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A Short Story of Love Lost and Love Found: Running
Callie bent to tie her shoe. Thick, dark hair escaped her snug wool cap, temporarily blocking her vision, obscuring what she knew would be icy patches already hidden by fallen leaves. Impatiently, she balanced on bended knee, shoved her hair under her cap and returned to tying her shoe. Random thoughts started the usual tumbling around in her head, like the leaves intermittently flitting on the wind.
Running with shoelaces untied is not smart, but it's especially treacherous when the ground and pavement have frozen booby traps lining her route. A misstep could mean a fall or, even worse some broken body part, like an ankle, an arm or a wrist. No, better to take a few minutes to lace up.
Her breath hung wispy in the air, short puffs of moisture frozen almost as soon as she exhaled. She hated to break her stride. It meant she also broke her concentration. Running was the only time she coud block out everything for a while. No thoughts of work, not no thoughts of the loneliness, no thoughts of the pain, no thoughts of Stephen. Probably why her run got a little longer each day.
Escapism, she knew that's what her runs amounted to, but she had no desire to shorten or end them. Her runs were a welcome respite she considered better than any therapy. She had tried that two years ago, at everyone's urging. But after two sessions, she didn't return. She didn't want to pull feelings out of the lockbox, had no desire to examine them in the clarity of light.
No, running was a better, safer maybe even saner, solution. She was in control, except when she stooped to tie her shoes. Not a welcome interruption.
Callie stood, pulling on her gloves as she rose. She was tall. Her father would tell her "Girl, if you don't stop growin' you gonna top me and your brothers!"
She had stopped short of topping them, thank goodness. The four of them were over six feet. When she was a teenager, her height got her stares and sometimes cruel comments from her schoolmates, especially from guys she easily towered over - until they caught up. As someone well into adulthood, she still got stares and comments, most of the comments urging her to become a model.
"You've got the looks and the height," they'd tell her. That may have been true, but she knew she didn't have the temperament and most importantly, no desire. She was more inclined to the arts; chose marketing as her career. She was good at it, having an uncanny way of knowing what would catch the consumer's attention.
And she was driven. That put her on the fast track with the marketing company she worked for. She once thought she would open her own, when she and Stephen planned the future.
A movement to her left caught her attention before she took her next step. The trail was deserted. Few walkers, or runners for that matter, wanted to brave the freezing temperatures. It was quiet except for the occasional rustle of leaves by some errant bird or squirrel still scrambling in search of overlooked morsels. The noise of the city traffic didn't reach her, what little there was on an early Sunday morning. As she looked around she barely noticed the few scraggly leaves that still clung stubbornly to the otherwise bare trees. The branches did nothing to obscure the steel gray, snow laden, cloudy sky that rarely changed during the winter months.
Scanning the area she thought the sound originated from, at first she saw nothing. On second scan she spied it. It was small, brown and of nondescript heritage, sitting quietly, almost blending in with the remains of vegetation and the sparse patches of snow, watching her with dark eyes that took up most of his face. His pointed ears made up the rest.
Callie gave a little salute and the animal inclined his head inquiringly before turning and walking sedately into the thickest part of the vegetation.
"Humph, guess you had better things to do."As she mused out loud, Callie wondered what prompted her to say anything. It wasn't uncommon to see a dog turn up on occasion without its master and to have the master appear, leash in hand, breathless and admonishing the runaway. Callie often wondered who was master of whom. In her opinion, the dog was most often the one in charge.
Callie noted the time on her watch, was happy the dog showed up to keep her distracted during part of her interlude with the shoelaces. She started off again, her pace quickening with each step. No work on Sunday meant a ten mile run.
The week had passed the same as other weeks: she got up, made the bed, made her coffee, went to work, made small talk, attended the obligatory meetings, completed projects, went home, ran and kept the memories at bay. Her life was on automatic and she liked it that way.
There was a time when she greeted each day full of plans and excitement. She reveled in the fact that she shared plans, made plans, looked forward to the future that had no boundaries. She could enjoy the pulse of the day as measured by each word they spoke to each other, each passing look, each touch of the hand, each passionate embrace.
It all changed with the violent blow of a tire, a car out of control, and a knock at her front door. The dreams stopped, the passion halted, the future blurred and grayed and she took up running.
Each day was like the day before, as steady as her breathing when she ran. The only exception was the appearance of the dog. By the the next Sunday morning Callie was ready for her usual longest run of the week. The sky was still gray. This time the ground was wet, but not frozen. The temperature had risen enough for the clouds to yield rain, not snow. Still she was warmly dressed, ready to shed layers as needed. She left her shoulder length hair loose, with ear muffs for warmth. The trail was empty, soothingly quiet. Her yellow jacket relieved the somber hues of the day, but not her mood. Never her mood.
She started her run. Her strides were long and well paced. She was in the zone. No thoughts, no memories, no longings; just arms pumping and feet rhythmically creating a winter song.
Then she heard it, the rustle of the underbrush to her left. It wasn't enough to stop her. She ran on. The rustle continued, as if something or someone was running with her, keeping pace. Every few feet, she glimpsed brown and white. She didn't panic and really wasn't even concerned. In fact, she was a little pleased that she she had a companion, although she was well aware that the dog wasn't running with her, just happened to be running in the same direction.
She gradually got used to the rustling companion that showed up in the brush alongside her; even began to look forward to it. The dog was there most days, ending what she assumed was his foraging just short of the end of her run. Sometimes she glimpsed more than just a flash of brown and white. There were some days he didn't show at all, but on the days he did show, he never approached her and she didn't try to make contact with him. She was content to have him near and she thought maybe he was content to mirror her run, never asking anything of her.
The latter was more than she could say of her parents. Lately, they had stepped up the call campaign, asking her if she needed anything or did she want to move back? She wondered how they could ask any of those questions. What she needed she would never have again, so the questions were mere exercises. She considered them rhetorical and no longer considered answering. While she hated the memories, she was reluctant to abandon where they originated. That would be like abandoning Steve, abandoning the memories, as much as she hated them, knowing they lurked behind the doors of the apartment, around the corner on the way to work and greeting her every morning.
The days would have continued to unfold without change, without incident if she had her way. Memories carefully held at bay, pain thankfully numbed, plans on automatic. But life is never that way and she should have known.
A few months after she had acquired her running companion, he didn't show one especially cold Sunday. The sky was the usual gray. The air was especially cold. The temperature had been below freezing for the past few weeks. She was running in solitude until she heard the splashing, the yelping, faintly at first, but growing louder with each step. She stopped to locate the direction of sound, turned to follow through the brush and vegetation, some of which tried unsuccessfully to impede her. She emerged at the edge of the clearing she had forgotten was even near the trail. The clearing edged the lake. She and Steve picniced there, especially before their marriage.
Then Callie saw. Her little brown companion had ventured onto the ice and had partially fallen in. Desperately, but unsuccessfully trying to gain traction with his front paws, the little dog would emerge part way, only to slide back with a little yelp and a splash.
Without thinking, Callie rushed to the edge of the frozen pond and, throwing her gloves to the ground, immediately slipped and slid her way to the hapless, splashing dog. He was keeping his head above the water, but she could see the fear in his huge, dark eyes. All she could think of was not letting him drown. When she reach him, she quickly reached in and grabbed hold. The dog stopped struggling, relaxed enough for Callie to begin to pull him out. He was bigger than she originally thought and she had to reposition herself in order to get a good grip. That was when she heard the groan and then the cracking. Looking down, she saw the ice under her feet was cracking and the crack was spreading like a grounded thunderbolt in slow motion.
She froze. Callie knew that any sudden movement and she would be struggling to stay above water. Although she could swim, all the layers she had on for warmth would weigh her down and she would more than likely be pulled under. She had no idea how deep the pond was, but she and the dog were pretty far from the shoreline. She weighed her options. Thankfully, the dog seemed to understand that he was still in danger and remained perfectly still in her arms.
She considered yelling, but rejected the idea. The park was surely too deserted for that to be of any help.
She was breathing faster now. And she was getting colder. She couldn't feel her hands and hoped that she didn't drop the dog. That would have meant more cracks and they would surely find themselves in the water.
She looked at the dog and then back at the crack. She took a tentative step, the dog shifted slightly. The ice creaked. She stopped, feeling helpless and unsure of her options. It was then that she decided she would crawl her way back to the shore.
Her back was still to the shore. She didn't want to risk the extra movement of turning around. The extra movement might crack the ice, so she lowered herself to stooping, holding the dog tightly. The position was awkward and she then realized she couldn't crawl with the dog in her arms and she couldn't risk putting him down. They could both fall victim to the deadly crack in the ice.
"Stay where you are!" came a shout behind her. "I'm coming out for you."
Callie didn't turn, though she wanted to. She followed instructions. The voice kept talking to her. Telling her not to panic.
She hadn't and wouldn't.
"When I reach you, slowly turn and give me your dog."
"Ok," Callie yell, "but he's not my dog." She didn't know why she added that.
The dog solemnly looked up at her as if he knew the risk and licked her face.
"I'm just behind you. Now slowly turn. When I've gotten the dog almost to the shore, you can start to crawl over."
She turned to see her rescuer was on his hands and knees. He had crawled out to her. The ice cracked again, sharply this time.
She swallowed. "You'd better hurry. I don't think it will last much longer."
"Ok. Give the dog to me." Her stranger reached for the dog. She dropped him into his arms. She couldn't help noticing that he wore no hat and like her, he must have thrown off his gloves. His fingers were long and looked strong. The top of his bare head was clean shaven, as was the style of so many men these days. Premature balding she guessed, may have prompted the clean shave.
He tucked the dog under his arm, like a football. The dog didn't squirm, seemed to know what the risk was. The two made their way slowly to the shore. She stood perfectly still as she watched their progress, painfully aware of the cold creeping through her running shoes and up her legs. Her hands were blue popsicles.
He called to her to start crawling. And she did. As quickly and as carefully as she could. All she could think of was warmth and safety. The ice groaned as she crawled. She ignored it and finally made it to the shore, the stranger and her dog.
"Thank goodness you came along." Callie said breathlessly as she slowly rose to standing, legs shaking from the cold and the fear.
"I'm not sure what I would have done."
"Well, I was here and now you're here." His voice was deep and sort of rumbling, like he could tell a million stories and you'd never get tired of listening to him. When she looked up and into his eyes, she could have sworn they were saying "here is safety, here is warmth."
"Here's your dog. What's his name by the way?"
"My dog? His name?" Callie was repeating the questions, Callie was thawing.
"Dog. I just call him Dog. He likes that."
In response, Dog barked.
"Alright. Here's Dog. I'm Jeff. Come. You need to warm up. Let me buy you a cup of coffee." Jeff had put Dog on the ground and was reaching his hand for hers. "After all this, you can tell me what you're doing for excitement tomorrow."
She liked the way his eyes crinkled in the corner. A nice cliched sort of a look. She surprised herself with such an pleasant thought.
Dog sat patiently at her feet waiting for her to make her move.
"I'm Callie," she said extending her slowly thawing hand. "Yes, I'd like that."
So life would have continued on for Callie, just as she wanted. Progressing through time, no deviations, no egress and very little emotional progress. Memories would have been held at bay, pain dulled by the running. But she should have known from experience that life rarely delivers as you planned.