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Atalanta pulls on her new running shoes.
She loves how the neoprene material stretches to accommodate each foot, the way it hugs her skinny ankles. The shoes are Adidas; Nikes presents a potential conflict of sponsorship for her. She makes two butterfly bows with her laces, then stands and rocks on her heels, delighting in the padding under her arches.
“They’re calling it the race of the century, if not the millennium,” gushes a news anchor on the television screen on the kitchen wall. “Atalanta, sports girl extraordinaire, today takes on a fresh squad of male challengers in a 15,000-metre race, which is likely to be yet another sprint to victory for her. Since her professional debut last summer, this mind-boggling athlete has taken the world by storm by competing only in male events.” The news anchor has small eyes under comically large nerd glasses, and wears distracting shoulder-duster earrings. Atalanta wonders why a woman would ornament herself this way, in such a very un-aerodynamic manner. The earrings are like wind chimes, rivalling the news anchor’s voice.
Atalanta points the TV remote at the screen and grimly presses “mute”. She chews her Blueberry Morning cereal pensively, perched on a bar stool. The veins on her temples move when she moves her jaw. On screen, a photo of her in a bra top and tiny running shorts appears. Atalanta ignores it. She unscrews a small orange container marked “Tetrahydrogestrinone”, shakes two white pills into her palm, and swallows without water.
Atalanta remembers the moistness of wolf teats.
She remembers the wetness of leaves.
Dappled sunlight; full-bodied throatiness of bull frogs; mangled grass and dew.
She remembers the suede feel of mornings on her bare skin, and the sting of blow flies and mosquitoes. The curiosity of finding a leech on one’s calf for the first time. The green grace of moss. The languor of being in one’s flesh, and nowhere else. The understanding of time as a single skein. The day is an accordion unfolding. Night is some contracting. Limbs lengthening.
On her tongue: the infinite sweetness of cane sugar. Deciduous drizzle or tropical rainstorm? She cannot decide. It does not matter.
The day rivulets of blood runs down the inside of her legs, she builds a blaze from palm leaves and sits solemnly on bark. A bush shakes, crackles. Then, someone like her – but not quite her – steps out. Advances with arms outstretched, hands prepped to grasp. Go. Stay. Freeze. Fire.
Atalanta learns how to run for her life that day.
Still, they catch her. They catch her and foist upon her a father.
She thinks: I’m not fleeing any more.
Her voice echoes in the empty foyer – the movers hired by the bailiff’s office had come yesterday to shift everything for the auction. Had she spoken out loud? The movers had taken everything: her trophies, medals and golden apples. She is glad to see them go. She has nothing left to prove. No need to keep scampering on the treadmill.
Her son now lives with her ex-husband. Her caramel-skinned little boy. His preternatural stillness used to scare her. Going out to yank the sheets off the line in their yard, she would find him standing stock still in the sand pit, ears cocked as though tuned in to some heavenly radio station broadcasting for an audience of one.
“What is it?” she once asked, when she stumbled on him that way again.
“The light,” he had replied. “It sings.”
Now – her career over after the doping scandal; opening and closing doors in her soon-to-be repossessed house – Atalanta hears the light, too. It emanates from her. She vibrates, every cell of her body looking for a way out. The air around her warps and bends. She has hidden her need to decamp exceedingly well, but has also succeeded in producing a sound like that of a flapped metal sheet. A foley artist’s primitive dream. Once heard, it can no longer by un-heard.
Last week’s newspapers lie abandoned in a corner of the living room, left behind by one of the bored, burly men who had carted away her worldly belongings. She idly pages through the inky sheaf and reads the headlines. A lion has escaped from a Copenhagen zoo, prompting a 36-hour lockdown of the city. Atalanta imagines prowling those deserted streets. She feels pebbles on the tender pads of her paws, as she swerves shaggily onto a zebra crossing. Her eyes narrow against the noon-time glare of glass-clad skyscrapers. Humankind has engineered greater and greater lenses with which to see themselves. They stud the landscape, growing murky from disuse.
In her mind, Atalanta prowls on. Sinking to her haunches, alone in her denuded home, she thinks: I am a sluggish river. A mud-laden muscle.