, then fall into the sofa and cringe under cushions -- coming out only to call the cyborgs down from their consoles for feeding -- then I wake up at about 2am and extract myself from a deep, daddy-shaped dent.

My wife returns the next day, looking rather rested as it happens. "Has ANYONE," she asks, hands on hips, "been outside this house even ONCE while I've been gone?"

"Nope," I lie, quickly plumping up the cushions and glaring at the dog. "Just . . . you know," I shrug, "business as usual."