Friday, January 8, 2021

A Commitment to Running by Laramie Wyatt Sanchez Graber

Johnathan is committed to running from his painful memories; by Laramie Wyatt Sanchez Graber.

People always say, "You can't keep running forever. Eventually your problems will catch up to you." Or at least that's what they say when they find it hard to look at me, when they sigh, when they shake their heads. But that's only because they've never committed.

When running is your way of life, the world is no longer static, trapping. It all becomes a blur, trees outside a speeding car window (like the pine trees in the Appalachians when Cynthia and I would go driving in the winter, windows unrolled, to feel the frigid blast, to celebrate that our bodies were warm and vibrant). And all the pine trees look the same, it's impossible to distinguish between them, so you stop trying. Then, you live only in the moment and you're free (there are no ends).



"Sir, uh sir, it's closing time."

I blink. Evening light streams in, brilliant with red and orange, like a sunset at the beach with a forest fire nearby. Much of the booths are cast into shadow, made stately in the moment, as if carved from granite in a king's hall (dark swathes of duct-tape desperately hold the image together). The specials board glows (the items the same as they've been year after year).

"Yes, yes..." This happens sometimes; I don't know how I've gotten someplace. But it doesn't matter.

I place some money onto the table. "Keep the change."

The boy's face contorts into unaccustomed wrinkles. "But that's just leav-"

"Nathan, why don't you go sweep!" A waitress hurries over before he can start to rudely sigh and shake his head. A hand on his shoulder, she whispers, "Already paid... ex-wife... always..."

I respect their desire to not be understood. The words are little more than the fading ripples of a splash.

"Would you like any food to take away with you? It'll be on the house for that tip!"

The waitress seems nice, comforting, with a round face, and baby blue skirt and red apron. And young, maybe much younger than me, I think. She doesn't have wrinkles and, I glance at my hands, I do. I smile. She returns the smile, lips painted a bright red (I remember a lipstick like that, getting it on my own lips, not wanting to wash them, to savor the memory of a trace of warm wetness, of life given) and I realize I've made a mistake. I've risked a connection.

"Great, I'll get you..."

I shake my head vigorously.

Her smile disappears. Its wideness caused unnatural strain and now it has collapsed under the pressure. I notice that she has the worst eyes, not unable to look at me, but looking and searching, searching...

I run away.



There is one place, a house (a home), that I visit more than any other. It is the smallest in the neighborhood, like a child of the other houses. Yet, it still stands out for it is painted a bright yellow (a liar of a color. Wasn't it once an unassuming brown? Content merely to be itself?) and has a garden bursting with color in the spring and summer. It is overgrown with weeds (it wasn't once) but is still beautiful. I like to come and water it sometimes, to imagine the spray as liquid strikes leaves is the sound of the plants sighing in thanks. Never for too long, though. I am committed to my running.

Today, the woman that is sometimes there, is there again. Sometimes she threatens to call the cops, but I don't think she will today. She sits amongst a pile of weeds she has torn out of the ground, bald head (I think she keeps it this way out of defiance) glistening with the vitality of sweat in contrast to the dark circles around her eyes. Today, she merely looks at me with those oddly old eyes, colored like the Caribbean Sea.

"Hello, Johnathan," she sighs.

It is sadly unavoidable that because I come here frequently she has learned my name. However, I do like its sound upon her lips. "I love your garden."

She smiles or tries to at least. It is more a parting of the lips. It's a shame because I sense she would have a beautiful smile (like one forever lost).

"Johnathan, I asked you a question."

"Yes?" I try to imbue the single word with great enthusiasm.

"I asked what flower is the best."

Not an important question if she hadn't asked it, but she has. I must get it right. "For me or you?"

She shrugs.

Vaguely, I stretch out a hand. It settles on a five-petaled flower, vibrant red like a heart, light-colored stigma bravely shooting out to meet the world (they hid a ring once). "This one."

I had hoped for a smile. I only receive a nod. "You would have chosen the hibiscus."

"Why?"

"It was always your favorite."

"Is that bad?"

A habitual shiver, like the remembrance of a long, cold winter (hands unable to meet an outstretched hibiscus).

"What's your favorite?" I ask. The shiver seemed bad.

She points. Wilted purple petals are in the process of falling off their stem.

I don't understand. Daylilies only last a day. "Why?"

"If you wanted to know, you'd remember." The words are a hiss, a threat of venom.

I take a step back in horror. Remembering is dangerous for one on the run. Yet I do want to see her smile. I have a few more moments I think. "Want to hear a joke?"

"Why not." "I, I don't have one." I am blushing and suddenly I think I should have run.

"Then why did you say you did?"

I am tottering back now. "I wanted to make you smile."

A slashing arm and torn hibiscus petals fly through the air.

I am gone (before they can touch with memory).



I run. Visit the Eiffel Tower (just like the postcard I'd always had on my desk). See Blade Runner in an outdoor theater in the rainforest, while eating Bojangles. Play pickup soccer (alone) in the rain until I am covered in mud. In the moon's light watch a multitude of baby turtles burst from the sand, scrambling awkwardly towards the sea (alone). Finally, I fall asleep, yet it is restless (I dream of a white room filled with seeping life not successfully contained by antiseptics and steadily proliferating hibiscus flowers. Slowly, the woman's body is disappearing).



I awake to find myself in a world made insubstantial by morning dew and light. The manicured bushes and grass look like watercolors able to be smudged away. Only the gray tombstone is hard. Well, maybe the others are too, but I don't notice them. It reads: Here lies Cynthia _____, Beloved Wife and Mother.

I touch the stone and trace the name. It feels sweet and soft, but also burning like a roasted marshmallow shoved down the throat. I jerk away, just in time (the love wants me to remember).

"I thought I'd find you here after Mom." I turn to find a woman striding towards me, hard like the tombstone. She regards me intently with eyes colored like the Caribbean Sea, flecked with brown boats across the water.

"What?"

"You need to find a better place. She would never be buried someplace so... mundane." A laugh like a river without water. "In fact, she'll probably get cremated. That'd be somewhat unique."

"But this is my wife's grave."

"Then why does it have her last name wrong?"

That's wrong. But I have wondered why her tombstone has no last name. Could it - not good. Wondering is antithetical to running. I tense.

"Well, your dead ex-wife doesn't want you stopping by anymore. No more food either. What good that'll do." Her tombstone face cracks slightly to allow for a sad smile. "Still have me though." She holds forth a box of Bojangles.

More danger. "I couldn't... I should be..."

"Really? I bought too much. I was just going to throw it away."

"Oh." That's acceptable.

She goes to hand me the box of Bojangles before pausing. Her face rehardens. "Remember the hospital, Dad?"

(Life seeping with my tears into the carefully ordered white void. A mummifying woman honored with hibiscus flowers because she can no longer hold my hand) A frigid hand making piecemeal of my insides. I jerk away and crouch, gasping. I should run. I should run.

But she nods to herself and her face softens, rock liquefying under immense pressure. I know that she is done probing when she hands me the food. So, I don't throw it away and run, but instead sit down and lose myself in chicken grease and artificial biscuit butter. It's strange, but though I eat frequently, I always seem to be hungry. She sits down also and sips iced tea.

Eyes look at me when she thinks I'm not watching. It reminds me of a shy monkey I used to visit at the zoo. It would be calm and I would imagine that it was okay with me and that I was close to it somehow. Then it would see me and startle. Or is that the wrong orienta- I bite down on the chicken bone.

Only once does she interrupt the cycle. "Are you happy?"

I think. "Maybe, but I'm not sad."

She looks away for a while after that.

When I am finished, she collects the Bojangles box and we both stand. She holds out a hand and I go to shake it. She pulls me in for a hug. Warmth like hot chocolate after coming inside from the winter. A stray hair brushes my face. She has pulled away before I am able to and is already walking away.

A hand of mine stretches half-heartedly after her. It's a sign I need to run. Still, I angle my path so I can see her for as long as possible. Luckily, I will soon forget I ever did.

People always say, "You can't keep running forever. Eventually your problems will catch up to you." Or at least that's what they say when they find it hard to look at me, when they sigh, when they shake their heads. But that's only because they've never committed.

4 comments:

  1. A very emotional tale with impactful descriptions. I don't feel sorry for the MC, he seems to have fallen naturally into his state. Thank yo for sharing this story with us.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you liked the story. I do feel sorry for my MC, but I always love different perspectives on my characters

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  2. Holy cow. What a powerful tale of rationalizing denial. I loved it.

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