‘Can we go to the fun pier today instead?’ Marque 5 enquires. We’re off on our usual walk with the dog. A great walk to my mind. Trees and blossoms giving way to sand and sea. Nothing to complain about here.

‘It’s where I went yesterday and I loved it’, he says.

Ah yes. Yesterday. When marque 3 took him to the town to fix up his phone and they adventured on. Parentless bliss.

‘The East Pier? But that’s ages away’, I say.’

‘We’d have gone a different way to get there. We’re close enough to the West pier if you want to give that a try?’

Silence. His normally sunny face seems to say that he very much does not want to give that a try. I’m on thin ice here as it is. All his brothers can go walking when they like. He’s stuck with me, which since his adventuring yesterday has lost a good deal of its appeal.

‘I really loved the East pier’, he says resignedly. Mummy tends to get the final say in all matters of walking. But I know what he means. The craic is on the East pier. The buzz. The food. The animated walkers. The kids on scooters and skateboards. The lifeboat. The West pier is, well, bumpy, tricky to navigate and full of earnest walkers. A tad depressing by comparison. Truth be told I’ve been avoiding the East pier. It was a cherished place for our old pal, his favourite walk with my sister over all the years. I’ve been a bit of a chicken about going there since he’s been gone. Perhaps it’s time.

‘Right, let’s do it, let’s go to the fun pier’, I say and he beams.

He leads the way, speaking as he goes.

‘What I really loved about being with marque 3 was we didn’t have to walk all the time. We could just sit and relax when we wanted to’.

‘Is that so?’

‘Yeah, you know the way when we walk we have to keep walking and walking and walking?’

‘We do?’

‘Yeah and with marque 3 we stopped off whenever we liked. Look, that’s where we sat and ate our chips’.

‘You got chips?’

‘Yeah – from that van there. And this is where I was when the bird came down and ate out of my hand’. He’s laughing at the memory.

‘Oh yeah? What kind of bird?’

‘Look, just like that one there. I think that’s him’. He whips out his phone and takes a snap of a beautiful yellow-beaked black and white dappled bird.

I’m beginning to feel very dull compared with good old marque 3. Marque 5 begins to scale a wall. A wall with a fair drop.

‘Get down’, I say, a tad brusquely.

‘But this is where we parkoured yesterday’.

Is it now.

‘Let’s go walk the pier’, I say, feeling sorry for him now being stuck with me.

We’re approaching the bandstand when we hear it. The most gorgeous of gorgeous voices belting out of somewhere.

‘That sounds just like Allie Sherlock’, I say to him. We’ve heard her busking on Grafton Street many a time. Back in the good old days. We peep around the bandstand and there she is, blasting away, almost instantly tear inducing, the beauty of that voice. No-one else seems to realise the magic that she is. They walk on by, oblivious. All the better for us I think as we park ourselves on the steps opposite her and get treated to a ‘private concert’ as marque 5 puts it. He’s thrilled, snap chatting his friends about it. I’m beginning to feel a little less dull now. I phone marque 2. He loves her voice. He’s up to his neck preparing for his Leaving Cert French oral exam in the morning. He answers. I hold the phone out and let him hear it. It’s his favourite song of hers as it happens.

I fumble in my pocket for loose change to give to Allie. Of course there’s none. There hasn’t been any since the beginning of this thing. But I do have a tenner shoved in the case of my phone. It’s actually marque 5’s. I’m minding it for him.

‘I only have your tenner’, I say to him.

‘Give it to her’, he says.

‘It’s been so much fun and she deserves it’.

‘You give it to her’, I say, nudging him.

‘No you’, he says.

He feels too young and self-conscious. I feel too old and self-conscious. Oh well.

I go over with the dog and place the tenner in her guitar case while telling her how much we enjoyed it. I could tell her that she has, actually, saved the day. Cheering my stressed out leaving cert son right up. Bringing me back into the realm of cool again with my youngest son. But I do not burden her further than a thanks, you’re super, really enjoyed it.

As I make my way back over to marque 5, I think I hear someone calling my name. Something like that seems to be blowing at me on the wind. But it can’t be. I don’t know anyone anymore. Not for the last twelve months. I must be imagining it. Or else someone is calling out to the singer. Our names are similar. It’s getting louder. Coming from above. I look up. The loveliest friend from work looks down, smiling. It takes a moment for it to register. I feel like I think my father must feel at times. Getting it, but not really getting it. Wondering what to do next. Are we allowed to chat? Do I whip out a face mask? No clue. Why don’t I have a clue? Is this what it’s like for other people? Have all our natural skills been stripped from us through all these lockdowns, through all this fear? I’m one for the banter. There’s many a tea break silence that I can fill without a thought. But that was then. This is now. I’m rusty as hell.

I go up the steps to her level. The wind whips at my face and I feel a nasal drip descend to the tip, hanging in translucent glory, refusing to drop. I have no skills to sort this. No tissues, needless to say, just a pocket full of face masks, dog poop bags (empty thankfully) and hand sanitizer. I can’t get my head around which thing would best address the nasal drip. The back of my hand or my sleeve are both in the running now too as I try to navigate this. I seem to be bantering. Plucking random unrelated topics leading to inevitable dead ends. Wittering is probably a better description. Wittering on. Losing all the cool I had gained with marque 5 now for sure. We work out that it has actually been a year since we’ve met in person. Which does seem astonishing when it’s said out loud. A whole year. The Zoom meetings don’t seem to count for a thing now that we’re face to face. I drag marque 5 into the conversation and then speak for him. I realise that I’m wearing my distance glasses, covered with a pair of cheap sun glasses (a lockdown who cares thing) a little late into the wittering process. I whip both pairs off with a sudden urgency. I always think it’s rude to talk to someone with sunglasses on, especially if they aren’t wearing them. Seeing as it’s cloudy, windy and about to rain, no-one else is wearing them. I look mistily across at my lovely work mate and wonder if it’s retrievable. Will she call out the next time, or duck and dive as she should? As we say our goodbyes she alerts me kindly to my left foot. To the clodhopper runner with its undone lace, waiting to trip me up. Oh well.

On the walk home I feel light, invigorated, a little excited even. This real life interaction thrums in me. Yes I was rusty. Stumbling out of the blocks. Blinking into the half-light. But this is a taste of the future. And I had no idea how much I missed it.