Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chapter 1: Beads of Sweat

Beads of Sweat is the working title of a novel about running.  This novel chronicles one high school cross country team's quest for a state championship.  But it's also about hard work and discipline and brotherhood.  I welcome any feedback (good or bad) anyone has to give.  This is chapter one.

Beads of sweat matriculated at his elbow, on his chin, the brim of his hat, even an earlobe, and as he ran down the dirt road, those beads would rock and sway with his carriage and cadence, bob when his head bobbed, surge when his legs surged.  A chaplet formed at the collar of his shirt and continually regenerated itself as it dissolved into the cotton.  Through any number of contrivances such as this, each bead would eventually lose its keeper.  Hanging on that earlobe for a fraction of a second, oscillating just enough to gain momentum, a bead jettisoned itself into the atmosphere.  In free fall, the brackish thing would rotate and spin until it evaporated into the hot air of which it was now a part.  And as he continued to run and as he continued to inhale, he would gulp up that very swatch of vapor that was formerly of himself.   He’d cycle it again through his skin in a few more miles.  There it would glisten in sheen of hard work, an accurate projection of his young and tender self. 

Around a wide turn the road rose in an ascent that would burn his lungs.  He shook his head hard, launching numerous beads—say fifty—from the brim of his hat and the tips of his hair.  He knew the road well, but the hill remained daunting.   His forearms acted like semaphores of a derrick pumping not oil but blood and spirit.  His neck, a hue pinker and browner than the rest of his body, tightened into his shoulders.  Gristled with sweat and dust from the trail, crevice lines formed there and made a map of his story.  A story that was both common to many and unique to him.  Those stories lines, those crevice lines of which he himself was the cartographer, acted simultaneously as an elevation graph, a mileage table, a pulse rate chart that once completed could never be taken away.  Impervious to all these machinations, he thought of only the hill and how the beads that circled round his neck would lift him over this long hard task. 

Always when he tired.  The needles etched themselves under his skin and danced rhythmically like a sewing machine on baize.  Communicating a message.  He tried to shake it out: unshrugged his shoulders, deflexed his elbows, wiggled his fingers.  Still, he knew there was no shaking it.  Once the needles fired, they would not cease until his legs did.  He kept running and the pins kept talking.  They told him dueling stories and he had to figure out which one to believe.  Both had denouements: one preferred over the other. 

He focused on his form.  He wanted perfection.  His gait would be the paragon of economy.  He worked at it as his feet struck the trail one after the other again and again.  Starting from the top, he catalogued his way down to the tips of his toes.  He kept his head straight and centered.  No bobbing a line like a caught fish.  He relaxed his shoulders again.  They always crept up on him when he was pressing.  “You’re losing oxygen to your head,” Hartman would yell in his ear as he rounded the track.  He lightly touched his index finger with his thumb.  Easy, smooth, light, and fast.  Breathe deep breathe right as he checked his abdomen and diaphragm, then hip girdle, quads, and hamstrings.   “I will be one perfect machine,” he chanted.  Positive affirmations all the way down to his feet.  Strike at the midfoot, roll over the arch, push off at the ball.  Don’t let the ankles turn out.  Make sure to use the meatiest part of the calf muscle.  Not the exterior of it where the tendon merges with the gastrocnemius and soleus.  That’s where knots are born.

            In his quest for perfect form he would mimic the great ones.  One minute he’d be Dixon, then Owens, then Coghlan, then Lagat, then Pre, maybe even Pippig or Joanie.  That was the fun of teamless, summer runs: one could dissolve into a superhero.  He often found himself hitching out his left arm.  He replayed over and over the grainy footage of Bill Rodgers running down Boylston Street on his way to yet another Boston victory.  Telling Bill Rodgers from other runners was easy.  Just look for that forearm to kick out ever so slightly.  He could fall asleep to that rhythm.  Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was Bill Rodgers, and the great ones, the really great ones, are seldom perfectly efficient.  A head bob, an arm swing: what’s the difference?  Great runners have the great equalizer.  The thing that makes up for physical imperfections.  The thing that words like grit and determination and assiduity and resolve can only come close to but never quite define.  That’s what he was going after; that’s what he was trying to create in these long progression runs.  The will.  The intangible.

            He ran himself into a preternatural high: one part sweat, one part vision.

            And after such a high, he felt sheepish for conceiving himself as a sub four miler.  He felt foolish for slapping at branches and pretending they were fans on a brisk autumn morning in Central Park.  He even dared to dream of running a marathon in less than two hours.  He dreamed the dreams of other men.  Embarrassed to do so but he couldn’t help himself.  He wasn’t that good.  He barely made the all-conference team last year in a mediocre league.  Had to outkick a guy in the last fifty for the last spot.  He chided his own preposterousness.  Yet he dreamed and returned to these dreams again and again just as his feet returned to the ground day after day.  In these moments he could do no more than rub those beads of sweat into his eyebrows and blink a hard new reality. 

Of course he was immune to all this.  He knew what he was doing in the moment for a moment; then he became a drifter.  A drifter of the most perilous and determined kind.  He wedged himself into a zone and ran hard.  In three miles time, he would look up and have no idea how he got to wherever it was he would be.  He liked the panic-scared sensation his ephemeral lostness would vouchsafe upon him.  He liked feeling it in his intestines.  He would pucker and loosen involuntarily the way one experiences driving too fast over a dip in the road.  It made him run faster and this was his summer, his year, to run fast.  PR’s in the fall required pouring this foundation in the summer.  At least that was what Hartman had told him.  500 miles.  Run 500 miles in two months.  In a single run as many beads of sweat as miles he would cover in the summer before his senior season.


Wilesthing said...

I like it. Nice start. Don't tease though, that wasn't 84K. Where is the rest?

I love the coaches name. Reminds me of Arthur Miller's use of Willy Loman.

J.Fyffe said...

This is good.

Glenn said...

Bring on chapter 2! I'm hooked.

KG said...

Thanks fellas. Bob: I'm probably going to post about two chapters a week. Each one is about 1-2k words. Death of a Salesman is some good reading. Hartman's name is intended to be symbolic too. Thanks for reading.

Muddy said...

I don't even know you but I know the Hammetts and that's close enough. Hope you don't mind but I'm a sucker for fictional running so I'm just gonna read over your shoulder.

Nice job!! Hurry with Chapter 2!

Wilesthing said...

That is what I figured. I'm expecting him to be a guy with an interesting past and a fire inside.

joe navas said...

Dude, I am a writer and a lover of rhythm in words and this is beautiful work right here, if I may say.
For runners, you've really drawn a perfect line in the air to follow and for people that don't even know running, you've given them as good an insight into it as they're likely to find.
Keep it up and congrats on getting great stuff to the page.

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