MacfarlaneMacfarlane Left the Stick in Joint

Jenny Macfarlane had never run before. She had waddled up the stairs when late for a meeting, cursing and panting. She had sprinted for a bus and then been too puffed to ask for the correct ticket. She had begged her children to stop running through the house when she was trying to dress them, because she couldn’t keep up with them.

But one January morning, Jenny woke up before the children started clamouring for her attention, before her husband could foist his minimalistic love-making on her, before she could start listing her aching and exhausted limbs. She lay awake in the extremely quiet hour between 5 and 6 and allowed herself to dream. That she was young and slim again. That she could see her toes without bending over. That her husband would find her gorgeous and appealing once more, so the morning love blitz might turn into an evening romance.

But Jenny did not leave it just at dreaming. Not for nothing had she been known as Action Woman Macfarlane at her workplace. Or ‘Consider It Done’ Macfarlane. It may have made her stressed, aggressive, overbearing with her husband and unable to have a rich social life or hobbies. But who needs hobbies when you can make partner in your consultancy firm by the age of 35?

But then, just before the deadline, the children had come and no nanny seemed good enough for those treasured bundles. The travel, long hours, after-work drinks and networking suddenly irritated her like a narrow shoe, into which she was bending her toes to the vertical just to fit.

So Action Woman Macfarlane became Action Mum. And somewhere, in-between the baby gym classes, music clubs, coffee mornings spent discussing potty training, her Jenny-ness, her Macfarlane-ness faltered and got lost.

This January morning, however, Action Woman Macfarlane jolted out of her sleeping beauty state. She would exercise in the only way she knew how – running. Running away from the worries, stresses, daily tempers.

She searched the house for her old trainers. They had been bought in an old attempt to go to aerobics classes, and had been stored, unboxed, under a mountain of muddy wellies, boxes and toys she still hadn’t got around to taking to charity. The trainers looked as big and dazzling white as cruise ships, despite their flattened state.

That evening, after the children went to bed, she did not settle down in front of the TV with a glass of wine, as had become her habit of late. She found her husband’s shabby tracksuit bottom, a loose T-shirt, tied her hair back, put the white boats on her feet and set off for a slow jog round the estate.

In her consultancy life, she had used affirmations before, so she decided to try some now. ‘I can do it, I can do it!’ she panted, a Nike swoosh hovering somewhere above her eyes. But then her vision turned red, darting rainbow stars of pain at her eyes, her heart and stomach leapt about uncontrollably and her breath… where was her breath? She hung onto a lamppost for fear of fainting and looked back to see how far she had run. Not even two hundred yards! She waited for her breath to catch up with her mind, then set off again at a pace that seemed like barely shuffling. There! That wasn’t so scary. And with renewed hope, Jenny kept up that slow shuffle for around 20 minutes.

Relief flooded Jenny, together with sweat and exhaustion, as she reached her door. Her face nearly puce with exertion, she dragged her shoes off without untying the laces and collapsed on the sofa.

‘Back already? That wasn’t very long, was it?’ said her husband blithely, unable to unglue his eyes from the TV.

Jenny wept in the shower.

But Action Women do not give up that easily. Over the next few days, she went out running when the children were at nursery, although it was daylight, and more acquaintances might spot her. While out shopping, she sneaked a look into Runner’s World and found an article about the importance of good shoes. Surely if she bought some proper shoes, she could run better. Dare she spend that much money? She shook herself metaphorically. Since when do Action Women care about what husbands might say about superpower gear?

So Jenny found herself in a specialised running shop with handsome young men circling around her, talking about ‘pronation’, ‘gait’ and other terms she could not fathom. She had her foot prodded and measured, drawn on a piece of paper. Every step of hers on a treadmill was broken down and analysed, until she felt like a poor strange creature in a zoo.

An hour later she left in triumph, with a box containing the most outrageous orange/citrus shoes she had ever seen. She hid the box in her wardrobe, under the faux fur boots, and every now and then she would take them out, surreptitiously sniff at the newness of them and caress them.

After a week of contemplation, Jenny finally put them on to run. She still hesitated about calling her awkward shuffle a run, but there was a definite bounce to her step and the shoes seemed to move her along of their own accord.

Over the next two weeks, she become the model goal setter, a shining example to all the self-development books and classes that she had somehow never got around to reading or attending. Her runs were getting longer, she was no longer exhausted, she varied her routes. The orange/citrus shoes, though caked in a greyness that no amount of brushing could quite redeem, became her pride and joy, her baby darlings, never causing any pain or anger.

But it was still January, the heart of flu season. The children’s sniffles became her own, only bigger. Headaches and lethargic limbs followed. But she heard one of the other Mums saying how much she admired Jenny’s sheer energy and persistence. She was probably referring to fundraising efforts on behalf of the school, but Jenny took heed. She dare not stop running.

Her husband still looked mildly amused as he tripped over muddy running shoes in the hall, but he never queried. Until the day when he found a strange-looking £26.50 amount on the credit card bill.

‘What’s this, baby? Do you know any shop by the name Netbanx Rushden?’

‘I’ve just entered a race in Rushden in May.’

Gales of laughter. ‘Well, I hope it’s not as competitive as the Mums’ Race at the school Sports Day!’

Jenny remembered past bosses who had nagged and preached, yet quailed before her calm, unflinching gaze. Her unflinch button seemed to have been turned off, but she tried her best. At least her voice did not quiver one little bit.

‘I’ve been running for over a month now. This race is a half-marathon, because I thought I needed something to motivate me during the winter months.’

Spoken like a pro. Runner’s World could not have expressed this more eloquently.

‘Half-marathon? In Rushden in May? It will be bucketing down! Oh, well, rather you than me!’

And that was it. She was safe. Her new-found love affair still remained her own delicious, shiver-inducing secret.

All through that winter Jenny braved winds and showers, much as she had braved difficult clients and impossible targets back in her Action Woman days. Once again, she started to be curt with her husband, and even her children got a little neglected. She could hardly wait to drop them off at nursery so she could go for her runs. One day, the younger one had a temperature, but she carefully calculated the exact dosage of Calpol that would enable her to complete her long slow run before the nursery called her to pick up the little feverish mite.

She did not know whether to feel guilty about this. Her brain told her she should, but her heart told her: ‘No more putting the family first at all costs! Time to think about myself for a change!’

She dreaded the holidays, but managed to find friends to help with childcare. Not for a second did she fool herself that she was just enjoying the breeze in her hair, the birds waking up, the occasional glimpse of daffodils. No, she knew why she was doing this. She’d found something she could do well, something she could achieve and complete. Neat, measurable boundaries. Running was logical, progressive, with quick results, unlike the wishy-washy, contradictory tenets of parenting, where no results could be garnered for decades, no two experts ever agreed and no matter how much or how little you did, guilt was always a half-step behind.

The day of the marathon dawned. The Macfarlane spirit soaring like a lark, she could barely get dressed and fumbled with the ChampionChip on her shoelace. Her family was going to wait in the stadium, to see her cross the finishing line. So perhaps they were proud of her after all, in spite of all the grumbling and teasing.

The starting line was a bit of a rude awakening. Jenny tried to block out the noise and the crowds, but the pushing, bumping, stepping on toes made her fret. She could barely move even after the starting gun. She felt she was running in treacle, suffocating with other people’s breath hanging stale around her. Like a bird in a cage she fluttered, tripped, pulled herself up and tried not to panic.
Finally, after a few miles, the crowd thinned and she was able to set her own pace. Her dream of flying was about to come true.

Her breathing was regular, not at all laboured. Her head was clear, her limbs willing, she felt she could go on forever. On and on she pounded, feeling lighter with every step. Her daily worries and routines blown away. Nothing else but this: the sound of trainers on the pavement, the feel of muscles responding to her every command, being in control, mistress of her universe.

How could she ever give this up? How could she ever return to the mess and randomness of life? How could she ever live again with the mocking tones and whiney egoism that had battered at her Macfarlane core for years, rendering it a useless shell? If there was anything still alive and beating in that shell, surely it had revealed itself now, in her pursuit of running heaven. Dare she let it wither again?

Ten mile marker, just a little more to go. Oh no, it was going to end too soon! She did not know what to do: speed up to feel the flying, slow down to make it last longer? And then she realised that she had no choice but to speed up. For she was not running towards her handsome husband and chubby children. She was running away. She was choosing running. She was choosing life. She was choosing herself in that relentless battle that all mothers wage, every day, every life, every childhood. If she speeded up enough, if she mustered all her strength and courage, she could outrun all that had rotted in her life, the ball-and-chain strapped tight across her ankle. She could feel that blaze of glory now – just a heartbeat away. She softly whispered ‘goodbye’ to the teary-eyed kids, gently smiled at the puzzlement on her husband’s face, then gave one last push to reach the speed of light. It was hers!
Following the recent incident of the sudden heart-attack and subsequent death of one of the participants in the 2008 Rushden Half-Marathon, we would like to emphasize once again that running in a half marathon is a very rewarding experience, however, it is not to be undertaken lightly. You need to be physically fit to complete the distance. If in doubt consult your doctor. Do not run if you are feeling unwell.

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Short Story – Macfarlane Left the Stick in Joint By Marina Sofia
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3 thoughts on “Short Story – Macfarlane Left the Stick in Joint By Marina Sofia

  • 02/03/2012 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you, Jack and Glynis. Glad you liked it. I am a (somewhat lapsed) runner, as well as a mother, but enjoy taking things to the extreme!

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