Aida Austin

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

Iam hav­ing din­ner with my old friend Ed. We are in his sis­ter-in-law’s house. His ex­tended fam­ily are sit­ting around the kitchen ta­ble too. Ed’s niece Kate whom I last met at 18 when she was 12, sits op­po­site me. We are eat­ing lentil lasagne, which is much less dispir­it­ing than it sounds.

“Did Un­cle Ed dress the same when he was young as he does now?” his niece asks. I glance at Ed who is half-ob­scured by the ta­ble. Even from the waist up, a glance is enough. I bend down to look un­der the ta­ble at his legs and feet. It is dou­bly cheer­less down there.

Truth is, his style never came from clothes but from know­ing who he was. And speak­ing the truth. But I’m not sure how to put this. So I an­swer, “Yes, he looked like a de­ranged, di­shev­elled priest back then too. Only younger,” which is also true. “I’m glad you two have got to meet af­ter all th­ese years,” Ed says to me, “you both have a lot in com­mon. Kate had an un­planned preg­nancy at 21, like you did.”

It is an abrupt segue; if I was him, I wouldn’t want to talk about my un­for­tu­nate dun­ga­ree phase ei­ther. Kate and I chat about our un­planned preg­nan­cies. Much ground is cov­ered; how we man­aged them at the time, the pros and cons of hav­ing chil­dren young, the fer­til­ity win­dow, vol­un­tary child­less­ness, adop­tion, abor­tion. Then we talk about egg-freez­ing, in­fer­til­ity - and leav­ing it too late, about which I con­fess I know very lit­tle.

“It’s never re­ally crossed my path,” I say, “and I’ve never had to... sort of... in­habit the con­scious­ness of some­one who left it too late.” “I had a neigh­bour when I was in my twen­ties and liv­ing in Lon­don,” says An­nie, an­other of Ed’s nieces, “who had a fake baby.” “A fake baby?” I say. “I used to babysit for her,” she says, “it was the best job. She worked in the Al­bert Hall. One time I babysat, she paid me in tick­ets for Cirque de Soleil.” No-one blinks an eye.

“What do you mean by “fake baby?” I say.

“Dafydd,” An­nie says.

“Who’s Dafydd?” I say.

“Her baby,” she says, “it was a boy.”

“It’s Welsh for David,” Ed says. So they have heard this story be­fore.

“Dafydd the doll,” I say.

“The main thing here is that she didn’t think it was a doll,” An­nie says.

“Is that the main thing here?” I won­der.

“I bumped into her in Tescos,” she says, “when I first moved into her apart­ment block. I bent down to look in the pram she was push­ing and there it was - Dafydd.”

“She had a pram for Dafydd?” I say.

“She in­tro­duced me to him. We were up by the tills. She said, ‘he’s called Dafydd. Isn’t he beau­ti­ful?’” So I said “yes,” and cooed over him for a bit, you know.”

“No,” I say, “I don’t know.”

“The fol­low­ing week,” An­nie con­tin­ues, “she asked me to babysit, so I started babysit­ting for her in the evenings when she went out. She had a child­min­der in the day.” No-one blinks an eye.

“She em­ployed a child­min­der for a doll?” I say.

“A fake baby,” she says, “they look re­ally real and they cry and need to be fed.”

“You babysat for a fake baby?” I say.

“She was 40 and a sin­gle mum,” she says, “she needed to so­cialise.”

I know that em­pa­thy is all about be­ing able to in­habit the con­scious­ness of an­other per­son but Ed is not the only one whose style comes from know­ing who he is and speak­ing plainly.

“Sorry,” I say, “but isn’t the main thing here the fact that this woman was mad?”

‘Truth is, his style never came from clothes but from know­ing who he was

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