Running Through the Tape

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Write about a character who suddenly cannot run anymore.... view prompt


Fiction Inspirational

Jill was angry. Angry that she had to take PTO during the biggest deal of her career. Angry that she had to use said PTO to fly home instead of going on vacation. Angry that she wasn’t going to be running in the marathon she’d been training for (EIGHT STICKING MONTHS), and angry that her dad had had a stroke.

Fuming and with a clenched jaw, she stared at a framed picture on the mantel of her childhood home. It was a candid photo of her and her dad running in their first marathon. They were covered in sweat, mud, and smiles as her mom thrusted two cups of water out to them as they ran by.

Turning her head, but not her body, she glanced over to her dad in the wheelchair nearby.

“Well, I guess we won’t be running in the marathon now,” she said, attempting to be funny and failing.

“It doesn’t look likely,” he chuckled over the sting of her comment.

She looked back at the mantel. Hiking Machu Picchu, climbing the stairs at Ek Balam, scuba diving at the Coral Reef, each picture taunted her with something that would never happen again. Her eyes paused on the picture of her dad at his retirement party, and she said, “What are you going to do now?”

Chuckling again, but this time more sincerely, he answered, “Well, I don’t know, Jill. I guess, maybe, live the rest of my life.”

Confused and a bit disgusted, she turned her head toward him again, “It’s not funny, dad. Look at you. What are you going to do?”

Seeing her hurt feeling and fear, he offered, “Everything is going to be okay.”

“It’s not okay. You can’t camp or hike or scuba dive anymore, and you sure as hell can’t run. What are you going to do? Just sit in that damn chair until you die?”

The strength of her words slapped them both, and they stared at each other, surprised and stinging. Neither knowing how to proceed.

There was a faint buzz from Jill’s pocket, and she took the opportunity to look away from the pain in her father’s eyes. Pulling her phone out, she read a text from her husband.

JEFF: “Hey babe, just checking-in. Making sure your flight landed okay, and that you made it to your dad’s alright. When you get a chance, let me know you're good, and tell Phil I’m rooting for him.

She flicked it off and stuffed it back in her pocket.

Rolling her tongue over her teeth and her response, she finally asked, “Aren’t you angry?”

“Angry about what?”

Jill snorted, “About this!” She made an accusatory gesture toward his wheelchair. Then, ran her hand in front of all the pictures on the mantel like Vanna White. “This!”

Phil sat stiffly and waited for her to vent.

“You were healthy. You were strong. You were fast! Now, overnight, you suddenly just can’t run anymore? You can’t walk anymore? Hell, you can’t even stand!”

She looked to see if she was getting through to him, and he waited patiently for her to finish.

“No more hiking. No more scuba diving. No more running!” Her eyebrows went up and her lips clenched together. “None of it. All the things we did, done, gone. Puff!”

Turning from the heat of her fury, she leaned against the mantel of memories, and whispered toward the fireplace below, “What are you going to do?”

The flame of her outburst stood between them, and Phil watched it burn. Realizing, what it was and where it came from, he refused to refuel it. Slowly, it mellowed, then flickered. As soon as it shrunk to a small smoldering coal, he said, “There's more to life than the race, Jill.”

She knew he would say something stupid like that. He was chronically optimistic, and it infuriated her. She remained with her back to him.

“I loved all the things we did as a family, and sure, if I’m being honest, I’m going to miss those things. I admit it, but we did them, Jill. We experienced all those magical moments, and no one can take that from us. Our family enjoyed a lifetime of physical fun, but there was, and IS, so much more to our lives than … running.”

Jill shook her head in mild frustration, and Phil continued.

“We’ve always tried to live life to its fullest. You know that.”

Jill looked up and at the pictures again but did not turn around.

Seizing upon the slight softening of her posture, he said, “Look there, at the one when we were at Machu Picchu. Sure, the hiking was fun, but remember the amazing Peruvian food we had there and the farting Sherpa?”

 Jill snorted despite herself.

Chuckling, Phil continued, “Mom always walked behind us to photograph our adventures, but not that day.” They both laughed with tears in their eyes.

“Take a look at the one of my retirement or the one of us running in the marathon.”

She obliged even though she had seen those photos a million times.

“Look at mom.”

Jill thought that was a weird request but pretended to look more intently anyway, then shrugged without turning around.

“Does she look unhappy to you,” Phil paused for effect, “Does she look sad? Depressed? Unfulfilled?”

A shiver ran up the back of Jill’s Prada suit, but she didn’t know why.

“No. She’s having the time of her life. That’s one of the best things about your mom. She has the best time of her life, every minute of every day. She chose her own career, but that didn’t make her less happy to watch me celebrate mine. She didn’t want to run a marathon, but she was all in on helping us achieve our goals.”

Now, all Jill could see was her mom’s smile, her half dimple that never seemed to fade. The glimmer in her intense eyes, she truly was happy just watching.

“Mom joined us when she wanted to, and she cheered us on when she didn’t. She’s an amazing woman, and she lives in the moment. She’s taught me to enjoy all facets of life, the physical and the rest.”

Jill’s eyes flew to the other side of the mantel, where the pictures of her mom were. She didn’t look at them as often, not because she didn’t love her mom, but, if she was being honest, because Jill wasn’t in those pictures. They were pictures of her mom winning an award for volunteering at the homeless shelter and one of her when she had donated her hundredth pint of blood.

“Mom absorbed life in whatever capacity it came at her. I’ve never known anyone who was more present minded than her, and I think that’s why she was always happy," said Phil.

Jill searched the two-dimensional face of her mother. She did look truly happy, almost ecstatic, just to be alive and experiencing whatever she was doing right then. It was weird.

Then, Jill noticed something that she had never noticed before, her dad. Her dad was in the background of each of her mom’s photos, and his smile was as big as hers. He was there for her, like she had been for us.

Jill felt a pinch of discomfort that could have been guilt or the sudden surge of a new perspective, and she started to see things in a different light.

“I learned a lot from your mom, and so could you,” said Phil. “Enjoy what you have while you have it.”

Jill slowly turned to face her dad; not sure she had the strength to look at him. Nervous about being emotional, but also scared at seeing him unfiltered.

He was smiling, and she was surprised by how strong and healthy he looked.

“You never know when your last hike will be or your last scuba diving or your last run,” he said, “and, you never know when your last meal or hug or ‘I love you,’ will be either.”

Tears fell out of Jill’s eyes at the same time pride fell out of her soul.

“I’m not happy about this either,” he gestured toward his paralyzed leg, “but out of all the things I could have lost, this was the least valuable. I can still see you standing there, beautiful as ever,” he smiled. “I can still hear you yelling at me, as disappointed as ever,” they chuckled.

Phil let the healing settle between them, then said, “I didn’t lose the people I love. I didn’t lose the ability to love them. I didn’t lose the good stuff.”

Jill looked away rather than surrender a sob.

“I still have the ability, and thankfully the time, to enjoy the things that mean the most to me," he said.

As if on cue, Jill’s mom rounded the corner from the kitchen with a bottle and three plastic champagne flutes. As usual, her smile lit up the room.

“I was saving these for the marathon,” she popped the cork and started to pour, “but why wait.”

Jill studied her mom with a fresh set of eyes.

“The flutes are plastic because I needed to be able to carry them in our Go-Bag for Game Day!” Jill’s mom laughed.

Phil was looking at Jill’s mom, and you could feel their love connecting in proximity.

Noticing no one was laughing but staring at her intensely, Jill’s mom smiled even brighter and held up her toast in invitation.

“Here’s to us. To all the races we’ve won, all the mountains we’ve climbed, all the oceans we’ve swam.” She side-eyed Phil to make sure he agreed. He did. “To all the years, we’ve been victorious, and to all the years ahead because,” she patted Phil’s wheelchair, “this is our new adventure, our new marathon. We won’t give up,” she looked at Phil again and smiled even bigger, “We will run and not grow weary. We won’t slow down. We will run all the way through the tape!”

Phil beat Jill to tapping his wife’s glass, “Hear, hear!!!”

Jill’s mom giggled, and they both held their bubbling flutes toward Jill.

Leaning over and picking up her champagne, Jill’s hand shook the slightest bit, but her parents’ confidence and strength pulled her into their orbit. Grabbing the stem and raising the toast, they clicked to their new future.

Before the last bubble of hope was swallowed, Phil said, “Maybe, you should text Jeff back.”

January 29, 2024 15:37

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Jeremy Stevens
00:49 Mar 01, 2024

Acceptance. Well done.


Show 0 replies
Alexis Araneta
15:37 Feb 07, 2024

This had me smiling throughout. Great job !


A. M. Conger
17:54 Feb 07, 2024

Thank you. I needed that.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
John Rutherford
08:06 Feb 07, 2024

Heart warming story, very positive, thanks.


A. M. Conger
10:29 Feb 07, 2024

Thank you.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chelsey B
18:54 Feb 05, 2024

I enjoyed this story. A good message for all.


A. M. Conger
19:12 Feb 05, 2024

Thank you. I really appreciate that.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kristi Gott
17:35 Feb 05, 2024

I love the inspirational message in this story. It tells a story of when bad things happen and someone then views the challenge and steps up to meet it. Despite the seriousness of the challenge a new journey begins. We'll done! I like this story a lot.


A. M. Conger
18:47 Feb 05, 2024

Thank you. I really appreciate the read and the compliment.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.