“New York City Marathon” is a favorite story of mine and will always be a favorite story of mine. This is the story one thinks about writing when one manages to find time to daydream and think about writing. The whole notion of “capturing a generation” or becoming “the voice of a” group of people is a pretty common daydream among writers.
I have no idea if I managed to do either of those things here, mind you, but for me this story is a nice take on my life during the past decade. The notion of living in New York being a bit of a long haul meshed nicely with one of my favorite events in the city, the marathon, to provide a backdrop that works well on a number of levels. Which is to say that the people in this story wearing jogging shorts aren’t the only characters who are running a marathon.
The most cutting moment for me came when Will and the unnamed runner crumble and decide to give up the race. I wrote it as simply as I could, aiming for less description and written thought whenever possible and tried to have them just give up. Just feel pain. Just start sobbing. Plain and simple. Because Will and the runner were only part of the equation. Really it’s watching Byron react that drives this moment home.
Byron, the ever caustic smart-ass, has his guard forced down as he witnesses the unnamed runner, and thus Will, at their most vulnerable moments and we get a brief, albeit swear induced moment of humanity from him. The rest of the story doesn’t work, I don’t think, if Byron doesn’t crack open here. This scene allowed his character to become rounded out to a degree I often fail to achieve.
I should mention that the story also doesn’t work if Byron stays cracked open, so him righting himself while his brother watched almost won. Likewise Byron and Calvin returning to their race, running down the street, sliding back into their usual roles with some friendly punches at the end of the story almost edged out this moment. But in the end Byron cracking open was what stayed in my mind, and him cracking doesn’t happen without the unnamed runner quitting, and that doesn’t carry as much weight without being interplayed with Will’s decision to move back home. Yes, that might really be three moments in one, but I won’t tell if you won’t.
So slot eight goes to Calvin and Byron and all the other people out there currently on the hard-side of the mile seventeen marker in their own personal marathons.
Remember to stop off for drinks periodically:
There was no need for him to be in this city anymore. He would move back to Ohio.
And that was it. It was decided. And Will, for the first time in months, maybe years, felt the absence of pressure on his body. He would tell everyone in a day or so. Right now, with that decision firmly in his head, he just wanted to go home, maybe get a good night’s sleep. He was tired.
“I’m heading out, guys,” Will said, getting a wave and a smile from Byron and a couple of words of goodbye from Calvin. Then he turned and started walking down the street.
Byron was staring intently at the race. There was something strange in his face and Calvin was about to ask what was going on when Byron spoke.
“Ah, shit,” Byron said, “I saw this start to happen while I was over there.” His voice was very different, lower, heartier, a gravel filled bed of humanity running underneath his usual bite. “I hate to see this.”
Calvin watched Byron swallow slowly and then turned to see what he was looking at. Coming towards them from the race was a group of three people. Two were obviously not runners, they were dressed in jeans that didn’t fit right and t-shirts that were too busy. They were flanking the third person, a woman, who was slowly making her way down the street. This third person was dressed in full racing gear, teal shorts and a stretch tank top. She was favoring one leg as she walked. Her shoulders were covered in a foil blanket. She was sobbing.
Byron was staring at her, one of his hands up at his face, his first two fingers lightly rubbing up and down his jaw line. “I actually saw the moment when she decided to quit,” he said slowly. “She saw her two friends on the sideline, she had forced herself to make it to them, then she just veered off and stepped out of the race.” He pulled at his lower lip. “I’m not sure when she started crying.” Byron and Calvin watched the woman let herself be guided to the other side of the street. She stopped near a car parked on the other side and they could hear her crying change pitch as some new pain flared in her body. Her two friends turned and started walking back to her.
“Come on,” Byron said, staring across at the scene playing out, the volume of his voice soft but the force behind it strong. “Come on,” he said again, rooting her on, his energy strong enough that Calvin felt himself getting caught up in it. “Let yourself do this much at least.”