I run. And run. Up ahead in a yard, opposite the newly built office block, Tempora House, an old woman is hanging up her washing. She’s an early bird. Mrs Ferguson. I know her name. We villagers know all our neighbours. She used to be postmistress so she knows all of us and most of our business. She knows how to keep secrets. Our secrets. She has three daughters. The youngest is Tessa. Tessa is my age. I hear a dog barking in the distance. My lungs are industrial bellows, my heart a tractor-sized combustion engine pumping blood and oxygen to where they are needed. Mrs Ferguson pegs up a large purple bed cover next to a pair of faded blue dungarees. She shields her eyes with her left hand, waves at me with her right. The barking is loud and deep. I see the next hill ahead. Blossoms from flowering cherry trees carpet the road. My calf muscles signaling the heart, “Oxygen, more, more.” The thighs calling, “And me. And me.” Left foot, right foot.
On the other side of the hill is a small grocery store. I know it well. I’ve passed it many times. In my car, running. I’ve shopped there many times. For bread and beer and the rest and, occasionally, a paper. I get most of my news from the radio. The grocer is a man called Geoff. We are on first name terms. He is married. He used to be an electrician before buying the grocery store. His wife’s name is Lisa. I am on first name terms with her as well. Lisa is head teacher at the village infant school. She taught my two. Lisa and Geoff. They have secrets. We all have secrets.
Warm muscles stretch. Joints and tendons working together like a well-designed racehorse. Blood flowing. Oxygen taken from my lungs entering the bloodstream, travelling to the muscles. I sense it. I feel it. Left lung, right lung, perfect partners.
The empty school bus on its morning circuit passes me giving me a wide berth. A short blast on his hooter. Greeting me. Or cursing. He has to carry my brats. Endorphins making me laugh. Halfway down the hill. Lisa standing outside the store. She turns towards the door and says something. Geoff appears. They stand side by side clapping as I approach. Smiling. Geoff passes me a bottle of water. Marathon style, I snatch it as I pass. Wave with the other hand. Blow a kiss over my shoulder. Left foot, right foot.
In the opposite direction, a cyclist. A stranger to me. Panting up the hill. I know his pain, his pleasure. He knows mine. We wave. Me with my bottle, he with his gloved left hand. His bicycle is sleek black. Stripped down. No mudguards, no panniers. Whereas mine back at the cottage is blue and with all the trimmings. Including a slow puncture up front.
I slow down a little. Only a mile before home. I have no medals to win, no records to break. I run for pleasure. Escape. Left foot, right foot. A tractor works the field on the left of the path. Not ploughing but still going up and down, up and down. Doing something agricultural. The driver wearing a green cap clashing with the red of the tractor. I wave. He doesn’t see me. Left foot, right foot. His name is Freddie Jarrow. A widower. She, Mrs Jarrow, Jilly, died some three years ago. Freddie and I sometimes have a pint together at the Grey Swan. His youngest is in the same class as my oldest. Tessa Ferguson is their teacher.
Both Freddie and I are in need of a good woman, one who could love us, who would love us in return. Help us live better. Tessa Ferguson is a good woman we both love, and could help either of us live better. But her heart is elsewhere. She is spoken for. But I (secretly) harbour the thought that one day she will see the error of her ways and choose me. And Freddie (secretly) has similar thoughts.
Shadows from the telegraph poles are still long. But shorter than when I set off. I don’t bother with time when I run. I leave, I run, I return. The perfect circle. No timepiece needed. My car needs a good cleaning. I see that as I approach. A chore for the weekend. After the puncture job.
At home, a kiss on each cheek and push the brats in the general direction of the bus stop, (they get themselves ready each morning – I do so love them), a hot shower and clean clothes, a bowl of porridge with milk and sugar, bacon on brown toast. Twenty-two hours before my next endorphin kick.
In her bedroom, the one next to mine, the woman I married sleeps on. She will rise within the next hour or so, spend an hour dressing and getting ready to meet her friends at the café in town. She will take the car. I sometimes wonder if she ever speaks about me.
I wave the pump at the front wheel of my bike and take off for the three miles to Tempora House. Briefcase safely strapped to the carrier. Mike Darwin, Managing Director of Darwin Holdings greets me cheerfully as I arrive. He says, “Early as usual. A sign of a happy life. You’re a lucky dog, you are.”
I smile, I say nothing. We all have secrets.