The Runner

the runnerThis is the piece I entered into NYC Midnight‘s flash fiction writing contest.

The genre I was given was drama, the location was a marathon’s finish line and the object was a box of chocolates. 

A businessman finds a link to his past while stuck at a marathon’s finish line. 

Unable to move, the tall man stood transfixed, staring, terrified. He was obviously going insane and needed to lie down–but there she was, a ghost.

The man’s suit jacket flapped in the wind as he walked. He felt like a ridiculous bird with his jacket and tie continually in motion. He checked his watch and grimaced. He would be there soon if they did not stop.

“Listen,” said the shorter man trying to match the taller man’s faster gait, “I didn’t mean to make us late. Relax.” The taller man allowed a side glance at the shorter man and quickened his pace, making his feet slap the asphalt harder and his elbow motion more prominent. “We don’t always have to show up ridiculously early for every meeting. Sometimes I think your control issues turn you into a r-o-b-o-t.” The short man swung his arms mechanically and changed his vocal tone. He beamed at the tall man expectantly; the tall man was reminded of a thick-witted clown awaiting applause after a punch line. The frown on the tall man’s face only deepened, and the short man sighed and dropped his arms dramatically. “You’re impossible.”

“And you’re not funny,” said the taller man.

The streets were filled with spectators, and the men were forced to bob and weave in the crowd. Adding to the tall man’s irritation, many of the people held large banners declaring their love or support for family members, and he was forced to duck under a forest of extended arms and poster papers. An especially large banner boasted in pink, glitter lettering surrounded by hearts: “Our Mom Kicked Cancer’s Butt!” Two teenagers, a girl and a boy, held up their own ends of the banner and were straining to see farther up the street.

The tall man surveyed the crowd, looking for an escape. The short man, who could barely look over the heads in the crowd, wiped sweat beads from his brow with his violently orange and pink tie, leaving damp streaks across its obnoxious polka dots. The tall man exhaled, his right eye twitching as he continued to look around him. They were wedged in their positions. The nerve around his eye thumped in rapid, angry drum beats as he spotted a news crew close to their position.

“This is Cliff Roland, and I’m here at the Mother’s Day Marathon organized by the women’s Bible study at St. Matthews. I’m here with Esther Roberts who will tell us more about the event.”

The tall man tapped his fingers on his briefcase in a rapid overture. Of course, I would have to be stuck with this idiot again, (the short man was trying to maneuver himself around Esther to wave at the camera) and I’m so incredibly late.

“This crowd is ridiculous! This would have to happen today!” The short man bellowed and gesticulated wildly with his hands, leaving the tall man to wonder if the man next to him could finish a single thought without looking like a temperamental octopus. “It’s not my fault! I didn’t know there would be a race.” The tall man wanted to rip the coffee from the short man hands and make him eat the plastic.

“Many of the women in our congregation have overcome breast cancer.” Esther’s voice balked at the word “cancer”. He sneered at her mousy voice and her thinning, shortly-cropped hair which was curled strategically to cover her shining scalp. ”We thought the obvious time to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives and their victories would be Mother’s Day. The proceeds from the 5k walk/run portion of the marathon will go towards helping cancer victims. We thought it would be a great way to bring awareness…”

Esther’s voice was lost in a tremendous cry from the crowd. The interview quickly fizzled, and Roland turned his attention to the street. “The first runners are rounding the corner!”

The tall man fidgeted and bounced on his heels, an engine stalling and burning fuel. C’mon. C’mon. His mind looped, his thoughts a circle of tension. Cross the finish line! The muggy air clung to his collared shirt, and he could feel the sweat pooling under his armpits. He removed his jacket and wanted to pummel the short man with it.

With another shout, the runners came into view. A woman crossed the finish line first, leading by a tremendous stride, and embraced the teenagers holding the enormous, glitter banner. Esther soon appeared and presented the woman with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. The winner was sporting black yoga pants and wore her medium brown hair pulled back in a fierce ponytail. She dumped water on her head and waved at the crowd as they cheered. Her victorious smile was radiant, and her eyes were well defined by heavy eyeliner and were a piercing, unmistakable cobalt blue.

Unable to move, the tall man stood transfixed, staring, terrified. He wanted to run, shove the bodies to let him pass, find a unblocked street and take the next taxi right back to the hotel. He was obviously going insane and needed to lie down–but there she was, a ghost. She was a wish granted, a request fulfilled and loaded with sickening consequences.

“Oh my God!” the tall man said as clutched his chest. He vision blurred, and he furiously wiped his eyes. Alarmed, the short man’s eyes widened, and he clenched the tall man’s arm.

“What? Are you ok?”

“That’s Liza.” The tall man was almost hoarse.

“Who the hell is Liza?”

The tall man paused before responding, unable to take his eyes off the woman. “My…my mother.”

“So? What’s the problem?” The short man scrunched his face, his forehead trying to touch his nose as his upper teeth exposed themselves, making his face appear rat like.

The tall man’s grimace returned, contorting his own face. “I thought she was dead.”