Croatia / Turkey 2008
by Jane Slavin
They did not notice her die.
They’d both got bets on.
Ad used his wife’s last tenner. He’d laughed at Fikret, his new best friend, who had admonished him. Ad thought if he won, he might let Fik have her. Perhaps even if he lost.
Fikret, in an effort to expunge a specifically personal long-denied historical guilt, had put forty quid on Croatia and was rooting for the people he’d inadvertently betrayed; as a teenager who’d known everything and nothing he’d watched his family flushed out of their home.
He had watched and was silent. When it was over he had walked away.
He’d loved another boy.
And as if that wasn’t bad enough the boy had been a rebel (a big handsome rebel) and together they’d pissed, mistaken, on their Domovinski.
He could not go back.
His best buddy, Now, Today (nothing else existed after all) Ad (Adil) had a tenner on Turkey.
Ad wished he was back in Antalya, choking in the heat, living on cash and fish. He hated this flat with no air and no sun. He hated the English. He hated his English wife with her skin paper-white and out of bounds, it seemed, and her silly ways and her dreams that he could never fulfil. He looked over at Fik and high-fived the air and Fik said something in Croat or Yugoslav or whatever it was he spoke. Ad had wondered, before now, if perhaps his friend was actually speaking Bollockese or some such cock because it sounded like nothing he’d ever heard. Sometimes he noticed Fik staring angrily into a pie and Ad wondered if he was secretly a terrorist. He hoped he was. Perhaps he would blow up Green Lanes and they could all start again afresh in the eternal hereafter.
Where was that bitch?
Where was that bitch with their tins?
Behind the sofa. Bleeding to death.
She thought they would never score. She’d waited. She’d put on her best dress.
If Turkey wins, I die. I go. I take myself off.
She could not bear another celebratory fuck, listening to fireworks and screams and a thousand horns (how apt). She would take herself off and die.
Life had walked right out of her.
When was that? The day she married Ad? He would not miss her. He could live with Fik and they could be silent together.
His silence was killing her. Four years seven months and three days with no words, no love, no joke. Was it too much to ask? A few words?
Her mother would be spinning, a dervish, in her grave.
Her father would be weeping, she knew, had he known she existed.
If Turkey loses, I die. I go. I take myself off.
He’d bought her a special tomato-knife for her thirtieth. At the time she’d despaired, keened, wept a whole river into her salad, but now she was grateful and held it like a jewel.
The game was all but over. When Croatia scored with seconds to go (or so she thought) she didn’t even blink. She didn’t breathe. Already dead her wrist opened easier than a letter. She watched as a splodge of blood dropped like a tear onto the laminate and she fell into a place where laminate was illegal and all floors were oak and the oak was old and from a time when the earth had not been raped for its booty. She fell away from the plastic floor into a room in which she was safe, married to a man with a million words on the edge of his tongue who spilled them each evening over dinner and sang over the stove and took her from pleasure not hate and from him she took wisdom and wit and solace.
They did not notice her die.
Turkey, desperate, children, equalised and Fik and Ad stood and sat and stood confused and afraid of penalties and goals that were not golden at all and both men felt their winnings disappear in their sweaty fat fingers. Fikret cursed the whole of his life before him and Ad cursed his wife for not being there.
She was right there under his nose, under his feet. She had on her best dress, black now and heavy and wet and not part of her dream.
Where was that bitch with the tins?
They had nothing left to drink.
And where was the food they’d never noticed until now (until it was absent)?
Didn’t she sing around now, chopping and cooking alone next door?
He thought he heard her voice over the screams of the crowd.
He thought he smelled her food over the diesel.
She had fallen into a space where the water tasted like wine on her lips, where she lived in a house with a tree in the garden holding a swing for her baby who would be real and not merely longed for, imagined, made-up. She would look out and watch him from her kitchen. Sending out to him the smell of fruit and coffee she’d let him play out there till the sun burnt out, because in this world everywhere, everyone was safe. No nonces or knives or guns or loss; no politics, no ideals turned to shit. There was a pill for AIDS and a jab for Leukaemia. George Bush was a comic-book villain that some sick child had invented and been smacked for. He was not real. Gordon Brown was a civil servant with ideas above his post-office station; he lived with a man named Clive and did not need to pretend he was other than he was. Tony Blair had delivered. Reality TV had never been invented. Global warming was just summer. The cars coughed up the smell of flowers and everyone had enough to eat and a family and a roof and someone to spoon. Ad didn’t exist. Fik, the treacherous fuck, did not exist.
She heard the penalty whistle and wondered if they would step over her on their way downstairs or if one of them would slip. She’d made a big puddle, she noticed. Her life running out right there on the floor.
It had walked out of her.
She hadn’t noticed it leave.
Croatia / Turkey 2008 by Jane Slavin first appeared in Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine, December 2013.