The dull dawn broke with a feeling familiar to Roy. A blend of loss and cluelessness, it assailed him after the end of the group stage of every international football tournament. Two matches a day began as a treat, grew swiftly into a routine and then became a dependency. Euro 2012 cold turkey now set in as Roy contemplated the sporting day ahead: hours of Ascot and nothingness.
Roy surveyed the living room. Photographs and albums and memorabilia and mounds of papers unpacked from the three archive boxes were now spread in muddled mounds around the floor. He pushed his hair back, scratched a rib and pledged to stay at home instead of going into Croydon and pretending to be in insurance. He set the goal of creating a clear space on the carpet by the end of the day.
For three hours he kept on track, ordering, stacking, resisting the nervy lure of memory lane reveries, but by early afternoon he was flagging, drifting and finally channel surfing, agreeing with himself that he had earned half an hour of mindless gawping at the horses and the hats.
He fell asleep.
The phone rang: “Hello, it’s Nerys.”
A call from Melbourne from his little sister – never Roy’s idea of a good time.
“I thought I’d better call, see how you are.”
“I rang today because there’s no football,” she said.
“It wouldn’t have mattered when you rang,” Roy fibbed.
“Listen, Brian’s got a bloody cheek.”
“Has he? What’s he done?”
Brian was their older brother.
“He hasn’t told you?” Nerys’s incredulous adopted upspeak made Roy feel trapped inside a lager ad.
“Told me what?”
“He’s decided to rent the house, not sell it.”
“Oh. When was that?”
“Probably planned it all along. Nice little earner for him, nothing for us until he decides to sell up – if he ever does.”
Don and Gwen had left their property to their eldest, in the old-fashioned way. Brian, for once embarrassed, had promised Roy and Nerys each a quarter of the proceeds from the sale. Neither had been sure which narked them most: the gratitude they had to show for Brian’s magnanimity or its inherent condescension.
Roy wasn’t horrified by his sister’s news. At least the old house in the New Town would stay in the family a little longer. “Brian’s probably hoping the market will pick up,” he said.
“Bollocks, the market,” Nerys stormed. “He just doesn’t want us to get the bloody money!”
This seemed plausible to Roy. But when assailed by Nerys his reflex was to object.
“Do you really think that, Nerys?”
“Hah!” Nerys barked. “You know what I think about Brian.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You’ve got the bloody family archive. Maybe there’s a few clues lying around in there. What do you think?”
“I don’t think anything.”
“Don’s dark little secret, eh?”
“If I find anything, I’ll let you know. So, anyway, how are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Menopausal, but I’ll live.”
Roy flinched. “And Ian?”
“He’s alright. Behaving himself.”
Ian was Nerys’s husband, her junior by five years. He was in IT, she in floristry. They had a son called Dylan, a pest.
Roy didn’t know what to say next. Nerys did. “So what are you doing there all on your own for weeks on end? Mid-life crisis?”
“No, just taking the opportunity to have a good sort out.”
“That old excuse, ha-ha!”
“Whatever you say, Nerys.”
“That’s what you men are like: bottle it all up, disappear into a cave, pretend you’re making a fresh start, but all the time you’re in denial and numbing yourself against the truth with sport.”
“Gloomy introspection – where has my life gone, why didn’t I climb Mount bloody Everest, why can’t I afford a bigger car…?”
“Yes, yes, go on.”
“You know it’s true, Roy. Will things really be any different when Kristie gets back home? That wonderful woman you’ve decided you want to be away from?”
“I don’t want to be away from her, Nerys.”
“You do at the moment.”
“It makes sense, just for the summer.”
“Anyway, about Brian.”
“I have to go now, Nerys.”
“Have you seen the suicide rate for men of your age?”
“Nerys, I have to go.”
“Isn’t that just bloody typical, I ring up specially and…”
Roy hung up.
All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE.
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