After the party I drove her home. Day was breaking as I stopped outside her flat.
“Thanks for the lift,” she said.
I lit a fag.
She paused, “Come in if you like”.
I exhaled. I pretended to misunderstand. “Thanks, but coffee’s probably the last thing I need. Gonna head home”.
She looked me in the eye and touched her hair. “OK”. She opened the car door. “‘Night”.
I watched her walk from the car to the tenement, fumbling in her bag for her keys. She went inside without looking back.
I drove to the beach and parked at the front. The clock read 4.55. I wound down the window and lit another fag. Already I could feel the heat from the sun on my arm. I leant on the windowsill and contemplated my reflection in the wing mirror as I smoked: my fringe across my eyes, the curve of my mouth, freckles on my nose. I imagined what it would be like to feel the softness of her hair, the smooth press of her skin, the sour taste of beer on her warm mouth as I kissed her.
Later I lay in bed. The summer seemed endless. I was single; free of work, college and possessions. I slept most of the day and spent nights driving aimlessly. I stared at the sea and the sky. I had never felt so at ease. This is how life would be from now – free of all commitments.
Outside I could hear cars and people; the beginnings of another day. I slept.
Eh? I had been watching the shadow of a branch on the wall of a building moving in the summer breeze. Having observed nature for over 40 years, I was now pretty sure that it existed independently of mankind and was at best oblivious to humanity’s pointless affairs.
I turned to face a room of people for whom I was responsible.
“Sorry. Tuned out there for a minute.”
My interlocutor spoke again.
“What do you want to do next?”
Once In A Lifetime juxtaposes images of freedom, and nirvana – into the blue again; ending and slipping away – after the money’s gone with those of continuum – water flowing underground. Musically this tension is evoked by a glittering, celestial synthesiser grounded by relentless, heartbeat bass.
In this context the hapless narrator’s persistent questioning – absurd, philosophical, existential – is to no avail and serves only to reveal his own inconsequentiality and transience. Vaguely aware that he is somehow part of a greater whole, he nevertheless seems powerless to control his destiny. The birth-like surge at the start of the song is complemented by the scything guitar at the end, suggesting a fleeting life.
Once In A Lifetime seems the perfect description of my bemused atheism. When I hear it I think of summer 20 years ago: of youth and age; freedom and stasis; the silver light of a new dawn; the car door still unopened.