Run to Stand Still
A short story by Marion Cline
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Even as I hold my pen, I quiver. There’s an earthquake, a deep tremor, coursing through these dark blue veins. Frankly, I prefer thinking over writing, but when I’m too tired to think, when I feel the capillaries in my mind ready to burst, that is when I write. Writing has proven to be a physiological dependence for me. But then, I’m told I depend on a lot of things, physiologically speaking.
Like right now. I’m awake on a dreary morning, pen in hand, on this hospital bed. Its stained seafoam color and springiness makes me sick; it’s like a sad person pretending to be happy; however I don’t think I could sleep without it. Lying across from me is my friend. I’m told that I’m ‘physiologically’ dependent on him as well. Undoubtedly, we didn’t choose each other. He wears a loud, plastic shade of orange, and he reminds me of my inability to recover. And this bring me a hysterical portion of comfort.
I’m staring outside, through the glass. Early sunlight pricks my eyes. Blink a little, focus. A pair of hollow eyes stare back at me. Oh, no. Here comes panic and a surge of bile up my throat. Focus. Focus! Stare outside when you feel sick, I remember my mother saying, on road trips when I began to feel nauseous. Focus.
It’s a pale, dry day. It looks dry anyway. It’s hollowed out, like the old shells of cicadas. The sunlight is plain and boring this time of year. It’s static; nothing moves.
The door creaks open suddenly, a shrill cheery creak.
“Beautiful day outside, isn’t it?” the person behind the door chirps, making melodious music with the lighthearted door. I sigh in response.
The truth is, this day is not beautiful. I know. I’ve been in this room for a long time, asleep and awake. Through days and nights.
This day is not beautiful. It’s frail and ill. I tighten my jaw and joints, as the doctor continues to grace me with his presence.
He says a few things in his delightful, plastic voice. My mind rests on his tone, but not his words. Never his words. He leaves hesitantly, unhappy about the fact that my back has been turned to him. I don’t care.
There’s a lot more things I need to worry about, like wasn’t autumn only yesterday? Yes! There were columns of deep, rich foliage. Red, orange, gold scales of leaves, vibrant and vibrating in my mind still. Warm, sweet-smelling air enveloped my room, which smelled like sickness before. That sweet air, that beautiful breeze shrouded me in a gentle, fiery embrace. It spun me into another dimension, into a world where I was a child again, where food was edible and men weren’t so horrible. Where I was loved by everyone, even myself.
But then I woke up, and the leaves had withered into flimsy shades of gray and black.
The door creaks open again, and a cheery voice calls my name. Inside of me, a cold knot twists, and I start to feel queasy. The psychiatrist is in.
I’m still grasping my pen. My hands are clammy. My composition book is opened on my lap. I shut it when she gets closer. And I grip my pen tighter, as if it’s a handlebar, and I’m
dangling off the edge of a cliff. She sits down quietly and fumbles around to find her own pen and journal. I bluntly turn and face her.
She’s young. There’s lipstick plastered to her lips, and she holds coffee in one hand. I watch her sip it a little, twitch her eye, and then scowl at the bitter taste. I used to wonder why she drank it in the first place, but I think I know now; it’s what she thinks makes her real.
“Let’s review,” she begins, and she proceeds to take another sip, twitch another eye, and purse her lipstick-stained lips. She chats monotonously with a fake trill at the end of each line. She begins with an introduction to how I deal with my feelings, why I am the way that I am, how I’ve been treated throughout my perilous life, and so on. In my mind, I see a conveyor belt with bits and pieces of myself on it, turning over and over and over. I suppose that’s why I hate therapy.
To amuse myself, I blur out the image of her sitting there. It blurs into a palette of pink, orange-tan, and navy blue. I focus again. Then blur again. I doubt she can see the difference in my eyes.
“Does it bother you,” she says, “does it bother you that you can’t see your friends or family very often?” she sits cross legged, waiting for a response.
“No, there’s one of them, there” I say, nodding in the direction of my orange friend. He’s sitting on the desk across from me.
She looks around, then turns to me. Her face hardens and flushes. After a minute of silence, she starts talking about my need to grow up, how thinking too much is a curse. I avert my eyes to the window. The sun is already in the grips of the bare trees, sinking. That’s how fast time goes by here.
Her voice begins to lose its chirpiness, and it speeds up, angrily. By the tone of her voice, I can tell she’s asking me something. She repeats herself, again and again, until; “Damn it, would you look at yourself? Your skin looks like chalk!” and with that, she lets out a deep breath and gulps. Our eyes meet. Hers are rimmed with tears.
I feel myself smile. In her eyes, I see something new; humanity. And I open my composition book and write: My skin looks like chalk.
It’s true. I look down at my legs. They’re pasty white, tinted gray from old bruises.
“Why?” she asks. The cheerfulness is gone; her voice quakes.
I breath in, then out. I feel myself wheeze, like an old chew toy that has no more resilience. I suppose that is what I am; worn down, giving up.
Despite all this, I speak: “You can’t fathom.” CRASH! Immediately my voice breaks like a vase slamming into the ground, cracking into thousands of pieces. I hold those pieces in my wilted hands, tears magnify my vision. With all my strength, I pull them back and continue, “you can’t understand. My reflection, it chips away at me. I’m filled with hate, not for everyone else as much as for myself. I know I have to give up this apathetic facade, but I can’t. Stop! Please.”
She puts down her note pad warily, after writing furiously.
“Please,” I say, “no more.”
She nods slowly. On this hospital bed, I quake, and take a deep breath of stale air. “My mother used to say everything good is done in moderation, but-” Breathe in, breathe out, focus. “but I run to stand still. And I run more to stand still more.”
Our eyes rest on each others for a moment. I feel her wanting to say more, but I return to the window, tears vanishing, and my face stolid and caustic as it was before. And with tha, she is gone.
Heartbeat. Pulse. Silence hums in my ears. I wrap my arms around my chest to stabilize myself. To prevent myself from getting blown away by the constant spinning of the planet. I gaze around. My orange friend sits there waiting for me. Gingerly, I trudge over to him and hold him in my arms. And with all my might, I throw him against the wall, and watch as the pasty yellow capsules explode from that plastic, orange, vial. Pills flood the stained floor.
I look at the window. Not through it, but at the reflection. At myself. It’s dark outside.
My eyes are bloodshot, sunken. Hollow and gaunt and white. Everything is angular; my shoulders jut out. Emaciated and wasted, like a shadow. At what cost? I’m skinny and dying. And at what cost? What cost?
But then something turns inside of me. A deep hatred. It’s thick, sticky, and dark.
I lift my shirt up slowly and stare at my stomach like a greedy animal who has eyed his prey.
And I proceed to count my ribs like one counts wads of dollar bills.