“Can I ask you a favour, Vincent?” said Senán.
His friend puffed an expanding plume of smoke into the sharp night air, and smiled faintly as he flicked ash into a flower bed.
“You know I love doing people favours,” he said. “As long as we’re not talking money or anything that would put me out too much, I’m Mister Congeniality.”
“OK. I’ve two favours to ask you, really, thinking about it now.”
Vincent was wearing an oversized black mohair V-necked jumper, riddled with holes, whose sleeves were tattered enough to make a maiden aunt reach for her darning needles — his “Robert-Smith-circa-Prayer–Tour look”. Whenever he pulled this on before going out for a cigarette, it was a sure sign the weather was chilly.
“The first favour,” said Senán, “is that you turn off the sarcasm and wry observations for a couple of minutes. If you can do that, I can ask you the second one. Smart-arse setting to zero, please.”
“Hmm. Can I turn off the sarcasm and wry observations? Would I still be me if I did that? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make any noise? How can Vincent crappy with one handy?”
“Oh, Jesus,” said Senán in exasperation. “Forget it, Vincent. I knew it was too much to ask. I’ll bring my problems to Scary Mary or someone. Someone who’s not some kind of overgrown teenager.”
“OK. OK. OK. The invocation of that woman’s name has brought me to my senses. I’ll be all grown up from now on in. Promise. Tell me what I can help you with. Uncle Vincent is all ears.”
Senán looked carefully at his friend. In the red-tinged glow of the halogen lights that ringed the Foundation, Vincent’s chubby, unshaven face was without a hint of its usual playful acerbity. Senán even saw kindness and concern there. Convinced that Vincent would behave himself and not take advantage, he explained the favour.
“I need some advice off you, Vincent. As someone who’s been around the block more than me. It’s about me and Trish. You know I’m mad about her. She’s a great girl. Kind. Fun. Smart. We click, you know? And everything is perfect — except for one tiny thing. She has, Jesus, how should I say it, a block. She had a bad experience as a teenager. Her first time having sex. And now, she can’t do it. She just tightens up. She wants to do it, consciously, like. But there’s some unconscious fear. We’re physical together. We’ve done everything two lovers can do, but not full-blown penetrative sex. I’m at a loss. We’ve been going out for nearly six weeks now and I just know that it’s going to grow and grow. Until she feels so ashamed or I feel so sorry for her that it will become a thing between us and we’ll just break up over something that’s stupid and trivial in one way, but really important in another. Basically, and accepting the fact that I’d like to have sex with her very badly, I just want to help someone I really care about.”
Vincent took a drag of his shortening cigarette and pulled at a clump of hair with his free hand, twisting in a childlike way a long knot between his stubby forefinger and thumb.
“Fuck,” he said. “That’s a toughie. Have you suggested counselling?”
Senán nodded. “She’s considering it. Maybe after Christmas.”
“And from what I gather, she’s not generally frigid. She lets you touch her there and everything?”
“And put your fingers up? She’s relaxed enough to let that happen?”
“Uh-huh. We do that a lot. She enjoys it. Gets wet. Orgasms. The works.”
“So it’s a specific fear of the purple-headed warrior being up there?”
“Uh-huh. And please — you’re veering into Vincent territory again.”
“OK. Sorry. Does she masturbate?”
“As far as I know, yes.”
“Does she have a vibrator?”
“I don’t know.”
After a last pull on his cigarette and flicking it into the shrubbery, Vincent frowned in thought for a while before speaking again: “It might be good to get a vibrator. One that’s as penis-like as can be. A big, scary, fucking industrial, 1970s-porn-movie vibrator. First, get her to use it on herself while you’re watching. And then you use it on her. It might take a few sessions of upping the ante, but after a while she’ll get used to the feel and, more importantly, the idea of a penis inside her. And if that doesn’t work, man . . . I’m thinking. Have you tried to get it on while high? On the doobie?”
“No. Drunk, yes. High, no.”
“Could be an idea. Saw it in a Woody Allen film. You never know. And if that doesn’t work, all I can think of is a visit to the headshrinker.”
Vincent lit another cigarette, as if to say that he was available for another seven minutes if Senán needed to talk more. Senán didn’t speak, however; just watched the wind bending the bare branches of the ash trees behind which twinkled the lights of Drumroe student village.
“Hey,” said Vincent, breaking the silence, “I saw that friend of yours, what’s-his-face, today. Your boss in the shop.”
“That’s it. Luke. Over by the business school. Was he over here to visit you, or what?”
“No. I’ve no idea what he’d be up to on campus. No idea at all.”