In this abridged epic of local travel, self discovery, and, ultimately, coming in last, we find the entire vignette of the human race set to the telling pitter-patter of well-wrought rain (you can actually smell the eucalyptus in it). The story begins with two characters so alive you want to turn away from the smell their jogging shoes. Even the monotonous sound of their soles slapping down one after the other on the road is terrifyingly honest. Slap, slap, slap it tells us. And in our heart of hearts, in the darkness we find there, we cannot deny, that those shoes have come for us. From the Hemingwayesque opening lines, to its final voluptuous Proustian nostalgia, this thing is illuminating and powerful and original and heartbreaking and fecund in its naked and sweaty semi and pseudo tragedy. Finally a vignette that dares to take on the questions that really matter—Will she love me? Will he love me? Will new shoes make me run faster?
Not to sound argumentative, but it was not quite night yet, and it would be hard to call this weather real rain, though this being nowhere but the Northwest, it was not an irregular amount of mist for a night like this. No thought crossed his mind except that he would rather not think about running. This is not atypical for runners, as the will to run fast and far is a negative, a will not so much to go, but to say I will not stop. Though, I will not lie, he was no runner. Perhaps this is why he could not stop from listening to advice he had not asked for: "Do nothing but keep a Zen mind when you run," his friend had told him, a friend who was not his coach but pretended to be. "No one but a true Zen master can resist thinking about work, and bills, and that growing fear that something has not gotten done. Reject everything. Think about nothing." His friend had said all this without actually saying it, but this friend’s way of talking without talking--everything hidden in nods and winks and the not quite subtle hints of innuendo--was not unfriendly, so he went ahead and decided not to ignore it. I can think of nothing, he thought. But as soon as he refused to think of running, as soon as he refused to think of the pain circling his non-dominant knee (how the pain refused to land right in the center of the knee, and this refusal meant it was not the bad kind of pain, which, however, did nothing to help him not think about it because, of course, it was pain just the same), as soon as he rejected the thought of having misplaced his gloves so that his hands were now nothing if not frozen (I have not lost them, he almost said aloud, just misplaced them, and here he tried not to think of someone he was no longer with who had accused him of never knowing where he put things), and as soon as he had unmade his mind so that it was not a mind at all but a blank slate, a white sheet of paper (that fortunately was only metaphorical as what had yet to be a real rain was now threatening to become no light downpour, the kind of torrent that even that glossy paper, the stuff so coded in clay that it's not quite paper at all, cannot stand up against), he could not resist thinking of that never distant fear that he would fail to ever find the infrequently imperfect, hardly discomforting, never unloving woman he had never met yet, or, if he had met, had not known it, or if he had known it, she--for unfathomable reasons--had not. And with this fear, which was not a fear of any particular thing, but rather a fear of an absence, of a life in which a certain part of him—a part not technically the blood and valve and muscle-bound pump in his chest, but still that thing which no one dares call anything but the heart—would never find that thing that no real poet has ever dared not call upon somewhere in verse (though it be free verse--which some say is not verse at all--or the unformed and half-doggerel of juvenilia that no one wishes had seen the light of day), and what else am I talking about here but love. But talk of love is so far from real love, let us not go on too long. Let us avoid turning what is not even a tale into something it is not: In short, he feared not finding this thing I have just said we should not talk of, this thing I cannot say again for it hurts what is not really my heart but pretends to be, and though I wish to say no more, this fear happened at no other point than just as she did not stop or even, for half a stride or less, keep pace beside him, and the fear continued as she did not turn to look back or even nod at him, or wink, though it had been no more than 23 hours, less than a day, since the last time she had not stopped as she ran by him. But what else can he expect. She is not his girl. She is not even a girl technically (because she is a woman). But she is also young enough where neither the word woman nor girl seems to fit, and this is not to disrespect her, in fact, if we were allowed to hear her opinion, which we are not, as she is running by without saying a word, she would probably not disagree with the way either term ends up not quite fitting, and though I shouldn’t go into this, it really is a case of who is not allowed to say which term. For example, her girlfriends (and here I don’t mean “girlfriends” though how she does or does not think of who can and cannot be that kind of “friend” does not change this argument) could say “girl,” but if her boss called her "girl," especially if her boss was not a woman, it would sound anything but flattering and, though I will not say it, a bit paternal in the not nice way. However, if a young man called her “woman,” especially if she found him not too unattractive (a thought this man is trying to resist not only as part of his new-found Zen practice, but for the absurdity of seeing anything clearly in this lack of light on this cloudy evening (pay no notice to the way the term "boy" has been replaced by "man," a move we can almost be sure has been made to impress the girl who is a woman though she can hear none of this) and yet he cannot resist arguing with himself about what to call this person he will never meet as she runs by without looking at him), this term that is not quite the right one might make her feel anything but young and vivacious, something we cannot doubt as she passes this man so quickly, it's as if he is not running at all.