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.”

“Oh.”

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

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