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James Graham / Fiction

The Runner

My sex life could be summed up simply. I would enter the bedroom where my wife lay with her face turned away from the lamp. "Should I turn out the light?" I'd ask, standing next to the bed in my underwear. "Yeah, I'm pretty sleepy," she'd say, and then pull the covers up over her head. I'd have to make an appointment. There would be no more spontaneous romps late into the night, no more standing behind her in the kitchen, hands grasping the counter, legs shaking from fatigue. Nope. I let all that slip away, and I knew why. Work. Long hours spent sitting in front of a computer watching numbers calculate behind colorful graphics that could entertain the mind of a three-year-old. And what did I have to show for it? I'll tell you. A little roll of fat. A fleshy ring the size of a kid's bicycle tube that went all the way around my waist, looping down in front and back up over my hips.

Even the fog that covered the bathroom mirror in the morning could not hide the truth. I turned to the side to check my profile and was disgusted. My stomach stuck out further than my chest! Weak muscles let organs bulge out like trash in a 3-ply garbage bag. How did this happen? I thought. How did I let myself go like this? And do you know what topped it off? A head of thinning hair. Hair sprouted from my nose and ears as quickly as it disappeared from the top of my head.

One morning, after realizing all this, I walked naked into the kitchen. Beverly was taking a plate of pancakes out of the oven. She always made us a big breakfast. Maybe that was one of my problems. "Look at me," I said. "I'm a wreck." She turned and ran her eyes up and down the front of me. "You are sagging a bit Jack." She came over with the plate of pancakes in her hand and gave me a weak kiss. "I still love you, though." Then she looked me up and down again. "I think," she said, and laughed. My wife was mocking me! But could I blame her? What the hell could I do?

As I sat there mopping up the syrup I tried to figure out what happened. I'd always been thin. I had come to rely on that. In high school I passed up football and went out for the track team. I certainly never worried about being fat. I was a skinny. I would never be a beefy muscle-bound hunk and over time I learned to accept that. Oh there were times when it bothered me. I remember standing in front of the mirror in the privacy of my college dorm room, thin as a stick in my jockey shorts. My roommate, a second string man on the lacross team, stood next to me in his boxers, his barrel chest a tangle of dark hair covering two solid mounds. "Look at how skinny I am," I said. "It's embarrassing."

"You've got a swimmer's build, Jack, that's all."

"You think so?"


I took a deep breath and pumped out my chest. "I guess," I said. I knew he was only trying to be nice.

I went to the University gym a few times after that but only to be humiliated. I had to remove all the heavy weights from the barbells before doing bench presses. I carried them one at a time, straining to place them in their storage rack before lying down on that sticky slimy bench pad where I would stare up at the bar and the two measly weights clamped to either side. Without fail, some gigantic beast would bend over me with a smirk on his face. "You want me to spot?"

I didn't stick at it for long. And now here I was, years later, disgusted once again. My puny chest and sagging gut had put me in a state of despair. I had gone completely soft. It was pathetic. I couldn't let myself go. I had to do something. Thirty-three years old wasn't the end. I could still have it, couldn't I?

As I sat sipping my coffee that morning, I resolved to change. I decided on a regimen. Not too much to start --I didn't want to overdo it and get discouraged. No. I would do twenty push-ups and forty sit-ups, and then go for a run. And not every morning. Every other morning so I could give my body a day inbetween for recouping.

I put my coffee mug back down on the table with a bang. It rattled the silverware and I jumped a little.

"You okay Jack?" my wife said, her eyebrows raised high on her forehead.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry."

That first week was tough. Let me tell you. My muscles hurt every day and I hated rising early. I was used to sleeping until the last possible minute before getting ready for work. In the old days, Bev and I would lie in bed waiting, hoping the other one would get up and make the coffee. But with my new program, that changed. Now I was the one who made the coffee --just part of the routine. I'd be out the door in my sneakers and shorts before my wife was even out of bed. And by the second week I noticed a difference. I was becoming a new person. The bicycle tube was still there around my waist but my chest was starting to poke out the slightest bit --I could just see it. And my stomach started to pull in too. I increased the push-ups and sit-ups to thirty and fifty. My plan was succeeding.

Before long things were changing in the bedroom too. I was having sex with my wife again. Even in the morning, as I pulled on my running shorts, she would say, "Come back to bed. I'm lonely." And let me tell you, it was a challenge not to put that early-morning boner to use. But I had a schedule to keep! "Maybe tonight," I'd say and scamper off with the energy of a teenager. She told me to be careful. "You could hurt yourself with all this running," she said. But didn't she see what it was doing? I was becoming a man half my age! "Maybe you should do a little exercise yourself," I said. "It wouldn't kill you." The fact was that Beverly had a little belly. It didn't look bad on her but I thought she might look better without it. "Okay runner boy," she said. "I'll catch up with you in a minute." She pulled the covers back over her head and mumbled something. I didn't care. I was becoming a new man with or without her, I thought.

And the best part of the new me was the running. Oh running! I had forgotten how wonderful it was gliding along through the morning air --clean and fresh before the commuter traffic choked it with exhaust fumes. I heard birds peeping and tittering, getting their dibs in before jackhammers and delivery trucks made a mockery of their tiny voices. I was fascinated with the birds. I nearly forgot they existed. In the park I would see them swoop and flit across the green field. Blue Jays and Cardinals! Who ever heard of such birds in the city? I felt as if I had been let in on a secret known only to early morning joggers and dog-walkers. We were a separate lot. A private club. The park was a green jewel in the middle of a sprawling urban disaster.

That place had a small town feel in early morning hours. I would see the same people trotting around in their jogging suits every day, and I nodded to them as I ran by. "Good morning Mr. Blue," I'd say to myself. "Hello Mrs. Black." I made up names for the people I saw regularly: Mrs. Black, Joey Chin, Fat Frank. I would catch myself sometimes, ready to call out to them. In my mind they became old friends. And every once in a while, a new person would show up. I'd check out their style to see if I liked them. I was a runner from way back, you know. I knew how to do it. Stretch out your stride. Run heel to toe. Don't bounce. You expend too much energy going up and down. All your energy should be driving you forward. And don't tense-up. Keep your muscles relaxed, don't strain. Pick your arms up on the uphill grade.

I was getting serious. And with my newfound confidence I increased the mileage from three to four. I drove my car around the park to check the distance with the odometer. The marathon was in the fall, maybe I would sign up. Imagine. The marathon. What an accomplishment!

That's right, Bev, I'm a runner again, I thought. In three weeks I was up to four miles every other day and eight miles on Saturday. I moved steadily along, chewing-up joggers and spitting them out like sticks of gum that don't hold their flavor. Saturdays my progress was especially evident. Everyone was in the park then. The weekend wanna-bees invaded our small town paradise, prancing around in their new running shoes or whizzing by on their mountain bikes. They squirted spring-water into their mouths and over their faces like they'd seen athletes do on TV. How pathetic. And when one of these so-called weekend warriors sprinted by me? I didn't mind. "You'll see," I said to myself. And sure enough, a hundred yards ahead, I'd glide by as they walked along with a slight limp, holding their side where a cramp had tied their muscle into a knot, pulling and twisting their spirit into a noose of humiliation. Hah!

And then one day SHE appeared. I got my first glimpse on a Saturday morning as I cruised around the park, dodging the weekend wanna-bees like Al Unser in the Indianapolis 500. There were dozens of pretty women in the park on the weekends, but even the most beautiful held little or no attraction for me. I knew their beauty was only on the surface. Some would even jog with earrings dangling and make-up painted on their faces. Did they think this was alluring? It baffled me. But She was not one of those. I could see that immediately. She was trim and wore a gray sweatshirt and dark blue sweat pants --not stylish, just old sweats. Functional. Her blonde ponytail bounced slightly behind her head, but not a lot. She didn't bounce when she ran; she ran like an athlete. And from the distance, she reminded me of someone. As I ran along in the cool morning air, a pleasant memory seeped in. Jennifer Markham. My first girl.

Jennifer played field hockey for the Munville Warriors and I went to every game. I would sit alone watching the girls run up and down the field, holding that J-shaped stick like an awkward extension of their young bodies, whacking that little white ball across the lawn, their hair flying, their young breasts bobbing and their sturdy thighs pumping under the uniform skirt. I was their biggest fan and she was their star player. The other guys at school didn't want anything to do with the field-hockey players. The fools. Jennifer Markham was beautiful. She could have been a poster-girl for the U.S. Olympic team. A wholesome face dotted with freckles. Green eyes and a little turned up nose. Full breasts and a nice round bottom that danced beneath the dark blue Munville team colors. She noticed me at the games, and one day she approached me as I walked home from school.

"Hey Brown!" she yelled.

She trotted across the street and stopped in front of me, her face flush with an athletic glow.

"Thanks for coming to the games."

"You've got a good team," I said, unable to keep my eyes from dropping to the mounds on her chest that made the 'a' and the 'o' of 'Warriors' poke out on her sweatshirt. "I like watching you guys."

"I know what you like watching," she said smiling.

She had me. There was no hiding it, and I turned red. I remember that I was a little shaken, and started walking towards home, but she stayed right with me.

"Most of the girls aren't into guys," she said.


"Yeah. But not me."

I couldn't believe it. She was making a move. I remember being nervous as hell.

"Yeah?" I said. "How come you don't have a boyfriend?" I had somehow forgotten the fact that I didn't have a girlfriend.

"No one's asked me."


We walked for a minute in dumb silence. A car drove passed.

"Nice Camaro!" she said.

"That's Kenny Shumaker's," I said, knowingly.

"You know him?"

"We hang out all the time," I said. (Kenny Shumaker didn't even know I existed.)

"Where're you going?" She asked.

"Just heading home."

"You want to go up to crooked rock?"

She was a genius! I vividly remember how we ducked into the woods and made our way along the path that led up to a granite out-cropping known as crooked rock. It was there I made my move. I knew it was then or never. We sat on the ledge, tossing acorns down the wooded hill in front of us. She was on my left, waiting. Finally I said, "Hey Jennifer. Look," and pointed to my right. When she looked over, I turned and kissed her smack on the lips. It surprised her but she didn't pull back. Instead she reached around and pulled me against her breasts. I could feel them on my chest and I could feel the erection in my shorts. It hurt like hell because it was pointed in the wrong direction, but she had me in a strong grip and finally pulled me back on top of her. Her mouth tasted of young, sweet breath. I thought I was going to loose it.

"Wait," I said. I rolled off her onto my back and reached to straighten myself out down below.

"Here," she said. "Let me help."

I couldn't believe it. She was unbuttoning my cut-offs! And then my boner popped out into her hand. Her eyes lit up. I don't think she'd ever seen a live one before.

"It's hot," she said, holding onto it.

"Jesus!" I said as the stuff shot out onto her hand. I closed my eyes and lay back. "Oh. God." A mix of pleasure and embarrassment settled in. It was my first time with a woman and I lost it before we even got started.

"Wow!" she said, amazed. She licked a little off her hand.

"It's salty," she said.

She gave my penis a tender kiss as if testing the water, and then let it slip into her mouth. I was speechless. It was just like everything I had read (except for the fact that I was going limp).

"Let me see your tits," I said.

She sat up and pulled her sweatshirt over her head and then reached around back to unclasp her bra. Her breasts spilled out in front of me. She held them in her hands, looking down at them a little shy but with unmistakeable pride. I reached out a trembling hand to feel them, warm and firm. My fingers brushed over the taught nipple and her breath escaped from her mouth in a quiet gasp.

The low afternoon sun glinted through the trees, and birds screeched in the branches overhead. I bent down to take her breast in my mouth. We both froze. Something moved on the forest floor, the sound of rustling leaves. But it was only a squirrel and she guided my head back to her chest. She ran her fingers through my hair and then took my hand and guided it between her legs as my mouth played at her breasts. Her panties were wet under her skirt.

"Wait," she said, and scooted out of them. "There."

She grabbed my hand and placed it between her legs again. I felt the coarse pubic hair and the flesh that it concealed. I was getting excited and my penis got hard against her leg. She started to move her hips a little as I searched with my fingers. We moved together. I was unconscious of my knee scraping against the rock. Bits of skin were being ground into the granite. We locked lips again, panting and gasping for breath and then I felt her shudder. I thought I hurt her because a deep grunt escaped from her throat.

"Are you okay?" I said.

"Huh?" She looked dazed like she just woke up. "Oh. Yeah," she said and blushed.

We were both a mess. My knee was scraped and bleeding and hurt like hell. Her elbow was bruised. There was jism all over her leg and skirt. A breeze came up from the valley giving us goose-bumps. The sun had sunk even lower in the sky.

I buttoned up my shorts, and she smoothed out her skirt. We sat there on the rock avoiding each other's glance.

"I should be getting home," I said finally.

"Yeah, me too. I just hope I don't run into anybody." She was looking at the crusty mess on her skirt, trying to scrape it off.

"Sorry," I said.

"It's okay." She flashed her green eyes at me. "I had fun."

We jumped down off the rock and I remember walking along the wooded path in silence, nervous and holding hands.

When we got to the edge of the woods she said, "You wanna do that again?"

"Tomorrow?" I said.

"Meet me after practice."

During that year, we had sex as often as we could, mostly in the woods but when the weather turned cold we would chance it in my parents' basement, or wherever she baby-sat.

That sweet memory stayed with me the whole weekend. I was horny day and night and made love to my wife to prove it. Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday night.

"What's got into you?" she said smiling.

"I guess all this exercise has been good for the both of us," I said.

"I can't argue with that," she said. "My pussy's been wet for 24 hours straight."

On Monday, the coffee pot gurgled in the kitchen as I laced up my running shoes. I felt strong and invigorated by the sex-filled weekend. I even considered getting some new sneakers. The lateral support was starting to give on these old ones, and if I wasn't careful, I'd end up twisting my ankle. I stretched in the living room and then went out into the morning air.

The sky was overcast and a few drops of rain fell, but not enough to keep me inside. Monday was a four mile day, and I had a good pace set as I entered the park a half mile from my house. There was no one in sight. I thought the weather was keeping the regulars at home, but as I rounded the first turn, I saw Fat Frank huffing and puffing up ahead of me. I caught up to him quickly. "Morning Frank," I said going by.

"Huh?" he grunted.

Shit! What's got into me? I thought! I reminded myself to keep my mouth shut.

The clouds loomed overhead, looking more and more threatening, but I continued on. I wasn't about to let a little rain stop me. After the second turn, a quarter-mile straight-a-way runs alongside the playing fields. I could see far ahead there, and I spied some more familiar faces as I cruised along. And then, about 70 yards ahead, I saw her, the blonde pony-tail bouncing ever so slightly, the gray sweatshirt and blue sweat pants. I chuckled to myself. She had spurred the memory of Jennifer Markham. Now I was eager to catch up with her and get a closer look. I maintained my pace thinking that I would catch her soon.

From that distance, I could see again that she moved like an athlete, and it wasn't long before I realized we were running at about the same pace. Maybe I was closing the gap slightly, my curiosity increasing the speed, but I wasn't catching her soon enough. Those far-flung days with Jennifer Markham played in my mind. She had appreciated my runner's body. I was thin, and not very strong, but I had stamina. She liked being stronger than me. I remembered how she would wrestle me to the ground.

"I'm gonna fuck you silly Brown," she would say, those green eyes looking like gems.

What ever happened to Jennifer Markham?

I kept my eye out for that pony-tail bobbing far ahead. She disappeared around a turn, but now I saw her again. I poured it on so I could get closer. I saw the shape of her buttocks through her baggy sweats and I watched the firm undulations as I ran harder trying to catch up.

The clouds darkened and it was drizzling now. The road was wet. I felt water splashing up on my legs and the rain lightly pelting my face. The air was turning cool. I was breathing heavy.

The runner paced strongly, but I had closed the gap. She was only ten or fifteen yards ahead of me. I thought I caught a whiff of clean-smelling sweat, and my loins throbbed once. She moved with such athletic grace, I couldn't take my eyes off her beautiful behind. I was determined to see the rest of her. I picked up the pace once more, my legs starting to ache and my chest burning a little as it fought for more oxygen.

I came up alongside her. I saw her tiny ear and strands of wet hair plastered against her neck. Her breasts moved in slow rhythm to her pace. Her profile looked vaguely familiar and I saw freckles dotting her cheeks. My God! Could it be?

"Jennifer?" I said out loud.


The stranger turned and looked questioningly. Her young face glowed from exertion and perspiration. I reached out. To grab her? To say hi? I don't know. I was confused. Her expression changed, and I saw terror in her gray eyes. She shot away in a sprint.

"Wait!" I said. I wanted to reassure her, but it was too late. I continued running, unable to keep up as she motored away without looking back.

And then I fell.

My front foot slipped to the side and I came crashing down on the wet and sandy pavement.

"Shit!" I yelled as my knee skidded and my wrist and elbow banged on the hard asphalt. I rolled once, feeling the wet gravely road through my T-shirt. When I came to a stop I was staring into a puddle of water and the reflection of a pained and weary face, fifteen years older than I expected. Even my thinning hair was evident in the reflection. A pack of crows flew over my head, beneath the low clouds. "Rick-rick-rick-rick!" They mocked me as I got slowly to my feet. I began limping along the park road, muddy and wet and in pain, feeling every one of my thirty-three years.


The voice came from behind, and I turned to see Fat Frank lumbering along like an angry bear, coming right toward me.

"Did you say something to me back there?"

He did not look happy.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I thought you were my friend, Frank."

He was standing in front of me now, breathing ferociously, and looking skeptical. His sweatshirt read "UCONN FOOTBALL" and the sleaves had been torn off to reveal arms as thick as my thighs. I believed that one punch could have killed me.

"I'm sorry," I said pleading. "It was a mistake."

"Just watch it buddy," he said, pointing a fat finger. "I've got my eye on you."

He jogged away to my relief.

My body hurt all over. I was a long way from the house. I tried to jog a little but my entire body was in pain. It was raining steady now. Blood trickled down my leg and my wrist throbbed. There were goose-bumps on my arms and I felt chilled. When I finally got home, my wife was already showered and dressed for work.

"What happened to you!?"

She wet a washcloth and told me to sit at the kitchen table and I was happy to oblige. The kitchen was warm from the oven. She had made biscuits.

"You poor thing," she said.

She knelt down and dabbed the washcloth on my damaged knee.


"I'm sorry," she said. "There. Let me get a band-aide."

I watched her walk away into the bathroom, her tight slacks showing off her figure. She came back and bent over to dress the wound. I looked down the neck of her sweater and saw her breasts hanging without a bra. She carefully applied the band-aide and patted it lightly making sure.

When she stood up I lifted her sweater. Pain shot through my wrist and I winced.


"What's the matter?"

"It's my wrist." I said, resting my head against her soft belly.

"I guess I'm going to have to nurse you back to health," she said.

I took one of her breasts into my mouth. "Mmmm hmm."

"Maybe you should call in sick."


"Maybe I should too."


It was late Tuesday morning before either of us thought about work.