‘It was testicular’, Denise says. ‘They caught it too late. Well, he caught it too late. I’m telling you, lads – check yourselves. It’s important. Promise me?’
Half promises are mumbled into half-drunk pints. We try not to make eye contact. Wakes are funny things. Familiar people dressed in unfamiliar clothes. Familiar surroundings infiltrated by unfamiliar people. I can’t remember the last time I saw Denise in the King’s. I’ve certainly never seen Mrs Morgan in here. She sits, silently, at the end of the table, a tiny sherry glass pinched between her meaty fingers. The black widow. She’s sitting in Danny’s usual seat, so he’s squashed in next to me by the window. Ned’s sitting in Roddy’s chair, which just looks wrong. We sit. No-one speaks. I wonder if I should stick summat on the jukebox. Eventually, Micky says
‘So, was it the coal mining that did it?’
‘Who knows. The coal mining? The smoking? His weight? Could have been anything. Years I’ve been on at me dad about his lifestyle. Once it’s got you, there’s no escape.’
‘I just assumed it was his lungs’, Micky says.
‘No. Testicles. They’d swelled up like a couple of grapefruit by the time he thought to do anything. Can you imagine sitting on those for weeks on end and not thinking to do anything about it?’
‘To Roddy!’ Ned says, hastily, raising his ale.
Mrs Morgan releases a glass-shattering howl.
‘Jesus Christ. I need a ciggie’, says Danny, and heads outside.
I can’t get the image out of my head. Roddy, sitting here in this pub on his two ticking time-bombs. He never mentioned it. Just carried on laughing and joking with the rest of us, week in, week out. If he was a woman, we’d have known. Like when our Angie’s mate, Sandra, thought she’d found a lump. They spent hours in our kitchen, poking each other’s tits. Not that I’d have wanted to go anywhere near Roddy’s bollocks, but… Turns out Sandra caught it in time.
Denise gathers her stuff to leave.
‘Right. Now, remember what I’ve told you, fellas. Get yourself checked out. I don’t want your missus going through what me mam’s been through.’
She sweeps a slow finger around the group, so there can be no doubt who she’s talking to. Then, to me:
‘Tell your Angie I’ll see her at Zumba on Thursday. Come on, Mam.’
The following week, we’re back in the pub. Me, Danny, Micky and Ned. The same as it’s always been, but different. No suits. No black ties. No Roddy. His chair sits, empty. Micky’s stepped up as ring leader, and we’ve let him get on with it.
‘Let’s get a plaque made. Summat we can hang on the wall behind his chair, like.’
‘In memory of Roddy Morgan – ‘
‘ – he made a right balls up.’
We laugh. We drink. We never mention Roddy’s testicles again.