BEAUTY • by Frederick K. Foote

It is the end of a four mile cross country run on a mild September afternoon in 1967, it’s 100 yards up a moderate slope on a wide green meadow to the finish line where the coaches and a handful of spectators gather. I’m the seventh man on our seven-man team. The sixth man is finishing fifty yards ahead of me. My five other teammates are screaming encouragement to us.

There are three runners from the other schools between me and the finish line. I’m content to finish behind them. Our team will still do well. For some reason I look off to my left and there’s a girl on a patient gray horse watching the race; she looks at me and shakes her head in disgust like she could read my mind.

It stings me, startles me like an electric lash from a thousand-volt whip. I charge after the closest runner and catch him in a few yards. I accelerate, pick up steam. I catch the second runner thirty yards later dead on my feet, an empty tank, spent legs, but I see that look, mocking me. I move forward drawing on the cheers of my team mates and the stuff at the bottom of my well that I never knew existed.

All I see is the finish line. I don’t see the other runner. I don’t know that I have beaten him by inches. I stumble and collapse on the ground; lose consciousness for a few seconds or minutes or days.

Next week the school newspaper photographer shows me the black and white 5×7 picture. I’m leaning into falling. My chin and cheeks are covered with dried and fresh spit, snot is covering my upper lip and nose, my eyes have rolled up into my head. Face twisted and distorted in anguish. My lips are peeled back to my gums. My teeth pale white bones in my mouth.

He wants to know if I want it. The school paper is not going to use it. He gives it and the negative to me in a large brown envelope.

I show it to my mother. She looks at it for a long time. She kisses me on the cheek. She frames it and stands it in a place of honor on our mantle.

I show it to my girl. She studies it forever, turns to me, “You have never looked so beautiful.”  She means it.

I have never looked so beautiful since then.

My only regret is that I can’t share the picture with the girl on the placid gray horse.


Frederick K. Foote lives in Sacramento California and enjoys writing short stories and plays. You can find his work at spectermagazine.com and akashicbooks.com.


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 average 4 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Tibor Simic

    The story brings the Japanese Buddhist aesthetics to my mind. For example:

    The simplicity: The language economy is beautiful. Every word ordinary, every word carrying its full weight, nothing superfluous. Each sentence states its meaning clearly.
    The patina: The story is a memory, possibly by an old man, with enough experience to value the memory. The black-and-white photograph reinforces the patina.

    The naturalness: the spit and snot are just another part of the scene, like the pastoral meadows and horses.

    Appropriately, the protagonist, like a samurai, found true beauty by throwing himself with abandon in the service of an ideal revealed in a single moment, embodied in the girl’s gaze.

    Finally, there’s the beautiful juxtaposition between the mother and the girlfriend, who understood, and the paper, ruled by convention.

    The story works as “just” a great narrative and as a profound meditation.

    I find it perfect.

  • Tibor Simic

    The story brings the Japanese Buddhist aesthetics to my mind. For example:

    The simplicity: The language economy is beautiful. Every word ordinary, every word carrying its full weight, nothing superfluous. Each sentence states its meaning clearly.
    The patina: The story is a memory, possibly by an old man, with enough experience to value the memory. The black-and-white photograph reinforces the patina.

    The naturalness: the spit and snot are just another part of the scene, like the pastoral meadows and horses.

    Appropriately, the protagonist, like a samurai, found true beauty by throwing himself with abandon in the service of an ideal revealed in a single moment, embodied in the girl’s gaze.

    Finally, there’s the beautiful juxtaposition between the mother and the girlfriend, who understood, and the paper, ruled by convention.

    The story works as “just” a great narrative and as a profound meditation.

    I find it perfect.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Four stars. Wish you’d omitted the final sentence.

    • What is it with you and the ends of stories?

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Four stars. Wish you’d omitted the final sentence.

    • What is it with you and the ends of stories?

  • terrytvgal

    Such a graceful read. The dash to the finish was a mad frenzy but the writing kept the story balanced and focused. Not sure why it would be a girl on a horse that got him to the finish in first place (or, for that matter, if they were even really there). A mother is likely to see the beauty of her child no matter the circumstances and a girlfriend likewise. I see it has been mentioned before; like Sarah, I didn’t think the last sentence belonged.
    4stars. Thanks, Frederick

  • terrytvgal

    Such a graceful read. The dash to the finish was a mad frenzy but the writing kept the story balanced and focused. Not sure why it would be a girl on a horse that got him to the finish in first place (or, for that matter, if they were even really there). A mother is likely to see the beauty of her child no matter the circumstances and a girlfriend likewise. I see it has been mentioned before; like Sarah, I didn’t think the last sentence belonged.
    4stars. Thanks, Frederick

    P.S. read it again and I had the same thought that I had, but ignored, during my first reading….in paragraph 5, as he describes the picture it strikes me (and of course I could be just a bit nutty today!) that it could well be the description of a horse crossing a finish like that he’s describing.

  • “It stings me, startles me like an electric lash from a thousand-volt whip.”

    Really?

  • “It stings me, startles me like an electric lash from a thousand-volt whip.”

    Really?

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    I don’t understand why the girl on the horse looks at him with disgust. I suppose it could be his imagination, just his own subconscious mirroring his own feelings back to him? Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Personally, I liked the last sentence and thought it pulled it all together, but hey, taste is subjective right?

  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    I don’t understand why the girl on the horse looks at him with disgust. I suppose it could be his imagination, just his own subconscious mirroring his own feelings back to him? Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Personally, I liked the last sentence and thought it pulled it all together, but hey, taste is subjective right?

  • Cranky Steven

    I liked it. Four stars.

  • Cranky Steven

    I liked it. Four stars.

  • Allie Lahn

    Wow I love this. The opening was a little weak for me and I would have ended exactly before the last sentence but congratulations because the last two scenes with the school paper and his girl were surreal, unforgettable.

  • Allie Lahn

    Wow I love this. The opening was a little weak for me and I would have ended exactly before the last sentence but congratulations because the last two scenes with the school paper and his girl were surreal, unforgettable.

  • Tight, entertaining, wistfull. A great short.

  • Tight, entertaining, wistfull. A great short.

  • Paul Owen

    I loved the story, especially since I was a cross-country runner way back when!

  • Paul Owen

    I loved the story, especially since I was a cross-country runner way back when!

  • I like the straightforward narration and the different perceptions of beauty.

  • I like the straightforward narration and the different perceptions of beauty.

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