AIDA AUSTIN: You might like to eat the bread first, before the mussels, while you are still alive to enjoy it

SUNDAY, 7pm. The sun is still shining and my husband and I are making impromptu plans for the evening: short coastal walk, swim and a meal out in a newly-opened restaurant.

7.45pm: We have been for our walk and swim. Now we’re sitting in the car, mopping up the blood.“I need a tissue,” he says, as blood drips into his lap.

“Here,” I say, grabbing a glove, “use this.”“I’m not using those,” he says, “they’re my good wetsuit gloves.”

“Take this,” I say, tugging at the edge of a towel which is stuck in the hinge of a folded beach-chair.“Weird,” he says, as I release the towel, “must’ve knocked my elbow on a rock. Didn’t feel a thing.” 

I inspect the cut.

“What do you reckon?” he says. “I think your trousers got the worst of it,” I say, pointing at his lap.

8.15pm: Crossing the road outside the busy restaurant, my husband scrutinises his elbow. He is the only one looking at his elbow. I am not looking at his elbow. 

I am looking at the bigger picture along with everyone else: he is sandy, suntanned and wearing flip-flops. His beach shorts are white, apart from the crotch area, which is scarlet, and both inside legs, which are dark vermilion.

“You look like you’ve just come out of the sea, after having had your penis bitten off by a shark,” I say, “what with the flip-flops and all.” “We’re in Glandore,” he says, “not Australia. No-one’s going to think that.”

“You’re right,” I say, as the crowd sitting outside the restaurant looks at him and falls suddenly silent in the sun.

“May as well look on the bright side,” I continue, as children gasp and point, “perhaps everyone will just think you’ve got a medical condition which involves the uncontrollable pissing of blood.”

8.30pm: We are inside the restaurant, seated at a table. My husband considers the wine menu. “Well this is nice,” he says, surveying the room, “I think I’m going to have a pint of Franciscan Well.”

He passes me the menu. It has bloody thumb marks all over it. “Glass of Malbec?” he says.

“A bottle,” I say, “I need something to take my mind off the blood.”

8.35pm: We consider the food menu.“I’m still bleeding,” he says.

“Do you think,” I say, looking around at other relaxed, docile-looking diners, “there is any such thing as…” “Quick, quick,” he interrupts, “pass me a napkin.”

8.40pm: He has stanched the flow of blood with a table napkin.“Perhaps now we can just have a...” I say. 

“How do you know,” he says, looking down at the menu, “whether or not you’re still allergic to shellfish if you haven’t had it for ten years?”

“Keep things simple,” I say, “choose between lamb shanks or pasta Arrabiata, not life and death.” 

“But how do you know?” he says, “at some point, it makes sense to test it, to see if you still are.” 

“Sense to whom?” I say.

8.50pm: “The mussels look so good,” he says, as a waitress passes our table carrying a saucepan of steaming mussels at my husband’s eye-level.

“The last time you had shellfish,” I say, “your palatine uvula swelled up like a bull’s tackle and you nearly choked to death, remember? I had to call the doctor.”

“Of course I remember,” he says, “you said, ‘can you please take your choking over to the sink’.”

“I made that suggestion before I knew you were choking to death,” I say. “I was choking to death before you knew I was choking to death,” he says, “so strictly speaking, you actually said, ‘take your choking over to the sink’ while I was choking to death.”

8.55pm: “I’ll have the mussels please,” he tells the waitress, “with the bread. The bread looks amazing.”

“You might like to eat the bread first,” I say, “before the mussels, while you are still alive to enjoy it.” 

He rubs his hands together. I prepare myself for widowhood. “Cheer up,” he says, “I promise to choke outside if it comes to it.” 

I look around at the other diners again. They are the picture of relaxation. They have kept it simple. 

“Seriously,” I sigh, “do you think there’s…” 

“I mean just because I’m allergic to prawns and crab,” he interrupts, “doesn’t mean I’m allergic to mussels.”

“...any such thing as having a normal time of it?”


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