Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breaking Twenty

This is one of a few pieces I've been writing for my English 160 class. This particular item was composed shortly before class, like ten minutes shortly, but I think it still turned out pretty well. Enjoy.


A stream of apple juice pours from the soft drink dispenser, pattering gently into the Styrofoam cup that its owner holds wearily beneath it. Ryan turns away with the full cup, squinting in the early morning light that gazes in through the windows, and grabs a frosted roll from the rack beside him. A plastic fork and a Styrofoam plate complete the sorry ensemble as Ryan walks back to one of the many square tables dotting the hotel cafeteria.

“Gonna make you fat, man. Slow you down.”

The owner of the voice, a wiry young boy named Terrence, looks up from a newspaper to deliver these words of wisdom. “Get some Cheerios or something”, he advises once more before diving back into the sports pages. “ATLANTA FALLS TO GIANTS” reads the headline, with a picture of a heavily muscled man caught mid-celebration beneath it.

A baleful glare is his only answer from across the table as Ryan crunches into the cinnamon roll, scattering flakes of sugar over the table like a brief snowfall. The fluorescent lights above them flicker and die momentarily, as if even they are disgusted by the early hour, before once more reviving to cast their clumsy light over the table.

The scene around them shifts as more boys descend the stairs, most trying unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns behind gloved hands. All are garbed for the outdoors, clothed in layer upon layer of sweats and UnderArmor. A few head for the small buffet, but most opt to snack on energy bars or graham crackers. Ironically, they will be outside today in the scantiest of clothing, despite all their preparations to the contrary.

“See, man? What’s all this about?” Terrence prods the roll for emphasis. The brief snowfall is over, with a dusting of sugar scattered all across the table. “You’ll never break 20 eating shit like that. Go get some real food or something. At least get a bar for later.”

“Shut up. I’m going to break twenty.”

“No, dude. What’s your best time? Twenty-fifty? You barely came in under 21 minutes, you need all the help you can get.”

For the first time, some life shows in Ryan’s eyes. “Fuck off, man. My mile time was six and a half minutes last race. That’s under 20 for a five-kilometer race.”

“Yeah, and your last mile was eight minutes. Get serious, dude! You have to pick that shit up!”

“Shut up.”

“You know I’m right, man. Stop being a pussy and just run!”

The sun finally rises fully over the horizon, washing the pale room in gold and bronze. The leaves outside the hotel kitchen are suddenly outlined in fire.

“Didn’t I just tell you to fuck off!” Ryan is on his feet now with no memory of standing. All around the room, runners huddled over their meager breakfasts look up in surprise. The newspaper lies forgotten on the table, its headline drowning in spilt apple juice. “I’m going to break 20 no matter what I eat! You watch me! You watch me go over that line at the end of the tunnel, because I will fucking well fly over it if I so choose!” Ryan stops, aware for the first time of the eyes around him, ranging from startled interest to newly awakened vigor. “And I hope you’re right beside me so you can personally watch! Let it be known, I will break 20 minutes on the damn 5K! Now, today, end of discussion! And we will win this race because I know every one of you will run with the same heart, the same balls and determination and fire, as I will! Now how about it?”

There is no dramatic pause. As soon as Ryan’s last sentence hurtles out of his mouth, the whole team is up on their feet and crowding around the two of them in a sudden, spontaneous dogpile. A breathless outpouring of chants, encouragement, curses and random noise washes over the hotel buffet. At its center, Terrence catches Ryan’s still-furious eyes. He grins, even winks, then stands up and adds his stenotorian yell to the crowded room. “LET’S DO THIS, GREYHOUNDS!!” rebounds off the walls and smashes through the automatic doors.

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