Posted on: May 30, 2013
Four minutes later, Helen was in shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes, striding down the pavement. She felt her limbs begin to warm, and as she crossed the street into the park she broke into a run. She was alert to every change in her body—the minute rate at which her breath quickened, the number of times her heart beat against her chest, and the mantra that always kept her rhythm:
Get there faster. Be tough. Get there faster. Be tough.
The mantra had been with her as long as she had been a runner—first as a pep talk, but now as a prayer so deeply embedded that she could repeat it in one compartment of her brain and still have plenty of thinking room left over.
She was particularly focused this morning. The mist that clung to the trees around her kept her from seeing more than fifteen yards ahead. Not that she needed to see any farther. She knew this trail by heart. Like her mantra, it was something she had cultivated to the point of automation. These morning runs were no longer something she did; they were something that happened. And while they happened, she did her best thinking.
Without missing a beat Helen lifted her shirt to wipe the sweat from her face. The morning’s humidity caused her perspiration to cling to her, rather than roll off. She began to go through her checklist, as she had on every run for the past two years. Pyramids? Check. Skydiving? Check. Studying at one of the world's most prestigious universities? Check. Incredible sex? Check. Seven-course meal? Check. Led Zeppelin reunion concert? Check. And completing all of Shakespeare's works? As of 4:47am, check.
Surely she had missed something. She was only 25! She had meant for the list to take much longer to complete, but now there was nothing left.
Get there faster. Be tough.
She had gotten here faster. And now, the tough thing to do was right in front of her, seemingly hidden in the mist ahead.
She rounded the pond and checked her watch. Right on time.
A prickly feeling in her sternum surprised her—was it fear? Doubt? Reluctance? Whatever it stemmed from, she could only view it as one thing: interference. To dissolve the prickles, she switched on a secondary mantra, which she always thought of as The Reason. Unlike the list, which had been in various stages of development for the better part of two years, The Reason was unchanging. I will never be happier than I am now. It really was remarkable, the inherent human desire for longevity. Sure, better times could be ahead, but why risk the possibility of sixty years of heartbreak, pain, and adversity? She had seen everything she wanted to see, felt everything she wanted to feel, tasted all that she wanted to taste. She wasn't smart enough to make any life-saving medical breakthroughs, patient enough to write the next Great American Novel, or maternal enough to get hitched and have a gaggle of offspring. She was amazed at the gall of most of humanity, to persist in the name of self-preservation when it made more sense to quit while the going was good. I have lived the life I wanted to live, she thought. Like any artist, Helen knew it was time to initial the bottom corner, dot the final sentence, call That's a wrap!
As that thought crossed her mind, a small smear of pink caught her eye, only a few strides ahead. As she passed over it, she saw that it was a dead baby bird, apparently flattened by some other inattentive runner. Feeling the prickles threaten to begin again, she picked up the pace.
Gettherefaster. Betough. She ran through the park's gate and started up the hill to her flat. Her t-shirt was completely soaked through, and her calves cried out for her to stop.
Finally, she turned into the gravel drive in front of her flat and trotted to a stop. She raised her arms over her head and walked in small circles, her chest heaving. She briefly thought of stretching to prevent soreness, but on second thought decided against it.
Inside, Helen disrobed and got in the shower. Under the water she whispered, "I will never be happier than I am now. I have lived the life I wanted to live." And it was true—she felt almost delirious with happiness. Happiness that was multiplied infinitely by the guarantee that nothing would ever dilute it.
Out of the shower, she stood wrapped in a towel in front of her closet. Black was too somber-- they'd surely think she was depressed. Floral would seem like she was taking the piss, that she wasn't taking this seriously. But her green dress, that was perfect. In the back of her mind she vaguely remembered someone telling her that geniuses pick green. It was the color of growth, of hope. While drying her hair, she looked around her room. For a moment she felt bad for the person who would discover her, but she quickly remembered the pains she'd gone to in order to make this whole ordeal as spic-and-span as possible. She curled her hair, put on her makeup, and debated whether or not to wear shoes. She turned off the thermostat and made sure the front door was unlocked, with the keys and next month's rent check on the entryway table.
It was now 7:42 am, and the sun was burning off the morning's mist. Helen sighed with satisfaction as she took one last look around. Finally, she lay down on her made bed, smoothed her hair on the pillow, folded her hands across her stomach, and closed her eyes.
And then, she waited.
Photography by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Melody Rowell
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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