touchline by pyritefortune

5 Dec

The wailing has descended from the squalls of temper into the long, insistent grizzling of tiredness and cold and boredom. One handed, she settles him more snugly on her hip. I can see the stubborn determination as he flings his face backward over her shoulder to avoid the attempt at comfort, and gathers his reserves for a marathon. Out on the pitch someone tackles, and she is momentarily distracted.

I catch his eye. The grizzling continues, but drops a fraction of a decibel as he looks at me, puzzled. I slowly extend my tongue, cross my eyes, flare my nostrils; the grizzle falters slightly. He weighs the merit of this new phenomenon against the loss of face involved in giving up his campaign. I capitalise on his indecision, and wiggle my ears. He fights a grin, the red puffy eyes beginning to crinkle. My very best reindeer impression completes the transition, and elicits a delighted giggle.

Too late I realise my cover is blown, she belatedly notes the pleased squeal and turns, curious, to see what has affected this sudden change of mood. I am caught; frozen, as though the wind has changed. This is not how I’d imagined myself striking up a conversation. It was supposed to be a casual comment about the football, or a genial remark about the vicious weather. She pauses, surveys the scene, notes the small hands clapping for an encore. I realise I’m still boasting a set of gloved antlers.

“You must be Rudolph, then”, she smiles. “Please, don’t stop. That’s the first time he’s stopped whinging all afternoon.”

Already the little face is beginning to sour once more; I rack my brains for a less humiliating distraction. A small quadruped pops into existence at the end of my sleeve, and eyes him inquisitively, tilting its head. He grasps for it, and the animal scuttles into my pocket. As it peeks out once more, he begins the slow task of coaxing it out and befriending it, and I am left free to make more adult conversation. Which ability, of course, has completely deserted me.

“I’m Zita. This horrible monster is Charlie, though I’m seriously considering changing his name to Damien if he keeps this up”. A wry grin. “Is your daughter playing too?”

“Yes, she’s playing for the Falcons, number six.” This is where I need some kind of cutting analysis; an insightful comment about the offside rule, or a preference for 3-6-1 formation over 4-4-2. “Er, what do you think of the game, then?”

“Ah, the enemy! They’ve sent you on a spying mission, have they? I could tell you all the secret strategies of Bradwell Primary, but I’d have to kill you I’m afraid.”

She grins. This definitely isn’t going how I’d imagined it. Still, I’m probably on safer territory here than I would have been attempting a football conversation. Perhaps I should roll with it.

“Damn, my cover is blown.” I reach for my lapel. “Falcon control, I have a code red, repeat a code red, requesting immediate backup”.

She peers along the line of other parents straggled along the touchline, all hunched into their collars, gritting their teeth against the biting wind as they watch the tangle of muddy figures.

“Your handlers seem to have deserted you, agent Rudolph.” Again she grins. “This is the point where I should neutralise you with the tip of my poison unbrella”. She pauses, looking uncertain, and then continues. “But perhaps I should interrogate you first. Listen, do you fancy getting out of the cold for half an hour and finding a cup of tea? I think the café by the boating lake should still be open, and this little wretch might cheer up if I find him some chocolate”.

“Don’t think I can’t see through your dastardly ruse… You’re trying to turn me and send me back to the Falcons as a double agent. I know your game”.

“Guilty, as charged” she says, folding a reluctant Charlie into the buggy. I pick up her bags, and we turn our backs on the football pitch and the howling gale.


One Response to “touchline by pyritefortune”


  1. the couch by pyritefortune « the character project - December 12, 2010

    […] We watched a much younger Marsha in And then there was one, and met Mark and his new sweetheart on the touchline. […]

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