“February 2016 may have been one of the wettest on record so far… and we’re not even half way through the month yet… but thankfully, the levels inside are acceptable. We’re going to carry on but we may have to cut this afternoon’s session short if necessary…”
I followed the guide behind the kiosk and up the gravel path. The entrance was far more subtle than I’d expected. I waited my turn as the rest of the group disappeared inside. Within seconds I was in a half crouching, half crawling conga, my white helmet scraping against the undulating ceiling above. Bending my torso around the first corner, I emerged into the initial chamber where everyone sat, coming to terms with the sudden vigour.
Illuminating the target painted onto the wall behind her, Anna began to explain: “The circle in the centre is your comfort zone. It’s where we are now. This chamber. This is the safe place. It’s where you’ll return if you’re feeling any of the symptoms we discussed before. As you can see, each coloured circle progresses away from the centre. Each colour corresponds with a route you can explore if you so wish. Each route is more challenging than the last. The more of a risk you take, the more of the system you explore… the further from your comfort zone you will be. Remember…”
I dropped Shirley off. I could have stayed but I needed to get a few things done, start the week on top. As I drifted in to the city centre the rain returned and by the time I hit Ardwick the wipers were on double speed, whipping and wiping with manic motion. Ascending the slip-road, red break lights bled through the blur and road cones created new lanes of their own.
It happened so fast. My mind, I think, was drifting. I was tired after the caving, it was dark, there was something confusing about the lights in the rain. I was thinking back to the target, the concentric circles, leaving the comfort zone. I was thinking about work. Monday morning was playing out already and Sunday wasn’t yet done. My arms, my knees were aching. I hit the first cone and something caught beneath a wheel. The car was moving diagonally through the phalanx of striped plastic, aquaplaning… there was a lot of standing water on the carriageway. I remembered some cautionary advice from somewhere, something about trying to drive into the skid. Trying to pull out of it seemed futile, the concrete rim of the arterial becoming closer by the second, the lights in the windows of the student buildings coming in to full view. In desperation, I tried to steer into it as slowly as my rigid hands would allow and it was then that I felt something shift: the car began to slow, seconds seemed to elongate. I held my breath for fear of altering the course again as the car arced away from the barrier, careering on a circular revolution, breaks screaming, locked in, needle in groove, the infamous sink hole gaping below me until the very last protracted moment and I felt the wheels gain traction, I felt the friction of the carriageway once again.
The rain had stopped. At first I thought the darkness of moments earlier must have been merely the darkness of early evening storm clouds. An uncommon mist now clouded the windscreen. Composing myself, unclenching one hand from the wheel, I activated the air con before realising that the screen itself was clear, that this was a phenomenon of the weather outside. Only then, gaining the highest point of the Mancunian Way, did I notice the absence of any other traffic. I pulled up on the deserted outside lane and opened the door. Legs shaking, I steadied myself against the barrier. Beneath me, a billboard announcing a new apartment and retail complex due for completion in 2023 still remained, the paper yellow and faded, peeling at the corners. I got back in the car and eased down the slip-road, craning my neck and stopping every once in a while to catch glimpses of the city buildings as the mist cleared for brief moments. All I could see were the boarded up windows, empty doorways and weeds where once there were streets.
Icarus at the Edge of Time
Written by Brian Greene and adapted by David Henry Hwang
Film created and directed by AL and AL
Score by Philip Glass and Jonathon Scott
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Northern College of Music
6th February, 2016