The Promise

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Make a race an important element of your story.... view prompt


Coming of Age Inspirational Fiction

The day after he graduated from high school, Christopher got in the sedan he had purchased – with no help from his father – and pulled away from his childhood home. He had already said his goodbyes to everyone he cared to say goodbye to. His anatomy teacher, Mrs. Senecal, had wished him luck and reminded him of her offer to call a colleague in Boston about a job.

“No, you have done so much for me already. Thank you, Mrs. Senecal. I will never forget you!” The conversation played over in his head as he drove down the familiar streets, not looking back at the house he had spent most of his life in. He stopped at the intersection that marked the boundary that his mother had set for him so many years ago.

“You can ride your bike all the way over to here!” She had told him once he had proven to her that he could navigate around the block without her following. “Just don’t ride past Cummings Street. It is very busy, and it can be very dangerous.”

“Okay, mommy!” Christopher remembered how excited he had been, how grown he had felt, at the idea of having so much of the world to explore. Looking back now, he had no idea how small the little neighborhood really was. He finally looked back in his rear-view mirror, not able to see his father’s house any longer.

With one last heavy sigh, he turned onto Cummings Street and made his way to the freeway. 

The drive from Henderson, Nevada to Duluth, Minnesota takes about 26 hours. Christopher had planned his route carefully, made sure that he would have time to stop and train, and that each hotel he was staying in had a gym. He couldn’t afford to fly, but he also couldn’t afford to let the excruciating drive weaken him. He had promised his mother that he would win.

“You don’t have to do this for me,” she had told him. “This was my dream, not yours.” She had looked so weak, then. Her skin was paper-thin and her eyes were almost always unfocused and cloudy. Every word sounded like it took more strength than she had to produce.

“I’m going to win the race for you, mama. No matter what.” He had been eleven at the time, and had lived with his mother for two years in Duluth after she had found out about her husband’s second family and moved back to her home town. She had always talked about winning Grandma’s Marathon, especially after becoming a single mother and going back to the workforce with no real job history, taking a job at a local bookstore for just over minimum wage. The cancer hit her hard and fast, though, and she never got to run the race.

Christopher didn’t realize the commitment he was making then, but he had learned from years of training. He had pushed himself as hard as he could, committed to winning in his mother’s honor. As he drove down Interstate 70, he listened to songs that they had enjoyed together, sometimes crying, and sometimes laughing at the memories; sometimes, he did both.

The various small towns and cities he passed blurred by, barely registering to him as he continued north and east. He had planned his trip with plenty of time to spare, so he did not feel rushed. He stopped along the way at various places he remembered stopping with his mother, places that she had wanted to visit.

He went to Arches National Park, stretching his legs and breathing in the mountain air that his mother told him reminded her of her childhood. He spent a few days in the White River National Forest, eating hot dogs and jogging through the trees and around the lake. His mother told him it was the most beautiful place that she had ever seen, and he agreed.

In Omaha, Nebraska, Christopher jogged across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, something his mother had wanted to do but never made the time to. He stood in the center of the bridge, ignoring the irritated looks of some of the other pedestrians, and felt as though his mother was standing with him looking around, soaking in the impressive view.

He stayed at Lake of Three Fires in Iowa, amazed at the stars at night. His mother had told him that she went once as a child, but her description didn’t begin to cover the beauty that he saw. He tried to take pictures, but even that didn’t fully showcase the vastness of the night sky, or how insignificant it made him feel.

When he crossed the state line into Minnesota, he drove straight through, not feeling the need to spend much time in Minneapolis or any of the other towns and attractions on the way. He would be staying, after all, and would have plenty of time to enjoy all that the state had to offer. When he arrived in Duluth, he drove first to the small house that his mother had shown him a few times.

“This is where I grew up. My best friend lived about a block away. We would ride our bikes together to the bay and watch the boats off in the distance.” She had loved her town but had married her father in college and moved away. Her parents sold the house and retired, but they passed away when Christopher was young. She came back here with him after the divorce, but never got to enjoy it or to truly start her new life there.

He jogged down to the lakefront and watched the boats off in the distance. After several moments, he realized that the sun was going down and that he still had to make the three-mile trek back to his car. He wiped the tears that he didn’t realize had been rolling down his cheek and felt the warmth of his mother’s presence.

The prize money for the race brought people from all over to the small lakeside town. He had been in Duluth for about four days and had already gotten a part-time job at the same bookstore his mother had worked at, as well as a room for rent in a house overlooking the lake. He felt his mother everywhere in the town, could imagine her riding her bicycle and swimming in the lake on warm days.

He felt anxious, knowing that it would be near impossible to keep his promise to win the race, but was finally looking past the race for the first time since his mother had died. Win or lose, he finally felt at peace, at home. As he took his position at the starting line on the day of the race, he could not see anyone else – not the other runners, or the people who had come out to cheer, not the reporters or the volunteers. He only saw his mother smiling at him, all of the signs of her suffering gone.

He smiled, stretching his legs, and feeling the warmth of his mother’s memory spread over him. As the starting pistol went off, he knew that he had kept his promise.

January 28, 2024 16:33

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