Pheidippides

The seed was sewn in me three days ago: a marathon. I’ve been a runner for about seven years, but since I began climbing mountains and watering fields and forest paths with my own sweat I have always, always, always run alone. I look terrible when I exercise, like a ripe cherry, and the shadowy Russian triangles under my eyes deepen so severely that the eyes themselves vanish; there was also simply no one I ever wanted to run with. I was only rarely ever good at team sports and I didn’t like the idea of competing with anyone else, despite the really vicious competitive spirit that throbs through my veins and sees me hungry for any opportunity to shine. But this sudden revelation that I could test myself against the fruit of the city’s athletes, who would surely be mostly elderly amateurs muscled only with flab, heavily pregnant mothers, overweight children goaded on by the whips of their parents—that I could win a stunning victory, and trump everyone, and triumph—achieve real glory—this saw me so excited I could barely close my eyes the night before the race.

For months I had tested myself on the hills, the tarred cliffs, of Namsanjeong, and I believed that despite the shaking elephant fat on my legs and the plump paunch underneath my milky little tetitas I could achieve an Olympian victory, a foreigner upset, a blurry streak into the heart of the burning sun.

Thus!, there I found myself, toward the front of the mass of Koreans, listening to my music and the insipid gibberish of some television announcers standing on a dais among massive speakers, chomping at the bit between my teeth, a horse desperate to burst free from the gate—such a hunger as has never been known by anyone, a desperate plea to all the gods I could name, oh how I wanted to smoke the entire city, make them eat my dust, let me go!—so many legs, so many thin muscly legs!—and finally it began with a blast of fireworks and confetti, and the mass heaved itself forward so slowly that I was only walking, plotting a maneuver to the side of the mob where I could swiftly pass everyone.

And that’s exactly what I did. I think I burned up most of my fuel in that dash, which saw me gasping near the front for the first third of the race, passing a pair of elderly gentlemen who exclaimed, in Korean, “WHAT?!?! AN AMERICAN?!?!” Don’t they know I’m a citizen of the world, and that as victor of the marathon I would have dedicated my triumph to every last man, woman, child, animal, fish, bird, tree, shrub, insect, and dinosaur that has ever and will ever live? They probably passed me later in the race, for the situation soon went from a simple hunger to win to a simple hunger to finish, to keep moving, and to win at least a little prestige for the family. “No one will call that James a quitter!”

Minor ascents darkened my mood—and the race was almost entirely flat—a man laughed when I spit a massive gob of dried phlegm out onto the sidewalk—people said hello and laughed when I waved back at them—the sun broke through the smog and a cool wind blew in from the sea—I did have to stop for a moment to pull my wallet up out of my tights—no pockets!—the city and the bridges and the towers and the glass swung in and out of view. I could only manage a few bursts of speed here and there. For the most part I either maintained my position or was passed. Victory slipped out of my sweaty grasp. Even a very small young child outgunned me, and my heart pumped my skull so full of blood it felt as though it were ready to burst. Ten kilometers later, when I saw the finish line, I darted ahead of as many people as possible and nearly came to a halt before I even crossed it—quite pooped, soaking wet, disappointed that I was not hefted on the shoulders of shouting strangers and interviewed by awkward television crews, happy, nonetheless, to have finished.

And therefore good Pheidippides did fade away.

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