That year James ran. He was using a podcast to guide him but he was sure that he had an aptitude. He certainly had the build, he thought, and though the right gear had cost a bit, it was worth it. He was wondering, as he negotiated the fingers of white frost across the red pavement, whether he might not enter the marathon next year.
The podcast woman urged him on. She had the sort of jolly, simple enthusiasm and surety that he trusted. Rather like his mum. Or, rather, how it was with mum before last Christmas Eve when he’d found her in the downstairs cloakroom sobbing under his dad’s old parka. Now there was a moment, at each meeting, when Mum would catch his eye and seem to be asking for something – some sort of recognition. James hated it. He told himself that it would fade if he just kept ignoring it. It was only February after all.
Week three of this running thing was killing him though. Week three was too much. Eight minute stretches. He suddenly felt that he’d always known this was not for him. Not for me. Move on. His brain threw him an unwelcome set of film clips – media studies at poly, job in the theatre box office in Leicester, dry-stone walling course in Wales, the flat and the cafe in Bristol. And he fought with himself to obliterate the accompanying sets of faces. Like a game of Guess Who they bobbed up and he flicked them down – his mate Pete smiling at the coffee machine, Jenny buying him a pint in the union bar, Sarah crying at the station, crying at the kitchen table with all the bills spread out like patchwork, crying in the night while he folded the pillow tight over both ears. And then he remembered Viv for a second and his early-morning, empty stomach heaved a splash of bile into the back of his throat. He coughed against the surge and the lingering burn made him angry. But once Viv was there he knew the next set of images were unavoidable – the ambulance, the paramedic’s fast, wordless actions- applying pressure to her raised wrist. Blood on the honeycomb of the cellular blanket. Shit.
James stopped at the café on the corner. Buses were passing, nose to tail. And the clear winter blue of the sky was getting cluttered with bubbling grey clouds. He knew they’d start to join up. They’d be solid by lunchtime. He checked himself in the heavy, glass door – just tousled enough to be a runner but not flushed. His hair was pretty near perfect and he could smell his cologne – warmed by body-heat and wrapped around him as he moved. And there was she was – blonde girl who blushed. He nodded and she smiled. Now, what was it she’d said she was studying? Philosophy? No, no, psychology… He practised a self-deprecating line in his head. Psychology? Blimey, Freud and Jung. Two names is the limit of my knowledge there. And then he’d do the special smile and certainly not mention coming in again. And tomorrow he’d come in wearing his blue shirt – the one that matched his eyes. Because he was certainly jacking in this running thing.