‘Ronan can’t even speak. He’s like that kid on the ‘Late Late Toy Show’ when Robbie Keane walked out’
I pop my head around the living room door and I take a peek. The presents are under the tree. I’m there, “He’s been!”
Behind me, Honor goes, “Spare me!” then she shoves me in the back, out of her way. She looks at her presents – 30 of them, all perfectly wrapped by her old dear in colour-coordinated paper – like she’s offended by the very sight of them.
“Why did you put paper on them?” she goes and she says it in, like, an accusing way?
I’m like, “We didn’t do that! It was Santa!”
She looks at Sorcha and goes, “I think your husband is still pissed from last night.”
I don’t say anything. She’s kind of right.
Honor says she’s going to arrange her gifts into two piles – the ones she’s planning to keep and the ones for which she’s going to need receipts. “You can either watch me do this,” she goes, “or you can do something useful, like go out to the kitchen and make me some breakfast.”
Which is what me and Sorcha end up doing.
“The magic of Christmas!” I go.
Sorcha smiles, except it’s a sad smile. We’ve raised a little wagon – through no fault of our own, I hasten to add.
Sorcha grabs the frying pan. She’s still not really talking to me. She barely even thanked me for the breeding sow I bought for a family in Gabon on her behalf.
“We don’t want to eat too much,” she goes. “Mum and Dad are expecting us at one o’clock.”
I’m there, “Yeah, no, about that . . . ”
She just, like, glowers at me.
I’m there, “I actually have a coaching session at one.”
She goes, “Excuse me?”
“Did I not tell you about this?”
“Christmas Day, Ross? Christmas actual Day?”
“Everyone’s training on Christmas Day, Babes. It’s the Vinnie Murray Cup.” She shakes her head and tells me to just forget it.
I’m there, “Definitely save me some, though. I’ll heat it up in the microwave and have it later in front of the TV.”
“Just do what you want,” she goes. “You generally do.”
Actually, on balance, she takes the news a hell of a lot better than I expected.
There’s suddenly a ring at the door. “That’ll be the old man and Ronan,” I go. “We’re gonna bring Ro off to give him his Christmas present.”
She’s like, “What, now?”
“Er, is that okay?”
“Look, just go, Ross.”
“Well, if you’re definitely sure.”
I wander out to the front door and I answer it. Ronan goes, “Rosser, you bender! Meddy Christmas!”
And the old man’s like, “Season’s Greetings and so forth! Now where’s that beautiful granddaughter of mine?”
As soon as he says this, Honor steps out of the living room and – to me – goes, “Do you know how long it took me to open that lot? And I only like about five things. Everything else is lame. Next year, just give me the money and I won’t have to waste my focking time on Stephen’s Day going around the shops, bringing everything back.”
Hearing this, the old man and Ronan immediately back away from the door. “Maybe we should just get on the road,” the old man goes.
Ten seconds later, we’re in the cor – just the three of us – heading for Carrickmines.
“What is it?” Ronan goes. “What did you get me?”
The old man’s like, “All good things to those who wait!’ and then he asks me where I’m having Christmas dinner.
I’m like, “I’m not. I’m training the Institute team. Sorcha’s going to her old pair’s gaff. I couldn’t face it, though. I’m not exactly their favourite person since they found out that that phone call Sorcha supposedly got from Nelson Mandela in 2001 was me and Oisinn’s idea of an April Fool’s joke.”
The old man just stares at me in, like, secret horror. He tries not to judge me a lot of the time, but sometimes it just shows on his face.
We pull up on the road next to a plot of waste ground about an acre in size. The old man had it left over after he sold the other 234 acres he owned for houses and aportments. This should have been sold as well, except someone made a balls when they were drawing up the contracts and the old man was left with just this little plot.
Ronan looks at us, his face screwed up, confused. He’s like, “What is it?”
“This is your Christmas present,” the old man goes.
Ronan pushes open the heavy iron gate and the three of us step onto the site. And that’s when he sees it, off to his right. It’s a mobile home. Not an ordinary mobile home either. It’s the exact same one as his hero Fran has in Love/Hate.
Ronan – I swear to fock – can’t even speak. He’s like that kid on the Late Late Toy Show when Robbie Keane walked out.
I’m there, “Come on – that’s not all.”
We bring him inside. Me and the old man have had the whole place furnished. There’s, like, a bed, a sofa, a table and chairs, a TV – again, all the exact same as Fran’s.
We’ve even got him his own little stash of poitín – although it’s only 12 percent proof, what with him being only 16.
“I . . . I caddent believe it,” Ro goes. “Me foorst base of operashiddens.”
The old man goes, “The start of your empire, Ronan. Now, look out the window,” which is what Ronan then does. “You see that JCB digger?”
Ro’s like, “I do, Grandda.”
“Well, that’s yours, too.”
Ronan just runs at me and throws his orms around me. “I caddent believe it,” he goes. “I caddent fooken believe it!”
Wait until he finds out about the video message that we got Peter Coonan to do for him. He goes, “Thanks, Rosser! Thanks, Grandda!”
To think there was a time when, out of my two children, it was Ronan I worried about.
My phone beeps. It’s a text message from Honor. It just says, “Worst Christmas ever.”
ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE