Herbert, Frank (New English Library, ISBN 978-0450011849)
For Sophie, physical necessity, by itself, didn’t fix the moment when the future must arrive. Time marched rubato, stretching and bending to the individual rhythms of the players. As long as you stuck to the spirit of the arrangement, Time would turn a blind eye to a few extra minutes here or there.
To those with a pragmatic turn of mind, the view must’ve seemed an unmitigated failure. You found Sophie forever running late, out of petrol and waiting on her next paycheque to make the phone work again. Repossession agents chivvied her in flocks while friends she’d failed to meet crammed her answering machine with irate messages.
Yet, it dispossessed these predicaments (and many others) of their ability to engender distress. Once you believed a person’s will could distort time itself, you always had time for a cup of coffee.
Sophie did recognise that parking restrictions, on the other hand, permitted no such flexibility. However, she could always convince herself that she’d have enough time to get in, do whatever she needed to do and get out again before any traffic warden ticketed her car. Picture the traffic wardens patrolling in slow-motion, mired in their belief in a rigid time, while Sophie alights from her car, folds the space to the post office and uses her Guildsman’s badge to bypass the queue.
When she returned ninety minutes later, with a coffee, to find a ticket on the windshield, she would move it to another car – if possible, a fancy one. She believed (on faith rather than evidence) that most people would just pay any ticket they found on their car without reading it.
At home, Sophie parked in an L-shaped parking area behind her apartment building. The driveway ran down the side of the building next to the fence before making a remorseless hairpin turn into the parking area. Sophie parked on an otherwise disfavoured rise near one corner. Her car required push starting. Any two people can push start a car, but doing it by yourself requires a certain will to slapstick. Every morning, Sophie pushed her car down the slant, sprinted around to leap into the driver’s seat and tried to start it before it coasted into the fence. As soon as the ignition caught, she’d execute a handbrake turn around the hairpin, slinging an arc of gravel up against the fence. With that, she hurtled down the driveway on to Hotham Road, off to occupy a loading zone at the university.