The woman opened the door of the car, checking her watch before removing it and placing it in the glove compartment. She adjusted her loose gray shorts, pulling them up slightly, feeling the gentle breeze of the sunny afternoon on her naked white thighs. She hooked the small white Ipod onto the waist band of the shorts and she pulled the small headphones to her ears. She took out the keys, making sure the key chain was tightly hooked into a metal loop on the Ipod. Then she stepped outside and locked the car. Tall trees lined up the edge of the street, where a long line of cars was parked, one after the other in a train of shiny bright colors. She looked up at the thick brown branches that shivered softly in the wind, at the shadows that made dark spider webs around the translucent pillars of sunshine, and then at the cars that passed by behind her, some eager to find a parking spot like hers, some just passing through on their way elsewhere. She heard the songs of the birds coming through the shivering branches, lilting high melodies that sounded like little chimes against the continuous noise of honking, rumbling motors and people talking in the distance. She looked down at herself, at her bright white body that was partially revealed by the skimpy outfit she was wearing. She smiled, knowing that not too long ago she had been terrified to be seen like this. Now she was getting used to it. She stretched, pulling one foot back, up to her buttocks, then the other. She reached down to touch her toes over the sneakers. The tips of her fingers just barely grazed the rubber that covered her toes. An elderly couple, both crowned with bright white silver hair, walked by slowly and looked at her momentarily. She looked back and smiled in an attempt at friendliness but they had already looked away. She jogged in place for a moment, took a deep breath, looked at the long sidewalk ahead of her, turned on the Ipod and started to run.
A loud rock song came on, bristling with fiery dissonance and loud drumming. She felt her heart starting to race, from the sound of the music and the movement of her body. The first moments were always a shock to her system and she tried to breath as calmly as she could manage. She ran around a man pulling a cart full of gardening tools. Then she ran around two blonde girls who were busy trying to decide where to go, looking at a booklet and then pointing in all directions. The singer came on and he sang of actions that never stopped, of never giving up, of always moving forward, of never surrendering. The words faded into each other within her, but as they echoed within the dark halls of her haunted mind, she ran faster. The trees were becoming a blur around the edges of her vision and she could feel a thin layer of hot sweat forming over her soft skin. The discolored mark around her finger, the place where the ring had been, started to itch like it always did. She did her best to ignore it. She avoided a bicycle that was speeding towards her and she ran a little faster. As the chorus came on, there was a very loud chord and then the singer screamed with intensity and she almost jumped with enthusiasm. Everything was going to be alright. The singer said, the sunlight confirmed it and her body was vibrating with the clear knowledge.
She came to the busy intersection where she always turned, and she rain in place while the first cars passed by ahead of her. With her open hand, she thanked the next driver for stopping as she ran in front of him, across to the other side. She ran by the big open plaza where all the people were gathered and there was very little refuge from the sun. She ran in front of the tall dark brown modern museum where some young people were sitting on the grass in circles, talking and laughing. Other museum visitors were coming and going, moving in smaller units of two or three. The loud chord of the chorus rang again in her ears and she smiled triumphantly. 'So many years of waiting. So many years of putting things off.' As the guitar solo blasted through the headphones, she ran past a black sculpture. A couple were leaning against it, holding hands. They looked strong and tough, the kind of kids she would have stayed away from, back when she was younger. But in this world of loud guitars and half naked running, she felt no fear of their rejection. Instead, she felt a kind of indescribable sympathy and she wanted to reach across the empty gap that separated them as strangers, just to let them know that everything was alright. Everything had always been alright.
The song ended as she reached the main northern road of the large city park. She ran in place for a few moments, waiting for a few cars to pass by. Then she crossed the street running. Her finger was itching more and her whole body was hot and sweaty. Her mouth was starting to hang open and she had begun to gasp for breath. An Asian couple was sitting on a bench, eating a sandwich. They looked up at her momentarily then looked back down at their food. She turned left, just a few feet away from them and then a new song came on. This one was slower and it spoke of heartbreak. She had the impulse to turn it off, to fast forward it to another one. Her hand even sneaked its way to the waistband of the gray shorts but it just came to rest on the white surface of the Ipod. It was a good song. She would let it play. She kept on running as the new singer told of lost loves and sad nights of loneliness. Images of past sunny days came to her in a wave of unbidden daydreams. She could suddenly see him next to her, both of them walking hand in hand through the dirt paths of the park, laughing and kissing and talking and kissing some more, as if the day could never end, as if the path would go on forever. She shook her head and leaned it forward, focusing her eyes on the sidewalk ahead and forcing herself to run faster. But her body was getting very tired and she was actually slowing down. A couple of women in stylish short dresses and tall high heels walked by her, their heads leaning back in a sign of unspoken arrogance, their hips shifting back and forth rhythmically in a show of elegance and poise. She tried purposefully to avoid their gaze. She could feel the heavy sadness coming over her, like a dark cloud of dreams and memories. She imagined that the sadness was now painted on her face like a thick layer of badly applied make up. The two looked at her and quickly said something to each other. She turned away and kept on running, trying to forget the movement of their lips. It was as if they knew, as if she truly was naked in front of them, as if her skimpy, sweaty running outfit couldn’t hide the sad little misfit underneath. She had the impulse to return to the car right then, to drive back home quickly and sit in her room with all the lights turned down. But she was already past the halfway point. It would be just as far to go back one way as it was to finish what she had started. So she simply kept on running, trying to resist the grimace that was slowly taking hold of her face, trying to ignore that she now was feeling weak, slow, fat and ugly. The song ended with a slow melancholic piano and just as the soft little chords trickled out of the small headphones, she could see the bench where once she had sat with him, back in the days when every joke out of his mouth was the funniest thing possible, back when every move she made was a delight in his eyes. She fought the impulse to simply stop and look, to indulge in bright memories that would only sink her deeper into darkness. Instead, she leaned forward once again, feeling the thick drops of sweat sliding over her forehead, and she began to run faster, faster and faster, as if she could leave the memories behind her in a cloudy trail of dust.
As she saw the overpass in the distance, she heard the sound of fast acoustic guitar strumming and a ragged voice came on, telling of rebirth and renewal. Just then the sun seemed to be brighter and the sky appeared to clear up, as if the shadows that had lifted from her eyes were only reflections of much greater shadows that obscured the sunlight. She looked up at the overpass at the cars flowing by and it all seemed new and strange to her. The sweat was starting to accumulate around her eyes and she felt the sting of its saltiness. She rubbed it away with her right hand and, as she did, a smile grew upon her face. 'I have waited so long. I have lived in the past for so many years.' A girl in a slim bicycle rode past her. The woman greeted her with a nod of her head and she kept on running, under the shadow of the overpass and out the other side. The guitar chords grew louder and, as she ran up the curved little dirt path that turned left back to where she came from, a loud drum set came on and the singer’s voice was strong and thick and fearless. She ran around the curve and past a couple laying down on a towel, kissing under the shadow of a thick brown tree. The woman looked up at her in the middle of kissing, but she looked away, unwilling to hold her gaze, and she concentrated on the path ahead. A little dog ran up with a Frisbee in his mouth followed by a middle aged couple that smiled at her. She smiled back but kept on running. She was too close to the end. She couldn’t allow any more distractions. The song came to an end with the acoustic guitar strumming once again, fading slowly into nothingness.
She turned one last time and arrived at the biggest intersection of her route. Four full lanes of cars drove past her in a rough concert of mechanical noise. Here she ran in place for a while, waiting for the light to change. A young woman, wearing long brown shorts and a beige blouse, stood on the other side, talking on a cell phone. The young woman shook her head a couple of times while she kept on running in place, watching the cars speed by. The light changed and just then, a new song came on, this one full of electronic sounds and fast synthetic drumming. She ran past the young woman with the cell phone and then past a young skinny boy with glasses, who looked at her with a touch of eager curiosity. For a moment she wandered if she was attractive to him or if he simply looked at everyone. The music exploded her thoughts into ribbons of light and she let them trail behind her, like the tail of a comet, as she just kept on running, even faster than before. Her final goal was within sight. Her finger was itching more than ever but she kept her eyes on the sidewalk ahead, making sure she didn’t have a final stumble over an unfortunate crack in the pavement. There was a playground on her left and the constant beats of the music in her ears made the bright colors of the play structures seem like skinny dancing giants. Her face and body were now completely covered in sweat. She could feel it running under her clothes and forming large wet spots under her armpits and under her breasts. She pictured herself looking terrible. But she laughed it off and ran straight towards her car. He was gone and he would never come back. Like the people that she had just ran past in her little running route, he was just another stranger, someone to greet and nod to, someone to talk to for a few moments, someone to kiss and love and then say goodbye. And then the route continued and she could not stop moving. She just had to keep on running.
As she arrived at the waiting car, the electronic beats were winding down. She turned off the Ipod and took out her keys. The circle was complete. Some moments had been hard, some moments had been easy. But all the moments put together added up to a completed route, and the sense of completion overcame the individual instants of hardship like loud distorted guitar chords overwhelming the soft sadness of a little piano. She stepped into the car and turned on the ignition. As she turned her head to look for incoming cars, she saw a couple walking by on the sidewalk, hand in hand, lost in each other's attention. She looked away from them, purposefully avoiding the thoughts that their presence carried for her. She wiped some more sweat from her eyes and rolled the car into the street slowly. It was enough for today. He was gone but his shadow still remained. Maybe the sun could never be bright enough to erase it. It was a question that would not be answered today. Tomorrow she would run again.