Postcard from the Portland Marathon
“I am a Christian,” she said, sitting cross-legged on the crowded streetcar.
Standing in the aisle, a bearded dancer hung on tighter. He wanted to be listening to her voice upside down from a hand stand, not high above her like a cloud. She wore a delicate green stone in the dip of her nose, long black hair, a navel ring. Her soft belly, a smooth baby sand dune rising out of low-slung, corduroy jeans. Their strong legs spoke to each other before they ever said a word.
“Why do I keep running these marathons?” she said, even though no one had asked. “I do it for Jesus, I guess. Someday, you never know. Someday, at an emergency, like a bad wreck in the mountains, or on a far away trail, they’ll need a person to run 26 miles, and then I’ll know there was a reason.”
The dancer’s smile was the beginning of a rainbow: a gold tooth near a dark hole in the back. “Tomorrow will be a good day for a marathon,” he said. “You won’t be running in the rain.”
The girl asked how late she could go shopping downtown.
“Go to the zoo. Go watch the birds of prey in the moonlight.” He helped find her hotel on a tourist map.
The next morning, the dancer waited for the runners at the end of the St. Johns Bridge, hoping to see the young woman again. Under a canopy, a red-haired rock singer sang all the songs he knew with the word “run” in the lyrics. How much time are you going to spend running away from me? Where are you running to now? Hit the ground running.
The first to cross the bridge wore their belly muscles like drum leather. A few runners looked like they were flying, riding their legs like surfboards. With calf muscles strong as gun barrels a man named “Jesus” danced over the bridge, exhaling Spanish prayers.
The dancer wanted to kiss a man with his shirt unzipped, the Willamette River wind cooling his sweaty, hairy chest. He wore a knee brace and loose shorts with failing elastic that made him look sexy. There were so many bare bellies and ribs. A fat lady held her coffee and crossword puzzle in one hand as she ran with her husband for a block or two. He grinned sheepishly at her kindness, at her fat bouncing bottom in dimpled tight sweats as she ran on her heels. He left her with a kiss after patting her messy, stocking-capped head. A grandfather, with curly grey hair, let his head fall back, to drink in an end of the world sky.
In that sea of runners, the dancer couldn’t find the girl.
A universe of meaning ran by him too quickly. He couldn’t figure it all out, so he teared up instead, and danced to the rock band.
Loretta Marie Long