A sweet and savage feeling

Late afternoon they crossed a road that ran to the south and in the evening they reached Johnson’s Run and camped at a pool in the otherwise dry gravel bed of the watercourse and watered the horses and hobbled them and turned them out to graze. They built a fire and skinned out the rabbit and skewered it on a green limb and set it to broil at the edge of the fire. John Grady opened his blackened canvas campbag and took out a small enameled tin coffeepot and went to the creek and filled it. They sat and watched the fire and they watched the thin crescent moon above the black hills to the west.
-Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Late afternoon on Wednesday I set off at a trot from the Institute for Social Research on Thompson Street where Caroline works. My legs were stiff from hours at my desk and I could still feel yesterday’s run in my quadriceps. It was also hot. The digital sign in front of Tappan Middle School had flashed 94 degrees when we’d driven by just a few minutes earlier.

As I ran away from the ISR and turned onto Maynard Street I saw out of the corner of my eye Caroline and the boys pull away from the curb. I felt a tingle of panic in the base of my stomach, just like I always do in this part of the day: The only way I’m getting home is if I run.

Earlier that afternoon, after they’d woken up from their naps, the boys and I had stopped at Whole Foods on our way to get Caroline. The previous night we’d made pesto for dinner but, as it had turned out, the basil plant in our backyard had only enough leaves to make sauce for one night. So now we had to supplement. We walked into the supermarket and Jay made to pull a cart out of the corral.

We don’t need one I told him.
Why not?
Because we’re only getting one thing.
What are we getting?
Pesto.

I observed myself saying “pesto” out loud in the entryway to Whole Foods and laughed. Later, in front of the display case, I said I wanted the artichoke and lemon pesto but Jay said he wanted the roasted red pepper pesto. Didn’t he know that roasted red peppers went out of style in the ‘90s? In a flash it seemed important that I show Jay that his choices matter, too. I put the artichoke pesto back on the shelf and laughed at myself again.

Two miles in my running route swings by Burns Park, which is where Caroline takes the boys before we reconvene for dinner. I don’t run with my glasses on which means that for an hour each day the world becomes soft-edged and indistinct. I tried to remember what color shirt Caroline had been wearing when she’d left the house that morning. As I ran by the park I spotted a slender figure in black and waved on faith. Bolstering my case was a small blob of orange at her feet: Wally in his shorts.

For the first 20 minutes of the run I felt fresh but after that the humid air began to press on me. The hot weather had seemed novel earlier in the day when I’d been sitting in the shade on our porch with a glass of iced water. But now, as I turned into County Farm Park and began to climb the first rise in the dirt trail, the heat took on a more pernicious edge. By the crest of the hill I was breathing hard and for a moment I slowed nearly to a walk. After a few strides my legs reengaged and I sped forward down the path.

When I go running I feel further away from Jay and Wally than I do at any other time in the day. This is a literal truth (we spend most of our days in the same house) but the feeling isn’t merely a reflection of distance. Often when I get home from a run Jay runs out the front door before I’m even up the driveway. When I see him I’m filled with the sad feeling of having gone away to do something he’s not old enough to understand.

But on Tuesday I pulled up panting in front of our house and the garage was empty. The house was locked and I’d left my keys next to my glasses in the front console of the car. Caroline and the boys shouldn’t be long now.

A couple minutes after I’d stopped running my face still felt like it had been bludgeoned with a frying pan. I stepped across the row of hastas that lines our driveway and took a seat against the house and opened the copper spigot that protruded from the brick: The water rushed out as if from a dam break. Then I picked up a pink plastic beach bucket, filled it beneath the torrent and dumped it on my head.

I sat like that, filling the bucket and dumping it, gasping each time the water struck my scalp. Then I drank from the pail and loved the way the water filled my mouth and streamed down my cheeks. It wasn’t living on the frontier, but it also wasn’t the same as a glass of water.

Leave a Reply