Vertical Mile

Image of Alex Des

Alex Des

983 readings

375

WINNER
Jury Selection

Also available :
Do I have to tell him? I think I have to tell him. I tell him, I have to.

“There’s something I have to tell you: I can’t shout.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I can’t shout. It’s ridiculous but that’s how it is. When I was little my ‘Yeehahs playing Cowboys and Indians were totally unconvincing. And in my second year at medical school I never managed to bellow out our year-group’s song at the top of my voice. And one day, I got attacked by a dog in the middle of the street and I couldn’t even yell for help. No, the truth is that I just can’t shout.”
“I see. But what’s that got to do with the situation you are in right now?”
“Oh, it’s just that... I got the impression that that’s part of it, that’s all. You wouldn’t get the full experience without screaming, would you?” 
“That’s one way of looking at it, but...”
“So, I said to myself, it’s a shame to get this far and then for all these preparations to fall apart at the last minute because of such a trivial detail. That’s what I said to myself.” 
“Don’t you think you might be looking for a way out, by any chance?”
“Me? A way out? Not at all! It’s just that...”
“Come on, it’s natural to be frightened, it’s only human.”
He slaps me on the back in a way that is meant to be friendly but which makes my blood run cold and seems, more than anything, a very foolhardy risk. 
“Now don’t move, I’m checking your feet, it’s important. Don’t look down.”

I look down and see with a clarity that makes my stomach contract horribly the difference between a theoretical threat and imminent danger. If anyone asked me, in the course of an everyday conversation, if I was afraid of snakes, I would confidently answer “No.” If they asked me the same question while waving a king cobra in heat in front of my nose, my reply would no doubt be very different. This is just the same: normally I do not get vertigo. But normally I do not have a hundred feet of empty space beneath my feet. Incapable of raising my eyes, I focus my attention on my trainers. After all, it’s really because of them that I’m here. It must be... ten years ago now? I was finishing an Erasmus semester in Prague, and my flatmate Liviana had talked me into taking part in a ‘Beer Mile’, a track race where the aim is to down a beer every lap. I had run, I had drunk, I had thrown up, we had laughed, and my love of running was born. A 10-kilometre race had followed, then a half marathon, then a marathon, then trails of every type and distance... It wasn’t that I was good at it, but there was something about those long, wild runs that resonated with me. The races were an excuse to travel and see the world, with sometimes magical experiences: running over the ancient cobbles of Jerusalem during a race, admiring the fabulous scenery of the Swiss Alps on a trail, having the permanent spectacle that is New York right there in my face at its legendary marathon... And always rubbing shoulders with complete strangers, sharing with them the joy and pain that comes from pushing yourself beyond your limits, then dancing and drinking at the post-race parties... That was the magical part: no more professions, religions or ethnicities, when you are running it’s just blokes and girls in shorts all sweating and asking themselves the same thing: how could I be so stupid as to get mixed up in something like this?

“OK, we can go. Are you ready?”
“I told you, I can’t shout. It’s not going to be possible.”
“Believe me, in a few seconds that will be the least of your worries. I’m counting to three, and at three you jump, OK?”
“...”
“I’m counting: one...”
“...”
“Two...”
“...”
“Three! Well?”
“...”
“Oh, well, if you’re going to hang on to the railings, we really do have our work cut out.”

I have been around, these past ten years. I became an old prairie fox because I couldn’t be an old sea dog, and my feet are as incrusted with calluses as my calves are imbued with the smell of muscle rub. But I have to admit, I always felt something was missing. A hidden piece of the puzzle that made me keep searching down other paths, exploring other avenues. That was what brought me here, onto this bridge swaying in the wind and the madness of men. That was what pushed me...

He pushed me.
He pushed me, the coward, and I am swinging in the air.
A fraction of a second, that was all it took for my body to be gripped by the shudder of the survival instinct which, mingled with total and intolerable panic, almost made my heart explode. In what felt very much like a final burst, that same heart propelled a mass of hormones through my veins with each beat. I am falling, death awaits. My senses are stretched to their utmost, seeking in vain for release, and my feet are trying like crazy to free themselves of their shackles. As if they could be of any use in these circumstances!
Finally, after a few interminable moments, the bungee cord I am attached to becomes taut. My internal organs are crushed as it reaches its lowest point. Then, after a few twists like a feather blown in the wind, I finally come to rest like a spider on the end of its thread. 
Alive. I am alive!
Up there, right up there, I can hear something like a voice.

“Oo.. eee... ow!”
“What?”
“I said you really did shout!”

I shouted? I did? Good gracious! It’s true that I feel as if I could... I feel as if I could do anything! A vital truth comes into my mind all shaken up by the adrenalin: it isn’t that a missing piece of the jigsaw has appeared... it’s that all the pieces that were useless have disappeared! Cradled in my euphoria, I gently move my arms for no reason like the minuscule spider I have become. My gaze rests once more on my trainers, now upside down. 
Finally, my most beautiful journey, and I’ve done it without running a single mile.
I let out a great burst of laughter. That’s perfect, that’s something I’ve always been able to do.

Translated by Wendy Cross

Theme

Image of Très très court
375

Few words for the author?

This is a place for encouragement, constructive criticism, and respectful comments… unsure if you should say what’s on your mind? Take a look at our advice on commenting here! Read the chart

To post comments, please
Image of Juju
Juju · ago
Yes yes yes ...I like very much
·