Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Third prize winner in Greenacre Writers short story competition 2012

The Art of Being Late by Julie Swan

Well, I can sit back and relax for once. Jim’s not responsible for getting me there today. I was picked up with plenty of time to spare — nice car too — and he’s being driven there by someone else.
You know, it feels so wonderful not to have to worry about being punctual for once. Today it’s someone else’s problem and I know I’m going to get there on time. All my married life seems to have been spent chivvying Jim along. His timekeeping’s always been appalling and I hate being late to anything.
Is that blue flashing lights up ahead? Oh dear. I wonder what the problem is.
Oh, that looks really nasty. I hope no one’s badly hurt. Police cars, ambulances, even a fire engine. That blue car’s really badly bent and just look at that lorry on its side. Its load’s all over the place; the road’s totally blocked.
Well, we obviously won’t get through that way for a while. We’d better go round past the college and the football ground. Do you know that way?
It’s a bit awkward turning here. Oh, that nice policeman’s letting us through, that’s kind of him. Doesn’t he look young? I’d be surprised if he’s shaving yet.
Now what was I saying? Oh yes, Jim’s timekeeping. Well, Jim’s always had being late down to a fine art. Of course, if it’s something he wants to do, a film he wants to see or something, he’ll be on time, early even sometimes. But for everything else, when it’s important to me but not to him, he’s almost always late.
He’s never ready when it’s time to go out. Even after all these years, he assumes that I won’t be able to get ready on time so he goes off and starts some job or other and when I am ready, dead on time I might add, he isn’t and I end up waiting for him. They never learn, do they? Even after forty years.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made arrangements to go somewhere, you know, to the cinema or meeting friends, and he’ll be late home from work
There am I, getting more and more agitated with every minute that passes, knowing he’s probably late as usual but wondering if it’s the one time that something awful’s happened. Well you do, don’t you? You can’t help it. Then he turns up with a grin saying “Plenty of time, plenty of time.”
There’s only plenty of time if there are no problems on the way. I keep telling him ‘You can’t legislate for idiots’. How does he know the road’s not up somewhere or there hasn’t been an accident or something? But there hardly ever is. Of course, by the time we’re on our way all my enthusiasm has been drowned in irritation. I never get to anything in the right frame of mind. I always arrive flapping and flustered.
Do you know, sometimes he’s even left me standing somewhere waiting to be picked up while he’s off in his own little dream world. He’s sailed right past me more than once, not even realising. A couple of times he’s actually reached home, wondered why I wasn’t there and then remembered he was supposed to meet me and had to come back to get me.
Well, I can relax today.
I should have known really. When we got married, I organised most of it myself. My parents had already died, you see. The only thing I left to Jim was the honeymoon and the car and a week before the wedding, he hadn’t done anything about either.
Four days before the wedding, he did manage to book a Rolls Royce. I told him that he had to be there when it arrived at the Registry Office, otherwise I’d tell the driver to drive me straight home again.
Now what’s this idiot doing? You can’t do a three point turn here. It’s not nearly wide enough. Oh, he’s holding up all the traffic, the silly old duffer. And he’s leaving so much space; obviously doesn’t know the size of his own car. Look, a couple of people have got out to help, make sure he doesn’t hit anything. Maybe that’ll speed things up a bit. No, he’s not paying any attention to them, just blundering on blindly.
Finally, a 53 point turn. What an idiot. It’s a good job we left in plenty of time.
Where was I? Oh yes, our wedding. Well, the car arrived for me and the chauffeur left when he thought it would get us to the Registry Office on time. He did say afterwards that he’d never had an easier drive; straight out at every junction, straight onto every roundabout and all the traffic lights were green. Unfortunately, at the last set of lights, Jim was in the first car coming the other way, stuck on red.
Well, as the Rolls pulled up at the Registry Office I could hear these peculiar noises behind us. When I looked out of the rear window, there was Jim running helter-skelter across the car park. He’d got out at the traffic lights and run all the way. He dived up the steps and turned with a beaming smile to look down at me still sat in the car. He says he hasn’t stopped running since.
All this retrospection — or is it introspection? — well, something spection, it’s probably not a good idea. Ought to be in the right frame of mind, today of all days.
What’s this now? Temporary traffic lights. I didn’t know they were digging this road up this week. There haven’t been any signs. Typical of this council. Oh no, not four way lights? We’ll be here for ages. There’s such a queue. I don’t think we’ll get through in one go. No, I don’t think there is another route from here, not without going miles out of our way. Oh dear, we’ll just have to wait.
Yes, Jim’s always been useless at timekeeping. I’ve always said ‘Early for an appointment, late for an invitation’. Only slightly of course. That’s the polite way to behave, isn’t it? And when it’s just me, that’s how I do things and everything’s fine. But Jim’s just late for everything.
And it’s not just when we’re going somewhere you know. It’s everything. If he says a job’s going to take a couple of hours it’ll take the whole day. Sometimes more. There’s always been half finished jobs all round the house because he under estimated how long they would take.
Well, at least we’re through those lights. Not long now till we get there. I understand they’re quite busy nowadays. Won’t wait for long if you’re not on time.
That’s the way of things nowadays, isn’t it? Everything’s so busy, busy, busy. No time for anything. What’s that poem? ‘No time to stand and stare’?
Oh no, the level crossing lights are flashing. We’ll be here for ages now. Once the first train’s gone through they leave the barriers down until the one going the other way’s gone too. Do you know, there’s only four trains an hour but the number of times I’ve been caught, well, almost every time I come along here, I think. I used to play I spy with the kids, it took so long. Plenty of time to stop and stare now.
That’s it, the second train. The barriers will go up in a minute.
On our way again. Yes, my life with Jim has been spent trying to get him to fit into the real world instead of listening to that different drummer.
Well, we’re here, we’ve made it. Fifteen minutes late though. I just want to giggle. Not the right thing to do at all.
I always knew it. I told him a million times, ‘You’ll be late for your own funeral’.
And he is.

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