This little story is tucked away as a flashback near the end of Once A Runner. I have no reason for posting it other than that it’s beautiful and I think about it a lot.
The child stopped him right in his tracks. It was about a mile after he had made the turn at the Sailfish Club. The kid could have been no more than six or seven, and as he walked towards the runner, it was apparent there was something wrong with him; he moved without flow, all angles and juts. The runner thought: he’s so pale. But the child was just beaming. Wispy hair fell back into place as the hot wind blew through it, clear blue eyes stared at Cassidy without fear or self-consciousness. Cassidy stood gasping, dripping puddles of sweat onto the asphalt. He tried his best to beam back. Through his gasping he couldn’t help chuckling at how silly this was.
“Hello,” Cassidy said.
“Hello,” the child said happily, “what are you doing?”
“I’m running a race. What’s your name?”
“Allan.” The child laughed, put a small hand to his mouth. It was so thin as to seem transparent. The runner looked over his little legs for braces but saw none. The left shoe, however, seemed bulkier on the bottom than the other.
“A race?” The child laughed again, obviously wary of being teased. “But where are your opponents?” He said it oh-po-nuts.
“Oh,” the runner gestured back towards the Sailfish Club, “they’ll be right along.” The child cocked his head in a very curious manner, but he was still beaming.
“You,” he said, “run like a big cat.” The runner swallowed.
“You,” Cassidy said, “are the finest fellow I have run across all morning, Allan. And I guess I’d better be getting along before my oh-po-nuts come along.”
“Goodbye big cat.”
As he slipped off and gathered speed, he looked behind every few yards to see the child still watching; finally he disappeared behind a curve of high hibiscus a quarter of a mile down towards the bridge. Wonder what he will think when the rest of them come clomping along, he thought. And although he really wasn’t in very good shape yet he turned a 4:45 for the last mile, changed from his racing flats and jogged across the bridge towards home before the rest of them got in. If there was a medal or something they would just have to mail it to him.
For a long time after that he wondered what it was about that child.