The toddlers wore lace. "Mamma," one said, bottle-mouthed, pulling on a pants leg. Parents sat on chairs. Daughters wore small outfits. There were days of stretching, gearing up one's mind, warming up one's body. Rehearsing the route. Some girls had to pee a thousand times beforehand. The gun went off. They ran: sisters, nieces, girlfriends -- children. There was a last placer, shoving herself. Everyone stood watching. "Go," they said, clapping.
She Used to Have Nails
She stood in her closet, where patrons stood on the other side, and through the half-door, they'd order tap for cheap and tip her. She wore a T-shirt with the bar name, shorts, and the job was pour and deliver, pour and deliver. She worked there some nights, just for extra, and this was like promotion; before, she had been working tables, remembering drinks, placing them with faces.
Some guys dropped a dollar in the jar. Some only left their change. The girls, she could forget about. She didn't even try hard.
Her nail broke with the last one. A guy she'd served on the floor two nights before, who'd fallen over, leaving her a fifty. Now, he wasn't drunk yet. "Hi," she said to him, and he looked past her. There was a girl behind him with suspenders.
Another guy who worked there came to check the keg. He tipped it. Then he lifted. "Hey," she said to him. He said, "Hey," and then he came back with a full one.
People eyed each other, toasted. Someone sang happy birthday. She took the orders, poured, took and poured, and here and there made small talk. One guy asked if she was dating anyone. Was she?
There was a line behind him. She handed him a number. He put a twenty in the tip jar and got out of the way.
She Wanted to Say Thank You
The dentist had cheese for lunch. It was a mystery to her, mouth open, swallowing remnants of cement, what he did on lunch break. She almost choked and he went in with his fingers, poking on her gum then. He said he went home for lunch. He had done it quickly. He fit her in. She wanted to say thank you. He drilled. The other person handed him a toolkit. She opened her eyes and saw his eyes were blue and his teeth had gaps like hers did. His face was tan. He had seven children. A wife. Her mouth was numb and her dress was wet. She smelled blood. She had almost given birth once. From the hall, a passer mentioned love or lovely lover. He touched her for comfort and before he went in again, he said to open wider. More, he said. She stretched and he poked her, keeping on until he was ready to break again.
All Her Ribbons
He said he needed her, and she wiped her face a little, stepping to the in-lane, closer to the tundra.
She'd told him she was quitting, tired of being laughed at. She was always last. She said the distance was too long, and she couldn't even finish without stopping, couldn't do the workouts without walking.
He wore those running shorts that rose too high, flapping up when you went faster and the wind blew. His hair made him look like Elvis. He should have been a wrestler.
He said, Do you want to be a quitter?
Everyone was gone now and she told him she felt foolish. It was just running. It wasn't hard.
You're not always last, he said. She beat someone in the last meet. He said, That was really something.
He said, "Someone has to be last."
He said, "You don't always have to win."
He said, "You really want to be a quitter?"
She figured no one really cared and it was her decision. At home, her father ran around with knives falling from his pockets, and her mother couldn't live without Chianti. At mealtimes, she sat on her hands, looking out at the gate that kept in all the cattle.
The coach said, "And who cares if someone's laughing? That's a silly reason to quit."
She watched him fly away then. He went fast. He tripped on a hurdle.