portion of the artwork for Merridawn Duckler's stories

Merridawn Duckler

For a marathon you have to train, and train I do. I watch my caloric intake, I do strength and conditioning, and run in sun, rain, sleet, or snow. I have a team like every dedicated marathoner. My team consists of Road Block Mary, Fuckoff Phil, and that guy who goes grr. I used to have Coach Miguel but he died. This affected my soul but not my training schedule.

Training for a marathon is partially mental. I do the numbers. Each lap equals one mile, 26 miles to finish. The track has obstacles, the biggest one being that I live on it. I have no regular house. Coach Miguel said: Kid, make that part of your overall. So, I do. Garbage under the bridge is good for pull-ups but bad for push-ups. Condemned buildings work for skipping rope, but you will often have that rope stolen. Great example: If you need a strict 700-calorie day, should you double up at Sal Army dinner? No way. Far too heavy on carbs.

Fitting in a training schedule is challenging, what with my daily appointments in VA bennies, AA, and Social Services. I usually bring Road Block Mary with me to go see my assigned Angel in Social Services because I don’t like to ride public transport without my invisible cloak and nobody blocks like Mary. She was the team member who got me a lot of newspapers to wear around my chest. I’ll tell you. though, when I wear that marathon number I will feel as naked as the day I was born.

My Angel in Social Services is very dedicated to the less fortunate, which include most of the staff of Social Services, who are on the lower end of the IQ scale and a bunch of devils to boot. I arrived promptly as per my usual.

“Mister Charles,” said my Angel, “you haven’t checked the box that indicates you are taking your meds.”

I nodded and took off my hat. It’s usually overly hot in the office, which is one way I know we are in Hell. Also: Where else would need so many angels?

“Angel, I would like to report on everyone, including Phil. I have resolved my issues with the guy who goes grr. Mary is my rock. Miguel, as you know, is dead, although I often hear his voice in my head.”

“You hear his voice?” said Angel. She wears a tiny bow in her hair, though I judge her age to be 40-plus.

“Not like that,” I said. Athletes are often misquoted by a hostile media. Everyone hears the deads’ voices in their heads. How else would we speak to them? “Not like that. Not the ones speaking when I remove my cloak of invisibility.”

“It’s not a cloak, Mister C; it’s a pill you need to take for your own safety.”

Angel gets 15 minutes per soul. A medical emergency can stretch that to 20. I wasn’t sure I could accomplish that goal on this particular day, but luck has a surprising history in sports.

“I will take the pills, if we can talk,” I said.

She sighed. She looked out the window, displaying a fine and noble profile. I admire her ability to make luxuries of the smallest things.

“OK, then. Tell me about Phil,” she said. “But no cursing.” Outside her office window I saw those devils had set a fir on fire.

“Phil has been my pacer since day one,” I said, “but good runners are tight and light and bouncy, and Phil is a tub of lard. I think his own body issues are getting in the way of my success. Do I owe him loyalty? And what is loyalty? If I ace it, he’ll forgive me, as everyone loves a winner, but what if I want to move to ultra?” I sweated through this whole speech because I’d written it out, but Road Block Mary had made me trade it for her grocery list. “Bag of Cheetos,” I finished weakly.

We talked it out, just like she promised. I stood and shook her hand. Angels love formality. Modern life has lost so much elegance with these casual Fridays, these dress-like-road-kill-Tuesdays; it’s enough to make us all terrified. As if she could read my mind (and there’s every reason to think she can), Angel handed me a little cup of water and a pill.

“It’s Christmas,” she said. “Do you want something?” She pointed out her office window where I could see a forlorn and naked ham being chased by several of the larger women.

“I’d like to use your calculator,” I said. She left and came back with one that must’ve been made for blind people. It was enormous, the size of a chocolate bar. “From the store room,” she said.

I grabbed the calculator and went to work. The guy who goes grr times my laps, but what is my overall? Coach Miguel warned me about that. “You’re gonna get so wrapped up in the finish, you’ll lose sight,” he said. “But know this: You won’t be judged by the many seemingly huge ways you have totally screwed up your life.” I meant to ask him: How will I be judged? But he died before I could. Still, I made some calculations that suggested a plan for the overall. I am so glad I do not have to fire Phil.

I gave the calculator back to Angel. “Would you like to keep it?” she said. Like I really need to walk around with an enormous calculator that will make me look like a total nerd! But it was Christmas and my Angel had done so much for me. “OK,” I said. “Merry Christmas.” Great example of the power of the marathon training! It is not self-centered, as some suppose, but a symbol of how we move within a great multitude, all with the same goals and yet all totally alone.

Return to Archive

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 53 | Spring/Summer 2019