It dawned on Roy Illtud Paine that he’d loved Mary Rand in his small way. There’d been no future in it, mind, what with Mary in Tokyo leaping for Olympic gold and Roy watching her on telly from behind the living room sofa where he’d primed a plastic bridge to blow a German jeep to smithereens. It had been love, though, just the same.
Roy could see Mary now: see her sunlit in speckled black and white, sprinting and then airborne, courtesy of the BBC. He saw her quite suddenly, out of nowhere, straight from the long jump final of 1964, as the rain smashed into his car windscreen, overwhelming the exertions of the wipers as he sat in the service station parking bay. He saw himself watching Mary, peeping secretively over furniture battlements while his parents ate Vesta meals off trays.
“She’s a bit of a tomboy,” his mother Gwen had remarked, with a small note of dissent.
His father Don had answered with authority: “Pretty, though.”
“Well, yes,” Gwen had conceded and order in the Paine universe was restored.
Roy, beguiled, had stayed quiet, devoured by a strange longing that was even newer than the three-piece suite.
And now Roy thought ahead: to lying in his motel bed and a doctor drawing a sheet over his face.
The rain slowed, making audible the thank-God roar of Roy’s fellow men motoring too fast towards the end of another working week. It was late in the afternoon – too late to make it home to Purley by the vital time of 5:00 pm.
The Hounslow motel entrance glowed mildly in the unseasonable gloom. Roy swung out of the driver’s side, airport carrier bag in hand, and half-ran, hunched, toward the dry beyond the automatic door.
“Hello,” sang the receptionist.
“Hello!” answered Roy, clarion of joy.
“Is it wet enough for you?” the receptionist asked.
Roy guffawed as chivalry required and ran his free hand across his streaming face. The receptionist was smiling, slim, hair tied back. Roy liked her, she was natural. He liked the way her dark roots showed through the blonde.
“What name is it, please?” she asked.
“Paine. Roy Paine.”
“Ah yes, Mr Paine. Room 123.”
In the lift to the first floor Roy re-ran the reception scene in his head; an edited version, in which the receptionist was Jessica Ennis. Heading down the corridor, he fantasised that Jessica would find his dead body, remembering him as nice guy, perhaps saying so to somebody she knew; perhaps to Kristie at the funeral, assuming she was there.
“You must be Roy’s wife. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I’m so grateful to you, Jessica, for breaking your training schedule to be here.”
“I didn’t know Roy well, but he was such a lovely guy.”
“Thank you. We’d been married a long time…”
Roy entered room 123, found light switches on the wall, the room lit up, sterile and spare. The door swung shut behind him unaided, sealing the clean silence inside. Roy perched on the edge of the military-made bed and stared at the wall – white with a hint of nothing much at all. For a moment, he felt calm.
The TV remote was falling apart, but Roy found BBC1 and there, casual-smart, sat Lineker, Hansen, Dixon, and a black man he didn’t know. Oh, it was the Dutchman, Seedorf, which took Roy back a bit, although he couldn’t remember quite how far.
Roy removed his shoes and jacket, stacked the pillows, propped himself, watched beyond the low parapet of his upturned toes as the sages talked. Out came the players, proud for the anthems, the camera panning across their faces. Roy gazed at the Polish ones, so pale, young men from jobless places with names like rusty tanks. Roy gazed too at the Greeks, stubble sprouting from olive skin, an ancient culture, a wrecked economy, defiant chests stuck out. So much pride at stake: the opening match of Euro 2012.
Roy had his laptop open: googling he found a photograph of Mary Rand airborne, balletic, one knee and one arm raised, eyes cast almost sorrowfully down at the oblong of sand below; Mary with her short blonde hair, white cotton vest and shorts, number 59, mid-flight en route to becoming the nation’s glory girl; how powerfully, aged nine, he’d pined for her; how he now pined to get back the near half-century that had since passed.
The Poles were raiding down the right, fast-running, sucking in momentum from the crowd. A long shot was tipped over; a cross grazed an onrushing forehead; and then came a goal, headed home, followed by a skipping, leaping rush of joy. The home crowd rejoiced.
It couldn’t last. Roy knew this even though Greece had a man sent off. It couldn’t last because his heart so wished it would. And so, sure enough there came a defensive bagatelle and a stabbed-in equaliser, and a bad, bad ending looked on the cards when Poland’s goalkeeper – Arsenal’s handsome, hapless Szczesny – tripped a forward and was sent off.
His replacement saved the penalty, magnificently full length, but it was consolation heroism. Roy switched to ITV, saw some car ads, dozed off, and woke to find the Russians crushing the Czechs and that Kristie had sent him a text from Heathrow: “Boarding now. Is it strange in the house all on your own? Good luck with the sorting out.”
Roy pondered and replied: “Bon voyage!”
He thought again about dying, thought about how to do it, decided that pills would be the best. Then he switched off the football and fell back to sleep.
All instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport can be read HERE.
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