I died today in the middle of a two-hour run, on a torturous hill next to a lamb farm. It was mile six to be exact. The bah, bah, bah I heard as I fell to the ground was drowned out by the sound of a tightening steel cable, like those on a suspension bridge, forty-thousand tons of pressure straining to sheer it to smithereens — the noise came from inside my chest.
The final miles were blissful. My body was in rhythm as I ascended a long, steep hill listening to the soft, hypnotic pant of my heart; air ever so softly entered my lungs and then whispered back out through my mouth. Perspiration flowed from every pore in my body, a feeling I loved more than anything in the world — the reason I never stopped running from the moment I let go of the coffee table as a toddler. I raked my fingers through my sweaty hair to feel the soaked strands in the web of my fingers, and then lightly pulled my fingertips down the sides of my beard draining the perspiration onto my bare chest.
It was one of those stifling summer days with oppressive humidity that meteorologist assign a color code to; the running conditions I loved because the long-run would purge my being of stress and worries, and replace it with peace and joy. Immersed in the sanctity of sweat, in near-ecstasy, I was feeling spry as I climbed another hill with the lamb farm to my right just when that steel cable shattered. All I could do was watch from another dimension.
The ground approached like I had parachuted from a small aircraft, though I fell only five-feet, nine inches. Tiny pieces of gravel grew larger and larger until they appeared as small boulders next to my eyes. Warm fluid oozed under my forehead, and then a deep-purple stream slid over the field of boulders like a glacier. I should have been horrified, but it was the most peaceful place I’d ever been.
Two curious lambs wandered over and licked my ears. I laughed because it should have tickled, but there was no sound. I heard a farmer yell, “Get away from there, Daisy and Millie.” He crossed the road and stood over me rubbing the grey hair of his chest-length beard. “Hmmmm, one of them there guys who thinks he’s Forrest Gump,” he mused.
Suspended in this ethereal state, I screamed, “It’s about the quality of life, Pops!” but he couldn’t hear a word.
A police car pulled up on the side of the road and an older officer with a large belly hanging over his belt squeezed out from behind the wheel and said, “What’a we got here, Cliff?” His partner, a kid who looked to be about seventeen, big ears the only thing keeping his hat from falling down over his face, walked from the passenger’s side.
“Daisy and Millie wandered away and found this here runner in a heap.” The farmer tilted his head, cupped his hand behind his ear. “Sounds like that there thing in his ears is still playing.”
“He’s streaming music,” said the young officer.
“I know it’s screamin’, but that ain’t music.”
“Streaming,” the kid corrected him. He shook his head, and looked to be suppressing a laugh. “Never mind.”
“You know how to turn one of those things off, Eddie?” asked the chubby officer.
Eddie bent down and pulled the pod from my left ear.
“Ironic,” Eddie mumbled.
“What’s ironic?” asked the older cop.
“Walk. The Foo Fighters.”
“You got a lot to learn, young man. The guy was obviously running. And what’s this about a food fight?”
By the expression on Eddie’s face, he seemed to understand the absurdity of his boss’s remark, and figured it was futile to make a case that my final act was in the middle of my favorite scene. “Forget it.”
“Does he have identification?” asked the older officer.
“Not that I can see,” said the farmer. The officer stooped down, balancing himself on his sausage-shaped fingers and patted the pocket of my running shorts.
“Watch my ass, you perv,” I yelled. I was beginning to enjoy the entertainment value of being invisible. I’d never yelled at a cop.
There was a time I’d joke with my kids that I wanted to have “the big one” in the middle of a run, and then John Kelly, the Olympic oarsman, dropped dead one morning while running in downtown Philly and lay anonymously in a hospital morgue for most of the day. That’s when I wrote down instructions in case something like that ever happened to me. Not that I’m morbid, but because I’m a writer and that’s the kind of shit writers do when they get bored — or at least I did one day when my screen was blank. Too bad I didn’t tell anyone where I left the file. I named it IFWID (Instructions for When I Die.) If anyone cracks the code, it will be Jason and Carley, my grandkids.
There’s nothing in the instructions about possessions. Let the family figure out how to divvy the stuff up. Probably buy a few cases of beer and play friz-beer for them. Damn, I’m gonna miss that game. But I hope like hell they find the instructions before the wake because I want a keg of Guinness next to the casket. I left word for the kids to tell ridiculous stories, make outrageously inappropriate remarks, and laugh heartily as they mimic my idiosyncrasies, just like old times. And then at the cemetery, I want cases of those tall black cans with the little balls inside that give the stout a good head so everyone can throw their empties into the grave before I’m lowered into the ground — a suitable mattress for eternity.
That shouldn’t be too much to ask — a celebration at the end of a long run.
Jim Brennan writes essays, nonfiction and short stories from Bucks County, PA. His work has appeared in Salon.com, Fringe, Still Crazy Lit, American Fitness and many others. His first book, Twenty-four Years to Boston, a memoir based on the marathon, will be published by St. Johann Press in 2013, and he is in the query process for a short story collection about blue-collar culture titled Once A Welder. He is a member of the Bucks County Writer’s Workshop.
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