Saturday, December 22, 2007

Middens Of The Mind

A couple of years ago I sent a story to Quadrant magazine. The literary editor, Les Murray, probably Australia's most famous poet, kindly sent a hand-written letter back to me explaining why he was not accepting the story even though he quite liked it. Just wasn't quite there. Me being me, I wrote back to him and I explained why I thought he was wrong and that now that I had enlightened him, perhaps he would like to take another look at the story. He wrote back and I could sense him chuckling as he said no, really, but thank you for checking - but I am happy to take a look at another submission.

So I sent another story to him about a guy who gives his wife a headstone with their dates of death inscribed on it, which he did accept and it was published in Quadrant. It's called The Love Letter, and I quite like it because it's off-kilter, a bit funny and a bit sad, and ultimately quite all right.

And I wanted to share it with you but I can't find it. I've rummaged like you rummage for lost keys but it's just not there. I've misplaced an entire love story about a headstone, which is not something I do very often.

Anyway, while rummaging I found this story, which is a bit like finding that old pen you'd been wondering about which is kind of nice, but it's not going to open the garage door, is it. It's not either of the stories in the above anti-introduction, but it does contain the word midden, which is a funny word. Don't you think midden is a funny word?


The runner likes this part where the road dips down and sweeps around the bend. He likes how it seems to push him forward here, his stride stretching out and his pace quickening. That feeling kicks in as his feet pound faster, that white hot exhilaration you just can’t buy. The harbour lies just below with its legions of idle yachts. He thinks about the money and the property and the plans and the money. No money can buy this, no drug can match it. The money and the plans and the drugs give them what they think they need, but this... this is the stuff. He pours it on. He’s at full throttle now like a champion, and this is real. There’s a rhythm here, a beat, a flow of energy coursing through the system. He’s a machine, a liquid machine and he’s hit top speed and can’t slow down.

The road winds to the right and the city comes into view, a dazzling heap, a bristling pile of glitter and glass flashing through the trees. It’s an engine, consuming and creating and breathing and humming and destroying and growing. Christ it’s a piece of work, he thinks, flawless and unstoppable, perfect like cancer. He’s heading uphill now but he hasn’t dropped a beat. He is aware of his thighs, feels his chest, his lungs, the swing of his arms and he feels all of it working together. It’s the movement, the fluidity, the harmony of it all they don’t understand. How long have you been running? Why do you run? Why do you do it?

He thinks of the middens here. He always thinks of the middens, last calcium trace of an ancient people long gone.

The runner veers to the left, off the road and onto the dirt track. His pace slows now, speed giving way to precision. He is quietly impressed with his own reflexes as he ducks and twists and turns, branches whipping and and stinging his skin. He knows this track by heart, has run it a thousand times. Feet pounding the dirt now, he relaxes into a familiar beat. His lungs fill, he drinks it in and smells the air, the moss and lichen and the dying leaves.

The ground is hard again, flat top of a sandstone cliff. The runner stops and he feels the rush of heat. He breathes hard and winces at the searing pain, hands on knees, doubled over, the end of the race. Breath grows shallow, heart slows, skin glistens. He stands upright now. He looks at the undulating water so far below. He looks at the city and the great grey arch clinging to both edges of the harbour. He gazes at the city one last time, such beauty for a thing to have grown unplanned.

And again, he thinks, what good are plans?

The runner turns to the west and squints into the setting sun. He’s considered it countless times but knew he’d do it today. There was so much noise he thought his head would split, the banter and banality, the importance attached to unimportant things.

His final plan. He’s measured and paced and worked it out. If he is good – very good - he might just make the water. But he doesn’t think he’s that good. One hundred metre dash along the edge, then nothing. Nothing but ancient, unforgiving rock. He thinks of his wife, he remembers her pain. Soon, he thinks, soon.

Head down. He crouches. Exhales. Tightens. Uncoils. He runs then, faster than he has ever run in his life. God that feeling, so perfect and pure and real.

For a few slow seconds the runner soars, and is free at last.


Kathryn said...

Was he at North Head?

I like this.

quick said...

He was at Ball's Head, North Shore just west of the bridge. It's one of my favourite places. When we lived over that way Ann and I could be found there most Sundays, eating, drinking,laughing and dreaming on our own special rock. It was also a great part of my running circuit. The middens fascinated me.

meva said...

I loved your anti-intro, too. I hope you find the headstone story.

I thought your Runner story was really good. It made me want to run again (until that last bit!). But would he have suicided with the endorphins kicked in like that?

quick said...

Thanks Meva. Still haven't found the headstone story. Might have to scan the mag or something.

Clearly you have never known the total endorphin blast of throwing yourself off a cliff at full speed... talk about a rush, baby.

meva said...

With a rubber band attached to your ankles, I hope!

Y said...

I took up running about a month ago. Another version of chasing the white line to get a high. I love that wobbly legged, sweaty feeling at the end of a good run.