by Andrew Kirby
Rick swallows up the slick pavements. There are still miles to burn on his clock: missing miles from yesterday’s race. He is down by the river, under the giraffe-necks of cranes which have stopped safariing in the shipyards where his father broke his back, and now build the flats for people like him, people who take the easy money. His father compared pacemaking to the way racehorses stud: they get in these other horses first, just to get the mare all frisky, before Red Rum or whoever, steps in and sires the heir. Pacemaking was just like that; set the pace, get the crowd excited before quietly stepping off the track and allowing the Bigger Guns to swagger into the business end of the races.
Now the unfinished races lie vomited up behind him, stinking out the place. No matter how much he makes up for it in these dead hours, he can still smell that aroma of defeat every time he opens his eyes at the sickening chirrup of his alarm clock.
Once he’d been a local hero. Now, not so much.
Rick moves away from the riverside and follows the city’s American-style grid street pattern back up to the centre. To spite the climb, he doesn’t alter his pace. He is still running away from that thing from which he can never escape, no matter how hard he pumps his elbows, no matter how much he strains his calf muscles: himself.
He drives forward along Sauchiehall Street, a place of burgeoning young life and hope. There are students still pouring themselves home from the nightclubs even at this hour. He hears them mutter about him as he passes.
The first of the morning light begins to soak into the city like melting butter, and Rick runs himself into a stitch. Each time one of his feet hits the tarmac, he emits an agonised sigh.
He stops near George Square, slumping into a defeated heap on the kerb. Rips at the Velcro which holds his feet into those too-tight running shoes; throws the offending items into the middle of the road. His bent toes drink in the greasy air. He can’t feel the stitch any more but he doesn’t want to start running again. He suddenly feels comfortable in this new, still world. He can see clearly now, without that film of sweat which used to lend everything a sepia tint.
He finds that he is sitting at a bus stop, and when the first bus of the day pulls up, he eases himself to his bare feet and climbs aboard, little caring where its destination will be. And the bus pulls away lackadaisically. It lumbers down the street, not caring that a line of cars are queuing up behind it, waiting for the right moment to rush past – work awaits. The bus is setting the pace, and it’s a sedate one.