Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chapter 34: Lewis Park

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  This chapter chronicles the team's first invitational and actually brings the boys through the finish of a race.

It happened on the warmup.  A sinkhole inlaid with grass surreptitiously, patiently waiting for its prey.  All the culprit predator needed was somebody immersed in conversation or glancing to the left or looking beyond it.  It placed itself so perfectly, so open, so obvious, a purloined letter of sorts.  As lucid as the Fedex spoon and arrow.  Stepping into it was like having one stair left when you think you’ve already reached the bottom.  The knee undergoes and unnatural buckle and oscillation; the ankle can twist either in or out.  Jenkins’ twisted in.  His next stride did not happen.  He was on the ground.  He completed two full barrel roles and he wasn’t even going that fast.  Blades of grass clung to the back of his neck and t-shirt.  He came up grabbing at his ankle.  He swore.  Then in the very next moment he put himself back on his own two feet.  He was doing what boys like him instinctively do.  He tried to run again and made it six ginger steps.  The ankle couldn’t take the weight.  He went back down again.  More cussing.
     -Oh fuck, oh fuck.  The look on his face scared his teammates.  To see that look of concern and fright—not pain, just concern and fright—overcome his countenance made everyone’s stomach turn.  Some immediately thought “there goes the season; there goes our chances.”  Others worried about the person, not the runner.  Jenkins was their leader.  He never wavered.  His hand never shook.  The freshmen defined him as invincible.  They never even thought he got tired.  How could something like this happen to their superman who was impervious to things like hills and exhaustion and soreness?
     -Go get Hartman.  Hurry.  Go.  Go!  Sellberg and Wallan sprinted to their base camp. 
     Six minutes later Hartman and Pereira arrived on the scene.  They made their way through the swarm to see their queen bee.  By this time, the sneaker was off and Jenkins was rubbing at his ankle but not letting anyone else near it. 
     -Why’d you take the sneaker off?
     -I don’t know…What?  Smitty told me to.
     Hartman shook his head.  Never take the shoe off.  You keep it on to prevent the thing from swelling.  You take it off, it balloons. 
     Balloon it did.  In those six minutes it enlarged from golf ball to racquet ball to tennis ball.  Hartman bent down and took the foot into his hands.  Wallan caught this first gesture in such as way that it reminded him of Holy Thursday.  He turned the foot over and flexed it a myriad of ways and rubbed it with vigor.  Jenkins only grimaced once or twice.  The coach looked it over one more time, gave it a slap, and stood up.  The guys couldn’t believe how rough Hartman was with his star pupil’s injured ankle. 
     -You guys have a warmup to complete.  Get going.
     They stared at him blankly awaiting a diagnosis.
     -Get going I said.
     They still waited.
     -Look, I don’t want you here for the amputation.  You know what they do to horses, right?  I don’t want you to see that.  You have a race to run.  Get yourselves ready.
     A few of them chuckled nervously. 
     -Hey. Come on guys.  Let’s go, Pereira led them away from the scene.
     Each one looked back at least once, and the whole team stared when they made a hairpin around the butt of the stonewall.  What they saw was Ryan Jenkins, one arm around Hartman, limping his way toward their camp.
     As soon as they were out of earshot, Galiozzi started in on Pereira.
     -Coach, I gotta run now, right?
     -I don’t think so.  What’d you think the boss would say?
     -Oh come on.  The team needs me.
     -We needed you at Kelrock but you decided to punch some guy’s lights out.
     He smiled but he tried to hide it.  He knew the prospect of convincing Hartman was slim, so when he tried and was denied, he didn’t complain all that much.  He resigned himself to waterboy status. 
     Back at basecamp, the team lacked focus.  Jenkins propped up his foot and leaned against a horse-chestnut.  He complained about his ankle being frozen but refused to put a cloth between the skin and the ice.  The event’s athletic trainer came over and administered a quick exam.  You’ll be out two weeks, she said, nothing major.  Jenkins muttered obscenities.  All this occurring while the rest of the squad tried to prep for the race.  In the moment Hartman was disappointed and irked at how his young men could not handle the slightest bit of adversity, yet ten hours removed from the incident he appreciated how much the team cared for one of their fallen brothers.  His unspoken agenda had taken hold.
     Everyone panicked when the man with the megaphone announced five minutes until the start of the boys’ varsity championship race.  Hartman surveyed the circle and started barking.
     -Adam, what are you doing static stretches for?
     -Deo, where are your spikes?  Get them on.
     -Seniors get control of your team.  This is a blippin joke.  Get to the line and do your strides. 
     Their first strider consisted of sprinting over to the line.  Shirttails flapping, they made it with a minute to spare (late start).  They huddled at the chalk.  Smitty was the most vocal.  Watch the red of Paddington and the blue of Kelrock.  So help me God if I see somebody from Kelrock pass you without a fight.
     -Let’s run hard and show ‘em.
     -Let’s do it for Jenks.
     -Yeah.  For Jenks.  Jackets on three.  One.  Two.  Three.
     Smitty’s succinct edict must’ve struck a chord with the team because they decimated Kelrock.  A methodical crushing.  Just like the duel meet against the Rockies but in reverse.  This time the Jackets were able to showcase their strength in the second half of the race.  Showcase the fruits of an accumulating base sprinkled with lots of hills.  The Jackets picked up tens of points over the last mile.  Torres passed five and moved all the way up to fourth overall.  Hammond picked six, Spider two in the final sprint, Smitty, an absolute beast, passed nine, two of them Kelrockians.  Even their last two runners, Coetaine and Wallan, combined to pass three more.  Yes, they were harried and out of sorts but they pulled it together during the race and ran how Hartman told them to on Friday.  If they could continue to run this way through the sharpening phase in November, they’d be the force Hartman knew they could be.  They ran smart; they demolished Kelrock, but they did not win the meet.  Jenkins’ absence was too much for them to surmount.  Springfield took the show position while rival Paddington and out-of-staters Norwood took the top two spots.

Lewis Park Meet Team Results (Top 5)

1.  Paddington     39
2.  Norwood        62
3.  Springfield    68
4.  Buxton         90
5.  Kelrock        126

     Much good came out of the meet.  Not one for moral victories, Hartman still synthesized and netted positives.  Early in the season and points still leaden—moreso than most impatient teams—he thought the boys ran well.  They finished strong and all indicators suggested a longer race equating to a lower overall score.  The guys were picking them off like flower petals in the last kilometer.  That’s strength and toughness: both physical and mental.  Bearing down required a gritty composite.  An intangible instilled upon men or never possessed by men or inherited from the fathers of men who once derived it from a war or lack of food.  Part surrogate, perhaps Hartman was one of these men—a ghost walking the fertile earth—put here to keep a fire alive, to carry a torch in a world marginalized by time that barely kept its last embers glowing orange.  A man placed here to turn boys into men, provide the lost with direction.

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