Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chapter 26: New Martindale

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a cross country team.  Today's chapter recounts the team's second duel meet; more particularly, one runner's experience on the starting line.


A white line spray painted across a dirt, crushed stone macadam marked the start of the New Martindale course.  The fresh paint was laid by a shaky hand as evidenced by the crooked row of toeboxes inched behind it.  Forty plus feet poised and ready for takeoff upon the crack of the starter’s pistol.  Of all the sneakers attached to feet and feet attached to runners who could determine the fast from the slow?  One curved arch could be a champion, the other a hack.

 Twisting the ball of his foot in a quarter moon arc, one runner demarked himself prepared.  He spat and grinded his foot into the ground like Clint Eastwood would a butt of a cigarette.  Then he crouched down low and brought his arms akimbo.  He looked down at the ground onto which he spat and started an incantation of incomprehensible mutters.  Incomprehensible to anybody but himself.  The outsiders could hear a low cadence to his words but the words themselves were for him and perhaps his god.  No one else.  When he finished, he remained crouched and brought his right hand to his neck.  There he fingered what could only be a talisman and ran it on its twine first to the right ear and then to the left before recentering it at the vulnerable spot just above the sternum.  He remained bent low balancing all of his weight on the balls of his feet.  A small stone in his hand now, one good for skipping, he carved two sharp lines into the area just in front of his toes.  Those two crude lines crossed each other and in a moment he effaced his work by passing over it with his hands and taking up any loose gravel into his palm.  An ancient Spartan, he rubbed fisted grains of dirt between the base of his fingers and the fleshy part of his thumb.  As he pressed his fist together and felt the gravel ensconce into his calluses, he stood up prostrate.  Erect, he touched that fist to his head, abdomen, and both shoulders.  He looked down and opened his fist.  He clapped remnants off with his other hand before wiping open palm at the hipbone of his shorts.  He gestured his head out in front of the spray painted line and looked to the left and the right strangely as if he were a young boy crossing a busy street.  He made eye contact with the teammate to his left then right and grazed pass one New Martindale runner on each side to tap a Jacket’s fist.  No words from either party, just a silent tap and a head nod.  To watch this ritual was to be intimidated...

            Zoom…and he was gone.  One last strider before the race began.  He ran hard for thirty then brought it back down to a jog.  With tunnel vision, he walked all the way back to the line.  Pereira shouted something.  He heard it, registered it, but paid him no heed.  He did not look at Hartman either; he might as well be invisible, a figment.  Some runners need coddling in the moments before a race, not him.  His coach knew this and left him alone.  He could take care of himself.  

            The gun in the sky ten seconds from firing.  He stared straightaway.  No need to look at it; he would use his ears.  His legs loosened then tensed.  Tan skin covered ectomorphic muscles.  One heel lifted from the ground.  The ballbearing at his ankle defined itself as did the soleus and gastroc.  Smooth skin, hardly a hair on his legs, so strange for a teenage boy.  Unknown to him beads of sweat, molecules ever so small, manifested themselves onto his stiffened leg.  The sun bore down hot but they were even too small to glisten.  In his angst he tapped his heel four times yet it never touched the earth.  Like his plates on the nautilus in the dank.  A trickle warmed the skin at his loin.  He desperately wanted off the line to move forward, but a man in a yellow jacket with red forearm sleeve held him captive.  A bailiff taunting him with a key.  Manacled to a poorly spray painted white line, the entropy in his inertia mounted.  So much internal, static momentum gained just from following certain rituals, patterns, thinking certain thoughts.  Dream the dreams of other men and you will be no one’s rival.

            The coach worried that he took these races too gravely.  Look at him; this was not a war; it was a Wednesday afternoon in a park.  He brought him into his office to council him.  Hartman so concerned about his intensity made him prove these afternoon duel meets were worth his efforts.  The runner defended himself, told him it was a part of his process—visualization and mental preparation (tenets of his coach’s philosophy)—that he needed.  I run to race, he said, not train.  You gotta race the right ones and have something left for November.  I will I will.  They came to a gentlemen’s agreement.  He could run them but Hartman could withhold at his digression when he thought it in the team’s best interest. 

            The started announced set.  He got still.  The tap ceased.  He held his forearm flexed in the air.  He became a statue.  A statue ready to throw an elbow once animated.  The only motion coming from his body now was the slight heave at his chest.  The slight, furtive movement acted as an internal pendulum.  And on the backswing, always on the highest point of the backswing, the gun smoked.  He ricocheted himself from the painted line.  The smell of the miasma siphoned into his nostrils.  

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Holy imagery! This is exquisitely written. Each chapter becomes my new favorite.

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