I’m writing a bit more than usual these days and, when I get into the flow of it, time just disappears, like canaries from a cage with the door left open. Away it flies. I don’t see it go, I look up and hours have passed. It is a pleasant experience. Last week I baked a tea bread for two and half hours under those very circumstances. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I registered a familiar smell. The scent carried some sort of peripheral message that failed to make any impression as I typed on. After two and a half hours I nipped into the kitchen for water and wondered why the oven light was on. I had baked a mottled, peat coloured brick, stippled with burnt raisins. A couple of thousand more of these and I could build a house. I rarely lose track of time and the satisfaction gained from being utterly absorbed in what I’d be doing far outweighed the minor culinary catastrophe. A few days later the same thing happened. I had told A. I would be with her by midday. At 1pm I was still at home, lost in my head, not knowing what day it was, never mind what time. I fired off a quick text to her: “Sorry, I’m going to be late.” I looked at it – I already was late. I had sent her a text confirming what she already knew. Being already (extraordinarily) late, I indulged myself, sat a little longer, considered the time management conundrum, and asked myself: Am I becoming one of ‘those’ people? For we all know one, indeed, you might be one!
I once split up from a boyfriend because he was late – consistently and reliably late. It wasn’t the sort of consistency and reliability I was after. Ok, there were other reasons, but – three half-dozen years later – that’s the one I remember, that’s what I blamed it all on: too many burnt cakes. Initially I used to wonder what it was that held him up. In the early days, I would imagine something mundane and ordinary: traffic; a last minute request at work; no parking spaces. After a while, still in denial, I would create more calamitous obstacles: a tidal wave had surged up the Liffey; a lion or tiger or bear (all three!) had escaped from Dublin zoo and were roaming the streets; U2 had been helicoptered in and were giving an impromptu concert on College Green. In other words, for the longest time, I would think there was a reason. Eventually I came to understand what he believed (although I didn’t): there was no reason, his lateness was hard-wired and unalterable, in the same way that he was a blue-eyed person – both were entirely out of his control. Our swan song was scheduled for 3 o’clock one Saturday afternoon in the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. Determined to break out of my Miss Waity-for-Latey role, I arrived half an hour late. It was a pointless calculation, for even with my pre-planning, he out-lated me, scurrying in apologetically, muttering like the White Rabbit and saying something about a dog (he didn’t have one) and a vet. I wonder if I’d have felt differently if he’d told me he was writing a classic in an attic and had simply lost track of the time?
Forgive Me, by Mary Oliver
Angels are wonderful but they are so, well, aloof.
It’s what I sense in the mud and the roots of the
trees, or the well, or the barn, or the rock with
its citron map of lichen that halts my feet and
makes my eyes flare, feeling the presence of some
spirit, some small god, who abides there.
If I were a perfect person, I would be bowing
I’m not, though I pause wherever I feel this
holiness, which is why I’m so often late coming
back from wherever I went.