JEAN IS telling June something (I missed the start of the conversation to slip to the bathroom) about a friend of a friend whose son has been diagnosed with cancer. How it’s so sad. How life can be so cruel. How it must be so difficult for all involved. But it’s not long before the conversation reverts to their own progeny.
‘You just never know,’ says June, sipping from her cup.
‘I know, I know,’ Jean nods in agreement. She subtly repositions her bra, and her breasts peep out of her partially unbuttoned red blouse in what I guess is an attempt at arousing interest from the current clientele.
‘Alan’s been smoking,’ frets June. ‘I’m not the greatest example for him, but I really wish he wouldn’t. Especially with what’s happened to Eileen’s one.’
‘Oh, she was in a terrible state, as you’d expect. But you have to lead by example, June. You should quit.’
This, which I find hard to understand, only insults June, judging by the expression on her face.
‘Why would I do that? It’s not like I’ve much else. I don’t go out drinking every day of the week — sure I hardly drink as it is — and I work my arse off. Why would I want to give up the one treat I allow myself?’
‘It’s a vice, not a treat,’ replies Jean. She smiles a somewhat bewildered smile. ‘How can you call something that poisons you a treat?’
‘All the best things are bad for us, Jean: alcohol, smokes, the glossy mags, the soaps, chocolate,’ she raises her cup, ‘coffee, cream. . . Ryan Tubridy.’
‘None of those things are the best things, June.’
‘It’s all a matter of taste. Anyway, he’s smoking and I don’t like it.’
‘You should talk to him.’
‘Talk to him? I can barely say good morning to him without getting the head chewed off me. How could I talk to him about it?’
‘Tell him about Eileen’s youngest.’
‘Ah, what will that do? Sure I know the risk involved and it’s not going to make me quit. It’s in the genes if you ask me. My father smoked and lived until he was eighty. That’s a good age. Who would want to live longer than eighty, anyway? All you can do when you’re eighty is eat and shite.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘Oh, believe me, it is.’
‘It’s not, June. My father’s seventy-eight and he’s still highly active.’
‘Well, it’s in the genes, that’s what I said, isn’t in? Your father’s active, my father wasn’t. Unless we’re talking about his bowel movements. . . They can put me down if I live past eighty. I’ll sign the papers here and now. I want nothing to do with eighty or anything after that.’
June fidgets with her hands and then downs the remainder of her drink.
‘All this talk,’ she says, and she takes her box of Marlboro and leaves the café. Jean, meanwhile, readjusts her blouse.
It’s Friday evening, so the café is particularly busy. It’s jammers, as they say in Dublin. Outside it’s getting dark, and the streetlights have announced their presence. There are these two guys. Two aul lads as they say in this city. They look like they’re in their fifties. They’re new customers; I only began to notice them over the past week or so. I haven’t caught their names, so I refer to them as D&D, for Derek and Dave.
D&D are sitting by the middle door of the café. They both have a hefty gut each, both have — in all likelihood — put away plenty of Guinness over the years. Both of them have moustaches and they never take off their heavy coats when they’re here. They both wear denim jeans and brown work boots. They order their drinks and grab the same seats if they’re available and then, as I’ve noticed over the past week, they talk about current affairs from around the globe. I like these guys. These guys are my type of guys. Good guys, clear guys, Talk about the latest things to talk about kinda guys.
Derek of D&D says, ‘What about yer one Corbyn?’
Dave of D&D says, ‘Who?’
‘Yer man,’ Derek says. ‘Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn. The leader of the Labour Party across the way.’
‘Oh, him? I’m not sure about him. He’s into that Communism, isn’t he?’ says Dave.
‘A sort of socialism, it is.’
‘Ah yeah, that’s the one,’ Dave says as he sips his tea.
‘D’ya reckon he’ll be elected Prime Minister?’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Why?’ asks Derek.
‘Sure didn’t they vote in the Tories again only recently?’
‘Yeah but yer man Millipede was the Labour leader then, wasn’t he? Corbyn seems like he actually cares about people, y’know?’
‘Sure they all act like they care about people.’
‘No, but this Corbyn fella, he does,’ says Derek, shifting in his seat. ‘He’s for the everyman, isn’t he? Did ye not see him sittin’ on the floor on the train a few weeks ago?’
‘Sure that was planned.’
‘Yeah, it was staged, wasn’t it?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘It was,’ says David. ‘Sure didn’t yer man Branson come out and give him stick over it. They had pictures of loads of empty seats.’
‘Maybe the floor’s more comfortable on those trains.’
‘Maybe Branson should give him a hot air balloon next time.’
‘Plenty of hot air, anyway, eh?’
‘And what about yer man comin’ out there the other day sayin’ he wants to colonise Mars?’
Dave takes a mouthful from his cup and swallows before he responds: ‘Musk?’
‘Yeah, Elon. Elon Musk.’
‘He’s a sharp kid him, eh?’
‘Brilliant brain on him. Beaut of a brain. Imagine one of us with a brain like that.’
‘Still couldn’t get Liverpool winnin’ the league.’
Derek sits forward enthusiastically.
‘Imagine, though, them givin’ the Liverpool job to some genius,’ he says. ‘Instead of a football man. That’d be interestin’, I tell ye that — It’d be fascinatin’.’
‘All right,’ says Dave. ‘Out of all the geniuses in the world, who would you give the Liverpool job te?’
‘All of them?’
‘Yeah, all of them.’
‘I don’t know all of them.’
‘Well, Jaysus, the ones ye do know.’
Derek takes a minute to think.
‘He’s a musical genius,’ Derek argues. ‘And he’d have as good a chance as any of them.’
‘Come on, now. Seriously, who else?’
Derek thinks about it again.
‘How about yer man, Dawkins?’
‘The God fella?’
‘Sure where would Liverpool be without God? Nah, the manager would need God on his side.’
‘Ah I don’t know then,’ Derek says, before his eyes widen and he offers another suggestion: ‘Stephen Hawking, then. He’s a genius, isn’t he?’
‘He is, yeah.’
‘All right, then. Him. Put Hawking in the Anfield dugout, givin’ the half-time team talk. He’d work out some equation to bring them the league.’
‘Fair enough,’ says Dave, sipping his tea.
‘Somethin’ else anyway, yer man, Musk.’
‘I know a few who he can take with him anyway, startin’ at the Dáil.’
‘Mission to Mars, eh?’
‘Lunar Module Pilot Burton.’
‘And ye can add in Payload Commander Fitzpatrick while yer at it.’
‘And Mission Specialist O’Brien.’
‘Sure why not.’
‘Imagine that, though. A new colony on Mars. You have to commend yer man, Musk. He’s ambitious te say the least,’ says Dave.
‘Ye’d probably go mad, though,’ says Derek.
‘Where’d ye think? On Mars.’
‘D’ya think?’ asks Dave.
‘Well ye’d have no football for starters. No Eastenders for the Wife. No Strictly for her. No Ant and Dec. No Game of Thrones for the pair of ye. And sure ye couldn’t even sit outside, could ye? Imagine that.’
‘Sure ye can barely sit outside here, anyway,’ says Dave. ‘They’d be able to broadcast the telly, though, I’d say. Watch the football via satellite.’
‘I’d say so. Sure if ye can get someone to Mars I imagine ye can show them the footie while they’re there.’
‘And for the Wife?’
‘Sure I imagine they’d get the shows, too.’
‘Jaysus. There ye are. Man arrives on Mars, watches the latest episode of Strictly while he monitors the planet’s atmosphere.’
‘And what about the system? The government of Mars? Who rules what? Sure eventually — when they get set up properly — you’ll probably have interplanetary wars.’
‘Like Star Wars?’
‘Sort of, yeah. Which government would claim ownership over Mars? Or would it be Emperor Musk or somethin’?’
‘Well, if they’re goin’ te create a government we better keep our lot here then. Give the Martians a chance to get it right.’
‘I tell ye what, Derek, yer dead right.’
I nod at Erica, who’s returning from her break. She rolls her eyes as more people arrive, eager for their evening caffeine fix. I breathe in the energy from the café, along with a weird smell that was wafted into the building along with the fresh batch of patrons. I pick up my cup, look around at the faces which are the covers of each person’s personal book, and then I drink my coffee.