Thursday, 30 September 2010
Sprawled on sofa was I, watching a documentary about feral children. I had begun the evening attempting to read Raymond Carver. But my attention wandered, the TV was switched on, and I became engrossed by the sight of a thirteen year old Russian girl jumping about on all fours and barking. My concentration was beginning to fade (again) as the telephone rang. By this time, the documentary had stopped running film of the girl acting dog-like and, instead, was referencing Noam Chomsky and language development. Nobody watched a documentary about feral children to listen to Chomsky’s formation of language hypotheses. It was all about the barking girl.
It was Alex that called. He was a person that I vaguely knew through a friend of a friend of a friend. We had once attended a night of Morrissey music together and he’d complained that the DJ played too much Morrissey. I turned away from him following that comment.
“Hey, Kay,” he said. “Long time … You doing anything tonight?” he started.
I told him that I was watching a programme about feral children, after which I surf the web and then go to sleep.
“Thing is, we’re desperate for someone to play football.”
I asked who ‘we’ were.
“Torpedo Tooting,” he said. “We ate a dodgy curry yesterday. The team’s been decimated. I remembered - on that Morrissey night you said you played a bit.”
I never said this. I told Alex. I told him that football was for plebs and I hadn’t played for ten years.
“Even so … could you help out? I’m literally ringing everyone I know. We’re dead desperate. And we’re going out in Clapham after. I’ll buy you a few pints.”
I asked how many. Alex seemed confused.
“You want an actual number?”
I told Alex that I would play for five pints. He asked if I were joking. I told him that I never joked about alcohol. So desperate for players was Alex that he agreed to my price. Possessing no items of clothes sporting, I asked if I could borrow some kit. He said that it shouldn’t be a problem. He asked the size of my feet and I replied ‘massive’.
Train. Tube. And on the underground I sat next to a small woman. Across her lap lay an open sketch book. She drew snatches of the tube carriage’s occupants. In time she turned to me. Quite brazenly, she would look up from her drawing to study the lines of my face. I noticed this from the corner of my eye. And I was determined not to react. All artists crave attention. I wasn’t playing ball.
The tube whizzed through four Northern Line stations on its way south to Clapham. The sketchy woman had finished the picture of my face and was now studying the form of a small American girl that sat opposite. She drew the girl on the same page as my face, so I was able to peer awkwardly at her representation of my features.
Instantly, my determination to remain impassive was ruined. There, on the page, sat a fat-faced, baggy-eyed version of Kay Richardson, ten years older and three stone heavier.
“That’s not me,” I said, jabbing my finger at the page. “I look like a fucking hamster.”
The woman glanced up at me with a quick, bird-like movement, but continued to sketch the girl opposite. I was prevented from continuing the conversation by the tube’s arrival at Tooting Bec station. I screwed my eyes and wished silent misfortune on the ‘artist’, as I joined the throng of grey commuters off the tube.
“Do I look fat?” I asked Alex at his car outside Tooting Common.
He didn’t respond, instead he pulled me some clothes from the rear seats of his car. There were no changing facilities. I would have to change in the open. He didn’t have any massive sized shoes. I would have to make do with size 11. This was a size too large, but seemed to fit OK.
The match passed in a blur. I touched the ball three times in the first half of forty-five minutes. Once was to whack the leather out of play, another was a weak pass back to the goalkeeper (which was intercepted by the opposition’s striker to score), and the third was a back-heel into space. I spent much of the first half bent double, tired hands on tired waist. At half-time, sweating over orange slices, Alex told me that I was doing ‘OK’, but to keep things ‘simple’. We were winning 3-1.
Second 45: there were a few missed passes, a kick of an opponent’s bum, and one punt at goal that was so close to going in that it brought tears to my eyes. The game finished three goals each. As we changed back into our civilian clothes at the back of the car, Alex said it was a ‘reasonable’ result and that I was shockingly unfit. There were no showers. I was forced to pull my clothes (that smelt still from the tube journey) over a body whose skin still gushed sweat from every pore. It was not pleasant.
“Right. Those five pints,” I said and Alex didn’t respond, but walked off. I followed him to the congregation of players (both our team and the enemy) at the gate of the common’s car park. They began formulating a plan.
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in The Sun pub, Clapham, with seventeen other footballers and five pints sitting on the table in front of my hands. Alex (who had turned rather surly) said that it was a Sunday evening and he wouldn’t be drinking lots and he couldn’t believe I was insisting on the alcohol, so he’d buy the five at once and there would be no argument.
Five pints to the wind, one hour later (2130) I felt fuzzy. I had grown tired of football talk, and amused myself by reading The Sunday Star. One article described Susanna Warner’s drunken stumbling outside a West End nightclub. A picture accompanied the story in which you could almost see up her skirt. Some of the footballers threw abuse at me for reading a newspaper in a bar, but I told them to ‘fuck off’ with vicious timbre.
And in shocked Rosalind.
Accompanied by a small, pretty and short-skirt-and-boots-wearing girl, she passed our long table, and stood at the bar. She didn’t notice me. I studied her back. Even though there were a couple of others waiting for drinks, she was served instantly. Taking an orange liquid, she disappeared in one of the corners away from us sportsmen.
I gulped and dropped the paper onto the table. The footballer sat next to me said that I should mind his pint. His words (and tone of aggression) flew over me like a silk sheet.
The last time we met, she claimed that she never wanted to see me again. The thought of such rejection made the five pints of continental lager simmer in stomach.
But of all the bars in all of London, she had walked into The Sun. Serendipity, Reader, serendipity. I jumped up from the table, knocking my neighbour’s pint over his jeans.
“For fuck’s sake!” he swore, all wet.
“Soz,” said I, but was already at the bar, buying a double vodka (easy on the ice).
Confidence increased by this further injection of alcohol, I sought out Rosalind.
There she was, in a wooden booth. Two benches, either side of a table, all wood.
There she was, in a wooden booth. Rosalind and her friend. With two men.
Standing across the pub, watching the party of four, an awareness of my drunkenness grew. I found it difficult to focus, and there was a palpable sway to my carriage.
I watched the table. Rosalind, friend and man #1 were listening to man #2 speak. His eyebrows were large, he wore a tight t-shirt and the excessive movement of his arms spoke of an actor. The hope that this man might be gay flickered within my drunken pessimism.
I ran a finger through my hair, straightened my hoopy polo shirt, and approached the table.
“Hey, Rosalind,” I said.
Three hours later, I stood swaying in my flat. The aroma of Rosalind’s perfume lingered still in the air; the thud of the slammed front door resounded within my rib cage.
The two men that had sat with Rosalind in The Sun were only friends. Although slightly smug, they were good fun. Rosalind asked me to sit with the party after only five minutes of standing and talking. She seemed pleased to see me; she said as much. It had been her birthday and her friends had forced Rosalind to drink. A faint fog behind her eyes spoke of intoxication. I felt less conscious of my slurred articulation.
We five spoke of:
My eyes (bandaged and bruised);
My odour (sweat);
Julian Macbeth (Rosalind admitted he was a prick);
My gift to Julian;
A number of invented roles that I had been offered post-sacking (lies regretted);
Rosalind’s friend’s cat’s cancer;
Clapham and Rosalind’s flat;
The coincidence of our meeting;
Sunday evening drinking.
We were thrown from the pub a little after ten thirty (damn Sunday closing times). I asked Rosalind if she wanted to come back to my flat for birthday doughnuts (newly bought from Sainsbury’s). She looked at her feet and said that she did. She was still able to stand and speak. I hailed a cab and we drove to Outer Blackheath. On the way, we stopped at a petrol station. There Rosalind bought water and sobered up.
“I’ve decided to enjoy life more,” said Rosalind stumbling out of taxi on Lee High Road. “Why shouldn’t I have a few drinks on a Sunday evening?”
Shared door passed, I wondered if I had any condoms. I wondered if Rosalind had accepted my invitation home understanding that doughnuts meant sex. I wondered if I should ask her.
“Look, Rosalind. Are we going to have sex or what?” I would say.
I struggled to find my door keys, having to empty all pockets twice before locating them in the back, left trouser space. We walked in silence up the stairs to my flat’s door and I considered kissing Rosalind’s face – just like that.
No kiss! Alarm! My flat’s door was open. I told Rosalind to wait in the hall. Adrenalin pumping through ears, I feared burglars and didn’t fancy my skull coshed. I crept into the lounge.
Sat on my sofa was a greyhound. It didn’t react to my swearing. It scratched behind its ear. There was dog shit on the floor.
I darted into the other rooms. There were no burglars, only dog.
“Wait there,” I called out to Rosalind and wondered how quickly I could clean the shit and get rid of the greyhound. And then I noticed the one wall without doors or windows.
FUCK OF JULIAN
was sprayed red across the white.
“Fuck of Julian,” I read, confused.
And then I realised – it should read ‘Fuck off, Julian.’
The dog jumped from the sofa and ran into the hall.
“A greyhound just ran out …”
Rosalind’s sentence faded. She stood framed by lounge door. I turned to her. She studied the room, her face contorted by disgust. She inspected the dog shit, the week’s worth of abandoned newspaper, the discarded beer cans, the clothes. Finally, her stare rested on the wall:
FUCK OF JULIAN
“It was the bloke downstairs,” I said.
“My God. You’re crazy,” she whispered.
Rosalind walked away.
Posted by Kay Richardson at 17:00