Cutting It Fine

I decided to forget I was the one rushing to catch the plane and instead treat my dash as one long scene from a film. I was the protagonist, I had my willing driver, and this was going to play out to an ending I hoped for but wasn’t certain of. There are no certainties in life, so surely it is better to crank up the stakes a little and remind yourself of it by removing one of those things we think adds certainty to a life, that is, more time. It’s not that we deliberately cut it fine – had the choice been open to me, I’d have left half an hour earlier – but he had a work meeting and warned me in advance that he wouldn’t clear until 4pm. At five past the hour he was still talking, although from where I stood on the other side of the door, I could hear that it was a finishing-completing tone: ‘Hurry along now.’ New estimated time of departure, 16:10. I gave up on worrying about the outcome not going my way once I had decided to treat it like a game, that a point of release where cutting it fine turns to fun. Key to it, of course, was that I was alone, travelling independently with only my own schedule to scramble. Another factor was that I had opted for this offer of a lift knowing full well that I was shaving off time with a cutthroat razor and, one false move of the hand, it could all be a bloody mess and I would have to slink back to where I’d come from and pay for another flight next day. In instances like this you’ve got to know who your sidekick is, his temperament, and I was working with a maverick, a bit of a Sundance, someone who works backwards from the time of take-off, thinks in the realm of possibility, stays calm, and is not afraid to use the pedal on the far-right. These may not be characteristics others are drawn to, but (as I have been told in the past) you have to recognise the right man at the right time and grab him, and I knew this was the man for the job, placed faith in him to pull out the stopper, let’s have a whopper, and get me in the air in time. Feeding my appetite for a Penelope Pitstop whizz through the countryside was what lay at the end of it: a triumphant romantical sprint through the airport (does there need to be a special someone at the end to make it romantic? I don’t think so). People rarely run to catch transportation anymore – buses and trains and last calls at gates – and I love it when they do. I love to see someone hurtle past the Balmoral Hotel and career down the steps into Waverley Station with seconds to spare for the 14:10 to Aberdeen. I loved that time I saw the man scoop the Dachshund up under his arm to leg it along London Road to catch the number 4 before it pulled away. Except you don’t see any of that so often anymore. Either there’s another bus or train coming in no time, or we pull out the phone to beg mum, dad, partner for a lift. It had been far too long since I’d run to catch something, too long since I had experienced that ‘I thought I was fitter than this’ breathlessness, that chiding look from the lady at the gate glancing at her watch, that sweaty satisfaction when you take your seat. But I wasn’t there yet. We were licking up the motorway watching the sky turn deep pink in the west when my driver made a comment about how his last manoeuvre – an elegant lane-change so quick and tight it would be suited to a dance floor – seemed to engender anger in the driver behind him. Then we talked about anger, how fast we all are to rise and react to it. We talked about fear, how everyone’s long-term, unspoken fear is that of not having enough; everyone is terrified of dying in penury, he reckoned. We talked about the constraining nature of responsibility and the imagination-stultifying effect of sticking to the rules (at this point I glanced at the speedometer and thought it best to agree with him). The pink in the west was deepening to orange as we crossed the Six Mile Water. The rookeries on the high trees by Antrim’s lough shore had fallen silent. The stars were beginning to pop. Almost there. Thank you, a kiss on the cheek, a pound coin for the exit, and I accelerated into my run through a deserted airport. Fifteen minutes later I was buckled into seat 21F and as the plane pushed back I figured that I’d probably touch town on the other side of the Irish Sea before he made it home for tea.

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