Eleanor started out running for her health, desperate to lose weight and regain her dignity and self-respect. She had also run to escape her past.
And it worked… most of the time, at any rate.
It had taken more than two whole years of sacrifice, hard work, and sheer determination, but she had finally shed over a hundred pounds. In doing so, not only did she get her figure back, but she had also rediscovered her confidence and regained her belief in herself.
As such, she had finally begun to feel empowered for the very first time in her life.
She had also acquired a coterie of followers and new friends who, inspired by her success, had joined her on her running sprees. Through sun and rain, snow and smog, Eleanor ran through the few green spaces of Manhattan every morning from six to seven.
For the last year, she had been trailed by a group of equally determined women who were moved by her example, and who hoped to change their own lives for the better, as well.
To keep from leaving the unfit newbies behind, however, Eleanor often had to slow down, backtracking many times to give the laggards the encouragement and strength they needed. In the beginning, this frustrated her; and many times, she wondered why she put up with it.
She ran for herself, after all, and had never expected to acquire a fan base. Besides, it wasn’t as if she charged them anything. Heck, she had never even asked them to join her!
At such times, she would remind herself of her own humble beginnings, of the times that she herself had received encouragement and support from the more experienced runners she had met along the way. Were it not for them, she would not have made it, she knew.
And so despite slowing down for the benefit of the rest, a few would still fall behind. Whenever they did, she would remember the kindness that others had shown her, put on her best smile, then run back to do whatever she could.
In the past few months, however, other seasoned runners had joined her informal group. Still others had developed the strength and endurance to share the load she had never asked for.
And thus began the tradition of never leaving anyone behind – even if it messed up her exercise regimen.
She made up for it in the evenings, however, especially when the stress of her day became too much. Despite the exhaustion of work, Eleanor would put on her running gear and make her way toward the Henry Hudson Parkway on New York’s Upper West Side.
Alone, without others to look out for, she would fly like the wind.
Her friends told her she was crazy, that she had become the running equivalent of a gym bunny. Others told her she was asking for trouble: a woman running alone at night?
But Eleanor always laughed them off. She had survived her husband’s physical and emotional abuse for years, taking whatever he had to give because she had thought that that’s what women who were in love did, didn’t they? After all, her own mother had taken it from her father all her life, didn’t she?
It was not till the last beating, during her seventh month of pregnancy, that Eleanor finally woke up.
Even after two years, she still felt anguish over the loss of a daughter she had never gotten to know. She hoped that someday, she could learn to forgive the man who, even now, was behind bars.
She hoped even more that her unborn child could someday forgive the woman who had betrayed her chance at life through ignorance and fear.
The doctors had told her that the damage had been too great. She could never have another child. They were so sorry, they said. They even looked like they meant it.
Into that despair had come the desire to run, and on the heels of that, the women who joined her on her morning runs – all looking to her as their last hope. How could she possibly abandon them?
At last, she was given a second chance.
And so Eleanor ran and ran, till only the wind was real, as was the pavement below. Only when exhaustion overcame the exhilaration, would she stop, and the city would recreate itself around her, once more.
This warm, balmy August evening, however, Eleanor no longer ran for her health, nor to escape her past.
She was running for her life.
She had just reached the tennis courts when two men started following her. Thinking that they were simply fellow joggers, she had maintained her pace.
“Good evening,” she called out to them cheerfully.
They lunged and grabbed her.
Eleanor screamed as she had been taught in her self-defense classes, but there was no one else around.
The man on her right grabbed her wrist. She twisted in the direction of his thumb where his grip was at its weakest. As soon as she was free, she swung back, made a fist, then slammed it into his throat with a satisfying whack. With her whole weight on her right leg, she kicked out at the other man’s knee with her left foot.
She didn’t even look back to see him fall as she ran, screaming for help again as she tore through the trees toward Riverside Drive.
But something was wrong.
Barely a few meters separated the tennis courts from Riverside Drive. Across that highway were the high-rise condos of the rich who could afford to live along this stretch of road that gave them expensive views of the Hudson River and the state of New Jersey on the other side.
Eleanor could see them all: their lights pouring out into the night, calling out to her with their promise of civilization and safety.
With a renewed burst of speed, she made her way toward the spire of the Riverside Church as it rose above the tree-line, calling out toward a god she had stopped believing in a long time ago.
But no matter how hard she ran, they seemed to maintain their distance.
What the hell is going on here!? she thought to herself. Stop it! You’re panicking! Keep running!
But the lights of the buildings along Riverside Drive continued to remain a few tantalizing meters away. Through the trees, she could see people and cars moving ahead of her... only she wasn’t getting any closer to them.
Eleanor began to wonder if she was running on some sort of treadmill.
Her back prickled as she heard the men approach. Eleanor stopped, looked around her desperately, spotted a softball-sized rock near her right foot, and grabbed it. Then she whirled toward her attackers.
“Hey baby!” said one of the men, coming out of the shadows with his hands spread wide, as if to give her a hug. “Remember me? I missed you so much!”
Eleanor felt her heart constrict in abject terror. It was Tyler, her ex-husband and father of her unborn child. How the heck did he get out of jail?
“Eleanor, honey,” said the other man. “It’s been so long.”
“Daddy?” she replied hoarsely, feeling suddenly light-headed.
“Ayup! Something tells me you haven’t been a good girl, sweetie. But it’s okay, you’re still daddy’s little angel. You know I love you. Come here, hon'.”
Eleanor’s grip on the rock weakened, “You… you’re dead. You… I was there with mom… at the hospital. You…”
“Oh honey, come here. It’s alright. You know daddy loves you very much.”
The two men kept coming closer as they spoke. Eleanor began to wonder if she was dreaming. Only the rock in her hand seemed real. She looked down, and noticed how sharp it was at one end, and how portions of it gleamed in the light coming from the buildings behind her.
“You’re dead,” she said, swaying on her feet. “And you’re in jail.”
Still they spoke, calmly, soothingly, coming slowly closer with their hands out, as if dealing with some demented child. Eleanor looked up, straight into the eyes of her former husband.
Raising the rock, she charged at him, as a scream of hatred and murderous rage tore its way through her throat.
© Shahan Bernardez, 2017. All rights reserved.