Damn! I should have stretched before this…
“Wait up, Topaz” he called as he stopped by a lamppost to lean into a light calf stretch. Seeing her owner had stopped, Topaz veered left into a small bit of bush to inspect the wonderful variety of smells. Happy that he wasn’t even a little short of breath, he extended his stretching session to include his quads and then the dreaded hamstrings. Only barely able to touch the tops of his shoes, he reeled upwards in pain and cursed his lack of commitment. “Feel the pain” he said out loud in his best attempt at replicating the manner and tone of a zenful master.
On his second attempt he reached the same point of his shoes as previously but managed to stay in position, resisting the calls from the under side of his knees, which were so accustomed to getting their way when it came to flexibility tests. For five agonisingly long breaths he remained, before returning upright to shake off the memory of the pain. Feeling much better for the stretch (probably better than such a stretch should warrant), he turned his head upwards, finding the quarter moon gave away enough of its bright reflection to let a keen eye find the outlines of a band of space dust. This time he drew five much easier breaths, but despite the temptation to continue starbathing, he preferred to honour the symmetry of his situation and shook off the smile that had formed on his face.
After a whistle in the direction of the bush, he continued to run, drawing inspiration from the magical sound coming from his iPod. When it came to running, there was no better album than Quadrophenia. The daring wit of Townsend’s genius would perhaps be hard to take seriously if Daltry didn’t sing the lyrics with such passion and conviction. This comes over top of the unique strumming and empowering guitarwork of Townsend, partnered by Entwhistle’s emphatic bass lines that deserved their own separate tracks to be fully appreciated, . And to top it off, Keith Moon’s non stop drumming can only make one question what sort of drugs he had to take to be able to maintain such a pace for the duration of the record.
With Topaz leading the way for the most part of the jog, trailing only to investigate the occasional tree or post before deciding it was worthy or not of her signature, he made his way to the local park. It was around two kilometres from his inner suburban apartment. Through a path, heavily shadowed by the overhanging trees, he slowed to a walk watching with admiration, the silhouette of Topaz crossing the peak of the small hill at the edge of the football field. He climbed and she paused lifting her nose to sniff the air, though it seemed more as an attempt to have her head scratched rather than catch the scent of the environment. Tom obliged, as he scoped the field for any dogs or owners who might give Topaz reason to taste the air a little closer. She was not always a sweet, lovable animal, and became more wolf than dog when she encountered a smaller creature. However, it was the middle of winter and by 11pm the local football teams had long since packed up their training gear and switched off the floodlights, and most people in their right minds wouldn’t be out in this sort of cold anyway (or their dogs for that matter).
Tom gave a sudden start to catch his pet’s attention. Then, with a small slap on the hip of her hind leg he dashed off in a sprint. Topaz, being a fit young husky didn’t need encouragement when it came to sprinting. She dashed after him and within seconds had covered three times the distance and began literally running circles round him, barking playfully as he dodged her attempts to cut his path off.
He reached the opposite side of the field and by this time Topaz had found more interesting things to do in the bush behind the goalposts. He always found it amusing when she tired of the games before he did. Tom stopped at the base of another hill, about 20-25m long on a decent gradient. Fighting off the doubts and fears that seem to be averse to any sort of activity no matter how beneficial it may be, he started up the hill with the number twenty in his mind. His previous encounter with the hill he managed fifteen and ten before that. Twenty was the logical next step.
He descended trying to keep his mind blank, not wanting to let it drift (as a general principle) but also feeling that one lap is too early to start focusing on the pain as a means of coping with it.
“Dos…Too easy mate,” he said for the benefit of those who might be watching.
“Tres!” Who the fuck are you talking to, you moron?
As was always the case, his mind stepped into the fray. This is where he recruited his music for inspiration. He sang random lyrics out loud to mute the many voices in his head, which sprung to life at the news that severe, self inflicted (and therefore avoidable) pain was about to begin and be maintained for twenty laps. TWENTY!? What the fuck? Last time was fifteen and you nearly threw up.
“Ocho.” Ocho?! Only eight? That’s still twelve to go!
“And people die because their old
or left alone out in the cold”
He sang in shaky tones, with a smile at the apparent poetic relevance of the lyrics. The monologue continued, with his mind both helping and hindering at different moments. The helpless dancer continued to play in his ears and at an unconscious moment he sang out again:
“And when a man is trying to change
It only causes further pain.
You realise that all along
There’s something in us going wroo-ng”
His voice choked on the last note. He couldn’t be sure whether it was his exhausted condition or the sheer emotion the lyric tore out of him, but his knees almost buckled under his weight as chills did more than just make the hair on the back of his neck stand on end; he felt the sensation penetrate every organ in his body.
He shouted it with a passion that sounded weak by the time it escaped him, but one which had a resonating determination that grew from within. As he descended for the twelfth time he felt his stomach churning its contents but acknowledged it with decided conviction that it was merely an inconsequential pain in an otherwise enjoyable journey back to the top of the hill.
He now had a confidence that he would accomplish his goal. A confidence in each individual climb. In each step. Each breath. Not knowing if his thoughts would revert to the dark side again, but more confident still that they would have no consequence if they did.
At fifteen he decided to ‘feel the pain’, believing that he was clearly less exhausted than his last outing which had been completed by this point. He focused on the constant tightening and release of his abdomen muscles, and the queasy feeling that produced within. As he circled to climb again he turned his attention to the burning in his thighs and the next round on his lungs desperate attempts to meet the O2 demands of his body. He studied the pain, from an objectionable viewpoint, knowing that from here onwards the pain had plateaued and would remain until he stopped or collapsed.
He reached the bottom of the hill after nineteen rounds. He paused a while to soak in the moment. Topaz had situated herself some distance to his left, halfway up the hill, looking at him with mild curiosity as her tongue dangled out the side of her mouth. As usual his soundtrack found some uncanny relevance as he moved to finish the final lap.
Is it in my head
Is it in my head
Is in my head here at the start?
Is it in my head
Is it in my head
Is it in my head, or in my heart?
he exclaimed with one final push of breath through his voice box, before collapsing to the ground. He smiled through the pain in his lungs and drew strength from the beauty of the celestial magic on show above him. He listened to the rest of Quadrophenia, hardly moving except for the rising and falling of his chest.