A short story by Graham Lironi
October 30, 2021
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On your first birthday a year lasts a lifetime. By the time you’re ten, it’s a tenth of your life. And by the time you’re fifty, a year’s only a fiftieth of your life. Years shorten as we age, accelerating as we speed from the womb to the tomb. Going nowhere, fast.
Straight after the car-crash interview – a journalist tearing apart my words then stuffing his own into my mouth, sneering savagely, mocking my sincerity, all that I had within me laid bare, exposing me as the imposter I always at heart suspected myself to be, I jump into my silver convertible and speed down the winding single-track road, accelerating past the passing places, heading for the pier at Stronachlachar or at Inversnaid, I’ll decide which at the T-Junction ahead – a biblical torrent blindsides me, its raging waterfall from the heavens cascading all around.
Without thinking, I turn on the windscreen wipers. Then, realising the automatic nature of this action, ponder turning them off. The trigger for this consideration is the memory of a scene from Young at Heart, a 1955 movie starring Frank Sinatra as self-loathing music arranger Barney Sloan and Doris Day as Laurie Tuttle, who falls for him. Near the film’s apotheosis, Barney is driving when it starts to snow and, having fallen into despair, attempts suicide by switching off the windscreen wipers. As his visibility reduces rapidly to zero, he presses down on the accelerator.
Barney Sloan was originally written to die at the end of the film but Sinatra, whose characters in his two previous films had perished at the finale, argued that Sloan should live and find happiness. Sinatra’s influence in Hollywood led to the ending being re-written to accommodate his wish.
I loved Young at Heart and identified with Barney Sloan to the extent that I borrowed his moniker for use as a pseudonym for some poems I’d written as a student. And realising that I can still identify with his self-loathing now, I turn off my windscreen wipers. But the downpour has already started to wane, so the effect is anticlimactic. Unperturbed, I shut my eyes and realise I can see love with my eyes closed.