Grown Ups - Marian Keyes
Johnny Casey launched into a fit of energetic coughing – a bit of bread down the wrong way. But the chat around the long dinner table carried on. Lovely. He could die here, literally die, on his forty-ninth birthday, and would his brothers, their spouses, his own wife, Jessie, or any of the children, even notice?
Jessie was his best hope but she was off in the kitchen readying the next elaborate course. He could only hope he survived to eat it.
A sip of water didn’t help. Tears were streaming down his face and finally Ed, his younger brother, asked, ‘You okay there?’
Manfully, Johnny waved away his concern. ‘Bread. Down the wrong way.’
‘Thought for a minute you were choking,’ Ferdia said.
Well, why didn’t you say something, you useless tool? Twenty-two years of age and more concerned with Syrian refugees than your stepfather expiring!
‘That’d be a shame,’ Johnny croaked. ‘To die on my birthday.’
‘You wouldn’t have died,’ Ferdia said. ‘One of us would have tried the Heimlich manoeuvre.’
Someone would have needed to notice I was dying first.
‘You know what happened recently?’ Ed asked. ‘Mr Heimlich? The man who invented the Heimlich manoeuvre? Finally, at the age of eighty-seven, he got to do it on someone for real.’
‘And it worked? He saved the person?’ This was from Liam, the youngest of the Casey brothers, right down at the end of the table. ‘Be a bit mortifying if he did it, then the person snuffed it.’
Liam tended to bring the snark to any situation, Johnny reflected. Look at him there, lounging back in his seat with a careless grace that made Johnny’s teeth itch. At forty-one years of age, Liam was still propelling himself through life, using only good looks and swagger.
The cut of him, with his surf-y hair and half the buttons open on his crumpled shirt.
‘Like Mr Segway,’ Ferdia said. ‘Invented the Segway, said they were totally safe, then died on one.’
‘In fairness,’ Ed said, ‘his only claim was that you’d never fall over on one.’
‘So what happened?’ Johnny, despite his resentment at the lot of them, was interested.
‘He accidentally drove one off a cliff.’
‘Oh, God.’ Nell, Liam’s wife, dissolved into giggles. ‘Started believing his own publicity? You know, they were a bit safe, so he got fooled into thinking they were bullet-proof?’
‘Got high on his own supply,’ Ferdia said.
‘You’d know about that.’ Liam threw his nephew a dark look.
Ferdia glared in return.
So the feud between those two is on again? What is it this time?
He’d ask Jessie. She kept tabs on the various Casey alliances and grudges – it gave her life. Where was she anyway? Right, here she came. Carrying a trayful of, by the looks of things, sorbets.
‘Palate cleansers!’ she declared. ‘Lemon and vodka.’
‘What about us?’ Bridey piped up. She was twelve years of age and operated like a union rep for the five youngest cousins. She policed their rights with vigilance. ‘We can’t possibly have vodka, we’re far too young.’
‘On it,’ Jessie said.
Course she was, Johnny thought. Fair play to her. Never dropped the ball.
‘Just lemon for you guys.’
Sometimes Johnny didn’t know how Jessie did it. Even though Bridey was his first-born, he sometimes found her insufferable.
Bridey issued stern instructions to the younger kids that if their sorbets tasted ‘in any way funny’ they must desist from eating them with immediate effect.
She actually said those words. ‘Desist.’ And ‘with immediate effect’.
It was at times such as these that Johnny Casey wondered at the wisdom of sending children to expensive schools. They created monsters.
Jessie resumed her spot at the head of the table. ‘Everyone okay?’ she asked.
Cheerful noises of assent rose, because that was how things rolled in Jessie’s world.
But when the hubbub quietened down, Ed’s wife, Cara, said, ‘I have to say it, I’m bored out of my skull.’
Good-humoured chortles followed and someone murmured, ‘You’re gas.’
‘I’m not joking.’
Several heads jerked up from their sorbets. All conversation ceased.
‘I mean, sorbets?’ Cara asked. ‘How many more courses do we have to sit through? Couldn’t we just have had a pizza?’
Okay, Cara had one or two issues. To put it mildly. But she was a sweetheart, one of the nicest people he’d ever met. Johnny’s gaze went to Ed: it was his job to keep his wife under control. If that wasn’t a very sexist thought and, yes, he admitted it was.
But Ed looked stupefied with confusion. ‘What the hell?’ he asked. ‘Jessie, I’m sorry!’
Jessie was dumb with shock.
Trying to pull things back to normal, Johnny adopted a light-hearted tone. ‘Ah, come