Edward knew that his physique belied his soul. Outwardly an upper-crust, Anglo business man backsliding into his golden years, he was as yet, on the inside, a contender, his instincts polished quick and canny from decades of flight before the corporate fledglings always out to take down the big guy. Thinning silver strands of hair, oiled and combed, pushed up from a crown that encased a brain that that still pulsed to the beat of the market. Although his spine had begun to curve with his years like a divining rod pointing toward the grave, it remained rigid despite the cumbersome load of responsibility. The small but inevitable paunch that clung to his midsection obscured a granite gut and a cast-iron stomach, both of which had added to his reputation as a tough closer.
Edward was a man of means.
He stood straight on the spongy surface of the track, his weathered running shoes clashing with his white-on-white Polo wind suit. The sun was burning slowly through the early morning haze. A gentle breeze was rising. It would be cooler than the day before, he thought. The air hummed through the empty aluminum bleachers sending the pulley-rope on the flagpole to periodically donk against the hollow pole. The ends of the flags were ragged and snapped in the breeze, the American flag raised only slightly above a marginally smaller banner which read, in a severe black-on-white design, “Edward Gallant Consulting. 3000 minds strong.” He made a mental note to have his secretary have the tattered flags replaced. The movement of the air tickled the back of the old man’s neck like cool fingertips, then slipped past the suit’s neckband to caress the spot between his shoulder blades.
Edward could no longer reach his toes, although his pale hands strained toward the latticework of blue veins on his calves. The lowest that he could get was mid-shin, but he pushed hard enough to redden his jowls. Straightening, he swung his arms back and forth like a human helicopter, back then back again, the muscles in his waist complaining. His back popped. He put his first two fingers to his jugular. He timed his pulse by the second hand on his weathered, silver wristwatch, a gift from his father on his eighteenth birthday. Seventy-one beats per minute. At one time it had been less.
Edward began to run.
His body was a bucket of rusty nails crashing against each other as he bounced along the track. Coaxing his old frame into motion was like pointing an old horse away from the barn and saying “Giddy-up.” But he quickly lost himself in the soft pounding of his feet on the urethane rubber. After the first two laps his arms began to grow loose, swinging more easily by his sides, and his breath pushed and pulled in tempo with the pulse of the blood throbbing across the membrane of his eardrums. The passing of the goal posts became a slow, monotonous rhythm. The perpetual oval course brought him always back and then back again. Passing his starting point created a cyclical mental massage.
As Edward’s mind slowed, his pace began to increase.
The bottoms of his nylon pants whipped more vehemently against one another as his legs moved faster, until the sound of their central union was a tenor squeak. In his peripheral vision, the white lines on the field rushed behind him until he leaned into the curves and then rushed behind him again in the opposite direction, moving backward and backward again, making no net progress in either direction. He pushed his index and middle fingers into the loose skin of his neck once more. His pulse had risen. His strides stretched out. His knees rose higher, pumping down hard to propel his body always ahead toward where he had begun at the entry gate.
Lap after lap, the gate became his point of reference.
As his body covered the circumference of the track, his mind circled his schedule while mentally ticking off the laps. The board meeting should go well even though there was still that ass, Delany, to deal with (Gate). Shouldn’t be too tough. At ten, Janice had scheduled him to meet with Anderson about a (Gate) potential signing. At 11 there was that pushy lawyer (Gate) to worry about. That would conflict with his (Gate) granddaughter’s recital –no help (Gate) for that — but not with his ex (Gate) wife about the alimony (Gate). Then the (Gate) merger (Gate)… His pulse rose with his pace as the pressures of the day began to boil within him, driving him to new speeds. The distance between the goal posts seemed to become shorter. The white lines on the field blurred. The gate advanced then retreated. Advance. Retreat. Advance. Retreat. Advance. Retreat. It repeatedly flicked by ……Gate ……Gate …..Gate …..Gate ….Gate …Gate ..Gate GateGateGateGateGate…
A grin sliced the wrinkles on Edwards face. The fox was going to leave the dogs behind. Let them yowl.
His old frame shook and rattled like a rickety car pushed beyond its limits. He tried to take his pulse, and regarded the slow tick of the second hand. The time between the change was long — two heartbeats and then three, four, five… The wind cut at his face, pushed back his cheeks. His legs, trembling with effort, thrust down so forcefully that he covered yards with each stride. He leaned so far into the turns that he could smell the grass. He was a blur around the track. Looking ahead, the sunlight that reflected from the fences and the white lines of the track began to take on a red and then a blue tinge. The field lines streamed by him until they merged into one line and then were gone completely. The pressure of his flesh doubled with each lightening step. He became dense to the brink of implosion. Exhilaration. Pain. Speed. Pressure. Thrill. Blindness. Immortality. Damnation. Adrenaline zoomed up, sparkling his circuits with POWER!!!
Edward the god. Edward the ghoul.
Glancing down at his silver wristwatch, he saw that the secondhand now ticked in reverse. Ahead, there came into view another runner on the track. Amazingly, he seemed to be keeping Edward’s own pace. A challenge. Edward wanted to win. Win to win. Win for the sake of winning. Win so that he would not lose.
Edward ran faster. His body shook. The pain of his feet rebounding from the track became unbearable. As his velocity increased, so did that of the other runner. Edward ran faster and faster, falling further and further behind. Tears of frustration ran down his weathered cheeks only to be torn off his face by the wind. The other was out of site now — behind him. Who could he be? No one ever used this track. All of the new men preferred the air condition and the lying mirrors of the gym. What kind of upstart would dare to compete with him? Who could possibly compete with him today? A machine gun rattle of steps at his back matched the beat of his pulse. Edward bolted, every muscle striving, his old bones cracking. The footsteps quickened, melting one into another. Fear barked in his ears over the howling of the wind. Frustration choked him. Like a winded racer that had led the whole race leaving nothing for the finish, he twisted his neck to steal a desperate glance at his pursuer.
Edward was running up behind himself… and he was gaining. He ran and wept like a babe, himself stepping on his own heals. He stretched forward, a geriatric sprinter lunging for the tape… and caught up with himself.
Edward was striding forward and running backward. The second hand on his watch sprinted in counter-clockwise circles. He was running, stretching, walking to the track, driving, getting up. The sun set and then rose again, moving from the west toward the east — slowly at first, then gaining momentum until its revolution created a strobe of light that rolled back his life in frenetic slow-motion. He was receiving his first social security check and tearing it to shreds, he was watching his daughter’s wedding (the boy didn’t deserve her), divorcing his wife, pirating his first company, getting on with the firm (and making plans to run it), holding his daughter for the first time (he couldn’t have helped missing the labor), getting married, graduating college, sleeping with his wife, leaving for college, being admitted to Harvard, graduating from preparatory school, celebrating his eighteenth birthday…
Edward was growing tired.
His knees were bombshells exploding with every impact.
His will was a heavy sack of water.
His heart was an anchor dragging in regret.
Edward found himself staring again at a watercolor landscape that yawned out in front of him. A large body of azure water loomed, still, toward distant snow peaks. Its depth defied the two dimensional canvas. A wide, tranquil moon rose lazily to cast lengthening shadows from the pines that smothered the nearby hills. No clouds corrupted the silent sky. No insects chirped or whirred amid the green brush strokes of leaning grass. Edward’s left arm was stretched toward the painting. A long paintbrush was clasped loosely in his fingers, awaiting a mental command to add the final bright stroke to the glimmering waters. Edward’s wrist was bare. Edward had never worn a watch when he was young.
The door to his studio whined open and Edward’s father — long since dead — entered the room. He had remained in his business suit despite the late hour, his collar fastened at the neck, his tie still perfectly wound and tucked into his vest.
The old man was carrying something in his manicured fingers. He presented, as if for Edward’s perusal, a small box wrapped in hardy, masculine paper. His father’s breath smelled of scotch and cigars.
“Happy birthday, son.”
Taking the box, Edward unwrapped it to discover a polished silver wristwatch.
“Just needs winding,” the old man said. “A man needs a good watch to keep track of his business.” And without waiting for a response or a “thank you,” he strode out of the room, closing the door behind him with a click.
Edward slipped the watch over his hand and fastened it on his wrist. It snapped on comfortably, a perfect fit. He lifted his easel and brush, preparing for the final stroke. The tip of the brush remained poised over the water. There was something wrong.
Edward’s eyes could not move past the glitter of the watchband. In its glow he could perceive all the tribulations of his past or future life.
Setting his brush and his easel on the table, Edward walked to his dresser where there sat a small, mahogany box. Dark burgundy velvet lined the empty interior. He slipped the watch from his arm and placed it in the box. He peered at it for a moment in an admiring, detached way, a boy mulling over a toy, which he wasn’t sure that he should pick up.
The second hand was still. He had not yet wound it.
He glanced stealthily back at the door.
Then slowly… cautiously… Edward shut the lid.