RUNNING SHAME: a novel

Staging Area Behind the Starting Line of the San Francisco Marathon, January 6th, 1992.

Fog lingered off the northern California coast like a thick layer of slowly melting cappuccino foam. A long line of runners snaked across the Golden Gate. The City of San Francisco, wreathed by cottony clouds, made a cameo where the bridge met the shore. 

High on a bluff of the Marin headlands, Fritz Severson rapped his fist on one in a long line of portapotties lined up behind the starting line. “Everything OK in there, Ted?” he said, while at the same time shrugging at his camcorder-wielding wife.

“Seven thirty three. January fifth, nineteen ninety two,” said Zelda, narrating the non-exclusive race day coverage of her prodigal.

Turning, Fritz filled up the frame before suddenly leaving it as he leaned close and whispered in Zelda’s ear, “I told him not to eat all those prunes…didn’t I?”

“Whatever,” she whispered. “Now get out of the frame, you’re ruining my shot.”

The image quality was not very good, and the ambitious plans she’d been making were scrapped before the sun shone through the haze of the scattered clouds. Straightforward shots combined with some whiz-bang narration would have to do.

“Starting line of the San Francisco Marathon. Wait a second. There’s a message being transmitted to my wisdom tooth’s gold filling about the whereabouts of one Theodore Severson, a first timer when it comes to 26 point 2.”  

 Ted’s father pounded his temples with his fists, frustrated at the disrespect he believed he was being shown by his son and then, on top of that, his wife Zelda. Unable to control himself, he stepped back into the frame and pounded on the portapotties, screaming.

“What good does it do us to come and watch you run the race if you don’t run?” And still the portapottie door remained closed to him. “Theodore, get your ass out here and run the goddamn race!”

“Jesus Christ,” Ted screamed through the vents of the plastic crapper. “I’m wiping!”

Watching her husband pull at his hair and tear his clothing as if his first born had just been sacrificed on the altar of some Aztec butcher king, Zelda realized a star was being born right before her very eyes. Her husband didn’t need to be given some stilted dialogue or overwritten script; his desperation was acute and his overacting was real. He hadn’t ruined anything really, and she’d inadvertently recorded it all!

Pressing her advantage, Zelda adjusted herself to the part of impartial documentarian and trained the camera on the man she’d married. “So, I get the idea you think this late start is the result of too many prunes… is that right?”

Fritz pivoted toward Zelda and poked his finger at the lens she had shoved in his face. “Why you…the nerve,” he sotto voced. “You did this to him! I told you to take it easy on those goddamn prunes!” He spun back to the portapottie and pounded his fists on the door again. “You’re going to miss the whole damn race, you dumb bastard!”

The deadbolt on the portapottie shot from OCCUPIED to UNOCCUPIED and out jumped Ted, letting the heavy spring-loaded door slam behind him.

“Who says I can’t qualify for Boston?” he exclaimed. “I just lost 20 pounds!” 

“You won’t qualify for this race if you don’t hurry up!” said Fritz, pointing him toward the starting line. 

“Right,” said Ted. “Thanks!”

Ted laughed at his mother and leaned in to kiss the camcorder lens. “Arrebaderchi, mamma!”

“I told you not to eat those prunes!” screamed Fritz.

 Zelda panned the road her son ran down, winding toward the bridge that was nearly runner-free now. Fritz had been prescient. The police were just about to open up the lanes again to automobile traffic. Ted slipped passed the orange cones and yellow cordons just as they were being struck. 

“There he goes” said Zelda. “Just in time.”

The wind came in cold off the ocean, numbing their cheeks. The Golden Gate Bridge reflected orange and bronze in the dance of light and fog. Zelda ended the scene with a panoramic shot of the city, the eastern faces of its iconic buildings bright with sun, as the swells on the bay twinkled like stars.