Lionel was so upset by the sight of Karen disappearing down the swollen River Tolka like an upturned whale that he could scarcely finish the Snickers bar that he was eating. After going home for a leisurely bath and a meal, he immediately phoned the police, the coastguards, the lifeboat service, Tesco home delivery service and anybody else he could think of. An air-sea search and rescue operation was launched but it unfortunately proved fruitless except for a crate of nectarines discovered near Poolbeg Lighthouse.
The tragic and traumatic circumstances of Karen’s disappearance and almost certain death were slightly assuaged however by Shelbourne’s 5-0 drubbing of Longford Town, a scoreline that renewed hope among the faithful that a serious attempt at the title could be launched. Okay the defence was still as watertight as a colander but sheets had not been renowned for their cleanliness of late and Lionel clutched at every straw that blew his way.
Ten days had passed since Karen’s untimely disappearance and Lionel realised that the time had come to let go. What they had had, had been beautiful, he thought, though not nearly as beautiful as stringing three consecutive “hads” together in a sentence. But everywhere he turned in the small flat reminded him of his one true love.
There was the dirty underwear scattered over the bedroom floor; the wart cream in the fridge; the dentures still grinning madly by the side of the bed; the chicken leg she had playfully discarded down the back of the settee. Like an enduring old composer, the Liszt went on. There was her wooden leg still propped against the wardrobe; the surgical stockings dangling from the lampshade; her underarm hair scattered over the chest of drawers.
Lionel realised he would have to make a clean break. “I’m sorry, darling,” he whispered as he stuffed everything in a large black sack and tiptoed to the skip down the road at two o’clock in the morning. He felt as if he was betraying her memory, as if he was finally cutting the strings and letting her fall over the cliff to be lacerated by the jagged rocks below. The guilt washed over him like a giant wave of chocolate custard and he hesitated before the skip. “Sod it,” he said and threw the sack in.
Without Karen’s personal belongings, the flat somehow felt emptier and Lionel realised in a there’s-a-hole-in-my-bucket sort of way that he would have to fill it up with non-Karen things. He immediately sent away for a Mongolian mail order bride called Zug and was pleasantly surprised when she arrived two days later with her extended family and a herd of goats in tow.
He brought them all up to Morton Stadium on the Friday night to see Shels play Torpedo Fingal. He was delighted that he was able to get all thirty eight of them in on a family ticket for €20, though he had to leave the goats with the police at the gate, as they constituted a potential hazard in case of fire (the goats, that is, not the police)
Zug became animated when the match began and insisted on asking the name of every player who touched the ball. “Hed-der-man,” she would repeat and nodded sagely as she said the name over and over until he passed it. In broken Egyptian, she confided to Lionel that she had followed Shels 2004 European run from her yurt outside Ulan Bator and still couldn’t believe how Jason Byrne’s lob had missed by so much in the game in Á Coruña.
It was an awful game but Zug’s family seemed to enjoy it and her grandmother even initiated a chant of “We are Shels!” near the end of the match. Zug sensed Lionel’s despair at the three points dropped to the team just behind them and rubbed his buttocks frenetically to buck up his spirits. Karen had never done that, he thought, and then he was suddenly racked with guilt again, even though it was a whole fortnight since she had been swept to her doom.
As they walked home through Whitehall, Zug confided to Lionel that she was pregnant and he was the father. Lionel was delighted. All that effort trying to make a baby with Karen and here was Zug carrying his baby only 48 hours after they had met and before they had even slept together.
As he settled down on the bathroom floor between Zug’s Uncle Reuben and one of the goats, Lionel realised he was the luckiest man alive.