I sat at my desk, squirming.
4:39 pm on the computer’s clock.
The call-centre buzzed with life, everyone was chattering madly, answering questions and addressing callers’ anger.
Tepid, conditioned air lay heavy on me, stinging my nose and closing my throat.
“Yes sir, I’m sorry that your bus is late, but I can’t contact the depot”. And while I hurriedly filled out a complaint form, one thought absorbed my mind.
Her. Her face, her laugh.
The air outside is cool, it’s perfect. A perfect time to run.
Eleven minutes, and I’m free to see her.
Eleven minutes, and I’m free to run.
The headset clasped my skull and the droning voice on the other end of the line made me rub my face and shift in my chair.
I’m going home to see her.
…going to the forest to run.
I sat there impatiently, warm with thoughts of greetings, hugs, kisses and small talk. But as I submitted the frustrated man’s complaint, my stomach clenched slightly. A small voice whispered…
Him. The texts she gets. The calls cut short when I come into the room.
I imagined the hard climbs, my ragged breath, the joyful, bounding descents. But the daydream was cut short by an uncomfortable voice.
That twinge in your left calf. Changing your stride, trying to find a comfortable gait.
What if she’s not at home?
What if she’s with…him?
I left the office and turned my bike to the right, along the river, homewards. My legs moved up and down reluctantly, and I counted the kilometres that remained.
I stepped out of work and began jogging cautiously along the river. Three ks to the trailhead, now two and a half, two…
My mind wandered as I rode along, and I pictured golden light spilling from the gap under the front door into the gloom of a winter evening. And I thought of her, waiting inside. And then I pictured a shadow instead. An absence of light beneath the door. And the cold, dark hallway behind it, leading to empty rooms and quiet spaces.
I was shaken from this trance by the sting of lactic acid in my quads. It was Sankey Street, my street, sudden uphill. And as I walked my bike up the steep driveway, I looked up, expectantly, at the entrance.
My body fell into a steady rhythm but a small whisper stopped me from slipping away into the quiet corners of my mind. It was a spiteful tickle coming from my left calf. It tightened and loosened its hold as I ran along, and I tried to think about anything else. I pictured myself entering the forest, leaping down a narrow trail. My legs twisting and rolling and spinning over the track, animating the landscape.
And then I thought about pain. Pain that moved in quickly. A heavy, thick internal fog that couldn’t be ignored.
I was shaken from this trance by the caw of a crow flying through the twilight. The forest approached, and I breathed in deeply. As my feet fell onto the trail, the niggling sensation in my calf faded, and a smile crept on to my face.
Light flowed from within the house. I ran to stash my bike around the side, then fumbled at the doorknob before bursting in, already calling out. “Alice?”
My stomach clenched. And I was thrust into flustered thought. A late lecture, today she has a late lecture, no, that was Tuesday, maybe she’s at the library, no, she’s finished her assignments, maybe she’s out with a friend, no, not tonight. My mind spun and sorted, frantically asking and answering questions. But all the while a voice was growing from deep inside:
Him…What if she’s with him?
The air felt cool and soft. Shapes of green, yellow, orange, brown whirled and blended around me.
Downhill, step, step, step.
Uphill, step, step, step.
I sprung off a rock, and the malicious tickle returned. I kept running and it tightened its grip around my calf. My stomach clenched and my mind frantically probed the sensation to find out more. Pinched nerve, it’s just a pinched nerve, no, it hurts too much, maybe it’s a cramp, no, it’s too sharp, maybe it’ll go away if I run faster, no, don’t be stupid. My mind spun and sorted, frantically asking and answering questions.
But all the while a voice was growing from deep inside:
A tear…What if it’s a tear?
The pain forced me to slow to a limping walk.
Her bag lay still on the kitchen bench, but her wallet and keys were gone.