55

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5.45

It is the definition of abrupt. All at once, you are awake. Breathless. Like somebody threw a bucket of water over you. Except you’re not wet.

I attempt to piece together my current situation. Everything inside me knows something is wrong as I am jamming in the cardboard edges and it’s just not fitting. Am I in my bed? Am I even in a bed? Is there another body next to mine?

There is an unbearable brightness screaming at the window. I didn’t bother closing the curtains last night. Why didn’t I bother closing the curtains last night? I tentatively check the time on my phone. 7.37am. I’m racking my brain for something about 5.45 that lingers like an unfortunately timed fart.

Your alarm not going off is like saying my dog ate my homework.

If the plane leaves at 8.05am and the airport is a 13 minute drive, and in between the car and the plane are security checks and long corridors, and in between me and the car is getting dressed and gathering my bag, how feasible is making the flight?

I remember putting down my book and picking up my phone. Scrolling down to the five and the 45. I was tired but I’m not completely crazy, I remember it. I remember it vividly, and now and then less vividly.

Ten minutes later I am a frantic heap on the floor of my mum’s living room, howling, internetting for options. My boyfriend surely believes me to be insane but I am powerless to my grief. All-consuming misplaced self-loathing. He will tell me later that he has never seen someone weep from every part of their face. I am incapable of forming coherent sentences. Am I distraught because I wanted to be there, or because of what people will think of me for not being there?

I have to make the phone call to my dad, let him know I am a let-down.

I insist cowardly at first that it wasn’t my fault. He’s not outright blaming me, but I intend to fully make my case. My dad tells me nothing that I want to hear, that there is nothing I can do, that she would be laughing. He reassures me not at all that he will ever forget this.

Google has provided me a single, slim-chance option. I tell my dad I’m not coming and put the phone down, pledging to call again when I can form whole words before they leave my mouth.

We scramble in to the car, my boyfriend illegally behind the wheel of my mum’s little Volkswagen Polo. We don’t pretend for one moment that I would be fit to drive.

Rolling past the main entrance of Terminal 4, Heathrow airport, with 20 minutes before take-off, I abandon my boyfriend at the first possible moment to drive the one hundred and fifteen miles back alone, unfed and uninsured. I feel like I expect everyone feels at the airport when travelling impulsively, picturing myself as the starring role in a cheesy film; the general public are extras who continually re-invent my plot as I run past toward a hijacked love interest or a lost child. Except I run in the wrong direction and have to run back on myself.

I throw my credit card at the ticket woman like it’s no big deal then thank her and her colleagues incessantly as though I am someone important and it’s not her job. She hands me my ticket and tells me they won’t wait.

Somewhere between that desk and the other side of a frisking, I decide that I have time to buy a bottle of water and some chewing gum on the way through duty-free. I fleetingly consider browsing the sunglasses. I long for caffeine but even I can see boarding with a Starbucks cup would be pushing it.

As I approach the gate it’s clear that all other passengers on the 10:45 flight to Edinburgh have boarded. Final calls have been and gone and the assistants a few gates down are miming hurry the fuck up actions. I stuff my gum and water deep in to my handbag so as not to be suspected, silently applauding my stealthiness as I step on to the plane. The people who look up at me as I clamber down the aisle must be wondering what takes a woman alone with no luggage so long to board a flight. I am breathless and glistening. Not in a sexy way.

It is only as we take off and I know that they will be listening to the readings by now that I fully accept that I have missed my Grandmother’s funeral.

I’m sure everyone thinks they have strange family, but she wasn’t a normal Granny by any stretch of the imagination. She certainly didn’t knit. Or cook. You might get a bowl of cereal when visiting if you were lucky. She wore stripy tops and incredibly floral dresses. To clarify, the dresses themselves weren’t anything special, but they were insanely floral. There are traces of her today in my Dad’s kitchen. Tins and tins of baked beans and mackerel. Rolls and rolls of kitchen towels. It was never really clear why she would stock pile anything that had a sell-by date longer than a week. In retrospect, it was another glaring clue to the Alzheimers she had so expertly covered up, along with the caps-lock Dynamo labels she plastered on everything from TELEPHONE to SUGAR.

I will never forget travelling to Cuba, whilst she was still alive, discovering this exotic place I had longed to visit smelt exactly like my funny English Granny. She had always smoked cigars and because I didn’t know anyone else that did growing up they became her defining scent. My brother and I shared one at a Havanan bar in her honour.

There was a small part of me that thought she might just outlive us all. But I am reminded most nights as I attempt to squeeze enough energy out to set my alarm, just before my eyes give up on the day and I weigh up how certain I want to be that yes, this alarm is definitely going to go off in six hours time no question, that I am reminded that she didn’t.

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