Running The Race
The battery-powered candle sat innocuously beside the fancy “glass-look” storage jars on the kitchen counter. Richard glanced at it, then looked for a moment at the refrigerator festooned with notes, rules, and laws.
“I’m sure you’ll be happier now.” His mother spoke as if she talked to a five year old. Richard hadn’t been five for over thirty years. He glanced down at his hands. They looked like they weren’t quite right.
“Are you OK, Rich?” asked another feminine voice. Richard didn’t look at her – she sat at the far end of the table, fancy fingernails flashing in the sunlight that streamed through the kitchen window. That was Sandy, always willing to keep Richard in line. Richard thought about it.
“Richard, your sister asked you a question!” His mother’s voice was taking on that edge he hated. His hands held his attention for another moment.
“Do you have my wedding ring?” he asked, looking suddenly up into his mother’s face. She wore far too much makeup. Had ever since his father had died eight years ago in a late night single car crash. She looked like a hooker.
“Richard,” she said with exasperation, “you haven’t been married for five years!”
“But my ring is gone,” he observed without heat. “Do you have it? I’m sure I had it before.”
“We gave you everything we found in your old apartment, Rich. Everything that came out of storage is here!”
“That’s not true,” he said, looking at his hands. He could see where the ring had been.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sandy asked with a sneer.
“Sandy, we’re not supposed to get Richard upset. Just remember.”
“Richard, if you mean those weird books…they got sold. We sold the books and CDs to pay your rent, remember. You signed the papers!”
“Did I? I guess so. I signed a lot of papers, didn’t I?” No one answered.
“Look, ” said Sandy, “are you OK? I have to pick up the kids.”
He remembered the answer. Someone on the fifth floor had told him, “You’re always doing better. Always!”
“Yeah. I’m doing fine. I’m happier.” He grimaced a smile at her, while his thumb and forefinger twiddled the spot where his wedding ring should be.
“Well, That’s good. Remember we have all the phone numbers right here on the refrigerator. The crisis hotline, your doctor’s office, my number, Sandy’s number….”
His mother went on pointing out the help on the refrigerator. Med schedule. The parish priest-HER parish priest, the rental office and rules.
In the meantime Sandy rose without a word and walked down the short hall.
Bathroom, he thought. This place wasn’t set up like his other apartment. Instead of flush there came a blast of static from down the hallway.
“I’m not used to a TV without a remote control!” Sandy laughed from the tiny living room. “I put something on the tube to keep you company.”
Oprah’s voice floated down the hallway saying, “I see. And so when this happens do you call the police or just…”
` “Well dear,” said Richard’s mother, “I think this is going to work out really well. Such a nice part of town, right on the bus route. I’ll call. And don’t forget, your group meets Thursday night. That’s tomorrow!”
“That’s quite a story,” Oprah was saying, “and in a minute we’ll ersquirk”. Richard sighed as the TV picture shrank to nothing. He watched TV only in emergency.
There was one sad bookcase in the living room, the shelves filled with books he’d left at home when he moved out the first time. All the rest – the metaphysics, the oriental poetry, the books on black holes and the origin of the universe – were gone. He pulled out his worn paperback copy of Heinlein’s Red Planet.
As he walked toward the bedroom he opened his other hand, unrolled the twenty dollar bill. “Here’s something for you,” his sister had said as she smothered him with a perfume-laden kiss on the cheek and tucked the bill in his hand. Then she had squeezed his shoulder.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to run the race this time, Rich. I know you have it in you!” she’d said. He shook his head slowly. He knew he ought to be grateful. Instead he felt she wanted something he couldn’t give. He threw the cash on the top of his bureau and changed his shirt to get rid of the perfume. Then he switched on the light and lay down on the bed to read.
Richard’s mother called. Twice. First she reminded him that there were “plenty of those good budget dinner thingies” in the freezer, and be sure to eat, and the second time to be sure he had taken his meds.
The first time it was just as well that she called, because the reading was going really slow.
It frustrated him to have one of his favorite books be so difficult to read. The meds fogged everything, even good words.
Not tonight, but soon, he’d get on with things. He didn’t want to run a race. He wanted to study mysteries and learn about souls. He wanted to know that life was about something, that there was more to it than waking up alone and shaking in the night.
Copyright 1995, 2017 by Steve Miller
From Dream Again, a Journal of Spirituality & Madness, Volume 1, Number 1, July 1995, Edited by Ed Cooper & Quinn D. Rossander