Hold Still

A young chronophobiac and new-born adult quivers on the brink of The Real World, feeling less like a buzzing particle about to be flung out into the universe and more like something that has been chewed up by childhood and not quite spat back out, still slick with time’s saliva; half-digested, unformed.

Twenty-one and still lacking in planetary experience. About to emerge into something strange and sparkly – a career –  but just looking down for the brakes, trying to exist. A quarter-life crisis? All groan up.

Each orbit of the sun, each lap of the clock face is quicker than the last. We wish each other “many happy returns”, but you feel the circle getting tighter, constricting each time. Until you realise it has collapsed. Although it has ceased to be vicious, it moves inwards now, towards the centre, a spiral sucking us towards the plughole at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour.

You feel it in the shortening days, in the fading light. We carry it in our eyes, in our dried and withered voices. Striking reminders hang from walls and wrists.

You move as a rower moves – you can’t see where you are going, only where you have come from. Memories snap at your heels, eating at the present, hungry for the future. Even in the moment you feel it start to fade, slipping out from underneath you, endlessly receding into the distance, as you reverse blindly on into the haze of your horizon.

So we try to cling to the moment, hoping that a click of the shutter will make it last longer than just a flash. Trying to pause it all. Folding up and tucking away a brighter and flatter version of the world. But you can’t stop it; we’re here for the ride.

Even now, right now, as your eyes assimilate these words, all that you have just read has already melted into memory.

Hold on. There’s still time.

Rush

It’s just another one of those days. Heavy feet. Slushy brain. Cloudy eyes. You move in the eye of the storm – you don’t know where you’re going, but you have to keep moving. Anything is better than staying still. It might catch up with you then. The thing that lurks on street corners, eye corners, just out of sight.

It always starts like this. Slow build. Hold on tight. The day wears on, the hours bleeding away into nothing and slowly it creeps up behind you, hot breath on the back of your neck.

You have fallen a long way. Everything inside has ground to halt, constricted to a knot in your chest. Everything that separates you from the centre has dropped away. Your edges are fragile; everything could come pouring in. You walk down the street, full of sky.

All your filters have evaporated. Light and sound roll through you. You go into the supermarket and the shiny wrappers sting your eyes. The clink of cutlery on china plates sends shivers down your spine. The buzzing of the fridge burns your eardrums.

You try to get a grip, but everything slips through your fingers, like balloon strings and wet things. Your words splinter on their way out, blood on your lips.

Everything begins to pick up speed and once it starts you can’t stop, you’re taking off and the colours are running and it’s too bright and you’re unravelling and it’s moving quicker and quicker and quicker, spiralling, dizzying, out of control and you cover your ears and shut your eyes and please just make it. Stop.

*  *  *

In the end it’s just a moment. A blind step, a swerve of the handlebars, an open window.

Brakes gasp. A shopping bag hits the floor. Broken eggs bleed into the asphalt.

When you’re under the surface, no one can hear you scream.