This month's contributions are by Sue Whitehouse
A Good Catch
Bobby Watson has his faults. I’m not blind to them. He’s impulsive, fond of telling tall tales and his performance on the rugby field is erratic.
They said it was Bobby’s fault that his team, Brobwood RUFC was languishing in a minor league. Admittedly they were part time players. Everyone had a full time job, except Jason, who was unemployed, but he kept busy and took every opportunity to do further training.
The trouble is, Bobby, when he’s on form, is brilliant. He’s there to catch the ball in impossible circumstances and kick it over the bar. Similarly, he can unfailingly convert into goals. A sort of minor league Johnny Wilkinson, Bobby can make a big difference to the Brobwood’s scoreline. They even beat Wellstead, who, at the time, were top of the table, with most of the goals down to Bobby.
But that was on a good day. Much to the frustration of his team mates, the same man can drop every catch, miss the goal and generally hand the ball to the other side. On such days, with his team in despair, there would be talk of relegating him to the seconds. On other days, when everything went over the bar, they carried him, shoulder high, back to the club house.
I’d always known about the large part that rugby played in Bobby’s life. We met on the rugby field, or rather, on the side lines. I’d gone to support my friend Sarah, who fancied one of the Wellstead players. The crowd huddled on the side lines, for at that level of amateur rugby, there were no stands on the Council fields where they played. Those loyal supporters who were less able to stand for any length of time were allowed plastic chairs from the club house, but we were young and fit. Besides, we needed to jump about to keep warm. The oldies huddled under blankets for a while, before retreating back indoors to gaze through the windows.
I wouldn’t have noticed Bobby Watson, except that he landed at my feet. Quite literally. The ball was passed to him and somehow he fumbled it and it came skimming across the grass, with Bobby charging after it. He skidded into a glorious slide for the last few feet, managing to save the ball from going over the line, but covering Sarah and myself with splatters of mud and splashes of grass.
There were groans from his team mates. I found out afterwards there was no way the ball should have followed that path without a considerable amount of help and skill from Bobby. He clutched the ball, turned to Sarah and myself, but gazing at me..
“Apologies, Ladies,” he said in an old fashioned, courteous way. He even gave a slight bow of the head. “Apologies, perhaps you’d care to come to the club house afterwards and I can recompense you for the soiling of your apparel.”
There were calls from the others in the team. Bobby turned, ran down the field and at an appropriate distance, paused, gave an almighty kick and the ball soared in the air, seemingly hanging there for ages, before dropping over the bar. There was raucous cheering from the few Brobwood supporters and a stunned silence from the Wellstead crowd. There were many more Wellsteads than Brobwoods, as Wellstead was having a lot of success that year and were fancied to go up to the next division.
At the end of that momentous match, Sarah and I were allowed in the club house upon mentioning Bobby’s name. A few Wellsteads remained, just the Captain and some players. They were upset at the way the match had turned around and the halt in their rapid rise up the table. I didn’t recognise Bobby when he came up to us at the bar. The opposition had seen that the Brobwood’s fly half was scoring well against them and had been, let’s say, enthusiastic, in their attempts to stop him.
Sarah had discovered that Den, the player who had invited her along to the match, was married to Deena, an extremely possessive and jealous woman. He was well known for trying to form liaisons with other women, but couldn’t, at the last minute, escape the clutches of his spouse. Sarah was taken home by Charlie, one of the reserves. She’d known him since her school days.
Meanwhile, Bobby insisted on talking with me and wouldn’t go to A&E, despite the swelling over his left temple, which, by now, closed his eye. A medic tried to persuade him.
“I don’t want to leave you,” Bobby confessed, leaning dangerously towards me. “I’m afraid you’ll disappear if I do.”
“Will you go to A&E, if I come with you?” I enquired, putting an arm round him to hold him up. By now I was hopelessly besotted with the man.
“Yes,” he managed, before collapsing against me.
It was useless telling my Mum, that I was sure of this man, my man. He was kept in overnight and given tests, but was pronounced fit the following day. I drove him back to his parents’ house. They were equally suspicious of the suddenness of our attachment for each other, but we were determined and inseparable. There was nothing they could do.
The wedding was in Spring, once the rugby season was over. The Brobwoods finished near the top of the table. The team formed a guard of honour as we came out of the village church. Sarah was my bridesmaid. I was dressed in a heavenly, white dress, that floated into a full skirt. I had apricot coloured sprigs in my hair and carried freesias. It was a glorious day. I’ll always remember entering the church on Dad’s arm. He and Mum were reconciled for the occasion. Bobby stood, facing the altar, with his best man beside him. When the entrance music started up, he turned and the look of wonder he gave me, melted my heart. There was no way we would be parted.
I was in such an euphoric haze that it wasn’t until the reception and the speeches that I realised the Best Man was Dan.
“I thought Jason was your Best Man,” I hissed at my new husband beside me at the top table.
“He was,” he hissed back, “but he’s been offered a fabulous job, providing he can start now and move to New York. He’s going to make it up to us sometime.”
“I didn’t realise he was in such demand,” I responded.
“Computers,” my husband said in a low voice. “Jason is a dark horse. He’s really clever. Just waiting for the right job to come along.”
I was concerned. I’d been convinced that Sarah had been seeing Den secretly and now as Chief Bridesmaid and Best Man, they would be thrown together. Deena was sitting at a table to our right. I hated her more now I saw her in the flesh. A spikey, angular woman, with hair cut to fit her skull like a helmet, with every strand glued in place with hair spray. Thin, bony, a sharp voice that screeched orders to Den, when she wasn’t belittling him. Her demands rose above the chatter of the other guests.
When the dance music began and the guests stood up from their places at the tables. I saw Sarah and Den together. Deena was outside having a smoke with some of her cronies among the other rugby team wives and girlfriends. I could hear her voice. There was something about the way that Sarah looked at Den that made me worried. She was gazing at him devotedly. He was giving her and awkward grin. I managed to get Charlie to separate them, before Deena reappeared inside.
Bobby and I settled down to married life in a new house on the edge of the village. Mum gave me pep. talks about how to conduct myself. A bit of a cheek, I thought, especially seeing the mess she and Dad had made of their relationship. She was insistent that I didn’t need to go to the Brobwood matches. “Not now you’re married. It’s your time with the girls. You need some independence from each other. Don’t let him think you’re too keen.”
I didn’t tell her, that I considered her a product of the late twentieth century women’s liberation movement. We’re equal now, I thought to myself. There’s a new era of caring and sharing. Besides, I was Bobby’s lucky mascot. He’s sworn me to secrecy. He didn’t want the opposition to know, but it was true. The Brobwood score was bigger and Bobby played better, when I was there.
It was in the New Year, when the rugby season was almost over that I discovered I was pregnant. I suffered badly from sickness and unable to attend the Brobwood matches. Bobby’s form dropped dramatically, much to the despair of his team and Bobby himself. We tried giving him a necklace of mine to take with him and a ribbon to hide in one of his socks, but to no avail. The team results began to plummet. There was nothing I could do. Bobby said he understood, giving me a hug and a kiss, before going out with his kit.
As Spring approached, I began to feel better. There was talk of me returning to work. Then one Saturday, there was a frantic knocking at our door. Bobby had gone to the match. It was Charlie.
“Come quickly,” he gasped. “Sarah’s in trouble.” He drove me round to the flats near the playing fields. There, dangling out of a window of a third floor flat, was Sarah. She was screaming and holding a baby in her arms. Grabbing hold of her and screeching much more loudly was Deena.
“Drop it. Drop it.” She ordered. “Drop the little brat. You and my Den have been having it off, but you don’t get to keep the brat.” It was obvious that Deena was trying to make Sarah let go of the baby, so it would fall. Sarah was frantically fighting her off and trying to keep hold of her precious bundle.
I stood with Charlie in the growing crowd on the edge of the grass in front of the flats. There was nothing we could do. We couldn’t remonstrate with Deena and we couldn’t approach from inside the flat as it would only make matters worse.
The Brobwoods arrived. They were still in their kit. They’d heard about the situation and had abandoned the match. Den charged across the grass and ran into the building. Bobby was standing with the others, looking up. I touched his arm. He turned and gave me a heart melting, welcome grin.
“You might be-able to catch the baby if it falls,” I suggested. A crazy idea at the best of times, but Bobby turned towards the flats again. Sarah was weakening. The baby was beginning to slip from her grasp.
Bobby ran as though he as chasing a catch to save the game. His rugby boots dug into the grass and gave him extra grip. He shouldered aside one of the crowd who happened to be in his way. Head down, he charged across the open space. Sarah gave a final scream and the baby slipped from her grasp.
It seemed as though time slowed down. The baby fell through the air. Bobby kept running. The onlookers held their breath. It seemed impossible that Bobby would get there in time to break the baby’s fall. He held out his arms as he ran, as though about to catch a rugby ball.
Then, miraculously, everything speeded up. Bobby and the baby coincided. I couldn’t be sure if the baby was safe. Bobby couldn’t stop his momentum and crashed against the wall. His shoulder hit the brickwork. I closed my eyes.
There was a great cheer from the crowd. I opened my eyes to see Bobby cradling the baby in his arms. Above him, Den had shoved Deena aside and had rescued Sarah.
Bobby had to give up playing for the first team after that. His shoulder wasn’t quite strong enough. Anyway he was too busy with our baby. He took equal turns with the child care and was a good dad. Although he didn’t manage to see the birth. The hospital staff had to order him out of the delivery room as he kept fainting.
News of his ‘catch’ went far and wide. Even reaching Jason in America.
Deena was committed to a secure institution. Den moved away.
Charlie married Sarah in a quiet ceremony and moved away too. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, in case Deena is released.
Mum still isn’t sure about Bobby, but I reckon he’s a ‘good catch’ and I’m still besotted.
In a hat,
In a pen,
In a wig,
In a fog,
In a mug,
In a hat etc.!