There’s a certain time of day, when the unkempt stadium across from my building is divided equally by light and shadow. Today, I came out at just such a time. After my usual warm-up, I found myself winded fairly quickly, the wind whipping me with my own hair (“cut your hair, Nat,” my track coach used to say, and I did eventually, coach, but now I’m growing it back).
As I came around the bend, exiting the shadow and entering the light, I found myself flanked by two short, wiry men. One I had caught up with, the other one was catching up with me. It might have been the knot in my shoulder, drumming against my nerve endings in an increasingly belligerent way, or it might have been the feeling that I was about to drown from my own spit in my mouth, but I imagined suddenly that we were three horses, bridled and steered very roughly by the laws of physics.
And as I was thinking this, bright bubbles of pain exploding in my mind, two little girls rode off the shaggy grass and passed our troika on the track, the rhinestones in their barrettes sparkling crazily in the sun. One was on a bike, and the other was on skates, holding on to the back of the bike. They were screaming with laughter, the cautionary cries of the lady minding them rolling off them like distant thunder. There was no point in trying to outrun them, and I felt the other members of my troika slowing down around me as well. All we could do is gasp and wheeze along, and watch.
At my finish line, the men ran on ahead. I stretched my arms as I walked, and watched two blue-eyed puppies half-fight half-play by the shabby green construction fence. The first yellow leaves crunched underfoot. The girls were racing each other in the opposite direction on the track, their peals of laughter like the littlest church bells. I didn’t want to go back to the finish line, but I told myself we all have our purpose at any given point in life. Someone’s is to sparkle, someone’s is to sweat. I stood at the finish line, and wheezed some more and gave myself and my muscles a minute for self-pity, and then I started a new lap, running straight into shadow that, although waiting for me, hadn’t yet swallowed the entire stadium.