Short Story: I Will Run

Jared told me Hell was a place for liars, thieves, and monogamists.

I didn’t know what a monogamist was, but as a liar and a thief, I figured I was already hell-bound.

Looking down over my skirt, I toed a lizard out of the way with my new sneakers before Jared could catch it and pull off its tail.  “What’s a monogamist?”

Jared dug his heel into the dry red dirt, dragging it out with a backward hop-skip to create our starting line. “People who only have one wife, Clara—like the fallen Mormons up North.”


Little puffs of orange dust settled into the creases of his black dress socks.

“Does Mama Becky know you’re wearin’ your good church socks on a Thursday?” I asked.

He smirked, tossing the curtain of blonde hair out of his eyes. “Can’t go to Hell for wearing church socks on a Thursday.”

No. Just for lying to Pa, stealing running shoes, and marrying only one wife.

I got into starting position behind the line and clamped my mouth shut tight.  Jared may try to scare me about my eternal salvation, but beating him in a race would put him in his place better than any words I could say.

Holding my skirt up over my knees, I crouched over the line.  “Ready?”

Jared hadn’t beaten me for months.  The last time was almost a year ago at the Pioneer Day race for twelve-year-olds.  We’d both just barely made the cut off.  We’re only one month apart even though we’re brother and sister.  Jared took first and I took second, but I was wearing authentic pioneer wool stockings under a too-big skirt.  Plus, Grandma’s old bonnet kept falling down, so I had to keep my hand clamped to my head the whole race, or risk Mama’s wrath.

That was the day Gilbert Riles kissed me behind the dunk tank, and I swore off boys, bonnets, and sweaty wool stockings forever.

Taking a long look at my new Nikes, Jared shrugged then got into place beside me. He was twitching with the need to prove himself. Almost I decided to take pity on him, but no, I had to see what these shoes could do.

“You can call it,” I said.

He nodded.  “Ready, set…” he bolted forward, “…go!”

Cheater, I thought, as I shot out behind him.  Where do cheaters go, huh, Jared?

Then I was lost in the race.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk, my footfalls were muted drumbeats in the soft Arizona dirt, accompanied by my fluty rasps of breath and heartbeats that sounded like music in my ears; a hymn.

Come, come, ye saints,

            No toil nor labor fear,

            But with joy,

            Wend your way.[i]


Once the initial burn in my lungs and thighs settled into its familiar rhythm, I felt a smile tugging at my mouth.  Letting Jared stay a pace in front of me, I bided my time to make the push.  It wasn’t easy; he’d been practicing.


Up ahead, a figure jogged toward us.  A woman.  Jared faltered, and slowed.  I could see why.  She was practically naked: shoulders, legs, and even belly showing.  She looked like a girl you only see on a computer screen, not like a real girl.  Not a Colorado City girl.

Her skin was bronze like a man. She must have been one of the vacationers from Lake Powell. The sun glinted sharply off each curve of muscle. Her body was fast, hard, and glorious.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Picking up my pace, I made the push—passing Jared easily.  I was going toward her. Faster. Closer.

She smiled when she neared.

“Good morning,” she nodded, as though she was one of us and not a Gentile from up North.

Or down South.

Or maybe from California.

Her voice was light and high like Mama Rachel.  She didn’t look like Mama Rachel though—soft, pale, washed-out features all melted together. She didn’t look like any Mama I’d ever seen.

Then she was gone.  I turned around, running backward so I could watch her run away.  She looked like she ran all the time.  I could see it in her muscles, her form; she ran every day of her life.

She had Nikes like me.

“Turn around, Clara!” Jared hissed at me. He was catching up. “Don’t look at her!”

Reluctantly I turned, and then sprinted toward Turtle Rock, pumping my legs and arms, my new Nikes slapping the earth and bouncing back behind me in a blur.

Suddenly I was the running woman.  No longer wearing my long-sleeved blouse, thick nylons, and long skirt that held in the heat and sweat and got tangled in my legs, I imagined myself in running clothes. The sun was touching my skin, my shoulders, my arms, my legs; making them bronze and firm and strong.

A wild, free feeling opened up my chest, big as the mountain, reaching out to envelop the world in front of me. I thought my heart would reach Turtle Rock before my body did.

Sliding to a stop at the rock, I clutched my knees, bending over to catch my breath. Jared pulled up behind me, silent except for his panting. His irritation rolled off him and clambered over to me like little ants.  I shook it off.

“I’m…telling…Pa…about…the shoes.” He huffed, clutching his chest.

I brought my head up short, “You swore!”

“Yeah?” he asked, looking down the road at the disappearing woman. He caught his breath. “That was just because I felt sorry for you.”

“Sorry for me? I’m not the one just got beat by his little sister in a race.”

His red face went purple. “Yeah? Well at least I don’t have to marry Brother Lydell!”

My stomach dropped to my feet. The world got all fuzzy and black on the edges, though Jared’s face in front of me became larger and startlingly clear. As if in slow motion, I saw his blue eyes grow wide, and I could tell he regretted what he’d said.

“What?” I asked, my mouth dry.

Jared kicked a rock.  His church socks were completely red now. “Nothing.”

Brother Lydell was old.  He was old when he married my sister Sarah last year, after putting in the new wing on our house so Pa could marry Mama Rachel.

I liked Sarah. I missed her. I didn’t like Mama Rachel.

For years I’d begged Pa for nice running shoes.

“Those aren’t appropriate for a young woman, Clara,” he’d told me.

Sarah was sixteen when she married Brother Lydell. That was when I decided to steal the shoes.

Brother Lydell had no chin and a flabby red face that got redder when he laughed.

I tried to think what else I knew about him, but couldn’t push beyond the image of him standing in front of his truck, guffawing at something Pa had said, his gut round and tight over his belt, his face like a tomato. Sarah and Sister Lydell, the first wife, waited docile-like in the cab, two toddlers clamoring over their laps.

I glanced at Jared. “Pa wouldn’t.” My chin began to quiver and I turned away to hide it. I started walking back toward town and Jared followed.  His silence told me everything.

Pa would.

I watched the woman running toward my town, a tiny speck now.  What would they think of her when she jogged by?

Fast woman. Gentile woman. Hell-bound.

How long would it take her to jog past them? Would she stop in town or just keep running? She looked like she could run forever. Sudden envy gripped me. The impenetrable wall that surrounded my home was invisible to her. She would breeze right through it, like a hawk through the air.

Though hard to you,

            This journey may appear,

            Grace shall be,

            As your day.*


I wondered if she was a liar or a thief.  Or just a monogamist.

“Run.” I whispered.

She had Nikes like me.  She was a runner.  Like me.

And when the time comes, and Brother Lydell comes for me?

I looked down at my Nikes again, now coated in a thick layer of orange dust. After just one run, they already looked like my old shoes. Almost.  I could still see the pale blue mesh of icy coolness pulsing under the fiery red.

Stomping my feet, a little dirt fell away, but then more dust puffed out around me, settling again onto my shoes.  I could bang them together, dust them, wash them, but it would be of little use.  The fine-grain Arizona dirt would cling to the mesh, the laces, the inside seams, just as it clung to everything else around here.

I tried to convince myself it didn’t matter. They were Nikes after all. They could still run. I glanced down the road one more time.

The woman was gone.




* Text: William Clayton, 1814-1879

My Jane-a-thon


I just took state in Jane Austen.

Let me explain.

There’s a highly addictive trivia app called “Quiz Up” in which you race opponents from all over the world answering trivia questions in over sixty categories. One of the categories is Jane Austen. I don’t think a lot of people in Nevada are playing this game. My husband got best in state for the “Charles Dickens” category, and my son for “Legend of Zelda.” Yes, we are a family of state champions, ahem.
As I’ve played, I’ve marveled how many people know minor details about Austen’s novels. What was the name of Mr. Darcy’s aunt’s daughter’s lady’s maid? Mrs. Jenkinson, of course. Which character penned the words: You pierce my soul. I am in half agony, half hope…? Captain Wentworth! (side note: best love letter ever!) Which character in Harry Potter was named for Fanny Price’s unlikable aunt in Mansfield Park? Mrs. Norris. Everyone I play knows these answers. Why do we care about the minutia of Jane’s novels? Why do we read Jane at all?

For me, there are many reasons. She’s funny. Well, witty is the better word. Her love stories are intense. Intense? You may question. Yes, I know, her novels are full of gentry walking around, going to balls, staying home from balls, drinking tea, writing letters, engaging in endless conversations, but that’s what’s so amazing about Jane. When this is all the action of the book, and yet I can’t keep myself from turning the pages–one after another. Each glance holds significance. Idle chatter is anything but idle—each word matters, so much that a heroine’s entire future happiness can hang on just one.

But the biggest reason I read Jane is because I’m in love with her characters. The woman could sketch a character! My favorite character in Pride and Prejudice is Mr. Collins. (It used to be Mr. Darcy of course—I had a crush on Mr. Darcy from age fifteen to age…um…well, up until I met Mr. Kynaston. Now that I’m married I never think of Fitzwilliam Mr. Darcy. I swear.) But back to Mr. Collins. Why do I love him? Because he’s so much fun to laugh at. His ridiculousness is so cleverly composed I can only stand back and admire the master at work. You just know as you read the absurd, hypocritical, falsely humble, and downright nerdy things he says that Austen had real acquaintances just like him.

I’d love to be friends with Jane Austen. I’d love to sit down and have dinner with her. But the thought also frightens me. Would I later show up in one of her novels as a character of ridicule? Or could I possibly possess qualities sufficient to be cast as a heroine? Or—most frightening of all: would I not be interesting enough to even appear?

You get the feeling when Ms. Austen has Mr. Bennet say: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” that she is voicing her own sentiment. Her books are full of her “making sport of her neighbors,” though we would dislike her if she did it in any way but her own. She’s never hoity-toity about it. You never get the feeling she’s looking down on the rest of the world, and this is why: When you laugh at her characters, you get the oddest feeling you are really laughing at yourself. And Jane is laughing with you. (With you, not at you—there’s a difference.)

Case in point: the opening of Sense and Sensibility. Though it is in the first chapters of her first novel, it encapsulates her wit as no other scene she’s written since. It is the story of Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood. They are both independently wealthy–John through his mother, and Fanny through her family inheritance. They have a house in London, and estates to live on, yet upon the death of John’s father they discover they are to inherit even more: Norland Park–the home of his father’s second wife and three half-sisters.

On his death bed, John’s father had made him promise he would provide for his wife and daughters and John agreed. He decides to give them three thousand pounds—it is a pittance, but it is something. As you turn the pages on this scene, you observe his shrewd wife working on the weak Mr. Dashwood, talking him down to half that sum—1,500 pounds—then a 100 pound annuity—then 50 pound annuity—then no annuity at all, finally concluding that the devastated family are better able to give him something.

We laugh at the Dashwoods. Their hypocrisy is so cleverly written, we can do nothing else but laugh at them, as Jane intended us to do. Yet there is a feeling of awkwardness as we laugh at them that we are really laughing at ourselves. For, who among us has not stifled a generous impulse? Who among us has not justified giving less than we ought to give?

This week I’ve had the flu. It’s been terrible, but there’s been one high point: my return to Jane. I eat her up like comfort food. When else do you have an entire week to re-read your favorite books and re-watch your favorite movies? It’s the one consolation for getting the flu, the Jane-a-thon. As I’ve sneezed and coughed my way through this week, I’ve also laughed—at the social climbing Eltons, the mercenary Tilneys, the scandalous Crawfords, the hypocritical Dashwoods, and the clever heroines finding happiness in spite of them all. And after I laugh I get that uncanny feeling that I’m not alone in my laughter.

And this is how Ms. Austen lives on.

I’m bad, and that’s good.

As Wreck-it-Ralph says, “I’m bad, and that’s good.” I was thrilled to see I’d won a “dishonorable mention” in my favorite writing contest, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest ( Where “www” means “wretched writers welcome.” It’s not exactly something you can put on a resume (Hey, look at me! I won a BAD writing contest!) but I think Wreck-it-Ralph would approve.

Here’s the story behind it:

I grew up with eight brothers. As a small female among so many males, I was an easy target. I wouldn’t say I was a girly-girl, but I did own two dolls, both of which my brothers loved to torture. One was a Barbie doll (Pretty in Pink) and the other a Cabbage Patch doll. I don’t know where I got the Barbie, but I doubt it was from my mom. My mom bought books, not Barbies. The Cabbage Patch doll was not from her either. The Christmas I got mine, Cabbage Patch dolls were the hottest toy out there, and not only did you have to pay exorbitant prices for one, but also stand in line for hours and use elbows for the honor of paying the exorbitant price. My mom didn’t go in for that kind of nonsense. But in 1986 we spent Christmas at my Grandma’s, and elbowing one’s way into shopping sales was just the kind of nonsense my Grandma went in for.

I loved that doll. She had big blue eyes and dimples, blonde yarn hair pulled into pig tails, with a curly yarn fringe framing her face. The birth certificate declared her name to be Kathleen, which I immediately shortened to Cathy. I changed Cathy’s diaper so many times on the way back from California to Utah, the diaper tabs lost their stickiness and had to be discarded. And of course she came with that heavenly new doll smell.

Anyway, back to the eight brothers. As everyone knows, brothers sometimes express their…um…dare I say love?…to sisters by bugging them. Well, I have very smart, very clever brothers. So the standard poking, chasing, name-calling, teasing, etc. was not enough to satisfy them. This could not have been better illustrated than the day I came home to find a ransom note on my bed where Cathy used to be. The note said that unless I gave into their list of demands, my brothers would turn my Cabbage Patch doll into COLESLAW.

I found Cathy soon afterwards in the backyard. She was hanging from the rim of the basketball standard, stripped, her piggy tails pulled out, and my brothers throwing snowballs at her. There is probably some psychoanalyzing that could take place here, but I knew my brothers, and I knew that this whole thing went down because they’d seen a cartoon where they make one of those ransom notes out of newspaper clippings, and my brothers wanted to give it a try. I was the target.

Cathy’s hair was never the same. It took me until age thirty to laugh at the coleslaw line. I can admit now, it is funny. And I have put their hurtful wit to good use. My winning entry in the Bulwer-Lytton writing contest was inspired by their prank from years ago.

Here’s the entry:

Over KFC, Raul broke up with Sheila a second time, (the first time shrinking her heart until it was only fit for a tiny doll,) tearing what was left of her heart to shreds, like the shreds of coleslaw now clinging to Raul’s beard; a fitting analogy since the aforementioned doll Sheila was thinking of was a Cabbage Patch doll.

It won dishonourable mention for the romance category. My first win. So, as you can see, sometimes it’s advantageous to have eight brothers. Who’s laughing now, boys? Hmm? Who. Is. Laughing. Now.