A lifetime ago, I smoked a Washington High School record, running the mile in 4 minutes and 23 seconds. Now, at fifty-eight, I want to run the mile again, albeit in twice that time — to prove my angina is under control. My wife says, “It’s a macho thing.” She’s right.
Lacing running shoes, I see a track deteriorated. Forty years ago, a new rubberized surface launched me around it like a white gazelle on springs. What an advantage! Today, the four black and brown kids running the track look plenty athletic, but the potholes slow them down. Maybe that’s why I still hold the school record and speak at the annual track team dinner!
Clicking a watch, I start around the track. When a gust of wind propels me, I hear from the infield, “Hey, that old white dude’s rippin’ it up!” Stylin’ for the kids, I pick up speed. One lap finished, and my pace is ahead of goal: 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
During the second lap, though, my legs get heavy. I slow down, but that’s okay: I tucked away plenty of time in the bank. The kids see I’m driven, like them. “Hey, that’s the old man that spoke at our breakup dinner!”
On the third lap, the kids see I’m hitting a rough spot, so they run with me. “Hey Mr. Rockford! Remember us?” I don’t answer; I’m having trouble breathing. “What’s your goal?” one of the girls says.
“Eight minutes… and forty-six… seconds,” I huff.
“We’ll help!” Two of the skinny kids run on either side of me, and the other two run in front to draft me. It gives me a lift.
But on the final lap my life changes. A pounding heart climbs into my throat, and my windpipe constricts as though a weight is on it. I fall to the ground, helpless. The track swirls and so do the four childish faces hovering over me.
“I can’t… breathe,” I say. One of the kids kneels on my watch and it breaks — stuck at 8 minutes and 46 seconds. As though on cue, my chest stops pounding and I pass out, ready to pass on.
“What timing! Those kids saved your life,” my wife says, two days later in the hospital. “One gave CPR. Another dialed 9-1-1. The other two ran to the gate to direct the ambulance.” Having the right friends is such a leg up.
I wish I knew their names.
A 2020 ‘Best of the Net’ nominee, John Mara writes fiction beside a serene New Hampshire lake. His wife Holly provides creative input, and they often attract mortified glances in restaurants while discussing dastardly characters and plot structure. A multi-genre writer, John tends to converse in the genre he’s thinking about and makes better dinner company when it’s humor, not horror. You can find John’s 20+ short stories published in Liquid Imagination, Bewildering Stories, J.J. Outre Review, Youth Imagination, and other venues.