Friday, July 03, 2009

Scotland: Like A Final Breath

For now, as I have to get back to writing some other things, this will be the final installment on the latest Dundee trip. There is more, but you'll probably have to put a cup of coffee in front of me and hear it firsthand. Thanks for reading.

The sun rises at about 5 a.m. in the summers near the sixtieth parallel. I had brought my neon Nikes in my suitcase, and in a fit of folly I decided that the dead of night was a good time to go for a jog. I slipped them on and put my fingerless gloves over my hands, dressing in some respect like an aerobic panhandler, all neuroses and passions. I tucked Sarah’s spare set of keys into my glove and slipped out the door into the stairwell, which was dimly lit with a toady orange light. The sounds of my footsteps echoed off of the concrete walls with a muffled resonance, as if the world still had its head on the pillow. I slipped out the wooden door of the breezeway and began to run toward the silvery Tay. Paton’s Lane led me down upon Magdalen Green where rabbits lolled about chewing the shallow grass in the dark. My shoes crunched on the gravelly sidewalk and every one of the creatures froze and raised its ears, seeking for sounds. I passed the green and went on beneath the amber streetlights beside the steel girders of the Tay Railway Bridge. The current bridge sits beside the closely shorn pylons of the former one, which collapsed during a storm in 1879, killing 75 people aboard a crossing train, including the son of the bridge’s recently knighted architect. While this, even with over a century of separation, is unfathomable as a tragedy, it must be noted that the crash was immortalized in song by William McGonagall, who is often cited as the “worst poet in the English language.”

I ran on along the sea wall beside the estuary and past the grocery store and museum with the black water whispering in tiny waves at intervals as the tide pulled toward the moon. Once in a while, I would pass an orange life ring and a rescue hook hanging on the railing in case of someone drowning – either accidentally or otherwise. How many suicides are there in a city full of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy? I was glad to be out that morning, but how many people were staggering through Dundee’s endless capillaries and alleys, finding their way into flats or hotel rooms or unmarked doors? I was determined to make it to the far end of the other bridge about three miles from Sarah’s apartment. I made the staircase below the bridge that led up to the long walkway across the Tay. A man sat alone in the guardhouse that looked down on the roadbed. Anemic UV lights colored his lonely room with a green tint, and he sat and watched the tiny television on the counter looking like Charon at his dreary coast. I was struck by a sudden desire to go and talk to him, perhaps to prove to myself that there was indeed life. Maybe I wanted to prove it to him. I turned my face toward the converging lines of pale streetlights that stretched out ahead of me and started to run across the wide river, following the long straight line of sidewalk and passing only one tired stranger as I jogged.

I did at last make it to Fife, all 3.3 miles, but that’s not the point of this little story – and I’m aware that the distance is not that impressive. The point is that I turned around to walk back across the bridge, and the light that had burned all night with a sapphire suggestion under the horizon of bleak Hilltown grew into a blazing dawn. A third of the way back towards the Dundee side, I had to stop. I couldn’t stare straight into the sunrise, but having run further than I’d ever run at one stretch, and that in the middle of the night, I wasn’t going to turn away until I’d seen our local star come round into view above the distant sea. The stranger I’d passed while running finally caught up with me and went on his way with the barest of nods, his ears submerged beneath headphones. I turned once to acknowledge him as he passed and then looked quickly back toward the east, and from behind the stone battlements of Broughty Castle, the light exploded outward like a solitaire.


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