All the Running you Can Do

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write a story inspired by a memory of yours.... view prompt


Coming of Age Contemporary

She is quite old now, and her life is very different from how she imagined it would be, when she was younger. Not bad different, necessarily, and maybe not good different either, just absolutely and completely different. When she was young she was adventurous, she tried everything once, said yes to every offer that came her way. She never lived anywhere for more than a year. Her friends were used to this, to her nomadism, she was home and gone, visited Oslo and lived all over the world, working and not working, studying and not studying, the impermanence of it was central, the freedom of it. 

Now she lives in Oslo and works in Oslo, and she doesn’t mind it. The city is small, but her old friends and family are here, and she owns an apartment close to the city center, has a job that she can walk to in fifteen minutes, a job that she actually likes. She never settled on another place, and that is why she is here, because it was the easiest choice, because the other places she has lived had been harder to imagine staying in. She loved Lebanon, but it was also exhausting, a lot of the time, the smog and the crowds and the constant negotiations over money. Tunisia was easier until it wasn’t, the curfews and all of the small indignities of being a woman in a country of men, she got tired of it, by the end, was happy to leave. For two years she stayed in London, maybe the closest she ever came, to picking somewhere else. In the end there wasn’t enough keeping her there either, a partner she eventually left, a job she didn’t care about.  

She takes up jogging, as something to battle the constant need for movement she feels in her chest, the need to leave. She keeps at it until she can’t, anymore, because she hates it, as it turns out, and after six months of three times a week, she still hates it, so she allows herself to stop. Ironically, she has always loved running. Not jogging, but running, giving it her absolute all, letting her body use itself to its full capacity. Even children love this, she sees her niece, just three years old, racing across any room, rather than walking. She herself was born to run, she sometimes thinks. She has tried to run away for so many years, only to end up back where she started, older and maybe slightly more lost. She doesn’t know how to use her body in the way she would like to anymore, wants to run and feels like there is nowhere to run to. It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place, someone wrote. Maybe this is the truest thing she can think of. 

When she was fourteen her father had taken her to Sankt Peter-Ording for a family reunion. It was summer, a long, hazy summer, just before she grew up, truly became a teenager. She had been lanky, as a child, all limbs, and though she would later grow into the shape of a woman, at fourteen she was doe-lean. The beaches in Sankt Peter-Ording went on for miles, a strange trick of the tides there. When the water receded, kilometers of sand were uncovered, empty except for life-guard huts on stilts, scattered throughout the landscape like the bones of long-ago beasts. It is just her and her father, there on the beach, on this day that she remembers.They are walking towards the sea. He is like her, tall and lean, born to run, born to walk long distances, to move quickly. He can tell what is underneath her skin, in her blood, so eventually he tells her to just go. Just run, he says, when he sees that he can’t walk fast enough to satisfy her. Just run.

She runs towards the sea in the far distance, runs and flies. She is running across an empty planet, her father becomes a speck behind her, the sun is in her eyes. She feels so light, like she is part of the wind at her back, as if she could take flight any second. Her legs obey her like they are independent and share her desire all at once. They lift her off of the ground in great leaps. When she runs in public she feels self conscious, because she runs in bounds, on her toes. She is faster than her peers, but also higher off of the ground. Right now she is infinite, part of the sand and the sun and the sea, it feels like she has never been closer to her nature than she is in this moment. 

When she reaches the sea she stands there catching her breath, chest heaving, adrenaline pumping through her veins. After a minute she goes into the water with all her clothes on, dives under an oncoming wave. She resurfaces with a gasp, the water gloriously cold. She can see nothing but the horizon, there is no land ahead of her, no other people on the beach behind her, the sun is low in the sky. There is a current, she can feel it. It wants to pull her out to sea. She grew up on an island, and she knows to pay heed to this, how deceptively light it feels at first. She is strong, though, and a good swimmer. With the current pulling at her she swims back towards the beach, feeling her muscles starting to burn. She has been warned by her father, and is not far out. After a few minutes she feels the sand underneath her feet, stands and walks the last few meters to shore. 

Her father still hasn’t caught up to her. She thinks maybe she sees him in the distance. She begins walking towards him, the sun at her back, the sea, the horizon. Her heart beats hard and true against her ribs.

April 07, 2022 16:31

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