I sat at my desk, distracted. This was the last thing I wanted to be doing the night before Gold Cup day. My mind was wandering, as I feebly attempted to decipher Shakespeare's Macbeth.
"Nought's had; all's spent.
Where our desire is got without content.
"Tis safer to be that which we destroy,
Than, by destruction, dwell in doubtful joy."
I repeated the line over and over, hopelessly. What could it mean? And what relevance, if any, did it have to me? I cursed my luck and gave up. Anyway, it wasn't as if Shakespeare could offer me any "real' advice about life; sure didn't he live, well, ages ago? I turned on the television and indulged myself in the day's Cheltenham highlights show before I could allow myself to become further frustrated at a worthless quote written by someone living in the Stone Age. I knew better than to believe a word he had written.
I woke the following morning with a sense of anticipation. Having shunned my homework the previous night, I had set out on a mission; to find today's winners. I loved sitting down at my desk and circling which horses I was going to follow the next day. I spent hours chopping and changing before I had made it clear.
I cheerily wished the bus driver a good day the following morning. Today was going to be a good day. A great day. I sat down, but I couldn't relax. My feet were itching with nervous excitement when it dawned on me; how was I to put a bet on if I was trapped in school all day? As the bus edged closer to Dublin, I began to feel sorry for myself. The whole situation was so unfair.
I had reached the point of desperation when, as I rose lethargically for my stop, I remembered my brother, who was taking the same bus into college. As I walked down the aisle past him I coolly slipped two euro into his hand and whispered "Our Conor and Salsify to win." Before he had the chance to question me, I had jumped off the bus and was already making my way to school. Now all I had to do was wait...
With each glance at the clock, time seemed to slow itself down. The seconds ticked by agonisingly slow as I stared absent minded into the distance. There was only one thing on my mind. The clock edged towards 1:30pm. I grew restless. I'm not sure why; after all, it was only two euro, wasn't it? But it was more than that to me, more than just a few euro; my judgement, as well as my lunch money, was on the line. A genius, or a fool?
One-thirty passed, but I was stranded. I sat, agitated, in a hot and heavy classroom. My fingers twitched, I shuffled around in my seat. No comfort could be found. Around me people sat with their heads down, doing their work. But I tried to picture myself somewhere else.
I was there, in the thick of it. Gold Cup Day. The heaving crowd hustled about. There was a sense of anticipation in the air. The runners were charging down the hill in the first; I could tell. But I couldn't see; my view was blocked. The crowd roared, I could tell things were getting serious. My desk was shaking violently. Philip. Philip! PHILIP!
In an instant, I was back in class. Around my classmates sniggered to themselves. The teacher indulged herself in telling me off. I'm always daydreaming in class, she said. But I wasn't listening. I'd blocked her out. And then I felt a vibrating in my pocket. I took out my phone; the message was from my brother:
"Our Conor hacked in, 15 lengths."
Elation. Triumph. I looked around, but unsurprisingly no one else was aware how events had unfolded. I felt vindicated. It didn't matter to me that Our Connor was a well backed favourite on the day. All that needed to happen now was for Salsify to land the odds in the Foxhunters.
The next few hours of school passed in a blur. I took no notice when teachers persisted in shouting at me in class. None of it mattered.
Conveniently for me, school closed early, so I had just enough to have a look into a nearby Ladbrokes shop before catching the bus. What I saw on the screens in the betting shop further strained my nerves; I saw jockeys returning to the weighing room with their breeches caked in mud, their faces spattered. The going had changed. Against Salsify.
Listening to the Gold Cup on the bus home did little to ease my anxiety. The good ground which Salsify seemingly thrived on was nowhere to be seen.
My brothers and I had left the car at the bus stop that morning, so when the three of us got off the bus we rushed to the car. The time was near. The pundits on the radio echoed my sentiments as they pondered upon the possible implications of the rain-softened ground on the favourite.
We were driving down a long and winding back road as the race got underway. We swerved to avoid potholes and were forced right up against the verge of the road when we were unlucky enough to meet another car. Fortunately it sounded like Salsify was enjoying a much easier passage. Everything was going his way. Excitement burst from the vehicle when the commentator declared that the favourite was travelling strongly, as Colman Sweeney took a long, goading look over his shoulder. The deal was sealed. I could see myself on Monday morning, boasting to my classmates about how much money I had won. However, all of a sudden things changed; Salsify was coming under pressure. He seemed to have no response to the onslaught from young Jane Mangan aboard Oscar Delta in front. Despite our desperate urgings, he looked to be held. When Oscar Delta cleared the last, there was no way back for Salsify. We were in need of a divine intervention. The car had gone quiet. The race again was seemingly sealed, when Oscar Delta took a notion, spooked, and veered into the tape, leaving Salsify to come home clear. The whole car erupted. It had come off. A memorable coup we were calling it when my brother declared that he had put a fiver on "The Double." We burst into fits of laughter when it was confirmed that a horse named Divine Intervention had come second.
When we arrived home, we rushed into the house to catch the reaction to the race. However, when I turned the television on I was not met with the sight of the magnificent Salsify, or with the celebrations of joyous favourite backers. On the screen I saw a young girl. Her father was attempting to console her, but to no avail. Her hair was tangled. Tears were streaming down her rosy cheeks. As I stood there, dwelling in doubtful joy, I realised the relevance of a worthless quote written by someone living in the Stone Age.