Mike was dining at his usual corner table, his walking stick artfully propped against the mantelpiece in case of emergency.
Jesus, Mike, I said, that’s a nice-looking steak.
‘Tis, he agreed. I treat myself on the last Friday of every month.
We settled down to a passage of gentle, silent nodding as a thought formed in my mind. How Ireland has changed, I offered. There was a time when they wouldn’t serve you a steak on Friday, no matter how hungry you were or how much you hated fish.
Mike contemplated a red-raw morsel of prime beef, impaled on the end of his fork, as he reflected. True, he said.
One time, when I was driving through Knock – I ventured, committing the cardinal sin of not waiting to see if Mike was finished.
I was with Phonsie Mac over in London, about 1960, Mike continued. Or maybe ’61. Anyway, ’twas fifty-odd years ago, working on the sites. The cube of rare steak remained suspended in front of him, a bloody afterthought in his stream of consciousness. Myself and Phonsie were in a café someplace having our dinner. In those days you had your dinner at one o’clock.
Proper order, I agreed.
Anyway, Phonsie was looking at my pork chop, watching me eating it. Jesus, I’d love a pork chop, he said.
Would you? sez I. Why didn’t you get one?
I can’t, sez Phonsie. It’s a Friday.
But we’re in England sez I and anyway, you’re eating a ham sandwich.
Jesus Christ I didn’t think of that, sez Phonsie.
What, sez I. Did you think ham was fish?
No, sez Phonsie, I just forgot.
Will you stop eating ham on Fridays?
No, sez Phonsie. Why would I? There’s no priests here to give out about it.
Phonsie, sez I. I want to ask you a question.
What’s that, Mike? sez he.
Phonsie, like you said, there’s no priests here to be watching you like back in Ireland, and anyway you don’t believe any of it, isn’t that true?
‘Tis, Mike, he said.
So why wouldn’t you have a pork chop instead of going down my throat after the one I ordered?
I couldn’t, Mike, he sez.
Why not, Phonsie?
Jesus Mike, if I did that, I’d have no luck with the horses on Saturday.