The International Writers Magazine: The seconds, the long miles
The seconds, the long miles.
Slow, falter, quit – no, another stride forward. A face red and sweaty, heavy padded breathes that won’t seem to stop and legs growing heavier by the moment: he is a long-distance runner.
The concrete is merciless, delivering bolts of agony through his feet. Marathon should be called metamorphosis – the undoing of human clay. Solidly constructed flesh, ligament, muscle and bone of man ten miles into a run, now tatters, barely holding on at twenty miles.
What are you running for, his mind beckons. He looks down at his running shoes. He runs for the next step. This is all he can imagine… No… A wide field with stalks of golden wheat, the sky big with white clouds and the earth flat, without end… Down a dirt road a little boy runs. Worn out shoes spring like a leopard’s heels. Trusty stopwatch ticking away – gears wound by hand. To his left, a steaming train… This time he’s going to win. First to the bridge, first to the bridge.
The train is loud like a marching band blowing mezzo forte. More so, it is thunderous as the rails and road come closer together, ten feet apart. On tips of his toes… a leap of faith, he’s the first to the bridge. A bridge with room for only one-way road traffic. Eyes closed and the sweat pours by the gallons. A demon reaches into his throat, stealing all the oxygen. But he can hold his breath? He can hold on. I did it, the boy cheers, collapsing to his knees.
Harvey, the town drunk, speeds in a pick up truck down the road. Lifting a brown bag that’s holding ripple, but someone's on road. It's too late to stop, damn kid in the way, too late to stop... Horn blowing!
For the runner, a world of white: ceiling, floor, sheets… Black predictions: never walk again. Hospital blues: legs in castes, everyday in pajamas. The soul of great will and dreams now fixed to a wheelchair. A boy dreamer who wanted to be the best runner in the whole world… Separated from country road, the train, the bridge…
That’s me hearing the seconds of the stopwatch in the middle of the night, he prays. By counting seconds he lives. Can he stand for a mere second? A second is grand and demanding Herculean effort. A second can bring him to his knees. Fear and loneliness wear out their welcome as vistors, stopping by at all hours of the night. Rudely they awaken him. Courage comes and goes... Courage needs proof to stay, it is fickle. A year passes – 31,556, 926 seconds… And he at last stands under his own power: proof of hope.
Under his own power a marathon he must complete. This is why I must not fail, he encourages himself. Pain is no stranger. He crosses the finish line. To his left, the press interviews the winner.
"The last mile is like being hit by a truck," the winner jokes, enjoying the accolades.You have no idea the long-distance runner says to himself. His glory is not subject voyeurism. His glory is all his own. Blue skies, golden fields... Headlong like a train into life... First to the bridge, first to the bridge.
© Ryan Moore November 2005
Hot baby blue
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