The Night Runner (Story #32)

Tonight, for the first time since the accident, Henry drives himself to the community college on the other side of town where he will run around the track—lap after lap after lap. He won’t stop. He can’t. The old man will be watching him.

Before the accident, before Henry saw the old man for the first time, if you would have asked him why he didn’t just run on the street or in one of the parks that are everywhere in town, he would’ve shrugged a bony shoulder and said he only felt like he was getting somewhere when running in circles. People who knew Henry knew he liked to speak in puzzles, so they left it at that even though they were still curious.  Since the accident, they are not so curious. They don’t ask him anything—about running or anything else.

Not that Henry minds. He prefers it this way. More time to think about things that need to be thought about.

Tonight, Henry runs in circles alongside questions that are almost as disciplined as he is. The first thought has to do with his wife, Liv, and his mother-in-law—a woman who never liked him very much but who had gotten sick, and who before she died, could no longer remember why this was so. She didn’t remember much about anything, in fact, which is why Liv went to visit her to bring her back. He wonders if he should’ve gone, too?

            He also wonders if when the plane began to plunge toward the Pacific, if while the rest of the passengers lost their minds, his mother-in-law found hers somehow and was granted a second’s worth of memory, a moment to whisper a good-bye to the daughter sitting next to her who she’d all but forgotten. Or, Henry wonders, had she gone down the way she’d been living for years—oblivious to oblivion?

Tonight, as Henry runs lap after lap, that thought gives up the chase, and lets him run in peace, or almost in peace.  There is another thought, more persistent, more present. It has to do with the old man who watches him make his laps.

Henry saw him on the night of the accident. He’d noticed the old man standing in the inner circle of the track and just as he was about to pass him, the old man took a step into his lane and blew a silver whistle he was holding. It was the whistle that made Henry stop and hear what the old man had to say: “You should go home,” the old man said. “Your boy will need you tonight when the news comes.”

Henry was about to ignore the old man, thinking him crazy, but the old man blew his whistle a second time and repeated himself.  It was the whistle combined with the seriousness of the old man’s voice that made Henry stop his run early and make his way home. By the time he had made dinner for his son, his wife and his mother-in-law, along with one hundred other strangers, had been scattered across a one-mile radius of the north Pacific.

Tonight, Henry is back at the track.  His mother is now living with him and helping out with the boy who is finally starting to sleep again. As his mother sings his son to sleep, Henry thinks and runs his laps. His running shoes are as stiff with time and old sweat as his muscles are. He wants to stop, call it quits. He wants to concentrate on the memory of his wife’s face without being distracted by motion or by stiff shoes and muscles. But every time he is about to stop, he hears a whistle blow. There in the bleachers is the old man in the same gray hoodie he’d wore months before.  The old man is there to make sure Henry will get where he needs to go, running in circles until his heart breaks into pieces like the hull of a plane, and he is with his wife once again.

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Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at www.circularrunning.wordpress.com and Tumbls at www.circularrunning.tumblr.com

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