The scent of tangerines delicately perfumes the air as I run. Branches caress my face, before snapping back at me, leaving angry red welts.
Air rushes through my hair, making it fly behind me like the ribbons of a kite, rippling in the summer air.
I can hear him behind me, his breaths heavy and ragged - we have been running for a long time, nearly half an hour. I have been running my whole life.
There are thorns in the soles of my shoe, thorns from the meadow I ran through when I was ten, my dog in front of me, tail wagging furiously, my brother chasing me, laughter spilling from our mouths.
A little blood trickles down my cheek from where a rough branch slapped me.
"You'll never get away! You can't escape!" he shouts from behind me, his voice coming in between his spurting, raspy breaths. He doesn't know anything.
He has never run from anything. His whole life, he kept the prize in front of him and nothing behind him, going at a leisurely pace because he had time. His whole life, he ran because he wanted something, because he was chasing something. He doesn't know how to escape.
Or maybe that's me.
I am running through the woods outside my house, my friends around me. My hands are sticky from the tangerines I had eaten earlier, juice running down my face and fingers. We had been playing in the woods, when I had accidentally stepped on a wasp’s nest. Now, their buzzing propels me forward. In front of me, I can see where the woods end, the trees thin and are replaced by trees and shafts of golden sunlight. I grab onto that sunlight like it’s a rope, a life saver to pull me out of the water. Once I get out of the woods, it will be fine.
His footsteps are uneven, heavy on the ground, unsteady. I am lighter than him, lighter than air. The sun shines on my face, but the outlines of trees linger in my mind. I never really left those woods.
The blood has run down to my chin. I can taste it on my lips - salty and metallic, making my throat constrict. I am at my father’s funeral - he died in a hunting accident. I wasn’t there, but I imagined the gunshot, the pain he must have felt. His clothes were soaked in blood.
I ran away from his funeral, tears sliding down my cheeks, and for the first time, the running was not a game but a necessary task. I wasn’t running towards the sunlight - though I never really was, if it weren’t for the bees to chase me out, I would have stayed in those woods forever. I did stay in those woods forever. I was running away from my brother’s laughter. I was running away from my mother’s tears and anger. I was running away from myself, from the person I saw when I looked in the mirror - full of tears and anger and laughter and everything bubbling up, boiling, ready to overflow. I decided then it was better to be a shell than in pain.
I left my smiles in the mirror, and my tears. I left behind not quite ripe tangerines from the tree outside, left behind the peels that collected on the ground under it. I left my blue eyes, which so many people had complimented, which I had stolen from my father.
I am beginning to tire. Dust flies up around me, surrounding me, submerging me even after it has mostly landed. Time has learned to settle around me like that, freezing me in a thousand moments and then covering me like a warm blanket. It’s easier to run when you tell yourself you’re standing still.
I chance a look behind me, though the rule I forced myself to follow: don’t look back, echoes in my head as I do. He is gaining on me. Slowly, he has began to regain his footing. His steps are less clumsy now and more purposeful. He is a good runner. He is a hunter, like my father, like I was before my father’s death.
He will not catch me. My brother was a hunter and he was never able to catch me once I left, not with short letters or rambling texts or phone calls or even visits to my tiny apartment.
There are flowers on the pavement. They’ve fallen from the trees that border the sidewalk. They are delicate and soft and pink and I crush them underfoot as I run, feeling tiny twinges of regret for each blossom I have destroyed. I never felt guilty before. I never felt.
I speed up and the world blurs around me. I have learned that if I run fast enough, I will not have to see what I have done, and will not have to face the consequences. I have learned that if I squint just right in the mirror, I will see myself as I am, not as I was. I have learned that the windshield wipers can erase dust as well as rain, leaving an empty canvas.
It’s all falling apart now.
I am in the forest and I am a wasp chasing myself and I am a kite, trailing behind my brother as he runs aimless and yet precise, letting the wind carry me wherever it wishes, a slave to the currents. I am glass, shattering and reeling from the impact of a ball and I am my brother, chasing our dog and myself through the meadow, away from our home.
I pitch forward, and the pavement rises up to meet my face, my skin stinging where it has met the rough sidewalk. I look back, and he’s practically upon me. My head is spinning. The moments are crashing into each other.
I look at him.
“Caught you,” he says, and his voice buzzes slightly, though perhaps that’s just from the ringing in my ears.
He has my brother’s face, and I can see invisible kite strings, linking him to the sky, pulling him backwards in time. He has my father’s eyes.
He has my eyes, and all this time, I was watching myself run away and now I’ve finally caught up.
Something runs down my face. Maybe it’s blood. Maybe it’s sweat - the sun is beating down on me, making everything worse. I wish there were some trees to give me shade. Maybe it’s tears. Or maybe it’s tangerine juice.
The world is darkening, and I shut my father’s eyes, wishing I had the ones he stole from me.