Erica R. Edwards

She shakes her head, almost involuntarily, as she runs the flush sidewalks of the small college town where everything, within and without, is steadied by an iron gate ten feet tall. She delights in the current rising up her limbs as they reach, then land, reach, then land. She measures the day by the beat of the flapping breasts, the clouds of breath she can see in the November air, the swish-swash of her thighs meeting each other again and again. The nod she gifts herself on the next block is a cascade of agreements with herself, with the world. Stay vertical. Feet hold shoes. Shoes hold ground.

She enjoys it, but it’s not exercise.

These days Arnette doesn’t care about her miles or her times. She runs, instead, because she has the feeling that no matter where she is, there’s a gap in the space-time continuum just over her left shoulder, eyeing her with the self-satisfied grin that she has seen in children’s Bible pictures of the whale that swallowed Jonah. Time is a monster: the ocean and the belly. So this is the running that Arnette does not because she is watching the digits march by on the screen of a chipper treadmill but because this is a day, like every other, when it feels like things are slipping. Slipping all over again. Slipping like her two-year-old daughter Zina whose torso still hasn’t learned how to keep up with her spinning legs. Like just earlier this morning when Arnette stepped into the shower, faltered, and banged the right side of her tailbone against the tub. Now the diaper bag bangs against the bruise, but she runs, without shifting her gait, one furious hand on the stroller’s handlebar, to keep things from slipping away. For real this time.

The hand that doesn’t hold the stroller thaws in the pocket of her navy parka. Arnette doesn’t bother checking her watch as she stops at the corner at Main. She likes the feeling of racing. She needs something to win. She powers forward. As she passes the picture windows of the post office, she turns her head to catch a glimpse of herself. Is she—was she ever—running? Or is she being pulled along by the flying stroller?

A chubby caramel-colored finger bounces just under her peripheral vision, pointing at the elm trees swaying sentry in the November winds.

“Tees! Tees!” her daughter says.

 “Trees. Yes, trees! The trees are blowing in the wind!” When Arnette speaks to her daughter in this teacherly voice, she feels almost as if everyone is tuned in, watching her: the construction guys lifting plates onto the building with a crane that is now drowning out the sound of her feet and Zina’s stroller on the sidewalk, the commuters stopped at the light at Aster, the white-haired white guy with the polo shirt in the Tesla, the ponytailed woman running in the opposite direction wearing nothing more than a long-sleeved shirt, leggings, and bright red gloves.

She imagines the rubber wheels at her feet, riding the cobblestones next to these flawless sidewalks, as her soundtrack.

She ponders what running in the street would feel like without her history, without her disorder. She looks back at the runner and, again, shakes her head to quiet the wish. For the ponytailed runner or the surefooted mail carrier, the morning road is terra firma under a day that might spit out any general challenge to one’s equilibrium. But Arnette has no sure ground for running or dropping neat envelopes into happy boxes. She could be late for the bus, or she could drop under the earth and bob back up someone else. She could spill coffee on her sensible shoes, or she could black out and wake up barefoot across town. She could show up to Zina’s daycare realizing that she has left her daughter’s lunch on the kitchen counter, or she could not arrive at all, or arrive and wonder at the strangers swirling around, going about their business. Wonder who they are. Wonder who she is.

She runs the crosswalk to the next block. She nods as the stroller takes the curb without much effort from her.

Sometimes the trips she takes, as she calls them, last seconds or minutes. She might find herself in the front courtyard in satin pajama pants, keys in her hands, on her way nowhere. Then she might simply turn around and walk back into the townhouse to gather herself and scoop her child. Every once in a while, a student across her desk might tell her that she just froze mid-sentence, that she just sat there with a dazed look for a while before she asked, all composed now, “Where were we?”

Stopped at the light across from the bus stop, Arnette puts her stroller hand into her pocket and runs her feet, then does demi-plies while pulling her one warm hand out of the other pocket to check her email. She has been thinking about her brother, who has gone missing again, and waiting for news from home, and knowing that any new information is bound to arrive in this quiet way. For a moment she holds in her mind’s eye an image from an old family photograph of a ten-acre farm in Virginia surrounded by six country bungalows that had been built and rebuilt by the family since they got their forty acres. She wonders how many of the people in the photo, solemn in overalls and farming shifts, stayed where and who they were. She can’t help but wonder what her people, who subsist mostly on what they glean from rows of Delta corn, lima beans, greens, eggs from roaming chickens, salted jowl, or, back home in California, oversized zucchini, year-round tomatoes, okra, and potatoes from the puny patch out front, would grow up here in Vermont. She thinks of the plot one tenth the size of the Virginia farm in a just-as-country town way outside of Los Angeles where she spent most of her childhood and wonders if her brother will ever see it again. Then she shakes her head again, shivers, and, curses: “Fucking lunatics.”

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Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay