The quiet science of his body fascinates her.  As he runs across the gravel path his arms swing against time like bronze pendulums.  His feet fly, laces clashing in a noiseless fury.  Every morning.  Five a.m.  Her pre-breakfast entertainment and guilty pleasure is to rest her chin on her forearms along the chipped white window sill and watch for him from the third floor apartment that she shares with her husband.  It becomes a chilly morning daydream, October air seeping in through the cracks.  She jots down notes about the runner and hides them daily in her desk drawer.  They began as thoughts on his form and position or the subtle part in his hair.  It was a scientific experiment.  Objective.  Lately the notes have become more intimate, and she flushes when she writes them.

            Feet point slightly outward. He runs like his world is on fire.   

            The notes occupy scraps and unimportant papers.  Napkins.  Receipts.  A tag she ripped out of her old terrycloth robe, washed so many times no printed words remain.  She locks the drawer with a button-shaped key and prays that her husband never pries it open.  He has a penchant for puzzles, but she tricks him into thinking her tedious work papers live there.  He hates her job, so many numbers, so little humanity.  He has assigned her to a numb world, and she’s unintentionally lived up to the part.  She isn’t fond of the deception of hiding the notes, but it is the only way to safeguard her observations.  These private thoughts don’t dare reside in her head.  Once jotted down, they vacate her system and she feels clean again.

            Hands balled into fists.  He is ready to fight obstacles. He is a fighter.  He is power. 

            The drawer is filled to capacity.  The notes used to be organized.  They’d been sorted by size and content.  Observations about the runner’s physique were only a few words give or take, and tucked to the right top corner of the drawer.  General remarks, interpretations of his movements or suppositions about his physical prowess often ran from one index card or paper slip to the next and packed the entire left-hand side.  This organization lasted approximately four months, until her resolve to stay structured, or stay in her marriage, began to falter.  Now the notes multiply, dominate, and the drawer resembles a poorly constructed papier-mâché project, hiding her pornography, her private thoughts of the runner.  

            He avoids other runners.  Too focused inward to make small talk.  He is lonely.  He doesn’t want his wife.

            This is the damning observation, the one that brings the runner (as if by magic) to her doorstep.  He arrives sweaty, confused and discombobulated from unnaturally high winds.  His feet are no longer pointed outward, and he’s released the balled fists so his hands hang loose and gently touch the sides of his running shorts.  He’s lost all ferocity and falls into her, pressing his chest against her breast.  Their heartbeats compete, hers lost miles and miles behind his.  Her husband is the runner, and she hates that the separation is gone.  The fantasy has dissolved, but the residue of the dream suddenly invigorates her. 

               I can’t take my eyes off of him.

            She discovers more about her husband during these momentary morning glances as he runs than she has in seven years of careful, passionless marriage.  The drawer, locked with her uneven key, barely opens as she stuffs in today’s note (the first with the word ‘I’) while he showers.  The duffel bag beneath her desk wraps its strap around her ankles, reminding her that she plans on leaving this morning.  Taking the train to her sister’s house and hiding there until she knows exactly where to go.  But the runner, the desk full of notes, keep her locked in the apartment.  She wants to discover the ferocity her husband exudes on his runs.  She wants to be honest with him, and so she gathers the notes in armfuls and drops them on their bed to prove to him she is more than numbers and he is more than a prop in the apartment.  The steam from the shower winds through the apartment.  The last orange post-it gracefully rests as the water shuts off.  She holds her breath and returns to the now empty desk, wondering if her notes might be enough to keep them both there the next morning.     

Sarah Clayville is a mother, author, and high school teacher.  Her work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, StoryChord, Literary Orphans, and a number of other journals.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and assistant fiction editor for Identity Theory, she is completing a novel between parenting the best toddler and teen in the world.

I wanted to explore the idea of perception and how distance often brings us closer to truths that are either too difficult to accept or too good to appreciate in close proximity.  The brevity of the piece helped me preserve an intimacy with the narrator.  As a writer I find my inspiration not just in single observations but rather observations over time to witness how the world changes.  I revised this piece after the dissolution of my own marriage and found that time and space had given me a new lens to add the sense of tension it needed.




Copyright 2009