Thursday, April 25, 2013

SPE: One Shoe

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Sinistral Scribblings gave me this prompt: "An irregular hiatus." I gave kgwaite this prompt: "There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast." -Herman Melville}

It was a local holiday, but not a national one, so Patriot's Day, the annual celebration of the battles of Lexington and Concord, still faintly gives off the aura of skipping school to me. I went into my office in the morning, because I knew there were some who didn't know or care about our quaint local traditions. No one wanted me for anything in particular, so I puttered around for a bit, then locked up and headed back out. It was a fine day, warm in the sun, with winter's chill still lurking in the shadows. I took off my tie and stored it in my briefcase, then started walking. I didn't have anywhere to be, and I didn't feel like doing anything useful.

I wandered towards Boylston, knowing that the enormous crowds of the "real", Olympic level finishers had probably thinned by now. I made myself do this every year, even though I had less than no interest in running myself, partially out of habit, and partially out of a genuine envy of the unimpeachable, unnegotiable achievement of running 26 miles on an April Monday. It didn't mean anything- it didn't cure any diseases or feed anyone who was hungry. But it meant something, if only just for one's self. I wanted to have their ability to point to something enormous, something monumental, and say, "I did that."

I walked away from the finish line, up the street until the group thinned out enough for me to see. The runners were still coming, singly and in small groups, and we gave them each polite applause. I found a slight rise, a small tree rooted in mulch with tiny decorative cement blocks around the perimeter. I set my briefcase down between my feet, and watched the progression. There was an irregular hiatus between applause breaks, a gap between groups that was sometimes seconds, occasionally a full minute.

I looked at a trio of three college girls about 10 feet in front of me, talking animatedly with one another, stopping each time a runner came by and they heard the wave of cheering. I had been watching students for decades, and I watched the threesome interact, looking for the leader. There was always an alpha, and the tall one, with the waves of brown hair and the long skirt and leggings, the big, fertile hips, and the pointy flats, was in charge. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but her two friends, a mousy brunette with short hair and a cute chunky girl with long dangling earrings, were deferring to her. She shot me a look, then turned back to her conversation.

I almost chuckled, because she had no idea how harmless I was. It was a feeling that had been chasing me around for months now, the gradual gathering irrelevance of my continued existence. I felt in my bones the Darwinian dismissal- my time is done here, and all I have left to me is a continuing slide into degradation and senescence. It is over for me now, watching the young ones stretch in the sun, perhaps discussing men, or poetry, or art, or nail polish. They were alive, fully present, their whole lives in front of them, the front line soldiers in the world, due to push out babies and form companies and write long poems with complicated meter.

My head was turned, and I was clapping for a runner just passed and looking for the next one before I turned my attention back to the trio of lovelies. There was a wave of air, an intense shove on my back, like the feeling of a subway train leaving the station but a hundred times stronger. When I was conscious again, I found myself on the ground, my ears ringing like I was at a concert, with bitter grit and smoke and chaos around me. My first reaction was annoyance, since I was on the ground against my will.

I was sprawled out, my shirt now filthy with dirt, my pants torn. I could hear very little, all sound deeply muffled like when being underwater. I felt wetness on my leg, and looked down to see a decent sized scratch, bleeding freely but nothing that soap and water and a gauze pad wouldn't fix. Something had exploded, something very close to me, and from my perch on the ground, I could see cops and firemen and people in marathon shirts hauling aside the barriers. I saw faces frozen in stunned masks of fear and rage, and then a cop's face, big and beefy like in a detective novel. I couldn't hear what he said, but I read lips well enough to be able to croak out a demurral.

"I'm, I'm OK. Come back to me- help the injured first."

The cop nodded and his face was gone. I brought myself to my knees, checking my extremities for damage. I was hurt, but nothing that would cause any alarm. I thought about trying to call someone, but with my head still ringing, I wouldn't be able to hear them anyway. I picked up my briefcase, which was dented by something, but hadn't gone far from me. I was a little woozy, so I immediately sat down again, my knees high, my hands now resting on them, my head down. I tried shaking my head to clear it, but still the cotton wool stayed in my head.

The street was a mass of police and fire engines, flashing lights and people wandering without any clear purpose. There were windows, jagged and smashed, in the buildings behind me. I could see people walking and running away from the street where I kept sitting. Another fireman, a pleasant faced woman with her hair pulled back in a bun, came up to me, her smudged face creased with worry.

"I'm OK," I said again. "Just scraped. Someone needs you more, I'm sure."

She walked away and I saw a single shoe, one of the flats the leader of the trio was wearing, sitting on its side on the street. There was dirt and debris and a spot of blood on the leather, and it was alone on the blacktop amid the madness. I hated the incongruity of it. I hoped that she was alright, that she was sharing an ambulance ride with her two comrades, scared but laughing as the adrenaline wore off. The shoe was out of place, there by itself, and I thought about getting up and getting it and trying to find her, and I kept thinking about that until the cop with the fat Irish face came up again and insisted I be taken to the medical tent.