Your Goddamn Favorite

“Saw you on TV,” she said from the kitchen doorway, meatloaf in both hands. Charlie was barefoot in a towel, ultra conscious of his body odor which cut the smell of meat and onions like a knife. His mother was in her oven mitts with the fleurs-de-lis on the backs and scorched spots on the palms. “Did you know they televised it? Public access. Zoomed right in on you.” Raised her short arms, tilted the dish. The loaf fell to the floor and splattered. “Your goddamn favorite!”

A different race in a different country had inspired him. Hundreds of men as dark and quick and glistening as oil ran for hours, hours. He’d turned off the sound and watched in silence in the basement. The men’s eyes half-closed, soothed by the rhythm of their bodies, by the rhythm of the body they’d become.

“I’m going to run the Marathon,” he’d announced at dinner.
His stepfather raised a forkful of peas to his mouth and hummed.
“You?” his mother said.
“Four months is what it takes.”
She squinted, looked him over.
“All you have to do is run.”
“You run a long time,” his stepfather warned.
“Twenty-six miles.”
“For someone who’s sat on his ass all year,” she said, “that’s not nothing.” Stepfather picked pepper from his teeth. “Not young anymore, either.”
Charlie got up, touched his doughy belly. “Thanks for dinner. And the support!”

The endless sound of sneakers hitting asphalt, endless rain, the endless breath of runners, his own deep inhale-exhale. The painful cut of a cramp, his steady breath, left foot right foot, loose fists. True what they said about the runner’s high. His mind as empty as the sky, right foot left foot all the way down hills, up hills, across the bridge. The cheering of intermittent clots of bystanders flowed through him. He could have run forever. He would have, too. To run forever: What would it be like? Like this. Like this, but longer, endless left foot right foot. Sweat dripped from his nose, sweat trickled down his neck and pooled at the base of his back, sweat stank; he breathed, he ran.

If it had been ten minutes it had been days. The sun achieved its apex, began to sink. The crowd was thicker, louder, and then there was the finish line.

He slowed. A man behind him lost his footing, cursed, pushed past. A woman let her sweating arm lick his. Ahead he saw high-fiving, water guzzling, dispersing. He stopped. He turned around. Behind him the endless sea continued, bobbing faces red with effort, wet with sweat, and surging. His veins and muscles pulsed with current. His mind was light, empty, serene. He bent his knees and let his body sink to lie upon the asphalt, closed his eyes.

He did not see the cameraman above him. He did not feel the camera’s one glass eye.

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