Author: Guede Mazaka
Sometime long enough after Thierry had made the ad for him to not understand right away and short enough for him to still laugh once he did, Robert called him. Thierry doesn’t remember now what he was doing, but it’d been something he didn’t particularly like doing and it’d been a little tricky so he’d picked up harried and annoyed and sharp. “Quoi?”
*Allez!* Robert had said, the word breaking up on his laughter.
And for a moment, Thierry had stared at whatever it was that had been occupying his hands and had wondered if Bobby had lost his mind. He remembers blinking.
Robert had sounded so puzzled, echoing Thierry’s thoughts, and then like always, it’d gone from the other man to him and then he’d suddenly pulled ahead, knowing. Then he’d had to sit down because he’d been laughing so hard, and that’d been why he can’t recall now what he was doing. He’d probably forgotten right then.
He’d told Robert he was a terrible translator, that it wasn’t supposed to be literal, and then Robert had shrugged it off, somehow doing that over the slightly staticky line, and made some comment about footballing not needing translation. Which hadn’t been anywhere near the point, but he’d been laughing too hard still. Bobby did that to him.
They’d finished up talking about the next game, and then something else about Arsenal that Thierry can’t remember now. Not about the football part, surely, because he’d never forget something like that, even years later.
* * *
He hasn’t forgotten being worried over September to December of 2005, staying behind long hours after matches to talk with Bobby in the showers, or actually to stand there and listen while the other man told him about all the things Robert didn’t say to Arsène when the substitute swap was made, when the starting team was announced. Bobby never yelled, and Thierry knows this because sometimes he walks into the empty locker room, his footsteps echoing weirdly off the walls, and he’ll think he hears that odd catch in Bobby’s voice again, the only outward sign of the other man’s frustration.
January, that was so much better. January when it was cold and even with the gloves on, they were blowing on their hands in the tunnel. January and afterward, when Thierry had gone from meeting to meeting and talked his heart out, talked out the heart of the team as he knew it and he’d seen heads nodding in agreement. But there, Thierry can remember what he did but he finds it hard to remember what Robert was doing then.
He knows Robert and he had called each other often, but he can’t put the conversations together in his head except for that ridiculous one about the advert. Maybe because later on they got together, Thierry pulling rank to steal the corner of the bus nearest the heater and he’d warmed up by it and Robert had warmed his hands on Thierry’s side, just up beneath Thierry’s shirt. They’d been short blankets and Bobby had graciously given his up, and nobody had looked askance if Thierry and Robert then shared one and put their heads together and voices low, actually talked about everything but football and about something else that eludes Thierry’s memory now. His gut prefers to think about the way the shadows slanted into the hair falling over Bobby’s forehead, the quick but quiet spark in his eye, the silly French jokes that never made sense in English.
But there was something. There’s a hole in the way Thierry recalls those days, and now and then he finds himself picking at the edges. Everyone automatically gives Thierry that seat, and usually he has company as well, but not so much that he never ends up staring out the window for a few minutes, watching half-formed thoughts whiz by across the countryside before he quite understands them.
“Gloves again?” somebody said a couple days ago—Cesc, maybe. Or Robin, since Thierry remembers the tone as amused but still untempered, sharp with the quick-tongue-little-thought of youth. “Your blood getting thin with age, o captain?”
He doesn’t always wear gloves on the bus, only when his fingers get a little chilly and he needs to do too much to just put them beneath a blanket or into his sleeves for a few minutes. And he’d been fast enough with a retort, even if its exact wording slips from his mind now. It hadn’t been that important, anyway.
* * *
“Why are you so cold all of a sudden?” Thierry had said. He’d briskly rubbed Bobby’s hand between his own, stopping every few seconds to pull it up and blow on it.
“England,” Bobby had said, simply enough.
Thierry remembers Robert’s lips warming beneath his own, remembers the shocking heat of the inside of Robert’s mouth once it had opened to him. The locker room, Thierry thinks now, because his back aches with the echoes of the hard wall, the indentations of the tiles on his skin and the way they’d barred uncomfortably across his spine. As they’d rocked together, their feet had made soft slapping noises on the damp floor and once Robert had dug his nails hard into Thierry’s shoulder, so hard that the lights overhead had briefly turned into blurry white halos. The smell of grass, sweat, damp rubber on the air-drafts, the taste of soap on Robert’s skin and the harsh, hurried push of him into Thierry, too quick for them to warm up properly before it’d finished. Or maybe they’d been warming down.
The clammy feel of Robert’s back as Thierry’s hand had dropped limply down it at the end, then fallen away.
Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, with that image in his mind only a little changed, and then before he’s fully awake he’s rolled over to put his hand on Nicole’s hip. Usually his fingers are curled, pulling her towards him, when he looks down and then he always stares at his hand for a while. But the change in the dream always eludes him.
* * *
“You’ll be thirty soon,” Bobby had been saying, the ease of his quietness replaced by a kind of stiffness Thierry hadn’t recognized. “But don’t think about it yet. Think about it then--then.”
“But why? I can talk to them aga—”
“Think, not talk,” Bobby had interrupted.
It’d all been in French, which is why Thierry supposes he recalls it being loud and furious even though they’d been talking at very normal volumes. Robert saved his English for emphasis, and at first the difficulty with the language had made Thierry always be calm and focused when speaking it, and then later he’d found that to his advantage and had trained himself to retain that quality.
He’d said ‘Allez!’ at one point, making Robert take an inadvertent step back, and Bobby had said: “It doesn’t mean that.”
Thierry remembers that he’d had to bit his lip to keep from throwing ‘le lapin!’ in Bobby’s face too, though it’d had nothing to do with that commercial. It’d been that damn commercial for a little while afterward, a couple weeks maybe.
* * *
“Come to Spain when you’re past thirty,” Robert had muttered once, rare sarcasm surfacing in his voice. “When you’re—”
Thierry had turned away. He’d never heard the rest of what Bobby had been saying, and he’d never asked after they’d built a shaky bridge of silent apologies and counted moments over the gap. They hadn’t had much time. He’d wanted none of that interfering.
But he thinks he remembers anyway, somehow, what the other words had been. Bobby looking regretful, his hand reaching towards Thierry’s shoulder because Thierry had only turned halfway after all.
No, come follow me. It’s warm there.
* * *
There are aches in Thierry that he remembers from Germany, twinges that make him worry sometimes and above all of that, a niggling feeling that something in him is cooling. He watches the games they’ve fouled up at the beginning of this season and rubs his hands on his thighs, thinking about getting a blanket or gloves or maybe even his circulation checked out, but he never does.
It’s not even the penalties, or Zinédane just…whatever had gone wrong with him. Thierry knows he’s managed to recover from the crushing disappointment that’d left a gray pall over the end of the Cup for him. He knows he’s put that behind him to look forward to the future and to Arsenal, to the Champions League and Euro 2008, but there’s something else.
A lot of something elseses, he ruefully thinks. Maybe he is getting old; his memory is starting to have more holes in it than the goal netting. He’s been testing it lately, hoping he’d just run into a few isolated cases, but the more he thinks, the more missing pieces he can’t find.
His phone rings during one of these times, and he answers without really looking at who it is. “Yes?”
Thierry stares at the TV before him, but now it’s what he doesn’t really see. Bobby’s quizzical smile flashes before him, bright and clear and no, his memory is fine once it gets going. “Quoi?”
Hand to his head, Thierry sinks down in his chair and laughs a little. “Oh. Ooooh…”
He’s rusty on laughing, and he stops after a moment. Robert shifts uncomfortably on the other end of the line before finally apologizing for waiting so long to return Thierry’s message—
--eighteenth of August, God knows where Thierry was when he heard but he hadn’t been able to call right away because he’d been busy, but also because he’d thought ‘I wasn’t there’ and ‘this is what happens when I’m not there’ and ‘this is why you should be here’ and he’d wanted to wait till he could think just ‘I’m sorry, I want to know that you’ll be all right there’
May, Thierry leaving six messages in an hour begging Bobby to reply saying the news wasn’t right and only then noticing the one message Bobby had left a few hours before to tell him before it broke in the papers and on TV and everywhere else
too many days to count, Bobby supporting himself with his hands on the seat behind his back and Thierry laughing so hard he’s had to drop his head onto Bobby’s thigh and then he can put his hand on Bobby’s hip, match the curve, and sunlight filtering through Bobby’s bangs as Thierry pulls the other man just a little towards him
coldest day in a long, long time, “I don’t think I can sign with Arsenal again, my contract’s not something I can live with,” and “It’s not just about the contract, Thierry, but you see, the contract interferes with everything” and Thierry just not believing it--
--“It’s hard, sitting around and doing nothing but waiting to heal,” Robert says. His voice drops; his head is dropping as well, his eyes not wanting to meet Thierry’s in Thierry’s head. Frustration takes little jagged bits out of his voice.
He waits awhile before asking what Thierry is doing, and Thierry tells him. Sitting around. Trying to…understand. Bobby’s heard about how Arsenal has been doing, Thierry knows that. He’s in Villareal now, but.
“Both of us sitting,” Thierry says, shaking his head, and he hears Robert’s rueful chuckle, and like that their laughter shades into each other’s voices.
* * *
“Allez vivre?” Robert suggests.
Thierry tells him to just forget about it already, and if he keeps it up, Thierry’s never going to mention him in another advert again. How is his knee, anyway?
The last thing Robert says, Thierry remembers, is that he’ll send over a Spanish hare for Christmas, and the last thing Thierry remembers doing is laughing with him.
* * *
1. Quoi: What?