Watch for Roddy Doyle’s new novel, Smile, coming in October of 2017
Full of the great joy in storytelling that characterizes Roddy Doyle’s novels, The Guts catches up with Jimmy Rabbitte—the man who in the 1980s formed the Commitments, a band composed of working-class Irish youths whose mission was to bring soul music to Dublin. Jimmy is now
forty-seven, with a loving wife, four kids . . . and colon cancer. The news leaves him shattered and frightened—he isn’t dying, he thinks, but he might be. As he battles his illness while running a small music business, he runs into former bandmates, reunites with his brother, and decides to live more in the moment. The Guts is a warm, funny novel about friendship and family, about facing death and opting for life.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2013 by Roddy Doyle
—D’yeh do the Facebook thing?
—Wha’ d’yeh mean?
They were in the pub, in their corner. It wasn’t unusual any more, having a pint with his father. In the early evening, before he went home after work. He’d phone, or his da would phone. It wasn’t an organised, regular thing.
It had started the day his da got his first mobile. His first call was to Jimmy.
—How’s it goin’?
—How are yeh?
—Not too bad. I’m after gettin’ one o’ the mobiles.
—I’m usin’ it now, like.
—Will we go for a pint? To celebrate.
—Grand. Good. Yeah.
Jimmy’s da had still been working when he got the phone. But he’d retired a while back.
—There’s fuck-all work, he’d told everyone when he’d made the announcement on Stephen’s Day, when Jimmy had dragged the kids to his parents’ house to collect the presents and kiss their granny.—So I might as well just stop an’ call it retirement.
Jimmy’s own job was safe – he thought.
—Well, said his da now in the pub.—Facebook. Yeh know it, yeah?
—I do, yeah, said Jimmy.
—What d’you make of it?
—I don’t know.
—Yeh don’t know?
—No, said Jimmy.—Not really.
—But you’ve kids.
—I know tha’, said Jimmy.—I’ve four of them.
—Is it the four you have? said his da.—I thought it was three.
—No, said Jimmy.—It’s been four for a good while. Ten years, like.
This was what Jimmy liked. It was why he phoned his da every couple of weeks. His da was messing, pretending he didn’t know how many grandchildren he had. It was the way he’d always been. A pain in the hole at times but, today, exactly what Jimmy wanted.
—It’s Darren has the three, is it? said his da.
His name was Jimmy as well.
—No, said Jimmy, the son.—Darren has two. Far as I know.
Darren was one of Jimmy’s brothers.
—Ah now, yeh see but, said Jimmy Sr.—I knew there was somethin’.
He put his pint down.
Fuck, thought Jimmy. Fuck fuck fuck it.
—Is she? he said.—That’s brilliant.
—Yeah, said Jimmy Sr.—Darren phoned your mother this mornin’ to tell her. She’s three months gone.
—Fuck off. Melanie.
Melanie was Darren’s wife – although they’d never got married. His fuckin’ life partner. They’d been trying for another baby for years. There’d been so many miscarriages, it had become a rule between Jimmy and his da: no more jokes about Melanie’s miscarriages. Their other two kids —
—The two that managed to hang on in there.
They’d broken the rule once or twice.
The other two kids were twelve and ten.
—She’s well on her way so, Jimmy said now.
—Yeah, said his da.—Fingers crossed.
He sniffed the top of his pint.
—I don’t think I could cope with another miscarriage, he said.
—Anyway, he said.—Facebook.
—What is it? Exactly.
—I don’t know much about it, said Jimmy.
His da had a laptop at home. He knew how to google. He’d booked flights online. He’d backed a few horses, although he preferred the walk to the bookie’s. He’d bought a second-hand book online, about Dublin during the War of Independence. He’d nearly bought an apartment in Turkey but that had been a bit of an accident. He’d thought he was clicking to see inside the place– a tour – but he’d stopped when the laptop asked him for his credit card details. He knew he’d gone wrong or it was a scam. But the point was, his da knew his way around the internet. So Jimmy didn’t know why he was pretending to be completely thick.
—Why d’yeh want to know? he asked.
—Ah, for fuck sake, said his da.—Every time I ask a fuckin’ question.
—What’s wrong with yeh?
—I ask a fuckin’ question and some cunt says why d’yeh want to know.
—You’re askin’ the wrong cunts, said Jimmy.
—What questions have yeh been askin’?
—Well, said his da.—I asked a fella in Woodie’s where the duck-tape was. An’, granted, he didn’t say why d’yeh want to know. He said, wha’ d’yeh want it for. I told him I wanted to fuckin’ buy it.
—He just wanted to help.
—That’s not the fuckin’ point. There was a time when he’d have just said, over there or I haven’t a clue. He wouldn’t have asked me why I wanted it. That’s the problem. Somehow or other he’s become an expert on duck-tape. The shops are full of experts. The country’s full of fuckin’ experts. Tha’ haven’t a fuckin’ clue.
—It’s a social network.
—How come every time I say somethin’ some cunt asks me a question?
—Tou-fuckin’-shay, said Jimmy Sr.
—Listen, said Jimmy.—Your phone there. Your mobile.
—Your contacts. Your friends an’ their numbers. Your kids. All the numbers yeh’d want. Facebook’s a bit like tha’, except with pictures.
—So it’s just a list o’ people’s numbers an’ emails?
—No, said Jimmy.—There’s more to it than tha’. But that’s the start. The foundation of it, I suppose. Friends. You’re going for a pint, d’yeh phone the lads to see if they’re goin’?
—No point, said Jimmy Sr.—I know the answer.
—Just go with me on this one, Da, said Jimmy.—I’m tryin’ to educate yeh.
—You’re goin’ for a pint, like. An’ you want to know if your buddy, Bertie, will be there. D’yeh phone him?
—No, said Jimmy Sr.—Not any more.
—Yeh text him, yeah?
—An’ he texts back.
—He never fuckin’ stops.
His mobile buzzed and crawled an eighth of an inch across the table.
—There’s the cunt now.
He picked up the phone and stared at it. He took his reading glasses out of his shirt pocket, put them on and stared at it again.
—Your mother, he said.—She wants milk.
He put the phone down and took off his glasses.
—She used to be able to walk to the shops herself, he said.
—She was very good at it.
—He texts yeh back, said Jimmy.—Yeah, or somethin’. An’ you text him. Grand.
—That’s righ’, said Jimmy Sr.—Tha’ sounds like a day in my life.
—Well, that’s social networkin’, said Jimmy.—More or less. It’s like a club but yeh have your own room, for the people yeh want to meet. Except there’s no room an’ yeh meet no one. Unless yeh want to.
—That’s the best way to see it.
Jimmy watched his da look across to the bar, squint, wait, and lift his hand, one finger up.
—Did he see me?
Jimmy Sr was having another pint. He knew Jimmy wasn’t.
—Why did yeh ask abou’ Facebook?
—Somethin’ Bertie told me, said Jimmy Sr.—Somethin’ he heard.
—It’s illegal if it’s Bertie.
—No, said Jimmy Sr.—It’s not. It’s fuckin’ immoral but.
—You’ll have to tell me now.
—I’m goin’ to tell yeh. I’ve every intention of tellin’ yeh. Is he workin’ on my pint over there?
Jimmy pretended to look across at the bar and the barman he didn’t know behind it.
—He is, yeah, he told his da.
—Are yeh goin’ blind?
—No. But – no. It’s like everythin’ else.
Jimmy knew what his da meant and it was a good place to give him his own news. But he couldn’t do it. He wasn’t ready.
—Bertie, he said.
—Fuckin’ Bertie, said his da.—He told me his youngest fella, Gary I think it is. He’s about the same age as your Marvin.
—Abou’ tha’, yeah. A year or two older. A little fucker, by all accounts. Annyway, he told Bertie and Bertie told me that he – Gary, like – gets off with older women on Facebook.
—I heard abou’ that alrigh’.
—I did, yeah.
—Wha’ sort of a fuckin’ club is tha’?
—A good one, said Jimmy.—If it’s what you’re into. They’re called cougars.
—The older women tha’ prey on the younger men.
—Jesus, said Jimmy Sr.—Veronica watches tha’ one.
—Cougar Town. On the telly. And that’s what it’s about, is it? I thought it was like Born Free or somethin’.
—What’s Born Free?
—A film, said Jimmy Sr.—Before you were born. One o’ those nature things. Africa, lions, a load of shite. Andy Williams sang the song. Where’s tha’ cunt with my pint?
He was squinting across at the bar again.
—Does he know he’s supposed to be bringin’ it down? Jimmy asked.
Jimmy went up to the bar, paid for the pint, waited for his change, and brought the pint back to his father.
He waited till Jimmy was sitting again.
—So, he said.—This Cougar Town thing is abou’ oul’ ones chasin’ after young lads?
—I think so, said Jimmy.—I’ve never seen it.
He was lying. He loved it. Courteney Cox still gave him the horn.
—Yeh don’t think Ma’s up to anythin’ like tha’, do yeh? he asked.
—This conversation isn’t goin’ the way I wanted it to, said Jimmy Sr.—No, I don’t. She’d tell me.
—You’re safe enough, I’d say, said Jimmy.
—She’s seventy-one, for fuck sake.
—That’s not old.
—Ah, it is. The cougars, they’re late 30s, early 40s.
—You’ve seen it.
—No, I haven’t – fuck off. Just the pictures in the paper.
Annyway. This Facebook thing. It’s the young lads, Gary an’ tha’, who’re chasin’ the older birds.
—The older birds are chasin’ them as well. That’s what I meant by social networkin’. Are yeh thinkin’ of givin’ it a go yourself ?
—No, I’m not.
—Because, if you are, said Jimmy.—I have to tell yeh. Most o’ the women older than you are actually dead.
—Well, at least I wouldn’t have to talk to them. An’ just so yeh know.
He sat up, moved his pint an inch.
—What I said earlier. Abou’ goin’ blind an’ tha’. Everythin’ deterioratin’ when yeh get older.
He waited, made sure Jimmy was paying proper attention.
—Go on, said Jimmy.
—I still wake up with a hard one, said his father.
—Do yeh? said Jimmy.
Don’t blush, he told himself. Don’t blush.
—Every mornin’, said Jimmy Sr.—Includin’ Sundays.
—That’s great. Well done.
Jimmy Sr picked up his pint, took a swig, put it back down.
—I know, he said.—You’re my son an’ all. So it’s a strange thing to be tellin’ yeh an’ it isn’t even dark outside. I wouldn’t have told yeh twenty years ago. I wouldn’t’ve dreamt of it. But what’re yeh now? You’re wha’? Forty-seven?
—Well then, I thought I’d let yeh know, said Jimmy Sr.—I noticed yeh grunted there when you were sittin’ down. An’ there’s a lot more of your forehead on view than there used to be. Happens to us all. It’s desperate. Men are hit particularly bad. So, but. It isn’t all bad, is what I’m tryin’ to say. Father to son, like.
—D’you know wha’, Father?
—That’s the first time you’ve ever spoken to me like tha’. Father to son.
—Is tha’ right?
—You’re not annoyed, are yeh?
—No, I’m not.
—But tell us, said Jimmy.—Wha’ do yeh do with your hard one?
—You’re missin’ the point, son. That’s a different conversation. An’ I don’t think it’s one we’ll ever be havin’.
—Grand, said Jimmy.
They said nothing for a bit.
—How come Bertie has such a young son? Jimmy asked.
—Ah Jaysis, said Jimmy Sr.—He rode his missis. It’s no great mystery.
—Still though, said Jimmy.—He’s quite old to be havin’ a teenager for a son.
He watched his father shrug. One of the shoulders was slower coming back down than the other and he seemed to be in a bit of pain as the second shoulder settled.
—Bertie’d be a bit younger than me, said Jimmy Sr.
—Not that much, said Jimmy.—One of his kids, the mad one. Jason. He was a year behind me in school. He must be forty-five or six now.
—He must be, said Jimmy Sr.
—Where is he these days?
—Over there, said Jimmy Sr.
—The fat guy in the Arsenal jersey?
—That’s him, said Jimmy Sr.—He’s let himself go since he came off the heroin. Still lives at home.
—Don’t be talkin’. It’s not natural. The state of him. Bertie says he has an Arsenal duvet cover an’ all.
—They’re not a bad team.
—They’re overrated. Ah, it’s sad. He did time, yeh know.
—That’s righ’. Gun but no bullets. Still, he had the gun. Walks into a credit union with it. So, fuck’m. He deserved what he got. But annyway.
He picked up his pint. There was about half of it left.
—Hang on, said Jimmy.
He went up to the bar to order another pint for his da. He wanted to stand, just for a bit. He was restless, angry. Not really angry – nervous.
He looked at Bertie’s Jason. He didn’t look like a man to be scared of, a man who’d done time for armed robbery. He was sitting beside two other guys – now they looked a bit frightening – but he wasn’t really with them. They were much younger than Jason, harder, firmer, shouting quietly at each other.
—Fuckin’ didn’t, fuck off, m’n.
He waited for the pint and paid for it. He took the change.
And he went back down to his da.
—There yeh go.
—Good man, said Jimmy Sr.
He put the empty glass on the table to his left, and put the new one on top of his beer mat.
—So. Young Jason.
—He gets out. But the family’s gone.
—No, not gone anywhere. Just not his anymore. She doesn’t want annythin’ to do with him. A lovely bird, by the way. You’d never guess it, looking at George fuckin’ Clooney over there in his Arsenal gear. Fuckin’ lovely.
—Two. I think. They don’t want to know him either. She did a great job while he was away. I’m not bein’ sarcastic. She did a great fuckin’ job. Bertie’ll tell yeh himself.
—Yeh fancy her.
—I do, yeah, said Jimmy Sr.—Absolutely. I walk past her house every day. I sit on her wall.
—She’s gorgeous, said his father.—An’ she has the two kids, boy an’ a girl, one of them in Trinity College doin’ law for fuck sake, and the other one in London, workin’ in a bank that actually lends money. An’ that makes her even more gorgeous.
He picked up his pint and knocked back about half it.
—So Bertie an’ his missis are lumped with poor Jason.
—Yeah, said Jimmy’s da.—It’s rough.
They looked across at Jason.
—It’s not the fact tha’ he’s there in the house, said Jimmy’s da.—That’s not too bad. There’s only him an’ the young lad, the Facebook fella. The rest are gone, so there’s plenty o’ room. It’s not that. It’s more the fact of him. Remindin’ them. He’s a fuckin’ disaster. A fat middle-aged teenager.
—I’m quotin’ his father. An’ I see what he means.
—Every family has its fuck-ups, said Jimmy.
—I know, said his da.—I know tha’. I’m not bein’ judgmental. Well, I am. But I know.
Leslie was the name hanging, swaying, right in front of them. They both knew it; they both saw it. Les was Jimmy’s other brother. He’d walked out of the house after a row with his mother, twenty-two years before.
—I know, said Jimmy’s da.
—Yeh do your best, he said.—We all do. Bertie as well. But fuck. I’m sure they love him. They probably love him. They try to. But it’s his lifestyle.
They were laughing again.
—The boom bypassed him.
—It fuckin’ did. An’ judgin’ by the head on him over there, he’s missin’ the recession as well. I’d say just sayin’ recession would take a lot out o’ poor Jason.
—What’s he on? Jimmy asked.—He’s on somethin’.
—Fuck knows, said Jimmy Sr.
He took a slug from his pint. He put the glass back on its mat.
—She goes into his room, Bertie’s mott. An’ she comes out cryin’.
—Why doesn’t she just stay out?
—That’s what I said, said Jimmy Sr.—An’ Bertie says she can’t help it. She feels guilty. She’s a woman, yeh know yourself. How’s your own woman?
—She’s grand. How’s Ma?
—Grand. Are yeh havin’ another?
—No, said Jimmy.—I’m drivin’.
—I have cancer.
—I’m bein’ serious, Da.
Jimmy was shaking. He hadn’t noticed while he was working himself up to tell his father. But he knew it now. He pressed his hands down on his thighs, made his arms stiff. He wondered if his eyes were bloodshot, because they felt like they had to be.
—Could be worse.
—So they say, said Jimmy.
—The doctors an’ tha’. The specialists. The team.
—What colour are their jerseys?
Jimmy couldn’t think of an answer.
—It’s terrible, said his da.
—When did yeh find ou’?
—A few days ago, said Jimmy.—Monday.
Jimmy relaxed his arms. The madness was gone; they seemed to be his again. His father was fidgeting, like he’d found something sharp he’d been sitting on. Then Jimmy knew what he was doing. He was trying to get nearer to Jimmy without actually moving. Without making a show. He leaned across the table and put his hand on Jimmy’s arm. He kept it there.
—It’s not natural, he said.
—Cancer? said Jimmy.—I think it is. It’s —
—Stop bein’ so fuckin’ reasonable. It isn’t natural for a father – a parent, like – to hear tha’ kind of news from his child.
—Well, I had to tell yeh.
—Sorry, Jimmy. Sorry. I’m makin’ a mess of it.
He took his hand off Jimmy’s arm, and put it back.
—What I mean is, it should be the other way round. D’you know wha’ I mean?
—I do, yeah.
Jimmy Sr took his hand away and sat back into his chair.
—How did Aoife take it?
—Aoife. How was she when yeh told her?
—I didn’t tell her, said Jimmy.
—You have to.
—Fuck the drivin’. Have a pint.
Jimmy wiped his eyes, although he wasn’t crying.
—I’m afraid to eat or drink annythin’, he said.—I kind of expect it to be agony.
—No. Not at all.
—How did yeh find out?
—Blood, said Jimmy.—I was bleedin’.
—Nothin’ spectacular. Just, yeh know —
Jimmy watched his father wipe his eyes. He was crying.
—Who else have yeh told?
—No one, said Jimmy.
—I’m the first?
—I thought I’d tell you. Get it done, the first time. Then it’d be easier. I’ll be able to tell Aoife.
—You’re grand, said Jimmy Sr.—I am flattered. Weird, wha’.
—I was goin’ to tell Ma but somethin’ made me swerve towards you instead.
—It’ll kill her.
—You always say tha’.
—It’s true, yeh do. Even tha’ time when I said the Beatles weren’t as good as the Stones.
—But look it, your mother loves the Beatles.
—She couldn’t give a shite about the Beatles.
—You’re right, said Jimmy Sr.—Truth be fuckin’ told, it was the Bee Gees tha’ made your mother giddy. The early stuff, yeh know.
—Could be worse.
—It fuckin’ could. So.
Jimmy watched his father brush his thighs with his open hands.
—Chemo, said Jimmy.
—What is it? Exactly?
—I’m not sure yet, said Jimmy.—I started googlin’ but I stopped.
—Frightenin’, said his da.
—Yeah, said Jimmy.—But borin’ as well.
—How is it fuckin’ borin’? Jesus, son, yeh don’t have to pretend.
—No, said Jimmy.—Just readin’ about it.
He realised – he knew the feeling: he was enjoying himself. A weight – one of them, a big one – had been lifted. He definitely felt lighter.
—Even if you have it? said his da.
—Especially if you have it, said Jimmy.
Literally lighter. And light headed. He was tempted. He could leave the car in the car park, have a few pints, walk home or get a taxi and risk the smashed windscreen or wing mirror.
—So anyway, said his da.—Wha’ happened?
—Okay, said Jimmy.—I went to the specialist cunt an’ he gave me the good news. It’s early days, so they should be able to deal with it. Surgery an’ —
—Yeah, said Jimmy.—Did I not mention surgery?
—No, yeh didn’t.
—Well, yeah, said Jimmy.—An operation. They’re takin’ it out.
—Most of them – it. About 80 per cent.
—For fuck sake.
—But the chemo thing, said Jimmy.—He tells me I’ll be havin’ chemo. An’ other things I don’t remember. I listened. But —
—Too much to take in.
—That’s it, said Jimmy.—But anyway. He mentions chemo. An’ he shakes my hand an’ brings me to meet the team. An’ it’s all grand. They’re great – no messin’. Very reassurin’. Although that’s shite, because it hadn’t sunk in. It’s fuckin’ weird – I was kind of delighted. Grateful, like. But anyway, I’m in good hands. So.
He really was enjoying himself.
—I went back to work, he said.
—That’s a bit strange but, is it? said his da.—A bit of a fuckin’ under-reaction or somethin’.
—I don’t think so, said Jimmy.—I know what yeh mean. But no. I was numb, Da. I hadn’t a clue. So I went back. I was hungry on the way back. Starvin’.
—Did yeh drive?
—I did, yeah. No one told me not to. But I was grand. I got back to work. Bought a sandwich an’ a packet of Tayto –
—Maybe your last.
—D’yeh want a pack now?
—No, said Jimmy.—No, yeah. I’d love one. Thanks.
His father groaned as he stood. Jimmy watched him straightening as he walked across to the bar, hitching up his jeans with a finger in the loop where the belt went at the back. He watched him wave across at Bertie’s Jason, watched him pat some guy at the bar’s shoulder – Jimmy didn’t know the guy. He watched his da order a pint and two bags of crisps, watched him head over to the jacks, watched the guy at the bar opening one of the Tayto bags.
He’d go soon. Home. He’d talk to Aoife – he’d tell her. It wouldn’t be too bad.
It would be fuckin’ terrible.
He felt fine, though. He was grand. He watched his da coming back from the jacks. He was slower – was he? Of course he was. The man was seventy-four or something. He watched him pay for his pint and the crisps. He watched him push the open bag at the guy at the bar. He heard them laugh. He saw the barman shove a fresh bag across the counter. He saw his da take it.
He lobbed one of the bags at Jimmy as he sat down and parked his new pint. The arse and the glass landed at the exact same time.
—What’re yeh grinnin’ at? said his da.
—Yeah, maybe. Where were we?
—Me bein’ bored, I think, said Jimmy.
—That’s right. Fuck sake. Go on.
—So, like, I bought a sandwich an’ the Tayto —
—It’s all comin’ back.
Jimmy opened the bag he had now and took out a good big one.
—An’ I sat at me desk, he said,—an’ I googled chemotherapy. An’ I clicked on the first link, the Wikipedia one, an’ I read. It was somethin’ like this, listen. Chemotherapy is the treatment of a disease with chemicals by killing micro-organisms or cancerous cells, an’ so on. An’ I just thought, I can’t read this shite.
—I’m with yeh.
—It wasn’t that I couldn’t take it in. I didn’t want to take it in. It was borin’.
—Ignorance is bliss, maybe.
—Maybe that too as well, yeah. But I’ll tell yeh. There was a picture – on the Wikipedia page, like. A woman gettin’ her chemo. She had the scarf, yeh know – the baldness. Sittin’ back in a big chair.
—Was she good lookin’?
—Park tha’ for a minute. She was wearin’ big mittens, on her hands, like, and these wine cooler yokes, padded tubes. On her feet. To reduce the harm to her nails.
—An’ was tha’ borin’?
—No, said Jimmy.—No. Tha’ frightened the shite out o’ me.
—Yeh don’t want to damage your nails.
—Fuck off, Da. It’s not – it’s. If it can damage fingernails, what’ll it do to the rest of me?
—Toenails are even harder.
—I know, said Jimmy.—I could cut meat with mine.
—Me too, said Jimmy Sr.—I broke the fuckin’ nail scissors tryin’ to cut them. How’re the crisps goin’ down, by the way?
—Grand, said Jimmy.—Why?
—Well, said Jimmy Sr.—Wha’ yeh said earlier. You said yeh were afraid to eat annythin’.
—Oh, yeah. Yeah. No. I’m grand.
—I thought crisps might be a no, said Jimmy Sr.—They look like they’d rip the hole off yeh. Just the look o’ them, yeh know.
—Here, said Jimmy.—D’you want the rest of them?
He held out the bag.
—No, you’re grand, said his da.
—I need water, said Jimmy.—The salt.
He stood up and went across to the bar. He’d go home in a few minutes. The barman was looking at the golf on the telly over the door to the toilets. Jimmy waited. He counted the tellys. There were seven of them. All on, sound down. Golf, news, golf, singing, rugby league, ads and golf. The barman looked away.
—When you’re ready.
He looked foreign, Polish or Latvian or that part of the world. But he wasn’t foreign.
—Could yeh give us a glass of water, please?
The barman sighed and turned away.
That proved it, Jimmy decided. The cunt was a Dub.
The barman came back with a pint glass of water. Jimmy took it.
Nothing from the barman. The ignorant prick.
He went back to his da.
—I’ll have to go in a minute, he said.
—Yeah, said Jimmy Sr.
—I’ll tell Aoife – tonigh’.
—Won’t be easy.
—Fuckin’ hell, son.
—D’you want me to tell your mother?
—No, said Jimmy.—No. Thanks. I’ll tell her myself. Tomorrow – probably. There’s the kids too – fuck.
—How’ll yeh manage tha’?
—I haven’t a clue, said Jimmy.—There’s probably a book. Or a website. How to tell your kids you have cancer. Fun with cancer dot fuckin’ com.
—I’m gone, he said.
He took the car key from his pocket.
His father stood up too.
—I’ll come with yeh.
—To the house?
—No, said Jimmy Sr.—The car park just. I’ll see yeh to your vehicle.
—I thought you were here for the nigh’.
—No, said Jimmy Sr.—No. I think those days are gone.
—You’re a new man.
—I’m an old fuckin’ man, said Jimmy Sr.—I can’t have a few pints annymore without havin’ to get up to go to the jacks three or four times a night. So I have my pints earlier an’ I call it a day, earlier, if tha’ makes sense. An’, fuck it, I’m happy enough.
—What about the lads?
—The lads, said Jimmy Sr.—The lads are kind of a distant memory. But that’s a different story. Not for tonigh’. Come on. We’ll get you home.
They walked to the exit. Jimmy let his da lead the way. His da waved at someone in a corner – the pub had more corners than New York – but Jimmy couldn’t make out who it was. The place was fuller than it had been. It was still quiet enough but most of the tables were occupied. It felt foreign, in a way. He didn’t know who was who, or what was going on. He didn’t go to places like this any more. Not that he couldn’t catch up. There wouldn’t be much training needed, or upskilling, to get back in the swing. Not the drinking – the reading, the knowing. The guy beside the cigarette machine was definitely waiting for someone. The way he was standing; he half expected to get thrown out. And Jimmy half recognised him. He’d gone to school with his brother – or his father. And the woman sitting on her own with her vodka parked exactly in the centre of her table, like it might be someone else’s.
Jimmy knew her.
She looked at him.
—Jimmy Rabbitte! For fuck sake!
She laughed and stood and opened her arms and he marched in there between them and felt her hands slide across his back. He was late with his own hands, getting them to move. She kissed his cheek, about half an inch from his lips. Then she stepped back, nearly into the table behind her. She laughed again.
—Let’s see yeh.
She smiled at him.
—You’re lookin’ well, Jimmy.
—So are you, he said.
She was looking well. She might have been a bit pissed – Jimmy wasn’t sure – and a few kilos heavier, but Imelda Quirk would never not look well.
His da was at the door.
—Yeh righ’? he shouted.
—Just a minute, Jimmy shouted back.
—Yeh goin’ somewhere? said Imelda.
—Yeah, said Jimmy.—Yeah. Home to my wife, to tell her I have cancer. ’Fraid so.
—Typical Jimmy, said Imelda.—Always runnin’.
He didn’t know what to say – he hadn’t a clue.
—Get out your phone, she said.
He could feel his da looking at him. But he looked across to the door and his da wasn’t there.
—Your phone, Jimmy, said Imelda.—Not your mickey. He laughed. He wasn’t blushing, and that made him ridiculously happy. He took his mobile from his pocket.
—Ready? she said.
—You’re givin’ me your number.
—You’re still a fuckin’ genius.
He laughed again. She recited the number, quickly.
—No bother, he said.
He saved the number.
—Phone me, she said.—When you want to.
—Will do, he said.—Great seein’ yeh. It must be twenty years.
—Don’t fuckin’ start, she said – she smiled.—I was still in primary school twenty years ago. Is that understood?
—Loud an’ clear, said Jimmy.—I’m gone. I’ll phone yeh.
He probably wouldn’t. He had cancer, kids, a wife he loved.
—Grand, she said.
She was sitting down again. There’d be no kiss goodbye, no hug.
—Tomorrow maybe, he said as he left.
—It’s up to you, Jimmy.
His da was leaning against Jimmy’s car and the alarm was going. He’d heard it inside when he was talking to Imelda. Now though, it was loud – and his. He pointed the key and clicked. It stopped.
—Did yeh fuckin’ jump on it?
—No, said his da.—It went off the minute I fuckin’ looked at it. I was only walkin’ over.
—Anyway, said Jimmy.—I’m gone.
—Grand, said his da.
—To face the music.
—It must feel like tha’, does it?
—A bit, said Jimmy.—But look it. Thanks.
—You’re grand, said Jimmy Sr.
He rubbed his hand across his mouth.
—It hasn’t sunk in, he said.
—I’ll say nothin’ at home.
Jimmy’s da put his hand out, high. He touched Jimmy’s neck.
—Fuckin’ hell, son.
—Phone me, said Jimmy Sr.—Any time, righ’?
—Yeah, said Jimmy.—Thanks. He opened his door.
—D’you want a lift?
—No. You’re grand. I’ll walk.
—Righ’. Good luck.
Jimmy got into the car. It was warm. There’d been heat in the sun, although it was getting dark now. He waited till his da was walking away before he shut the car door.
He filled the dishwasher. He took a white wash out to the line and hung the clothes in the dark. He kept an eye on the kitchen window while he did it, to see if Aoife was alone in there. She wasn’t. He watched her, angry and gorgeous, giving out shite to Mahalia. He came back in – she was gone. He made tea. He didn’t drink it. He emptied the dishwasher. She came in, followed by Brian, then Mahalia.
He tapped Brian on the shoulder.
—Come here. You as well, May.
He brought them in to the telly. He pointed at it.
—That’s a television.
—Now, said Jimmy.—You sit in front of it. That’s right, good man. Perfect.
He held up the remote.
—Have yeh seen one of these before?
—Yep, said Brian.
—Good man again, said Jimmy. – You can watch it for half an hour, okay?
—I already had my half-hour, said Brian.
—You’re too honest, Smoke, said Jimmy.—I told yeh. Be a bit sneaky.
—That’s right, said Jimmy.—Have you had your telly today yet, Smokey?
—Have you not? Well, here yeh go.
Jimmy lobbed the remote at him, and Smokey – that was Brian – caught it.
—I don’t want to watch telly, said Mahalia.
Jimmy kept forgetting she was thirteen – although she looked it.
He’d never get used to it. His oldest child, Marvin, was a seventeen- year-old man. The youngest, Brian, was too big to be picked up.
—Just do me a favour, May, said Jimmy.—Stay here for a bit. I need to talk to your mother.
—Begging forgiveness, are we? said Mahalia.
—Somethin’ like that, he said.
—Good luck with that, she said.
—Is that eye shadow you’re wearin’?
—Did you just ask me to do you a favour, Dad?
—I did, yeah.
—The eye shadow is my business then, said Mahalia.
—You don’t need it, yeh know.
—That’s not an argument.
—I love you.
—So you should.
He left them there. Brian wouldn’t budge and Mahalia loved being involved in the messy, stupid world of the adults, even if involvement meant staying out of the kitchen for half an hour.
But Aoife was gone. There was a kid with his head in the fridge and he wasn’t one of Jimmy’s.
—Who are you?
The kid stood up and, fair play to him, he blushed.
—I’m hungry, he said.
—Good man, Hungry, said Jimmy.—But what’re you doin’ pullin’ the door off my fridge?
The kid looked confused, his red got redder. Jimmy felt like a bollix.
—Jimmer said you wouldn’t mind. Or Missis – your wife, like. Are you Mister Rabbitte?
—Jimmer said she – Missis Rabbitte, like – wouldn’t mind if I, like, got something to eat.
Jimmer was young Jimmy, another of Jimmy’s sons.
The kid’s face had gone past red; he was turning black in front of Jimmy. He was holding a chicken leg.
—Will I put it back?
He was an old-fashioned young fella.
—Did you eat any of it? said Jimmy.
—Kind of, said the kid.
He looked at the leg.
—You’d better eat the rest of it so, said Jimmy.
—Your son, like?
—We’re doin’ a project, said the kid.
—What’s your name?
—And what’s the project about, Garth?
—The group, like.
—You mean, the group tha’ were shite back in the ’70s twenty years before you were born and are probably even shiter now?
—No way are they shite, said Garth.
—Who listens to them?
—I do, said Garth.
Jimmy liked Garth, and he liked the feeling that he liked him.
—And tell us, Garth? he said.—Are you some kind of a born-again Christian, tryin’ to convert my son to Supertramp?
—No way, said Garth.—He converted me.
—He says the CD’s yours.
—He says it is, said Garth.—It’s old looking and the price on the sticker is in old punts, like, not euros.
Aoife walked in.
—Tell Garth here, said Jimmy.
Garth was turning black again and he was trying to put the chicken leg into his pocket.
—Tell him what?
—That I hate Supertramp, said Jimmy.
—You don’t, said Aoife.
—Don’t listen to him, Garth, said Aoife.—He loves them. Or he used to.
She walked across the kitchen. Garth was trying to get away from her. He looked like he was going to climb up into the sink.
—Go on then, Jimmy said to Aoife—Name one Supertramp song.
She hadn’t a clue – she never had.
—‘Dreamer’, said Aoife.—‘The Logical Song’, ‘Breakfast in America’, ‘Take the Long Way Home’, ‘It’s Raining Again’. I think that’s the order they’re in on the Greatest Hits collection you used to play all the time. Is your dad a music fascist too, Garth?
Jimmy gave up. There was no point in trying to talk to Aoife now – not about Supertramp; fuck Supertramp – about the cancer.
He went in and sat with Brian for a while. He sent Brian up to bed, then sent Garth home, and the others went to bed. It was running taps and the toilet flushing for about an hour, and quiet shouts, and a loud thump that must have been Marvin giving young Jimmy a dig or young Jimmy giving Marvin a dig. He hadn’t seen either of them all night but the house was full of them. And he could hear Mahalia singing. He sat in the dark and listened to the life above him.
I’ll miss this.
He hadn’t felt it coming and he got rid of it quickly.
Now he lay on the bed with Aoife. She was crying onto his chest.
And he liked it.
—I bet Supertramp have a song about cancer, he said.
—Fuck off you.
—I never liked them.
She lifted her head.
She put her head back down.
—You’re such a baby.
—It’s why you love me.
He heard her gulping back her tears, trying to stop.
—Sorry, he said.
She said nothing.
—I had to tell you.
—I knew, she said.
She patted his stomach.
—How? said Jimmy.—Did someone phone you? They’d no right —
They spoke softly. The bedroom door was open, a bit. In case Brian woke.
—I just knew, said Aoife.—You weren’t yourself.
—So I had cancer?
—Something was wrong. It was in your face.
—I should’ve told you.
—I was goin’ to.
—Why didn’t you?
—I was goin’ to tell you that I was goin’ for the test, said Jimmy.—Then I decided – I suppose – to wait till after. If it was clean —
She hit him. He hadn’t – he could never have expected this. It was like she’d driven her fist right through him.
He got his hand to her shoulder and shoved her away, almost over the side of the bed.
He reached out to grab her. But she wasn’t falling. They were both breathless and scared. Her hair was shorter these days but it was still hanging over her eyes.
The silence was loud and colossal.
A mobile phone buzzed.
—Fuck – !
They’d both jumped – the shock.
—Yours, said Aoife.
She exhaled, and breath lifted her fringe.
—It doesn’t matter, said Jimmy.
—Go on, she said.
—It doesn’t matter, I said. It’s only a fuckin’ text.
—It’s your dad, she said.—He’s the only one who texts you this late.
There was no hostility in what she said.
He found the phone and she was right. It was from his da. Wayne fuckin Rooney!!
—Is anything wrong? Aoife asked.
—No, said Jimmy.—Not really. It’s grand. I’m sorry.
She was on her knees, on the side of the bed. Jimmy leaned across and she let him hug her. Her face was wet. He kissed it. He didn’t cry, and that seemed good.
—I’d better answer him, he said.
He knew she was looking at him, looking for difference or slowness – or bloodstains. He picked up the phone. He wrote, or whatever it was called – texted. Complete cunt. He sent it back to his da. He put the phone on the floor, and lay back.
—I know I should have told you, he said.
—I thought it would go away. Fuckin’ stupid. Once I did the right thing an’ made the appointment.
—It was stupid.
—So are lots of things.
—I suppose. Anyway. I didn’t want to worry you. That’s the truth. Then I found out.
He stopped for a while. He was grand.
—And I was stunned, he said.—Fuckin’—. When I went back to work after. And I eventually had to talk – this fuckin’ twit wonderin’ where an order was supposed to go. When I opened my mouth there was no jaw. I couldn’t feel it. Like I’d been at the fuckin’ dentist. As if goin’ to the – here we go – oncologist. Impressed?
—As if goin’ to the fuckin’ oncologist hadn’t been enough, I had to drop in on the dentist on the way back. But your man didn’t notice.
—Is he really a twit?
—No. No, he’s grand. He’s young.
—Yeah. So anyway. I came home. And I was goin’ to tell you. That was the plan. I even stopped off at SuperValu an’ bought a bottle of wine. Remember?
—I had it all mapped out. The two of us in the kitchen. Some fuckin’ hope.
—Brian had a match.
—I drank the wine while you were gone.
—Well, I opened it.
—You drank it.
—Okay. Not all of it.
—Anyway. I wasn’t pissed.
—You were all over me, said Jimmy.—Later, like. He looked at her.
—You rode a man with cancer.
—And I couldn’t tell you after that.
—I wouldn’t have believed you.
—That’s music to my fuckin’ ears.
Now he cried. He couldn’t help it. Actually, he wanted to. He felt no better and he felt no worse but it seemed natural, some- thing she’d have wanted to see. Reassurance. And then he couldn’t stop for a while.
—Can I not just text everyone?
—No, said Aoife.—It wouldn’t be right.
—But last night you said —
She’d said this after she’d made him come in about three seconds.
—You said I was to think about nice things, said Jimmy. It was Saturday morning. The kids – he hadn’t told them yet; Jesus – were either out or still in bed. Brian was on a sleepover and the mother of his pal, Ryan, was bringing them both to the football. The father was in England, working. Jimmy would go and watch the second half and bring them back here. But now Jimmy and Aoife were alone.
—I said that? said Aoife.
—Look on the bright side, you said. That kind o’ shite. And now I’ve to —
He picked up the sheet of paper, the list.
—I’ve to go from door to door. From Barrytown —
He was going there today, later, to tell his mother. He looked at some of the names.
His sister, Linda, lived there. It was in Meath or Westmeath, miles away.
—I’ve to tell —
He looked at the list again. He pretended to count.
—fifteen or sixteen people that I have cancer. And I’ve to do it in a rush so no one feels upset because I told him or her before I told him or fuckin’ her.
She was smiling and he loved it.
—I’ve to travel the length and breadth of fuckin’ Ireland and tell them all. And this is goin’ to cheer me up?
—I’ll come with you, she said.
—I want to.
—No, he said.—I’m not doin’ it. It’s mad.
—Don’t know, he said.
She took the list.
—I’ll phone Sharon and Linda and Tracy, she said.
They were Jimmy’s sisters.
—It makes sense, he said.—Is it okay?
—Yeah, she said.—No, you’re right. But you didn’t put my side on the list.
—I wasn’t finished, he lied.
—We’ll have to go to my parents’.
—I’ll phone the others.
She added names to the list, the brother Jimmy thought was a wanker, the sister who was mad and getting madder.
—Sound, he said.—I’ll phone – let’s see. Darren. She’s pregnant, by the way.
—Who told you?
—Yeah. I met her.
—I thought you didn’t like her.
—What’s that got to do with anything? Jesus, Jimmy, grow up.
—I hope to, he said.
—Haha. Anyway, I do like her. She just annoys me.
It wasn’t too bad. If he’d been asked what it was like, that was what he’d have said. He had his mother coming up, and the kids. Telling them was going to be dreadful. And his boss – he’d have to tell her. Although she wasn’t really his boss. But anyway, other than that, it really wasn’t too bad. He had no dates yet; he wasn’t counting down the days. He was in limbo for a while, and it was okay.
Mahalia was going to look after Brian and his pal, Ryan. Her first big professional job. Five euro for the hour, or however long it took.
—Will we go to my parents after? said Aoife.
—It makes sense.
—We can go for a coffee on the way.
Mahalia wasn’t having it.
—Five euro for most of the day, nearly? No way, like.
—Ah look —
—I have a life, like.
—I know, said Jimmy.—Ten euro.
He watched her face. A tenner was a fortune. The excitement, the little grin – it was lovely.
—Fifteen, she said.
He’d bargained her down to twelve, and now they – himself and Aoife – were on their way to Barrytown.
He was driving.
—Can you manage? she’d asked when they were walking out to the car.
—I remember where my parents live, he’d said.—I grew up there.
—I mean, I thought you might be a bit anxious.
—And I don’t want to die on the way, she’d said.
—Fuck off now.
He drove onto the roundabout and indicated left – the turn-off for Barrytown. He decided to avoid the shopping centre. It was Saturday afternoon. Although it was never busy. It had started to look like a monument to a different era a couple of years after it had been built, when Jimmy was still a kid. When his Uncle Eddie from Australia had seen it the first time, he’d thought it was the local jail, all the barbed wire on the roof. It wouldn’t be busy now but Jimmy didn’t particularly want to see it.
—When’s best to tell the kids?
—Before The X Factor, said Aoife.
—Seriously but, said Jimmy.
—Tonight, said Aoife.—We can make sure they’ll all be there.
—Chinese, said Jimmy.—Special occasion. I want to tell the boys first though. Marv and Jimmy.
—I’m right, yeah?
He drove past his old school, then left, onto the green.
—No one here.
—It’s lovely, said Aoife.
—No kids any more. All grown up and gone.
They sat outside his parents’ house, holding their door handles.
—When are you going to tell your friends? said Aoife.
He thought about this.
—I don’t have any.
—Ah, you do.
—Ah, I don’t.
—I don’t know, he said.—I haven’t really thought about it. And that probably proves I’m right. I don’t really have any.
Maybe he was imagining it. But maybe there was some sort of a scent off him; the cancer was doing it. His wife wanted to ride him. He was sure of it. It was a biological thing, his body sending out the message; he had to reproduce before he died. There was sex in the air, in the car – definitely. He’d start the car, before anyone in the house noticed. He’d drive them up to Howth summit, or down to Dollymount. It was a miserable day; there’d be no one there. They’d do it like two kids half their age. Or to a hotel, one of the ones called the Airport this or Airport that. The one beside Darndale was nearest. A room for the afternoon. And he wouldn’t remind her about his vasectomy.
—We’d better go in and tell my mother I’m dyin’, he said.
* * *
—How did she take it? Darren asked him.
—Not too bad, said Jimmy.
It was true. His mother – their mother – hadn’t torn her hair out. She’d cried. They’d all cried. He’d told her he’d be fine. The success rate – he was beginning to like the language – the success rate was encouraging. She already knew her chemo and her radiation. Her brother, Jimmy’s Uncle Paddy, had been through it and survived.
The surgery, though, was news. He realised it as he told his mother: he hadn’t told Aoife. He’d told his father but he’d forgotten Aoife. She went pale as he spoke. He thought she was going to faint. He really had forgotten. He couldn’t believe it, but it was true.
—They’ll take out 80 per cent of your fuckin’ bowels? Said his da.
—Just stop it, said his mother.
—The language, she said.—For once. Just stop it.
—Righ’, said his da.—Sorry.
—They said it won’t make any difference, Jimmy told them.— I’ll be able to eat everythin’ as normal.
—With what’s left.
Aoife still looked wrong.
—The 20 per cent, said Jimmy’s da.
—Fair play, said Jimmy.—You were always good at the subtraction.
It wasn’t working. His laughter in the face of bad luck. There was no one smiling.
—Look, he said.—It’s not life and death. That particular part. The operation’s nearly just routine. It’s part of the journey through my treatment.
He picked one of the buns on the table, to prove he was still able to eat. It was a low point – the low point. He’d fucked up. He hadn’t told Aoife.
—I forgot, he said, to only her.
She nodded, once.
—Weird, he said.
—It was grand, he said now to his brother, Darren.
He was sitting on the stairs in Aoife’s parents’ house. He didn’t know where Darren was. He could hear voices in the background.
—Where are yeh?
—Give me cancer any day, said Darren.
—I’m a lucky man.
It was Jimmy who’d phoned Darren. He’d forgotten to tell Aoife – he really had; he kept testing himself – and now he felt the urge to tell everyone, to get it out there as quickly as possible, so everyone who needed to know would hear about it properly.
—Kind of, said Darren.
—How’s she doin’?
—Congratulations there, by the way.
—Thanks, yeah. I was goin’ to phone you.
—I know. You’re grand. Da told me.
Darren and himself weren’t close, but that meant nothing. They were brothers. Jimmy decided: he was going to find Leslie.
—So yeah, said Darren.—Everything’s grand. She’s had to give up the kick-boxin’ and the crack cocaine. Other than that, it’s business as usual.
—Great, said Jimmy.—We should meet up for a pint.
—Yeah, said Darren.—When?
The air was full of the unexpected. Jimmy reminded himself: he had cancer. He was telling the people who mattered and they were responding.
—Don’t know, said Jimmy.
—When suits you?
—Wednesday? said Jimmy.
—Okay, said Darren.—After work?
—No, said Jimmy.—Before.
—That’d be good, said Darren.
Jimmy didn’t actually know if Darren drank, if he was a drinker the way their father was a drinker. He doubted it. Or if he was a wine drinker, a bottle or two at home with Melanie – although she wouldn’t be drinking now. She’d be guzzling the infusions, some blend of rhubarb and nettle that guaranteed the kid would be a fuckin’ genius.
—What’s that? he said.—I lost yeh there.
—About six, said Darren.—I’ll come in straight after.
—Straight after what?
—Oh grand, said Jimmy.—You still have a job so.
—I have, yeah, said Darren.—I’ve hidden it.
Darren was a lecturer, out in Maynooth.
—You? said Darren.
—I’m grand, I think, said Jimmy.
—Nostalgia’s always big in a recession.
—Fuck off, said Jimmy.
—Am I right, though?
—You might be, yeah. I’ll tell you all about it when we meet. And you can stick it in one of your fuckin’ lectures.
—In the middle. I don’t care.
—Where’ll we meet?
—I don’t mind.
—Where’s good near you?
—Don’t know really, said Jimmy.—I’ll ask some of the younger ones in work. Then we can go somewhere different.
—That makes sense, said Darren.—And look.
—What? said Jimmy.
—I’m sorry – yeh know?
—You’re grand, said Jimmy.—Thanks. I’ll let you get back to your shoppin’.
—Duvet covers, said Darren.
—I’ll photograph them for yeh, send you the jpeg.
—Lovely, said Jimmy.
—Yeah, great, said Jimmy.—I’ll text you the pub.
He stayed on the stairs for a while. He could hear the rest of them in the front room. Talking low, just a bit above whispering. He thought he heard a sniffle. Aoife, maybe, or maybe her mother.
He’d stay put for another minute.
* * *
He followed the boys into the bedroom and closed the door.
—Listen, lads, he said.—I’ve a bit of news.
The three of them stood in a huddle between the radiator and the bed. The boys were taller than Jimmy now. He felt like the kid.
—Don’t worry about this, he said.—It’ll be fine.
He looked from face to face.
—I’ve got bowel cancer.
They stared at him. They were waiting for the punchline but they knew there wouldn’t be one. Jimmy was the world’s biggest bollocks. What he’d just done was illegal – or it fuckin’ should have been.
The boys were still waiting to be rescued.
—So, said Jimmy.—So. I wanted to tell yis—. Jesus, lads, I’m sorry about this.
—It’s cool, said young Jimmy.
And that saved Jimmy; he could go on.
—It’ll be grand, he told them.—It’ll be a bit – I don’t know – inconvenient. For a while just.
—It’s cancer, said Marvin.
—That’s not inconvenient, Dad.
—Yeah, said Jimmy.—Yeah. Come here.
He put an arm around each boy’s shoulders. He had to reach up to do it. He felt himself going, falling over, but they held him.
—I’ll be grand, he said.
They were stiff there, angry, frightened. Jimmy was talking right into the side of Marvin’s head.
—It’s not the worst of them, he said.—The cancers, like. And we’ve found it early enough.
—What’s that mean?
—It’s confined, said Jimmy.—It hasn’t spread, you know.
He could feel the boys trying to control their breath, trying not to push away.
—It can be beaten, he said.
—How? said Marvin.
He was the stiffest, the angrier one.
—Well, said Jimmy.—Chemo and surgery.
—What’s chemo? young Jimmy asked.
—I know. What is it?
—Chemicals, said Jimmy.—I suppose that’s the simplest way to – I don’t know.
They were still clinging to one another. He wanted to sit down.
—They nuke the bad cells – the chemicals, you know. Basically.
—Sounds good, said young Jimmy.
—I’m lookin’ forward to it, said Jimmy.—It’ll be like goin’ mad in a head shop.
The boys tried to laugh.
—I’m really sorry about this, said Jimmy.
He let go of them. They seemed to expand, to rise above him. He wanted them back. But he sat on the bed. They stood there in front of him. They were awkward, polite, lovely. And separate – they stood like young men who didn’t really know each other. They waited for permission to go.
—I’ll be grand, said Jimmy.
Marvin nodded. Young Jimmy was going to cry.
—It’ll just be—. Keep an eye out for your mam.
—For fuck sake, said Marvin.
Jimmy laughed, delighted. He held his hands up.
—Sorry, he said.—Yis hungry?
They were starving. They were always fuckin’ starving.
—Sort of, said young Jimmy.
—Me too, said Jimmy.—But I’ll be tellin’ May and Brian about it – the news, yeh know. Downstairs. But I wanted to tell you first. I thought you could handle it.
—Man to man, said Marvin.
He was an angry kid.
—There’s no good way, Marv.
—Boys, said Jimmy.—I love you.
—Love you too, young Jimmy whispered.
—Yeah, Marvin whispered.
Jimmy got up off the bed and hugged them again. They let go a bit, properly. They cried a bit. The snot flowed.
—Check your shoulders, lads.
They were back down and dry-eyed in time for the arrival of the Chinese. They all sat around the table. It was a bit of a squash – it had been since the older pair had taken off and become the world’s tallest Rabbittes, or Egan-Rabbittes. Aoife glanced at Jimmy. He shook his head; he’d wait till they’d finished eating. Young Jimmy looked pale, although he was still ploughing into the Chicken Cantonese Style.
—What’re you havin’, May? he asked.
Mahalia had come home two days before, a vegetarian.
—Leave her alone, said Aoife.
—I was only askin’, said Jimmy.—I’m curious.
—It’s okay, said Mahalia.—Chicken with lemon sauce but I’m taking the bits of chicken out.
—I’ll have them.
—Me! Brian shouted – he often had to.—She said me. Didn’t you?
—Yeah, said Mahalia.
Another problem. Brian was a bit heavy. They had a fat kid on their hands. It kept Aoife awake. But Jimmy knew she wouldn’t object tonight. Fill them all with sugar and monosodium glutamate; sedate the fuckers. That was the plan.
—I don’t know what to eat yet, said Mahalia.—So before you tell me there’s, like, bits of chicken in the sauce, I know, like.
—I wasn’t goin’ to say anythin’, said Jimmy.—I respect your decision.
—And so do the chickens.
—Has anyone noticed, said Mahalia,—that we’ve one of the funniest dads in, like, the whole country?
Brian looked at Jimmy and smiled, just to let him know that he wasn’t being treacherous, before he went —
—Poor Jimmy, said Aoife.
—Can we’ve ice cream?
—There’s animal fats in ice cream, said Marvin.
—Hang on, said Jimmy.—Hang on.
—Forks down. Brian. Good lad.
He waited a bit longer. He smiled at Aoife, at young Jimmy and Marvin.
—I’ve somethin’ to tell yis.
—I’m gettin’ there.
Mahalia had bawled. She’d thrown herself at him before he’d got to cancer. But it had worked out fine. It was easier to work his way backwards, to explain why he wouldn’t be dying. She’d believed him – he thought she had. They’d have to see – because he’d been crying too as he spoke, as he’d stroked her head the way he’d always done, as she’d cried through his jumper and shirt. Aoife had cried. Young Jimmy had cried. Marvin had allowed himself to cry – he’d stood up first and walked halfway to the hall.
He sat watching everything. He didn’t blink. He held his fork, waiting for the okay to get on with his dinner.
Maybe he’d just believed Jimmy. He was still young enough; the older boys had been the same. They’d believed everything he’d told them. The word – cancer – meant nothing to him. Fried rice did, though.
—It’s a phase, he said later, in the bed.—He’ll be grand.
He didn’t believe it. And he didn’t believe it when Aoife seemed to be agreeing with him.
—No, I do.
—Well, I fuckin’ don’t.
—Oh, fuck off, Jimmy. I’m just trying to put it off.
—Put what off ?
—Everything. I’m tired.
—So am I.
—No, said Jimmy.—Yeah, but no. I mean, the day.
—What about it?
—It was nice, said Jimmy.—I enjoyed it.
—Spent the whole day tellin’ people I love that I’ve cancer,
and I enjoyed myself.
Her head was on his chest again.
—You still tired? he asked.
He couldn’t get out of the car. He couldn’t move.
It wasn’t sudden – the feeling. It had been there since he’d woken up.
It was getting worse.
It wasn’t depression. Although he didn’t know.
It wasn’t black.
It didn’t have a colour – or weight.
He’d never understood static electricity, how or why it happened, why one door handle was a shock and another, the same design, wasn’t; why Mahalia’s hair had stood up straight whenever he’d pulled off that green jumper she’d had when she was a little thing. He didn’t think he’d ever been interested in why it happened. It just did.
This was the same as static. It was how he’d have started to describe it.
The car park was small. There was space for eight cars. Noeleen’s car wasn’t there yet.
He hadn’t told her. He would, today.
He was in no fit state to tell her today.
He’d touch something, the wrong thing, and he’d die. That was how he’d start, if he was trying to explain it. But, actually, he didn’t have to touch anything. That was what paralysed him. Earlier, in bed, he woke up thinking he’d died. He was waking into his last thought. If he woke up properly, he’d be gone; he’d never even have existed.
It would go away. He just had to wait.
Terror. That was it.
He’d be grand. The dread would be gone – it was going; he knew it was nothing. He’d just wait another minute.
He’d be angry then. He had the routine. He’d get rid of that too. He’d slam a door, fire off an email – reply to some fuckin’ eejit and have to apologise later.
He had the radio on. He could hear the news; he could separate the words. Gaddafi was dead – that was the biggie. He’d remember that. Sitting rigid in his car, in the car park behind work, and hearing that Gaddafi had been killed – how wasn’t clear; a grenade, a bullet or a bayonet – maybe all three. Where the fuck would you buy a bayonet these days?
He’d go in in a minute. Face the day. Try to sell a few records. He might even tell Noeleen. Get it over with.
He’d watch the news later, at home. He’d make Brian watch with him, and Mahalia. A big day. The death of a dictator. Maybe not, though – Brian would want another Chinese, to celebrate.
Poor oul’ Muammar. Jimmy wouldn’t be selling him any Irish punk or post-punk hits of the ’70s and ’80s. A lost opportunity. Gaddafi could have died plugged into his iPod, listening to the Halfbreds or the Irregulars.
There was a thought.
Jimmy would go in now and stick it up on the homepage: Gaddafi died listening to Irish punk. Get a few laughs, shift a few units.
In a minute.