I looked up when I heard my name but I couldn’t see a thing. I was sitting near the open door and the light coming through was a solid sheet between me and whoever had spoken. My eyes were watering a bit – they did that. I often felt that they were melting slowly in my head.
—Am I right?
It was a man. My own age, judging by the shape, the black block he was making in front of me now, and the slight rattle of middle age in his voice.
I put the cover over the screen of my iPad. I’d been looking at my wife’s Facebook page.
I could see him now. There were two men on the path outside, smoking, and they’d stood together in the way of the sun.
I didn’t know him.
—Yes, I said.
—I thought so, he said.—Jesus. For fuck sake.
I didn’t know what to do.
—It must be – fuckin’ – forty years, he said.— Thirty- seven or -eight, anyway. You haven’t changed enough, Victor. It’s not fair, so it isn’t. Mind if I join you? I don’t want to interrupt anything.
He sat on a stool in front of me.
—Just say and I’ll fuck off.
Our knees almost touched. He was wearing shorts, the ones with the pockets on the sides for shotgun shells and dead rabbits.
—Victor Foreman, he said.
—That’s right, he said.— Forde.
I had no idea who he was. Thirty- eight years, he’d said; we’d have known each other in secondary school. But I couldn’t see a younger version of this man. I didn’t like him. I knew that, immediately.
—What was the name of the Brother that used to fancy you? he said.
He patted the table.
—What was his fuckin’ name?
His shirt was pink and I could tell that it had cost a few quid. But there was something about it, or the way it sat on him; it hadn’t always been his.
—Murphy, he said.—Am I right?
—There were two Murphys, I said.
—History and French.
—Were they not the same cunt?
I shook my head.
—Jesus, he said.—I hate that. The memory. It’s like dropping bits of yourself as you go along, isn’t it?
I didn’t answer. I have a good memory – or I thought I did. I still didn’t know who he was.
He moved, and put one foot on top of a knee. I could see right up one leg of his shorts.
—Anyway, he said.—It was the one who taught French that wanted your arse. Am I right?
I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kill him. I could feel the glass ashtray that wasn’t there any more, that hadn’t been on the table since the introduction of the smoking ban a decade before – I could feel its weight in my hand and arm as I lifted it, and myself, and brought it flat down on his head.
I looked to see if anyone had been listening to him. I could hear the remains of the word ‘arse’ roll across the room. I hated this man, whoever he was.
But I nodded.
—Fuckin’ gas, he said.—And look at us now. Would he fancy us now, Victor?
—Not me, anyway, he said.
He slapped his stomach.
—You’re not looking too bad, he said.
His accent was right; he came from nearby. He took a slurp from his pint – it was Heineken or Carlsberg – and put the glass back on the table.
—You’ve done alright, Victor, he said.—Haven’t you?
I couldn’t answer.
—For yourself, like, he said.—I see your name all over the place.
I wanted to go.
—You did great, he said.—We’re fuckin’ proud of you.
I wanted to move house, get back across the river. Home.
—Victor Forde, he said.—One of us.
A minute before he’d thought my name was Foreman.
—You married that bird, he said.
I shouldn’t have, but I nodded again.
—Fuckin’ hell, he said.—Good man. There’s no end to your fuckin’ achievements.
—Who are you? I asked.
He stared and smiled at the same time.
—Are you serious?
—I know your face, I said.
He laughed. Straight at me.
—My fuckin’ face? he said.—Jesus. I was – what? – seventeen. The last time you saw me. Am I right?
I didn’t know – I didn’t know him. But I nodded.
—Will I give you a hint?
I didn’t nod this time.
—Síle Fitzpatrick, he said.
The name meant nothing.
—Go on – fuck off. —I don’t know her.
—Síle. Fitz. Patrick.
—You fuckin’ do, he said.—Wake up, Victor. Síle. You fancied her. Big time. All of you did. She was a bike. Síle Fitzpatrick. She was the
bike. Yis all said it.
I hadn’t heard that phrase, ‘a bike’, in years. It was like a piece of history being taken out and shown to me. A slightly uncomfortable piece of history.
—No, I said.
—Blonde bird, tall, Holy Faith, Bowie fan, woman’s tits.
She was starting to come together; I thought I was remembering someone.
—You all fancied her, he said again.
—And you didn’t?
—Well, I did. But I couldn’t.
—She was my sister, he said.
The laugh exploded out of him, as if he’d been holding on to it for years. There was nothing funny in it. The girl was in my head now, Síle Fitzpatrick, but I wished she wasn’t. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t know her. But I could see her sitting on the low ledge outside the chipper, her back to the glass. I was inside, looking at her hair, her shoulders, her white uniform shirt tucked into her skirt. I wanted her to turn and look in. I wanted her to look at me.
—You remember me now, I bet.
I didn’t. But I remembered his sister.
—Yeah, I said.—I do now. Sorry.
What was his name? He’d been in my class for five years; he must have been. Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick.
I had it.
—Good man, he said.
I knew him, and I’d known him years ago. I knew his face and I’d known his face.
—Eddie, I said.
—I kind of prefer Ed these days, he said.—More adult.
—Finally had to grow up, he said.
What he’d told me just before he’d laughed – one of the words came back and nudged me.
—You said ‘was’.
You said she was
—Yeah, he said.
—Was, I said.
— Sorry – , I said.—I don’t – . She’s not – ?
—No, he said.—No. We’re not close, just.
—Say no more, says you.
The gap was beginning to close. ‘Say no more, squire’ – the Monty Python line was straight from the schooldays.
—You meeting someone? he asked me now. —No, I said.—No. Just having a pint.
—Same as myself. D’you live near here, so?
I hesitated. I didn’t want to explain.
—Or just visiting? he said.—Slumming it for a bit.
—I live down the road there – five minutes.
—Oh grand, he said.—So this is your local.
—Fuck this, he said.
He stood up and picked up his stool; he’d scooped it from under himself before he was upright. I didn’t have time to cower. But he turned to the table beside us and lowered the stool one- handed while he grabbed a chair with the other and dragged it across to him. He sat down, and back.
There was even more of his leg on show now. He didn’t seem to be wearing underwear.
—So, he said.—Yeah.
—I was away myself for a bit, he said.
—Yeah, he said.—Here and there. Nothing special. But Síle. She’d love to hear from you.
He’d guessed it: Síle was the only thing I liked about him.
—I hardly knew her, I said.
—Go on to fuck.
—Yeah, yeah, he said.—She fancied you. Big time. Had me plagued. Is he going to college? What’s his favourite Bowie song? Is he going with anyone?
A right pain in the arse.
—‘Heroes’, I said.
—My favourite Bowie song.
He laughed. He sat back, almost lay back, and barked at the ceiling. There was grey pubic hair poking out of his shorts. He sat up, adjusted his crotch. Had he caught me looking at him?
—D’you know what? he said.—I’d say she’d still be interested in knowing that.
—Síle, he said.—She’d love to know that ‘Heroes’ was your favourite Bowie song. I don’t believe that, by the way. Now maybe, but we’re talking about – when? 1975 or ’6. ‘Heroes’ was released in 1977. So you’re spoofing. As usual. You can fuck off, so you can. Vict’ry.
I should have stood up.
—Remember we used to call you that? he said.
I should have just left. He might have followed me but I should have walked out and kept walking. I’d have been giving nothing away. Because I found out later, he already knew where I lived.
Copyright © 2017 by Roddy Doyle. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.