Through a sliver of unshielded window, the midnight sun seared a line on Rebecca’s face that she had tried to avoid the minute she, her boyfriend Gil, and the fifteen-member marathon team tucked themselves into that corner of Chilkoot Charlie’s. They were still buzzing from the 26.2 miles they ran eight hours ago and they squawked about various portions of the course and the wonderful air and bonking. With bellies full of river fish and microbrew beer, and under the darkness of the bar, protected from the sun that wouldn’t dip again until fall, there was no way they were leaving anytime soon.
Rebecca was one of two people in the party that wasn’t a runner. Others had brought their spouses and partners, but all of them ran, or did some form of extreme endurance sport. Skye, Lorenzo’s girlfriend, was the other, and though she teased Lorenzo about lubing up his nipples and scrotum, she too was addicted to endorphins and spent her Saturdays, undercarriage lubed too, on the seat of a road bike. Skye had had one beer and was laughing hysterically. She paused and turned to Rebecca.
“Meg Ryan,” Skye said. “That’s who you look like! Like a young Meg Ryan.”
Rebecca faced Skye but got her face caught again in the sliver of sun. Damn it. Stop looking that way.
“I’m serious, girl, you’re such a cutie.” Skye reached over Gil and slapped the table in front of Rebecca. Rebecca caught the twinkle of Skye’s engagement ring. Lorenzo had proposed to Skye the day before when the group took a tram up to Mount Alyeska. Lorenzo got on his knee in the snow and looked up at her, in front of everyone, and Skye said yes. He called her his angel and he stood up and kissed her. Everyone took pictures with their IPhones.
“Thank you.” Rebecca tugged on Gil’s shirt. He looked at her, cut off in midsentence with Lorenzo.
“What’s up?” Gil looked into Rebecca’s face. She saw his bothered look again: forehead cranked up so the three lines came to a gathering point, his eyes flat, not as bright as they were when she saw him at Mile 8—he was on fire then, his arms and legs moving like windmills, his mouth open and inhaling and exhaling gulps of air—or at Mile 24 (the last Rebecca saw him before the finish line), where his eyes glowed wild. It reminded her of her cat Shadow back in Reno, how his pupils, when about to pounce even the toy mouse, flared out, almost cancelling the field of green behind them. Its only focus to kill.
“I’m tired,” Rebecca whispered into his ear. “Can we go back to the room?”
“One more drink, okay. Are you having fun?”
“Yeah. I’m having fun.” Rebecca patted his leg. She was so proud of him all day, loved to see him in his moments of glory. It was his sixth in two years. He’d been really making a go for this racing thing. Every day was something about running, or shoes, or what to eat, or who he was going to run with, or how far they were going to go that day, or how far they went the other day. He talked about creams and special socks and split times and shaving off seconds. Do you want to come? he always asked, and then after a while, he stopped asking.
“I need to use the bathroom.” Rebecca wiggled out the table and her eyes hit the light again pouring in from the outside. She squinted at her watch: 12:50 a.m.
The bathroom, like the floors of the bar, were covered in sawdust. A girl was in the stall on her knees throwing up. Rebecca recognized the skinny ankles in ankle boots as one of the girls on Gil’s team. Rebecca knocked.
“Give me a minute. Please.”
“It’s Becca. Gil’s girlfriend. Is that Katarina?”
The girl heaved followed by a terrific splash into the toilet bowl. “Can you get me a paper towel?”
Rebecca returned to the stall and pushed the door inward. The girl stood up. She was in a tight white skirt and a sweater that hung off her shoulder. Her hair was wet on one side.
“Thanks.” She wiped her face.
“Too much to drink?” Rebecca said.
“I guess.” The girl belched. “Kathrina.”
“I’m sorry?” Rebecca stood at the mirror with her.
“It’s Kathrina. Everybody gets it wrong.”
“Oh, sorry,” Rebecca said. Their clothes were from two different stores, perhaps two different eras. Rebecca was in a fleece and her comfy jeans and had her hair combed back. Kathrina looked like she was shaken out of a Pointer Sisters concert. Kathrina ran the water and collected a drink with her palm. She swished and spit.
“You’re with Gil?”
Rebecca noticed Kathrina’s collarbones—so angular and even with nothing on them, no extra skin or fat. Her skirt hugged her hips in a way that made them look like an upside down triangle. Rebecca’s arm itched under her long sleeve. She scratched and nodded in the mirror. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“Lucky girl.” Kathrina grabbed a towel and wiped her face and the corners of her mouth. “All better. See you out there?”
Rebecca smiled and went into a stall. On the toilet she laughed about all those runners. They can just pick up and go like that. Like animals on the hunt.
She needed some air. The Chilkoot’s bouncer asked did she want a hand stamp to come back inside. She shook her head and walked out. The sun, low on the horizon, faced her head on. At least it looked like dusk now and not the middle of the day. She didn’t like the idea of drinking in the middle of the day. She hated, in fact, going to Gil’s hash runs on Sunday’s where they would all run around and chase someone and chug beers, and then when they got back to the park where Rebecca and all the runners’ mates waited, they would drink more beer, like a big party. They called themselves drinkers with a running problem.
She looked down Spencer Road and then down at her shoes. She wore Adidas, like Gil, and could just get running up the street if she wanted to. She could be one of them if she was so inclined. She wasn’t as fit as they all were, but she could get there. She knew it.
Gil stepped out of the bar. He shielded his eyes. “It’s so fucked up that it’s bright right now, right?” he said. “What time is it?”
“One,” Rebecca said.
“What’s wrong?” Gil held her shoulders.
“I don’t belong here.” Rebecca hugged herself. It wasn’t at all cold, but she shivered.
“You mean here at the bar?”
“I mean here. With you and all your friends.”
“We’ve talked about this a million times. You have your stuff, I have mine.”
“Why did you stop asking me to join you? To run with you.”
“You just stopped all of a sudden. Like one day. You asked me all the time to come running with you. Then you stopped.”
“I don’t know. I guess I thought why keep trying. You don’t like to run anyway.”
Rebecca turned back toward the sun. It wasn’t as bright outside as it was in the bar. In the bar everything was dim, and so your eyes had adjusted. You could see everything for what it was, but outside was this other illuminated world, if only a slice of it. She did hate running and the whole group and all their endorphin snorting bullshit. She went along, maybe, because she liked Gil’s legs and his stamina. He could go on and on in bed. But that wouldn’t mean anything if they stayed together and kept raising Shadow the cat, or maybe got married and had children. It would get old, and she would have to either convert, or do something even more extreme. Something more disciplined than running. Nature walks were her thing. She loved to wander into the outdoors at a nice slow pace. Maybe she would just stay in Alaska and be a mountain guide, or move to Nepal and become a Sherpa. Who needs to keep running all the time?
“You’re right. I don’t like running,” she said.
“Well, there you go,” he said.
“Yep. There you go.” The sun dipped further on the horizon. It looked like it would go down for good, or at least for the night, but it just hovered there.
The bouncer called over to them. “You two coming back in? It’s last call.”
“Be right there.” Gil turned to the man, then back to Rebecca. “So what do you mean? There you go?”
“Go. Go back in. I’m going to watch the sun rise up again.”
“You’re not coming back in?” Half his body was turned to the entrance.
She looked at his tall frame. He never wore flannel in Nevada, and that three-day stubble was for show, too. The guy hardly went a day without a shave and a month without a haircut. She pictured the mirror where she saw Kathrina standing fixing herself up and put Gil next to her. They looked right together, like rock stars after the show, needing their fans to validate them, or move them along face up, being pushed by hands on arms raised high, after they staged dived backward—a snow angel plunge—into the throngs of worshippers below them.
“Are you going to go back to the room?” he said.
She breathed in deep and nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’ll be fine.
Gil shrugged and turned back to go into Chilkoot Charlie’s. “Okay, well I’ll see you there.”
“Yep. See you there.” Rebecca waved at him and turned away from the sun toward Delaney Park. The beams that held the Finish Line sign were still up. She picked up her pace and walked toward it. She breathed in the fresh air, pulled off her fleece, and tossed it to the ground. There had been piles of clothes earlier when they all took off and stripped down.
She walked on and hated the shoes she wore. You can’t fit in just by wearing the same shoes they wear. Those would be the first to come off when she got back to the room. She’d probably leave them, too. And the 40th Mayor’s Marathon hoodie she had bought. She’d leave it all right there next to Gil’s gear bag. Full of his extra shorts and socks and that silly heart rate monitor. She might tuck them in next to the Band-Aids and Vaseline. Parting gifts.