I can picture the corners of my lips sealing themselves together. I can taste the salt in my sweat. I want to open my mouth but I wonder if it might tear at the skin. I’ve been sat here for hours. You stare at a clock long enough, it consumes everything you are. You’re always just waiting for that next tick.
What do you expect when you open the door in the morning? To see a familiar street, to see children racing up the pathways, dressed in school uniform. Sometimes you open it at the exact moment the postman is about to deliver your mail. In that instance it is common to regret wearing your baggiest tracksuit bottoms and a completely unflattering top. That is what I expected as I pulled the door towards me that morning. I did not expect this.
A mirror. Someone held up a mirror to scare me. Somehow they painted the slabs leading down the lawn on it. They found a way to superimpose the hedgerows which surround my garden on it, the large iron gate which keeps the world at bay. But its movements were not my own. It had my same chestnut-coloured hair, it curled in the same places just below the ears. It had my brown eyes, my annoyingly oversized upper-lip. It’s me. A better-dressed version of me.
“Don’t freak out,” it said, raising its hands. “I’m here to tell you something which you need to hear.”
Ryan flicked his wrist in front of his eyes. He glanced quickly at the display of his watch, which was in countdown mode. Seventeen-minutes and forty-two seconds, it read. Just as swiftly, he pulled his arm away and continued running. The people around him blurred as he propelled himself through the crowds of the high street. Hundreds of people just living their lives as if nothing was wrong. They were nothing but obstacles to him now. The burn in his legs rose to the upper-thighs, every step felt like emptying a kettle of boiling water over them. Ryan didn’t slow down. He couldn’t. He had gained nearly a second on his previous time. Maybe it was enough.
It was all like a well-choreographed dance to him now. Man in grey suit with blue pinstripes exits the newsagents, rushes straight into the street, his briefcase swinging in front of him. Ryan propelled himself to the left of the pavement, weaving between two old ladies pushing their shopping trolleys and dodging the suited man. He crossed the road which was jammed with traffic. There was a lorry parked farther up the street outside the hardware store. The tail-lift had malfunctioned, grounding the lorry, forcing the busy rush hour congestion to use a single lane between them. He slipped between a white van and a red estate car whose occupant was pushing his horn repeatedly, as if one more blast of sound was going to make the problem go away, to make it all disappear, to get him home to his wife.