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FINISH LINE / by Craig Spence
“You don’t have to run fast, you just have to run hard,” Mel said.
“D’ya get it?”
Alison glanced up from her bowl of chopped banana and granola with milk, squinting. ‘What’s that supposed to mean,’ she was thinking. You could tell by the downturn of her lips and the knitting of brows she didn’t believe him. “Worked hard all my life, what the fuck did that get me?” she said.
How could you gainsay that? She had worked hard. Cleaning toilets, making other people’s beds, changing their towels and bars of soap… people who had money to spend on hideaway motels, determined to have a good time. But really they were no better off then her when you got right down to it. Grunting away at their ejaculations, their entangled moments of glory. Or just lying there side-by-side, sawing away like beached sea lions.
“There’s no meaning to any of it,” Mel judged. “Life’s just a series of sensations and events adding up to…” his thoughts on the matter petered out.
“What are you on about?”
Mel sighed, hadn’t meant to think out loud. He had to admit Alison’s wasn’t a bad line of inquiry though. ‘Except the questions had to be asked by the right person, a person with the mental capacity to understand the answers,’ he ruminated in careful silence.
Not that Alison was stupid. She had brains. But her neurons connected to what he classified as a crow’s spirit – opportunistic, argumentative, garrulous, greedy, focused on the ground even though Crow’s magnificent wings, sleek plumage, and obsidian eyes were a composite meant for the arc of flight.
Of course, she sensed when he was thinking stuff like that and it annoyed her. “You’re going to go out there and run like a fucking lunatic, give yourself a heart attack and die, then you’ll leave me without a pension for christ’s sake,” she accused. “Where’s the sense in that?”
Fair enough, he had to admit. There was an element of selfishness to his undertaking. And he did look the fool out there on the track. “Hey Usain, can I have your autograph!” a smart-aleck student from Cowichan Secondary had taunted just the other day, he and his buddies laughing at the jibe like hyenas. What did they know? What would they ever know, except the mechanics of bone, muscle and guts – the sensations of pushing a machine through an atmosphere thick as sludge.
“Don’t expect me to cheer you on,” Alison shouted after him as he stepped out the front door. “I won’t even visit you at the hospital! I won’t go to your fuckin’ funeral, you bastard!”
Of course she’d go. She’d even pretend to be bereaved, daubing her eyes with a tissue. She’d get herself all worked up – actually convince herself that she was mourning bravely, even though the bastard had made a dent in her retirement income by going out and dying… not that Mel intended to die, of course. He just wanted to see… even if the vision lasted less than an instant… just wanted to see if he could actually run faster than his own body.
That was the whole point of the exercise – to run so hard the ligatures binding soul to flesh might snap, and set something free, something unknown, unknowable really.
Can eternity be encapsulated in a split second? In a split-split second? Mel couldn’t say for sure, and the problem with that kind of question is you could never know the answer unless you actually proved the proposition true. You could fail, and fail, and fail again, and still you wouldn’t know. But all it would take would be one brilliant millisecond of success and…
“Careful what you hope for,” Mel cautioned inadvertently.
No fancy track suit or shoes. Sweats and sneakers were good enough. He tried to get there before the walkers and joggers started their rounds, circling the Sportsplex track grimly, or pertly, or in yakking pairs and threesomes. He knew they thought him strange. What was a graying, paunchy retiree doing out there, huffing down the track like a locomotive, then walking round the backstretch to the start line again, and sprinting once more down the outside lane – if you could call his lumbering gait a sprint?
Four or five times, two or three times a week.
He’d read on the internet somewhere that the hundred-yard dash wasn’t just a matter of running hell-bent-for-leather down the track. There were three distinct stages to a 10 second run: Drive, from dead still to full throttle; maximum velocity, where the sprinter runs erect, hips lowered achieving highest velocity; maintenance, where the athlete minimizes the inevitable deceleration, exhausted, but still striving for the finish.
Maximum velocity. That was the critical stage, the only one that mattered as far as Mel was concerned. But you had to run the entire race. “Go for it!”
Mel didn’t crouch, as if his feet were in the blocks. He just took off from a walking start into his run, accelerating down the track hard as he could, pushing harder through the middle of his sprint, continuing to drive through the maintenance phase. If separation was going to happen it would be in Stage II, he thought, when the psychic booster rockets kicked in.
If only. If only. He set off down the Sportsplex track for trial-one, fast as he could go. Then torqued up to maximum velocity, urging every increment of speed, and then some, out of his flabby muscles and clattering limbs, flapping down the runway toward… what? Take off…?
Pushed harder, surging until he ran out of oxygen and the inevitable strangulation of human nature took hold, throttling down his yearning… pushed even then, when he knew it was too late… that even the possibility of a glimmer of hope… of feeling himself detach, break free, fly out ahead of body like…
“Like what?” he gasped… crossing the imaginary finish line… body and soul at the exact same instant.
Thanks for reading. Finish Line is part of a series I am writing from what I take to be an Existentialist POV. It is inspired by the memory of track athlete and all-round amazing human being Jesse Owens.