Fiction: Almost Given Up


Tara looked at her running shoes on the other side of the room. They look like new but had been in her possession for many months. “There’s nothing like the feel of a new running shoe under my feet,” she thought. It made her smile. She glanced out the window at the road that she had run so many times. Running was freedom. It was a longing and an attempt to maintain forward motion. She loved it.

The Chicago Marathon was less than an hour from starting. Even with the warmth of the 70,000 people around her and the buzz of excitement, she was cold. But she had waited a long time for this. She had trained a long time and through a lot of humid, hot miles. It was her first event of this magnitude, and it would be the highlight of her 40s to finish it.

In fact, her 40s seemed like a marathon. The death of her best friend, a divorce and the loss of the job that she had loved for 15 years knocked her off her pedestal of success. But inside, she felt that she was a better person for it. She’d learned how to ride the waves of grief, reinvent herself and ask for what she wanted. The muscle of her soul felt stronger. She’d chosen the marathon as a way to help her outsides match the badass strength of her insides. Every mile gave her the confidence that she was gaining ground.

Looking up at the condominiums on the other side of the park, she wondered what it was like to live there. Would she want to lug her stuff down 15 floors every morning to go to work? Slogging through snow and ice to catch a train could be an adventure if you looked at it that way. She thought of the empty space in her future where her dreams used to live. Could this be a future she’d love? Her heart jumped a little at the thought of it. She could see herself as a city girl.

The miles slogged on the roads through weather of all kinds was just a metaphor for her life journey. And her shoes lay on the other side of the room, discarded… a reminder of what she hadn’t done more than what she’d accomplished. After the marathon, she’d almost given up on herself. It was a great accomplishment, but it somehow brought on a pause instead of a celebration … a depression instead of joy.

She had wanted that 26-mile journey to be the start of something new. Instead it felt like an ending. It was the hard stop of the life that she had known before with a fist shaken in the face of defeat. The energy it had taken to get there – physically and emotionally – left her depleted. Her much-needed physical rest turned into a surrender to life. The grief was gone, but the hole left by her dreams seemed bottomless. Those almost like-new running shoes lay right where she had left them that day 6 months ago. When you don’t know the next step, who needs shoes?

She looked at the road again. The sound of her footfalls and the sight of her frosty breath on a cold day seemed like a gift. She thought about that morning in Chicago when she was so hopeful and inquisitive about her next steps. “Every journey begins with a single  step,” she whispered. She breathed in a big breath shifting the weight of the depression weighing in on her chest. “Maybe I could start with a walk,” she bargained. “Yes, I think a walk would be good.”


Fiction: Desire


Kate walked down the wooden steps to the running store with a smile on her face. After she had decided to start running again this morning, she needed to get a pair of running shoes. It had been a really long time since she’d bought running shoes. Her first shoes were the first pair of running shoes ever manufactured. But, that was a long time ago. They were simple. She remembered having blood blisters on her young feet from running in shoes that didn’t really have good technology. Now that she considered herself middle-age, she thought she should invest in proper gear. After all, she was making a commitment to do this.

The $100 price tag hurt. Ever since her relocation, and the almost instantaneous breakup with her fiancee’, she’d been left with a big financial burden. She took a pay cut for this job, but she also thought she was going to be married. He’d had a tough time coping with the move, and he left in a huff in early October. He packed up his cat, his belongings and drove back to the Pacific Northwest. He’d stopped along the way to call her and ask to come back, but, by now, she was done with his moodiness. “Keep driving,” she’d curtly told him and hung up the phone. He’d left her with a mortgage that was intended to be paid on two salaries so money was tight. But, Kate wanted to make it on her own. She’d spent so much time in relationships with men that didn’t pull their weight, and her heart needed a rest. Honestly, she just didn’t have the energy to contend with another human being’s needs anymore. The purple New Balance shoes felt good in the store, and the great thing about running was that really all you need are good shoes. It felt good to buy them.

The clerk in the running store told her that they hosted a beginner’s running group on Saturday mornings. She’s missed it this morning, obviously, but she committed to joining next week. It might be fun to run with other people who were trying to get into shape. Her workaholism and hectic travel schedule had kept her isolated in the last decade, and she wanted to meet some new people. Besides, maybe they knew some interesting running routes. For this weekend, she decided she would start Day 1 of the Runner’s World training program tomorrow morning. The schedule said she should walk for 12 minutes, run for 1 and then walk another 12 minutes. Surely she could do that. She’d been walking for almost an hour at least 5 days a week downtown. It seemed to be a little bit slow for a start, but she’d always overdone it in the beginning, so why not take some advice and start out slow. Patience was not her strong suit.

The running store was located in a re-purposed Victorian home on a side street just off the main drag. She put her purchase in the car and walked downtown to see what was happening. A hot dog vendor was on the corner of Main and Bluff, and she stopped to get a Chicago dog from him. She sat down on a bench and watched the tourists walking into Kilwin’s for ice cream treats. A few of them had dogs, and they were sitting outside, taking turns going in so someone could sit with the dogs. A german shepherd mix was laying on the sidewalk with his tongue hanging out, ears perked up with what looked like a giant laughing smile on his face. An elderly lady leaned down to pat him on the head, and he licked her ice cream cone. She giggled with delight and then gave him the whole cone. The dog’s owner apologized profusely, but the woman just laughed and said, “It’s my treat.”

At sunset in St. Joe, Lakefront Drive parking lots fill with elderly couples watching the sun go down as they eat their fast food dinners in their cars. Kate always wondered how many sunsets they had watched in their lives. And, she wondered if they ever questioned if this one might be their last one. At 40, she was starting to think of her mortality, but she knew at 70 and beyond it would be a much more prominent thought in her mind. Her new motto was Life is short. She actually hadn’t acted on its wisdom yet, but she was planning on it – because Life is short. She wrote it on her bathroom mirror, and it’s been percolating in her brain for over a month now. What do you do when Life is short? she asks herself everyday now. Most days she has no clue. Today, she decided to get an ice cream sundae.

Coconuts was located at the end of Bluff St. and featured homemade ice cream and candy. Kate’s favorite sundae was a concoction made with blue ice cream that tasted like vanilla heavy with nutmeg covered in Marshmallow Creme. She took her sundae in a plastic cup to the same bench where she enjoyed her mocha this morning. Walking over, she decided to save it until she got seated so she could enjoy every bite. The sidewalk was packed with tourists. There was a small antique show on the bluff. Vendors set up on the grass, and patrons were going in and out of the booths while lazily enjoying the view of Lake Michigan in the background. A young cyclist – about nine years old – came riding toward her on the sidewalk. As he neared her, he reached out his left hand and screamed, “Whipped Cream!!” in the same instant he swooped her whipped cream off the top of her sundae and shoveled it straight into his mouth. His Dad was riding behind him and immediately laid into him, apologizing for his son’s behavior. Kate couldn’t help but laugh. It was so unexpected, and it was so delightful to see that look on his face in the moment he went after her creamy treat.

She thought to herself as she giggled about the culinary robbery, When is it that we stop going after what we want? A more sobering question went through her mind as she considered the initial question. Her eyes dropped, and she quietly whispered to herself, “When was it that I stopped wanting.”

My First Try at Fiction: A Spark


“The usual, Kate?”

“Yes, of course,” she laughed. She couldn’t wait for that chocolatey coffee concoction to hit her palate and signal the start of a new day. For an hour last night, she lay awake trying to decide if she would get up early and go for a walk or sleep in. She’d finally decided to sleep in, but her body had other plans. She woke up and followed its lead. The first stop had to be a mocha at Cafe Tosi’s.

She’d moved to this area trying to escape a job that was taking too much time, and, for the first time, she wanted to build a life. She turned 40 in January, and, it was time to really think about who she wanted to be and what she wanted out of life. She could feel time passing way too fast with too little heart. Kate had no idea what it would look like to be single and have free time. Work was always the default time-filler, and it was wreaking havoc with her soul. So, she took a position with her company that promised an 8-5 schedule. But of course, she knew that she could always stretch that out when she got lonely or bored. She made a promise to herself that she would put it down and leave at the close of business everyday regardless of whether or not she had anything else to do. So far, it felt like a long-awaited gift.

The first taste of Tosi’s mocha did not let her down. The best part of her morning ritual was that first sip. She took it, savored it for a minute and walked down to the bluff to look at the lake. It was August, and, in St. Joe, August is picture perfect. She was from Memphis, and the heat in August could sometimes be brutal at that time of year. The summers in Michiana – what they called the Michigan – Indiana area – were cool in the mornings and comfortable in the afternoons. The temps lingered at about 59 this morning, something she never would have seen in a mid-August southern summer.  Every time she felt that cool morning air it surprised her. She’d grown so used to heat and humidity in the summer mornings.

She found a bench on the bluff and watched the boats go out on Lake Michigan. The lake was calm this morning. No doubt it would be a busy day later. Chicagoans vacation in this small historic town, and the summers are filled with pseudo-rich Midwesterners spending their hard-earned vacation time on the other side of the lake. Many have boats, and the lake would be teeming by noon with jet skiers, bikini-clad women taking in the sun on their pale Northern skin, and fisherman going out to wet a line.

Living in a vacation town had its own rhythm. The winters were quiet and secluded. Fabulous restaurants in business because of the summer crowds’ refined city palates dished up culinary treats in half-empty dining rooms. In the summer, restaurants were packed. For the locals, the winter, even though the brutal temps were a pain, was a great time to enjoy the amenities of a summer vacation spot. Great shops, fabulous cuisine and an atmosphere of we’re glad you’re here because we’re dying in the winter abounded. Shopkeepers and restaurant staff had time to talk and be friendly. It made bundling up to get out a more attractive proposition.

St. Joe is a Victorian town on the shore of Lake Michigan. At one time, there was an amusement park on Silver Beach. Kate had found pictures of people strolling on the beach in front of the wooden roller coaster dressed in clothes probably popular in the 20s. It looked like a happening place. Every time she sat on the bluff and watched the lakefront, she could imagine the ghost of the roller coaster rising into the mist and almost hear the voices of the carnys as they called to potential customers. Children laughing and screams from the roller coaster faintly tinged the air.

This morning, however, she was thinking about what to do for the weekend. She sat on a wooden bench with a clear view of the morning lakeshore and thought about her options. Right now, I just want to sit, she thought. A little sleepy still, she knew that she could grab a nap this afternoon to take the edge off, so she wanted to enjoy her sleepy mood. That little apple orchard in Coloma would probably be open now. That might be a nice drive to get a slice of their apple pie after lunch. She loved their apple butter, too, and she was out after last season’s jar.

She had been considering taking up running again. A runner in college, she overdid it and ended up hurting her knee. That was almost 20 years ago. On and off, she had tried running again, but with her Type A personality, she always overdid it. She went out too long and too fast and hated it. With her new, more laid back lifestyle, she was thinking she might try a training plan from Runner’s World magazine. She’d been subscribing for almost a year, using the magazine to rekindle a love of a sport that she’d long since given up. At first it was like reading a cookbook. She knew she never had any intention of doing most of the things in there. She was just living vicariously through its glossy pages of training tips and motivating stories about real runners. But, lately, she’d been thinking that maybe she had been training wrong – much like she’d been doing work wrong most of her life. Maybe it was time to try something different.

She thought about the article she read last night about the amputee who had run a marathon. It wasn’t an easy task. Not only did he have to get himself fitted with the right prosthesis, but he had to get his nub calloused enough to take the pounding of the prosthesis against his skin. Changing it and caring for it was an additional task on every run. Really? …. she had asked herself after finishing the article. If he can do that, surely I can run a 5K. At the same time that she was swallowing the last taste of the extra-sweet chocolatey mocha, a runner about her age ran by. Okay,” she said out loud. “I’ll do it. I can do this.” She felt a little spark of passion rise inside her at the thought of starting a new project – a project that might give back to her in some way – not just take her time. For the first time in a long time, she felt excitement.