Saturday, July 14

Collapsed In A Heap On The Grass

It was a long walk and, as it turned out, the only real exercise of the weekend. From my window I saw that the sun would be behind buildings for the majority, but I soon learned, as I swung down the quiet street, that the buildings were far enough from the pavement to provide almost no shade at all to the dawdling pedestrian. Twenty minutes until kick-off. Sweat ran down my forehead into my eyes, distorting the path ahead and stinging; and I had forgotten to bring a tissue so I endured it running off my brow and into my lashes and then my field of view; bitter even to the eyes. (I listened to music that reminded me of cooler times in Vienna, back when I was more adventurous and not so bruised or anxious. The air in Vienna was so chilled and blue, so fragrantly it lingered around statues, smelling sweetly of autumn perfume aflame. November temperature.) My friend was sat on the sofa with a fan rotating slowly not twelve inches from his face. I shook his hand, put my beer in his fridge and sat next to him. 4:33.The walk had taken twenty-three minutes, give or take. We roasted in his living room with the fan rotating slowly. His suicide attempt had, among other things, robbed him of his ability to perspire. He sat there in great discomfort, spraying himself with water. I knew that he was off and that I was off, but I would try to enjoy myself nonetheless, and try to be entertaining company. It was simply that I wanted to be alone, but, aware that it was bad for me, reached out to another loner. The football was mildly interesting; if not, I would have watched it alone. ‘You can’t watch it alone. Go round…’
We drank. I went two cans for his bottle.
The sun shifted underneath the balcony of the flat above and bleached the net curtains that swayed over an open window. Beyond that, only the uninterested broke our ninety-minute quiet.
We drank. I ran out of beer and he gave me his.
It was too hot to smoke, but we took our cigarettes outside and I sweated while he sprayed himself. We broke bread and it was dark when I went outside for a moment and thought—I should leave, I am tired, although it has been good to have company. When I returned, he said—‘I’m gonna have to kick you out, man. I’m shattered.’ I assured him that I, too, was about to suggest I leave. I looked out of the taxi’s window at the folk sheltered in the doorways of illuminated shop-fronts, stumbling, keeping their head down or looking for trouble. It is a landscape of doom that makes me sad. The nights are too short for the sleeping mind, yet I get home and pause before the cause. My own fan is turned up to three-speed and I get cool. The shower is cold. I shiver. What kind of fool seeks to remove loneliness, then arrives home to revel in that which they sought to avoid? Ah, all my own space! The fan’s wind undulated against my towel and eventual nakedness. For no reason at all I lingered until two a.m. and then slept the short sleep of unforgiving weekends.
‘It’s once every four years.’
‘Yeah, come on.’
‘He will.’
‘If I watch it at home, I can shower and the fridge is there and my fan is going and I can pay attention.’
‘Don’t be a cunt.’
We all went out; Wednesday night; semi-final. A girl warmed to me. Her presence was buoyant and her dress flowed around her ankles. She leaned against me, rested her head on my shoulder. She offset the result. When the first goal went in, the bar erupted: people threw pints, they rocked and fell, tables spilled, clapping and roars. It felt like something good was happening and all of us felt it.
They equalised.
I was outside with the large crowd when their second goal went in and the mood changed dramatically. A fight broke out immediately. Tables collapsed and the crowd separated to give the men space. Men, men, always men, grown men. Finally the fight stopped. The remaining minutes played out and the whistle went; shrill. The whistle came from the big screen. It cut the night in half, the journey ended and the air became toxic. It was unpleasant. Another fight broke out, groups throwing punches; again the crowd moved apart around the fracas. You could hear the spit of four knuckles against a skull. Then another fight. Many were soon drawn in and the repulsive England fans were at it against each other. Idiots! I shook my head. The bar staff looked on. I looked on. There was just about enough goodwill for the fights to be broken up as interviews unfolded on the big screen and the players lay collapsed in a heap on the grass. A man with blood running down his face leaned on me as his mate held him back from those he wished to harm. I hoped his blood would not land on me, although for all the mayhem it was interesting to see blood. The girl left. Police arrived and we were all told to leave. The evening had been cut short and all of it in the foulest way possible. So the tournament was no more and England were coming home. There was a broken t.v. on the floor, broken tables and puddles of beer.
The driver said nothing, and neither did I. The streets were strange, were quiet. Once every four years. Another cold shower. What was the use? I was angry, I was sad. I wanted to sleep forever.

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