Monday, May 26, 2008

A Tolka Romance by Bill Zunmoon

Part 7
Spring arrived at last in Ireland. The sun came out, admitting in a live TV interview that it had always had feelings for Alpha Centauri, starlings hurriedly completed snag lists for their nests and Shelbourne surged up the table like testosterone rising in a buck rabbit just emerging from four years in Glenstal Abbey.
A veritable goalscoring fest from Freeman, O’Brien, Dunne, Hedderman and Brennan saw the Mighty Reds reach the pinnacle of the First Division in the middle of May as Dundalk struggled with altitude sickness at Camp V, yet Lionel was a troubled man. Amid the euphoria that greeted every goal, he knew that his life was incomplete, as if there was a piece of the jigsaw missing and somebody had hidden it for a laugh. As the great Irish composer Stephen Gateley once said, “Have you tried looking under the settee?”
Of course he knew the reason for his malaise. Karen. The love of his life, the girl of his dreams, twenty one stone of pure woman. He had gone to the Kildare game, hoping to bump into her – not literally of course, as that might have resulted in serious injury – and explain his feelings. He was sure she would understand, providing he spoke in English. But, although he lay in wait by Burdock’s for most of the game, her ample frame was nowhere to be seen.
At the Tuesday night game against Monaghan, he circumnavigated the ground three times before admitting that she wasn’t there. She had always joked that hide-and-go-seek hadn’t been her forte at school, laughing jocosely that many of the other kids had used her as a hiding place. And Lionel knew well that she was no Wally, blending effortlessly into the background like Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora.
On the coach down to Lissywoolen, Lionel brooded over Dundalk’s sneaky Friday night attack on the summit, pushing Shels back down the slope and robbing their chocolate. And he brooded over Karen. He knew she hadn’t gone by Tosh Travel since that embarrassing incident with the coach doors on the way back from Wexford but neither had he heard any mention from AA Roadwatch that a large load was moving slowly down the M5 and that motorists were being advised to continue on the N4 to Edgeworthstown before cutting back.
“Let me tell you ‘bout the way she looked, the way she’d act and the colour of her hair,” he remarked to the bearded guy in the seat next to him, and from Kilbeggan to Moate he poured his heart out to a complete stranger, stopping only when the latter pulled out his earphones and said “Wha’?”
She wasn’t in Athlone at all. Lionel knew this by the absence of a large shadow across the playing surface. He tried to concentrate on the football, marvelling how Sparky, now in his early eighties, still managed to cover every blade of grass on the pitch, except perhaps seven of them near the far corner flag. He roared with the sizable travelling contigent as the net bulged for the opening goal and watched Shels slowly inch back up to the summit, panting at every step.
It was a game of two halves but Nigel only remembered this as he got back onto the dual carriageway. Cursing his forgetfulness he returned to the ground to watch Shels playing into the teeth of a hurricane like Captain Birds Eye lashed to the mast for the second half. The minutes dragged by, limping heavily and with their noses in a sling. The tension was unbearable. Deano looked vulnerable. The normally watertight back four were springing leaks everywhere and there was no Carl van der Velden to stick his fingers in the dyke.
But then it was all over and Shels were back on top and it was Dundalk’s turn to camp on the windy ledge high above the sheer cliff face and hope they didn’t roll over in their sleep. For a moment, Nigel forgot Karen. The relief of victory washed over him like relief washing over somebody and he exited the ground whistling “There’s a whole lotta loving going on in my heart,” by The New Seekers.
And then he stopped dead in his tracks.
She was there, leaning lightly against his passenger door, which had buckled alarmingly under the pressure. Panting, as if she had run all the way from St. Mel’s Park, and with rivulets of sweat flowing copiously from her armpits, she idly squeezed the pimples on her chin as she waited for him.

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