Tea On The Porch
Every cycle around went faster. Every cycle, he burned off more fuel. Less fuel propelled him forward with greater urgency towards the inevitable. If he didn’t break. If he didn’t completely wear down.
Every cycle clicked off like a clock moving faster. Like calendar pages flipping. Twelve turns, each proceeded by ritual shifts effected at exactly the right moment. Unless … unless … NOW! He flicked the paddle shifter that split second later sending him deeper into the corner, breaking that little bit later, and got his nose there before his competitor who had no choice but to let him through. The competitor would attempt an undercut and take the inside on the next turn, but he knew that and blocked accordingly, and once past that turn the competitor could not keep up. But pushing had cost him. He felt himself slip just that little bit closer to too much. The wear, if not his competitors, was catching up.
“2.6 seconds back,” came The Voice in his earpiece. “Nine laps remaining. Plenty of time”
He said, “Left front is nearly gone.”
“Leader is worse off. You’re faster,” and then the motivational psychology, “Take it too him.”
‘I have been,’ he thought, ‘every time around’. Twelve turns, open throttle down twelve straights. Faster, faster, that little bit faster than everyone else. ‘Plenty of time’, he replayed The Voice’s statement in his mind. ‘To do what? One more pass? One more race?’ Flying down the back straight. Hard around the last hairpin, barely staying within track limits; a slip would have put him in the gravel. Blasting along the front straight and across the start/finish to turn one, perfect downshift, perfect breaking, perfect turn-in, perfect acceleration out. Rhythmic. Hypnotic. His perceptions wide, absorbing the peripherals as they rapidly came and went like seasons, each section its own environment, colors, sensations as relevant to the nature of each turn on the circuit. The roars of the engine, the wind, the tires against the track, the crowd and the helicopters whirling above with their cameras tracking his every move, all of it muffled to a whisper by his thick helmet. Gliding past as smoothly as taking tea on the front porch.
“2.2 seconds,” The Voice broke his concentration. ‘The Voice’ was not in rhythm. It came according to someone else’s priorities, as confining for his mind as the track limits. His entire existence confined to a narrow and predetermined path.
Turn five, another left hander, followed quickly by turn six back to the right; slip … slip … the wear was increasing. ‘Focus’, he thought. The Leader had taken tires six laps earlier than he had; that meant he should be six laps fresher. Six laps less wear. But there were now seven laps to go. “1.7 seconds,” came The Voice. But he knew he was going to have to ease off through the turns or wear down too soon. The Voice could not make that decision form him.
After the start/finish, “1.5 seconds; you’re slowing.” The Voice would be worried now, its context not perfectly synced to his own. Another start/finish took him to 5 laps remaining. “1.2 seconds. Now’s the time to go after him.” He knew if he could get to under 1 second the Leader’s tow would create an aerodynamic vacuum that would suck him closer. By turn ten and entering the back straight he felt that tow grab him. He could see the Leader slipping around even worse than he was, taking the turns even more cautiously.
“3 laps to go,” at the start/finish line, “and .4 seconds behind. You’re on him. Make it happen.”
Now the stalking began. Catching was easy. Passing, like comedy, was harder. He began matching the Leader’s movements around the circuit, shift for shift, break for break, looking for moments the pace was a tick slower than his own, like a pick pocket seeking an opening, a weakness. Twelve turns. Then another twelve turns. Over and over and over. Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Last lap,” The Voice came once more as he sailed across the start/finish, the roar of the engines echoing between the crowded, cheering grandstands made surreal and hushed in the reality of his dense helmet. He tried not to think of it as the ‘last’. What was the point of ending? Twelve more turns around one more circuit. The inevitable would take care of itself. Shift and accelerate. Shift and accelerate. Seasons streaking peripherally by. Rhythm. One more pass … NOW!
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.