In our latest spotlight on the work of local writers in Limerick, we bring you a short called ‘Behind the Couch’ by Tom McElligott.
You know them. It is the soccer mad supporters that I speak of with specific emphasis on the word ‘‘we‘‘. And yes I am married to one of them.
You will hear them say; ‘‘we are playing tonight or we should have bought Rooney or we should have signed Mourino sooner.’’ And so on and so on eating, drinking and sleeping Chelsea, United or who ever it is they idolise.
That evening I detected uneasiness in Jimmy. The European Cup Final or Ueafa or Champions Cup or whatever they called these boring football finals was to take place at 730pm.
‘You haven’t finished your dinner love, lost your appetite?’ I enquired.
‘Naw, I had a cup of tea earlier, not hungry now,’ he lied.
Then he said; ‘We are playing in the final. You must watch it.’
I could easily have guessed as much because he had his blue track suit on. His rumbling beer belly hung down over his track suit bottom sticking out like a sack of potatoes while he sat in front of the telly in his open laced runners.
‘I thought that you would be watching it on one of the reserved stools in the supports club in the local,’ I said.
‘Naw – too much noise. Those fellas get too excited for me, cannot control their emotions.’
I had a quiet snigger at him. He told a little white lie but I couldn’t let on that I knew why. His pride would not allow him to parade himself in front of his buddies when he might loose the run of himself in a fit of frenzy in the middle of the game. Instead, he would do so in comfort from the couch.
Game on. I took a peep through the sitting room door and he was already on the edge of the couch making imaginary tackles and heading balls off the line when he was not pointing out mistakes to the referee. Then, it was time for the verbal abuse. Jimmy protested at the biased decisions of the referee, wrong calls by the linesman and the unsporting behaviour of the opposition, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern something or who ever was playing.
‘Are we winning?’ I asked trying to show some interest.
‘Shhh.’ he responded hushing me into silence.
I sat for a minute and observed a bunch of twinkled toed posers, shapers and fancy ‘dans’ kicking, heading and throwing the ball to each other and arguing like bunch of cissies when they had lost it. One collapsed like a side of bacon in a slight tackle, lying motionlessly before a scurry of coaches, medical assistants and pall bearers appeared with faces as long as wet days. The crowd went crazy shouting; Off off off ref. White sprayed mist, rubs and leg stretching didn’t resuscitate him until suddenly Marago or whatever his name was resurrected himself. He was rubbing his eye – a fly in it perhaps I thought or maybe a tear drop, sure God help us. Five minutes later he managed to stand taking his first limping step like a toddler learning to walk. I laughed – if he got hit in a GAA match he wouldn’t have risen for a month.
I was bored and got up to go to the kitchen.
‘I am going to do a bit of ironing.’
‘Shhh! Shhh,’ he shushed once more.
I listened to the oohs and ahs, the nearlies and the profanity. Jimmy castrated, sorry he would he if could have, I meant castigated the referee telling him that he was blowing the whistle through the wrong hole.
‘Jesus ref are you blind?’
I laughed to myself as I thought of Spec Savers.
‘We should never have bought that half wit from Morocco or where ever he is from – cannot play for peanuts,’ he cried.
Fukinoff, I think that is what he called the Russian by name missed from two yards and Jimmy nearly went into a convulsion banishing him to Siberia. Jimmy let another hysterical yelp out of him – another near miss as Fukinoff hit’s the bar and is welcomed back from the Artic for his effort.
My mobile rings. Surprise surprise my beloved ’True Blue’ is on the other end. It must be coming up to half time I thought.
‘Have ‘we’ scored?’ I asked.
‘No Lil love its nil all. Can you put the kettle on love? You are missing a great game here love. Any chance of a ham and cheese sanger love?’
In the midst of all the love I felt the tension bursting out of Jimmy’s mobile. The atmosphere in the sitting room was explosive enough to make the wall paper almost do a strip tease, rattling the pictures on the walls and dancing the lampshades in a ‘Here we go’ samba. Polly boiled and I made him a strong cup of tea. Jimmy looked exhausted as he leaned in a heap with his leg dangling out over the sofa arm.
‘Is that a dead leg I see hanging there? Better get the spray,’ I said in jest.
He raised his eye brow at me and shuffled a bit testily at my efforts to be amusing taking the leg down and limping out to the loo rubbing the pins and needles out of his backside.
‘We are hanging in there at nil all,’ said a pensive Jimmy.
I didn’t know how he was going to get through the second half. I thought of ringing intensive care to see if they had a vacancy just in case. I returned to the quietness of the kitchen and Jimmy continued with his abuse of the referee. Late, in the second half I enquired.
‘Shhh! Missed that over you – no there is no score. Might be extra time and penos.’
And so it went to penos which I presumed were penalty kicks.
‘Lil, come in quickly or you will miss the spot kicks,’ he commands.
He had an ulterior motive of course. I would be his third eye.
Obediently, I agreed placing myself in front of the flat screen. Jimmy nibbled at already eaten finger nails like a gnawing dog on a meatless bone before he found a biro top to chew on. The opposition scored first. We kicked next. Jimmy had disappeared. He couldn’t bear to watch.
‘Is he ready? Tell me when he is running up to take it.’
Jimmy was crouched down behind the couch with his hands over his ears and face buried into his knees like an air passenger in an emergency.
‘Scored,’ I revealed casually.
Jimmy jumped out like a wound up kangaroo yelping ‘Here we go – here we go- here we go until the next kick. Silence once more and then celebration, this time it filtered through the jamb in the door.
And so the ritual continued until the last kick. It was four all. ‘The others’ kicked and missed and I revealed the good news to him. He had taken lodgings in the make shift stand half way up the stairs. The yelping and ‘here we go’ continued at the opposition‘s miss.
‘Why don’t you come in and watch the sudden death?’ I jested.
‘Quiet woman. Just tell me what is happening for God’s sake? It is not the time for funny business now. You know that if we score this one we win the cup,’ he said.
‘Ok Grumpy,’ I responded.
Now he was in the upstairs bathroom probably shitting himself with nervous tension. He had taken the mobile with him. I took a peep thorough the sitting room window and notice smoke, white smoke coming out of the toilet window. Sneeky was having one of his sly smokes on the quiet. I rang him.
‘Are you alright up there love? Any white smoke yet?’ I enquired from the bottom of the stairs in a giggle.
‘I hope that there isn’t extra-time or all my mobile credit will be gone.’
‘For Jasus sake woman will you go and watch the last peno.’
Not a murmur could I hear from the bathroom. If we missed this kick Jimmy might flush himself down the toilet mobile and all. We take the kick and we score. So what I think no big deal. He heard me opening the sitting room door. The toilet door slowly opened. This frightened ashen faced vision looked down at me from the landing like some one facing a death sentence. I had my gloomy face on.
‘Don’t tell me Lampard missed it.’
‘Ah -,’ I said before he interrupted me.
‘Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. Christ I cannot bear it any longer. Tell me, tell me now,’ asked Jimmy who was as petrified as a rabbit in a snare.
‘Have you your bicycle clips on your trousers just in case you get the unmentionable because of the result?’
‘Come on for God sake – tell me.’
‘I think the fellas in blue won because they were jumping and screaming like a bunch of half wits, kissing and feeling each other.’
‘Did he score the bloody penalty or not?’ barked Jimmy.
‘Think so – it was Torrnado the cissy with the yellow head band in the blue jersey.’
He ran down stairs grabbed me and did a high land fling three times around the couch. I was mortified in case any of the neighbours saw me. After a plethora of high jinks he threw himself onto the couch exhausted.
‘Come sit beside me Lil love, tis great that we won,’ he said with a winning glint in his eye.
‘No chance,’ I replied flashing him an imaginary yellow card.
I could see it coming, the craving, the thirsty craving I mean. Yes all of the signs were there – the shuffling, rubbing his chin, pulling up his track suit bottom before taking a look out at the weather in the direction of the local.
‘How’s the dead leg now? Suppose that you will have to rest it up tonight – no walking for a few days,’ I jibed.
‘Will I get the squeezy spray for you? All I have is ‘Mr Sheen’’. Would that do the trick?’ I asked teasing him.
‘Hilarious! Maybe a rub would do the trick,’ he ventured.
‘Dream on – no chance,’ I replied telling him to hop it.
‘Would you like to go for a drink to the local Lil love?’ he asked.
How wonderful to be loved and allowed to join the supporters club.
‘Why not, we might as well celebrate,’ I said.
We entered the local and joined the ‘We‘ supporters. They were all there Dillon, Liamo, Mousy and Larry. The Brag was boasting about their win driving the United and Pool followers mad.
But the best part had yet to come. Jimmy had taken centre stage to describe the penalties step by step forgetting that he hadn’t taken them himself. Then he demonstrated the picking of the ball out of the net giving the ‘V’ sign or the two fingers, I am not sure which, to the envious United supporters across the bar. He had every detail of the saves, the walk ups, the shimmies, the shot, the misses.
I laughed. There wasn’t a mention of crouching behind the couch, peeping through the door jam or hiding on the stairs. Or locking himself into the bathroom and having a sneaky puff afraid to answer his mobile while he sat with a toilet roll in one hand and the flush handle squeezed tightly in the other. A true blue.