Saturday in Seattle

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Start your story with one or two characters going for a run.... view prompt



Early September in the Northwest. Spider veins of frost splinter in the upper corner of shaded windows. The fog outside is dense; it tumbles about in deepening shades of dreary gray.

            Charlie’s eyes are milky. The drone of the alarm clock breaks the silence for a moment before his hand proclaims there will be no cadence today. 5:47 am. At 5:48 he’s dressed and striding out the bedroom door. He scarfs a banana like a wolf and heads for the front door. Chilly outside - good day for a run.


            *Click*. 5:45 am, no alarm. Warren is making coffee in his kitchen. He pops a sugar cube into the hot blackness and it melts like cotton candy on a wet tongue. He stirs it with a grapefruit spoon and proceeds to use the spoon with the fruit, dipping it back into the mug every couple of chunks to tinge the tangy citrus with a bite of bitterness. When the fruit is gone, he squeezes the rind above his mouth, wringing out the juice until the last drop dribbles down the back of his throat. 

            He downs the last gulp of coffee. His blood is piping, cheeks flushed red with the rush of adrenaline. The morning is dyed blue. He laces his runners and pulls on the chords of his sweater. He pets his Shephard Sonny on the way out.

            “Gonna be a cold one today boy.” 

            The dog’s right ear pricks up, then he returns to his snooze. The door opens, the scent of pinewood wafts in, and Warren is gone.

            Cory and James arrive behind Charlie. The boys meet at the end of the cul-de-sac where the street sign tilts down. They tried to steal it last summer but the bolts wouldn’t budge. The sign bent like licorice when Cory tumbled off of James’s unsteady shoulders. It was better, in a way. “Meet at the sign”, they said now. It wouldn’t be funny if it was actually gone.

            James is ready to go. Cory looks like he came from the underside of a rock. His hair is spiked up in the back as if somebody’s dragged a paint roller along his skull. The three trade friendly barbs over a brief stretch, then peel off onto the road at a brisk pace. It’s Saturday in Seattle.

            A mile into their run, Charlie is pushing the pace. He’s pushing them because he’s pushing himself. When he was five years old his father nailed a backboard and rim to the garage. Charlie’s body is running on this drizzly morning, lungs huffing, joints grinding. His mind, however, is in the driveway on a sizzling July afternoon.


            His dad paints a white stripe on the driveway below the hoop. He strides to Charlie and plucks the ball from his hands. He dribbles twice, one a nifty in-and-out, the second an attacking lunge. He takes off of one foot, driving his right knee high into the air, and lays the ball off the backboard. It drops through the net with a nylon splash.

            “That’s a layup Charlie.” He flashes his son a smile and bounces him the ball. “You try.”

            It feels like a planet in his hands. It’s a men’s ball, much too large for a small boy, but his father doesn’t blunt the force of learning. Charlie squints up at the rim. It glimmers in the sunlight miles away. He aims for the spot his father hit. The ball caroms off the underside of the iron and shoots back at him; he shields his head and tumbles to the pavement.

            His father picks the ball up and offers a hand to his son. He picks Charlie up and places it back in his too-small hands. “Again.”

            Charlie wipes his nose and dusts himself off. He dribbles twice, this time with conviction. He gathers, thrusts his knee high and releases it at a steeper angle. It smacks the backboard and drops through. The boy jumps in jubilation. He pumps his fists in the air.

            His dad slaps him five. “Good. A hundred makes on this side and a hundred on the left. When you’re done, I’ll paint you another stripe.”


            Warren is galloping today, his gait long and fierce. One mile, two, three. A quick stretch. Four, five. He’s plowing through the morning mist. More hair strands in his brush this morning. Another friend’s newborn smiled at him yesterday from a greeting card, announcing her birth to the world. A story to nowhere bleeding on his laptop. He changed the default settings to never sleep. It glowed in the night and waited for him in the morning. A story he’s writing. A story to nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.

            Six, seven, eight miles. Cookies in the jar. Warren’s body is running in Seattle. His mind is in the stifling heat of an August day in Arkansas. He is six years old.


            The clunker that carried him here rumbles away, stirring up a cloud of dirt on the old, unpaved road. Warren peers with his hand on his forehead, protecting his eyes as he watches it disappear. A bungee cord holds the cracked trunk door in place. The brown paint is faded to a rinsed purple, washed in the brute force of the South’s beating sun. It beats down on Warren from above. Droplets of sweat kiss the back of his neck. 

            He surveys the area – not a sliver of shade. On the other side of the road, there are men working the fields. There are a few white ones, but mostly they’re brown. They carry big crates, piling them high in the back of a pickup. When it’s full, they hop onto the side of the bed and light cigarettes. They tap the rear window of the cab and accelerate away. He returns his gaze to the road. The car idles at the stop sign a quarter mile away. It lingers for seven seconds or seven years; either seem feasible in his memory. The rear view mirror holds her bloodshot eyes. Finally, the car peels right and runs away from him, tiny on the horizon, like an ant scurrying across the floor. 

            It’s gone. She’s gone. 

            There’s a long gravel driveway, and at the end of it, a metallic mailbox with its little red flag raised. The post leans to the right at an angle. Warren imagines a burly man in jean overalls and a white tee-shirt. A cowboy hat too. Every day he saunters down, cracks a beer, opens his letters, and leans on the mailbox while he reads them aloud. 

            “Dear Jim,

            What did the chicken say to the rest of the coop?

            “Boys, let’s get to the other side.”



            Your neighbor, the other Jim”

            A cawing crow breaks Warren from his fantasy. He trudges slowly toward the white house.           


            The drizzle has intensified. Sheets of moisture, liquid panes of glass cut the boys from head on. James and Cory are sloughing. Charlie is thriving. He bursts forward, his legs pistons. The neighborhood is waking. The troubled sleepers are giving up hope. The early risers are snatching the worm. A cramp jabs his abdominal. A steep incline ahead, the greatest elevation of the day. He returns to the driveway, far away from his current pain.


            His skinny legs are jelly. His hands blistered. He closes his eyes, inhales and exhales deeply. This is it. He leaps off his screaming bones and heaves the ball at the rim with his last ounce of strength. It bounces off the backboard. It contacts the iron once, twice. Rolls tantalizingly on the cylinder, halfway down-and-out, then rotates on its edge, caught between a bucket and disappointment. Charlie’s eyes are saucers.

It drops in.

              He limps to the driveway corner and marks a final strike through the chalk tally. He collapses. His knees are shaking, tee-shirt drenched. His head swims in pain and accomplishment. He did it. Like a tape recorder, over and over again until it was done. His wrists pulse, pumping whatever fluids are left through aching muscle. He spreads eagle on the grass and gasps. Sunlight passes through his closed eyelids. Purple and pink triangles dance on the edge of his vision.

            His father returns. 

            He paints another stripe in the middle of the driveway, farther than the layup lines. He spins the ball in his fingertips, bends his knees, and releases a high arcing shot that rotates backwards, apexes, and falls gracefully back to earth.


            The ball rolls to Charlies feet. “That’s a free-throw boy. Get up and give it a shot.”


            Warren’s steps are tiny; he never wants to reach the door. A gash runs the length of the pavement, a big slithering s. He imagines a seismic boom brought on by a disturbance deep underground. It ripples the Earth’s surface at the horizon and swells to tidal waves as it zooms forward. Cows and sheep run for cover, ba-ahhh-ahhhh-ing and mooooooing until the earthquake catches them; they surf it in terror, tossed this way and that, over the dirt road, backwards into the sun, and onto the roofs of the field’s barns. The wave crests, loses steam, and reaches a dying crawl at the tip of the driveway. A vein ripples the concrete; the edge of the crack stops at the door, where Warren’s feet are planted. He peers down at his dirty white tennis shoes, the sole peeling from the left one. The animals are on the side of the road feeding. The barn roofs are clear. 

            Warren knocks on the screen door.

            What ensues is what his mama would call “a ruckus”. Pots and pans crash and clang. A hound barks, bothered by the fuss.  An old man cries: “just a minute, dammit.” It sounds as if he’s tripped over everything from the coffee table to the couch corner before he is huffing at the door, replacing what Warren assumes are his reading glasses with his just-for-seeing glasses, which, upon fixture, are twice the thickness of a bottle of coke.

            The man flings the screen door open, the metal frame swinging three inches from the tip of Warren’s nose. His wild gaze meanders down to the boy whose feet are going in two different directions, posturing in their natural pigeon formation. The old man’s eyes are moons behind those frames. 

            They wander to the boy’s side, to a tattered backpack.

            “Dammit Roy, who’s at the door?” an old woman curses. “What’s the fuss?”

            “It’s a drop-off May.” He gargles all the phlegm south of the Dixon and hocks a loogie into the bushes. “Scrawny one too.”

            Warren is teetering.

            “Well c’mon”. C’mon in before we give you to the cows.”


            “Ninety-nine.” The sun is low now, the summer heat reduced by the encroaching night.  One more to go. Dehydration has wedged a block between his temples; a headache chisels away his focus. His father watches through the back-porch window.

            The final free-throw sails through, and now, next to Charlie’s two hundred layup tallies, he has one hundred free-throw marks to keep them company. 

            The backdoor whooshes open. “Atta boy Chuck! You got a bit of your old man in ya! How ya feeling? Spent?”

            The water in Charlie’s body is gone. Salt crystals on his forehead. “Yeah, I’m tired Pop.”

            “Good. Now grab your shoes and run to the end of the block.”

            Charlie’s jaw drops. There’s nothing left to give. He’s worked the whole day and the day is over. His  belly rumbles with hunger, ravenous from the demands of a too-big ball on a too-high rim for a boy with ambitions too tall for his tiny frame. 

“But dad-“

            “No buts son. You made your shots, yeah. But that’s not gonna make you different. You know what makes a boy different Charlie?”

            He searches his mind. “More practice?”

            “Doing what the other boys won’t. And you know what they won’t do after shootin’ a basketball in the hot sun the whole stinkin’ day?”

            Charlie silent.

            “They won’t grab their sneakers and run to the end of the block. So that’s what we do. That’s what makes you different Charlie. When you got nothing left, when everyone around you has nothing left, you tie your sneakers just a little tighter and you run to the end of the block.”

            Charlie nods. He trudges towards the street.

            “Charlie,” his father calls. The boy turns, exasperated.

His father is holding a pair of brand-new running shoes; the laces still knotted two eyelets below the top so that Charlie knows they are from the store, not the church bins or goodwill. Lime swooshes like lightning bolts. Nikes.

            Charlie looks up, mesmerized, to his dad’s smiling face.

            “I didn’t say we can’t look good doin’ it. He hands the shoes to his and rustles his hair. “Wear em’ out kid.”

            Thirty seconds later Charlie is bounding down the pavement. He peels left out of the driveway and sprints like a rocket to the stop sign at the end of the street.

            Jeff, an elderly neighbor, is sitting with his wife in twin rocking chairs on their porch. “That boy’s got a motor.”



James and Cory finally reach the top of the hill, gasping. Charlie is aces.

“God damn,” thinks James. “Charlie is different.”


            Seventeen miles, eighteen. Fatigue gnaws Warren’s calves. The rain is pounding. The morning squall has birthed a downpour.


            Warren spends his first two weeks with the Laramie’s doing chores. Two other children are staying with them. A boy the same age, Tommy, and a little Mexican toddler they’re calling Sarah. Sarah gets the lion’s share of the attention; Warren and Tommy organize tools in Mr. Laramie’s shed and help Mrs. Laramie with lunch and dinner in the kitchen. They don’t mind. Bologna sandwiches and lemonade for their hard work.

            “Not court-ordered,” Mr. Laramie says to his wife, reviewing papers at the table. “Just a momma at the end of her ropes.” He turns to Warren. “Well, you’ll stay with us until we can figure out what to do with you.”

            There’s not much to do. The Laramie’s are ancient; the television programs they watch are black and white. Sometimes a line flickers on the screen. Mr. Laramie delivers a mule-kick to the tv stand. Usually it disappears. He picks up a tin on the table next to his recliner and uncorks a wad of chew tobacco when it doesn’t.

            It’s late afternoon. Warren sits on the front steps, focused intently on the stop sign a quarter mile away.

            “Lookin’ for your mama, boy?” Mr. Laramie is clipping shrubs in the front yard. “Don’t waste your time, Warren. She  ain’t coming back.”

            Warren’s eyes affixed on the sign. He thinks about the pancakes she’d make after bad fights with his father. It didn’t matter if it was Wednesday or Sunday, eight in the morning or ten at night. After big fights with his daddy, she’d put on pancake mix and serve them up to him with a big bottle of Aunt Jemima’s. She always let him pour his own syrup.

            “She will too”. Warren’s words are shaky. 

            Mr. Laramie looks him in the eye.

            “No, Warren, she won’t.”

             Mr. Laramie is a blunt man. His daddy hit him with a belt and his mama called him a piece of shit, but there’s kindness in his heart. He sees the pain in Warren’s. He drops the clippers and sits next to the boy. 

            “You know, my mama never left me, but she treated me so bad I left on my own, when I couldn’t take it no more.” 

            Warren gazes at the sign.

            “You know what I did when I wanted to be free Warren?”

            The boy takes his eyes away from the beat-up clunker that is not there.

            “I ran. Long before I ran from home, when my mama was being mean or my daddy was drinking, I would burst out of our front porch and fly as far as my feet would take me.”

            Warren peers down at his old, crumbling sneakers.

            The old man pats him on the shoulder and ambles to the front seat of his car. “The state gives us enough to feed you, pays for your basic care. From time-to-time I can ask for a bit more if it’s warranted. A doctor’s visit. Clothes. Shoes.”

            Mr. Laramie opens the door and emerges with a box. He shuffles back to Warren and places it in his lap. “Go on. Open it.”

            Warren opens the cardboard lid and unfurls the tissue paper. He removes a beautiful, white tumbled leather running shoe. The rubber soles are waffled and when he puts it on his foot it slides on like butter. Warren looks up at a smiling Mr. Laramie.

            “I can’t expect you to get chores down in those ratty things.”

            Warren bounces up and down on his toes. A grand smile spreads across his face as he looks into Mr. Laramie’s eyes.

            “When you need to be free Warren.” He collects his clippers. “Now go get me a cold one from the fridge. “It’s hot as hell out here.”


            Twenty. Twenty-one. Warren’s mind is free. 


            After the hill, there is a cool-down mile to go, and the three boys jog it out together. Charlie presses the button to cross the road, back into their quiet neighborhood.

            As the trio wait, Warren appears in the bike lane, grinding out the last of his twenty-six miles. His muscles are moaning and his right-knee stiff, but to Charlie he is a thoroughbred. Warren passes the young boys and tips his cap. Soon he will be home with Sonny, sipping hot chocolate of his own.

            “I see that guy all the time,” says Cory. “Didn’t he run, at like, Alabama or something?

            “Arkansas” Charlie replies. “Won a national championship in cross-country. Held a bunch of individual records too.”

            They watch Warren hurtle away.

            “He’s different.”

January 28, 2024 09:56

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Crystal Farmer
22:06 Feb 07, 2024

I think the story is interesting but it's hard to follow what's happening with the number of jumps across time and characters. A straight story either about Charlie or Warren would probably work better.


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Jasmine Salters
16:41 Feb 05, 2024

Not sure why you have no comments under this even though you have the most likes for this prompt, but I'll just say you definitely picked the right tag for this story. The pace is a little slow since there's so much description, and I almost quit, but when I hit some more dialogue, it was enough to keep me invested, and the message definitely came through. Keep up the good work. Best wishes.


Sean Packard
17:20 Feb 05, 2024

Thanks for taking the time to read and thanks for the feedback Jasmine! It was a little sparse in the comments :)


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