At first you run on, warm sweat trickling between your breasts. It doesn’t register. Then one day, you notice something out of the corner of your eye. But it flashes by in a blur so quickly you must have imagined it, right? A photograph propped up on a pile of rocks at the end of someone’s yard bordering the running trail. No reason to stop. You’re in a zone. Probably just a piece of trash caught there.
The trail stretches before you like a black carpet to paradise. You barely manage a smile at the other runners, skateboarders, active seniors walking on the advice of their doctors. Sometimes it annoys you to have to share the trail, even though of course, that’s illogical.
Running is your time away. From everyone. Your lover will still be at home when you return, your Advanced English class will still be there Monday, your mother will wait patiently for you to call her back about the sale at Nordstrom’s. You usually listen to music as you run. Brahms, Beethoven, Glenn Miller, Sinatra, Elvis, Lady Gaga, vintage Madonna. It’s all good.
Next time, you see that it’s not a piece of trash. Someone took time to arrange the rocks in a pile that looks like it’s supposed to mean something. It really is a photograph. It leans against a block of cement, which forms the base for some kind of metal sculpture. A tower pointing at heaven, you guess. To each his own. You’re past it before you can take in more. You shrug. It’s no one you know. It doesn’t matter enough to stop running.
The third time you slow. Now you see the cute cement and wrought iron bench facing the photograph. It wouldn’t hurt to rest. You spread your hands on either side of your lower back and stretch backwards as far as you can. Your turn off your iPod, and Springsteen falls silent as you hop onto the grass that fringes the trail. It’s soft and cushions your feet like one of those memory foam mattresses. A house sits at the other end of the long, narrow expanse of yard.
You sit on the bench and realize the young man in the photograph is (was) quite handsome. His likeness is protected by a yellowed plastic sleeve. He died in a car accident, you read. His mother, father, a sister, and brother miss him terribly. Life will never be the same for them. The breeze blows your hair and you stare at the photograph. You begin wondering about him. It’s not so easy to start running again. But at least you can. Or you can sit, breathing deeply the fresh cut grass smell and listening to the water bubble from the stream nearby.
It’s a small cemetery. You quickly find his grave. The black granite headstone sparkles in the sun.
Anthony “Tony” Bonnacio
October 23, 1980 – May 13, 2011
You shiver, grasping that Anthony is under your feet. His life stopped. His family stood right here and wept. His parents’ graves are besides his, their death dates blank. Anthony shouldn’t have arrived and been swallowed up by the earth first.
The next day you run past Anthony’s memorial. All the way to a door on the side of the brown house. You bring sunflowers. You knock, then pick a square in the latticed window to look through. The man inside rises from a kitchen table and swipes a hand slowly through his hair. For a minute your heart stops. He looks like Anthony. Older. You might talk, you might not. But he should like the flowers. You’ll have plenty of time to finish your run.
Karoline Barrett is currently at work on her first novel. Among others, she has been published in True Love Magazine; Bent Pin; Slow Trains Literary Journal; and The Storyteller.