“Lionel?” said Karen.
Lionel looked up in surprise at the mention of his name. Karen usually flicked her fingers in exasperation when called upon to remember it.
“Yes, darling?” he replied, watching her eyebrows arch like some demented viaduct. The uninspiring football being served up between Shelbourne and Dundalk had caused him to glance down at his open programme and he had been reading some unadulterated tosh called “A Tolka Romance,” when Karen spoke.
Karen broke wind nervously. “Lionel,” she repeated and her face reddened. Then it browned, purpled and finally reddened again. There was no other way to say it, she realised. In the end, it all came out in a rush, together with a half a pint of spittle. “Do you think we ought to try for a baby?”
Lionel ducked suddenly as a Hedderman clearance slammed into the stands. “That was a close one,” he remarked jovially as the ball struck Karen square in the nose, splattering it all over her face.
“Go on, lad, show us what you’re made of!” he shouted loudly as the quick throw in was intercepted by the ever-dangerous Georgescu.
Karen wiped the blood and mucus from her face and repeated her question, watching the back of his head closely for a clue to his inner feelings.
When the ball went out of play on the far side of the pitch, Lionel turned and held her giant pudgy hand in both of his. “Sorry darling,” he said. “Something about gravy?”
“A baby,” Karen repeated again, gripping his hand tightly and causing sudden paralysis of his lower arm. “Do you think we ought to try for one?”
“Try for one? What do you mean - try for one?” he asked, clicking his tongue in exasperation as Keddy went down again.
“What do people normally mean when they say they’re going to try for a baby?” asked Karen incredulously. “Buy a raffle ticket for it?”
“Is that how it’s done?” asked Lionel in all seriousness, missing the sarcasm in her voice. “I always wondered. Do you think Bisto’s ever going to score again?”
“Oh forget about Bisto for once, will you!” she snapped and Lionel gasped audibly at the sacrilege. “This is important. This is you and me. Are you seriously telling me you don’t know how babies are made?”
Lionel opened his mouth to speak but Karen pointed a warning finger at him. “Don’t you dare tell me you think Dave Crawley raises his game every time he plays against us,” she threatened, breaking wind again aggressively.
Lionel closed his mouth, an act which probably saved his life. He thought a while. “No,” he said at last. “It never really came up.”
With a lot of finger pointing and with the help of the ring doughnut that she had been saving for the end of the match, Karen painstakingly and graphically explained to Lionel the facts of life. Lionel kept quiet, his face down, only looking up when Dave Freeman seemed for a split second to be in on goal. His face turned green at one point and Karen thought he was going to be sick but he held it in like a man until she had finished.
“I had no idea,” he said eventually. “How bizarre! And you say birds and bees do all that?
“Humans too,” said Karen quickly, afraid he might be missing the point of her spiel.
“Good Lord!” replied Lionel. It was like the relevations to Saul on the Road to Damascus. The pieces all fell into place.
“Well?” asked Karen. He looked at her quizzically.
“Do you think we should try for a baby?”
Lionel stood up suddenly. “He’s not one of the Untouchables of India! He’s only from Dundalk!” he yelled, as the Shels defence backed away. Muttering and shaking his head, he sat down again and turned to Karen. “You want a baby very much, don’t you?” he said tenderly, picking at the matted blood in her hair.
She nodded, not daring to her speak. This was her moment, she realised. His response would either fulfil her spiritually, mentally and physically or else she might as well be as barren as Anto Flood’s current scoring record.
Lionel looked at her and love swept over him like a bath of treacle. He could see the fear in her eyes, the snot hanging precariously down her nose and her beauty wart on her bottom lip. He knew he hadn’t the power to refuse such loveliness but yet... but yet...
Eventually he spoke. “I think,” he said, “that maybe we ought to wait until the end of the match.”
And he was instantly enveloped in a mass of slobbering kisses that Anto Flood would have given his right arm for.