They aren't running shoes, but they'll do.
Mitch closes the front door behind him with a thunk. It is a stubborn door, and refuses to shut quietly. He pauses a moment, waiting to hear if anyone has woken up. And what if they had? There is nothing he could do about it. But he waits to listen anyways, before setting out onto the pavement.
He starts slow, thinking that is the thing to do, warm the muscles up, although he's not really sure. It sounds sensible, and maybe that's enough. Turns east, where things will quickly become unfamiliar. He has no wish to run through his old neighbourhood. Landmarks, recognizable objects, they are tethers. There is no wish to be tied to anything just now.
There are protests. His left knee, the one that was paining him last winter, is now once again acting up. This bothers him in a deep and very real way. He is not yet thirty and has a bad knee. Somehow his body has acknowledged aging, and he is disconcerted. He settles for some small measure of relief that it does not seem to be getting any worse as he jogs down the street.
His shoes are slapping pavement in an undignified manner. It seems that way at least. Running shoes would not do such a thing, he thinks. It is okay though. Very early in the morning, there's no one to watch. Early mornings are for private moments and knowing looks and questions like...
"What?" Cher asked, trying to keep her expression neutral. Her mouth could not stop curling into a smile, however.
"Nothing," he said, smiling too. It was undeniable, this smiling, the not-so secret communication it carried. It would disappear, of course, eventually, but even long after he'd gone out the door later that day and purchased a ham and cheese sandwich for a ridiculous four dollars and fifty cents at the cafeteria at work during lunch time, still he would find that smile creeping up on him.
"What are you thinking about?" She asked. She asked that question a lot. It had always given him trouble. Always threw him a little off balance. Except for that morning. It was easy then.
Behind him, along the busy street Mitch has just passed, a siren is racing past. There are always sirens racing around the city, but they feel much more noticeable at night. Loud, but steady and even, like his breathing, or a heartbeat. Unfamiliar houses are passing him by, but he knows the direction, making towards the lake. His heavy sweatshirt is proving to be stifling, even in the cool air, and he is eager for the breeze off the water.
Sweat now, things heating up, and he remembers when he was younger how he used to imagine his best friend was running alongside him, keeping pace and laughing and occasionally leaping into the air and spinning and laughing some more. Derek moved away during high school and Mitch is a little frightened by how many years it has been since. He tries to conjure an image beside him, but all he can think of now is his old gym teacher, Mr. Turner, who was an old bastard, but not a miserable one, and reasonably well liked by his students. Mitch can see him now, running beside him, old ratty toque worn tight over his head, and Turner is looking at Mitch and yelling that same old refrain, telling him to
Roger was nearly yelling in the other room, and Amber let out another scream. Mitch sat quietly in the living room, Cher across from him on the other couch. Things had been okay recently, but the distance was telling. It was all sorts of time and space over that distance, and his reach did not extend very far at all.
Amber was panting in the other room and telling Roger to go fuck himself. It had been her idea to have her child at home. And her idea to have him and Cher over. Mitch was certain this was not how Amber envisioned things, but she had never been pregnant before and in a world of her own for the past nine months.
Mitch stole a look at Cher, but she was looking towards the other room. He wondered what she was thinking, whether she herself knew. His own thoughts had been something of a mystery to him for some time now.
His motion is slowing and his breathing is heavy. He is thumping along the boardwalk now, enjoying the audible change of his feet on the wooden planks, even as a stitch creeps up his ribs. This is the real breaking point, the part of the run that separates the boys from the men. Some runs are about destinations, but the ones he likes to run, the ones that take place in the early morning when no one else is about, they are all about time.
The breeze helps, but even with it he is overheating, and without stopping pulls off his long-sleeve shirt, wrapping it around his waist and tying the arms together. He tied his shirt around his waist often as a kid, but stopped when an older teenager told him only fags wore their shirts like that. How long did that offhand comment linger in his head, denying him this simple act? It is strange to think about, and adds a tinge of sadness to the moment.
The stitch is getting worse. He cannot go on for much longer without stopping to rest. Each second requires a little more gritting of the teeth, and each time his foot falls the echo is empty of triumph. Not much longer and it will be
"... over" Cher said, her arms falling to her sides.
He could have replied. Failed to. Didn't know it just then, but that silence was the most selfish thing he had ever done.
Later, he would angrily tick over the reasons in his head. He would think of all the things he had yet to do, the need to rush towards them cool and free and unencumbered, without regret. Everything was in place, only time now seemed to stretch long, and he had begun to fear that he would need to
Stop for a bit. He rests his hands on his knees and takes several deep, gulping breaths. A quick look around shows there is not another soul in sight, just the expanse of the beech in either direction, dotted by pools of light radiating from the lamps along the boardwalk. He walks a little further towards a bench and sits down.
His watch shows he has been running for almost an hour. He can't remember if that is good or not. It has been too long since he last ran, and standards of comparison are absent. He feels as though sitting there, under a lamp with the waves pressing up against the beach and the lights across the water shining bright, that he might find some way to quantify this time, to put into some sort of perspective.
The stitch in his side is gone, though, and he gets back up, turning off the boardwalk and onto the street. The sound of his shoes slapping the pavement returns, and he jogs back towards home wishing for running shoes.