Barefoot

My mother-in-law clipped an article from the Boston Globe the other day and passed it on to me.  It was about running barefoot.  A local group of runners swear by it.  The article quoted some  runners who were experiencing pain in sneakers and are now running barefoot and pain-free.  Reading that article brought back memories of my younger days as a runner, when night time was the right time, when I had no gear and bare feet were the best thing to run in, when I had so much energy I didn’t know what to do with myself other than run it off.  There was a time when… and there was a boy…

My feet slap the surface of the street, over and over, the thwuck- thwuck  of my soles echoing with each step.  The street lights are on, and as I run under each one I see my shadow approach me, then disappear.  The road is lumpy, the tar mixed with small stones and bits of smooth glass,and I can feel them first under the balls of my feet, then under my  toes when I dig into each step.  The bottoms of my feet are thick and black, like the pads on the feet of a dog.

Tonight I am wearing a very short tank dress with just a pair of white cotton panties underneath.  I run with my hair down, and it bounces upon my back, landing at my waist each time and brushing my elbows.

Soon I am far from the house on the corner of Nashua Street in Oak Bluffs, where my friend Amy and her seven housemates live together this summer.  Rita, a friend from off-island, is still there, slumped in an old tattered armchair in the living room, either asleep or passed out.  As I tried to slip out the back door, Javier, the sexiest of Amy’s housemates had called out to me.

“Adonde vas?”

“Just out.”

“Por que?”

“I’m going for a run.”

“Ahora?  Es las una!”

“I know it’s one o’clock.  But I’m still wide awake.  I have too much energy.  I gotta go.”

“No.  No.  Vienes conmigo!”

He gestured with his left hand, sweeping his arm toward his bedroom door.

“No, Jav.”

“Pero tus zapatos!”

“I don’t need my shoes.  See?”

I turned one foot up, then the other for inspection.

“No zapatos.  Hasta luego.”

“Yeah.  See you later.”

I turned and went out into the darkness.

It’s hard to see, and I’m still a little drunk from partying with Amy and and the housemates.  I had tripped on the front walk, but once I hit the street, I was fine.

I run and run, almost to Vineyard Haven along the dark roads.  My head is filled with leaving, although I have been gone for more than a year.  I think about the boy I left, who really left me first but then changed his mind.  I think about my family I left, and am running so fast and hard that each breath is a gasp.  I am far beyond the streetlights.  There is no moon.  The tiny stones in the pavement glow enough to show the road.  No cars pass, no lights are on in any of the houses I pass.

I loop around in the middle of the street and stop for a moment, feeling the smooth white stripe of paint marking the center, and head back toward Amy’s.  I am running slower now, my breath comes in long, even pulls.  There is a rhythm in the running and the breathing, and I am sober.  My mind slips into a peaceful silence.  Before I reach the streetlights I hear another runner.  I peer ahead into the darkness and see a faintness of white flashing on the ground, falling into my rhythm.

“Que tal?  Vienes a casa?  Tienes hambre?  Maria is cooking breakfast.”

Javier, hero of the night, has come to find me.  He pivots and falls in step with me, our strides long and slow.  We run in silence.  We reach the streetlights, turn to each other, and grin.  At once, we break stride and sprint, our steps now leaps, our arms pumping fast and hard.  I can barely breath.  I am churning up the street beside Javier.  I shout out.

“Stop!”

And we do.  Tumbling and laughing, we fall into each others arms.  We are damp with sweat and the night’s thick, salty ocean air.   We stand together outside the house, our breath coming in ragged, panting gasps mingled with laughter and I feel good.  My mind has stopped its nonsense, I am exhausted, and although by no means am I in love with Javier, I like him very much. He is an avid fan of me- the dancer, the runner, the girl who is not afraid to throw up in front of him, the one who laughs as easily as she cries.  Javier kisses me and I kiss him back.

He pulls me into the darkened living room, and Rita still sits slumped in the chair.  She snores loudly, and I put my hand over my own mouth to stifle a giggle.  We tip-toe past her and into the kitchen.  Maria sits at the oak table.  Her eyes are bloodshot, her short blonde curls a tangled mess framing her pretty, round face.

“Hey.  Where did you guys go?”

“Just for a run.  Javier said you were making breakfast.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Here.”

She pushes a plate across the table toward us.   Little, brown, odd-shaped bites are each stuck with a toothpick.  I notice a skillet on the stove and a strong animal smell.

“What’s this?”

“Chicken livers.  Love ’em!”

She grabs a toothpick and holds it up, wiggling the brown liver in front of my face.

“Here.  Try one!”

My eyes grow round and I take a step backward, turning my head.  Javier is grinning like a maniac.

“Come on.  Eat it!”

“Oh, ah, no thanks. ”

Maria squints up at me, still waving the chicken liver, which is not centered on the toothpick and twirls by itself to gain balance.  Her eyes are so bloodshot and blue all at once that I stare and forget the liver for a second.  Javier sees his chance and grabs the liver from the toothpick.  He stuffs it into his mouth.

“Gross, Jav.  Don’t eat that!  It’s a liver!”

Maria looks hurt.

“I love these.  I sauteed ’em in garlic.  My mom used to make them for me all the time.  I wanna share them with you guys.  Come on.”

She drops her head, and the toothpick falls from her hand onto the table.  She leans forward, folds her arms across her chest, and pouts.

“Thanks, Maria, but I don’t eat meat.  I thought you might be making pancakes or toast or something.  Breakfast.  Where’s Amy, anyway?”

“Who cares?”

She looks up again, the bright light form the chandelier once more  illuminating those eyes.

“I’ll eat ’em all myself.”

“I’m sorry Maria.”

Javier puts his hand on Maria’s shoulder.

“I like theeese.  Leeevers.  Bueno.”

He pops another one into his mouth and I watch him chew, his dark eyes unfocused, his full lips glistening from the oil on the meat.  He reaches for my hand and pulls me close to him, but the smell of the liver on his breath turns my stomach, makes me turn my cheek when he tries to kiss me.

“I’m gonna go wake Rita and take her home.”

“She’s out.  Duerma.  Tiene sueno.   Vienes conmigo.”

“Sorry, Jav.  I’m not coming with you, cute as you are.  You just ate chicken livers.  Ugh.  But thanks for the run. Thanks for finding me.  Now go have your breakfast. I’m going to find my shoes and go home.”

I gently push him back to the kitchen, Maria, and the glistening plate.

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