Short story and photo by Smiler
It was morning. She wrote. she wrote some more. And then again. She edited. And then she edited again. And then she contacted a couple of friends to see if one of them would go run with her. They were busy with other things. Fair enough. She went by herself and ran for eighty minutes. She couldn’t have run that long if someone else had come along.
The mountain was about twenty minutes from her apartment, uphill from begining to end. Because she was feeling tired and weary that day, she didn’t make a goal of it to actually get to the mountain. She figured running towards it was a good enough job for the day.
When the hills were too steep, she walked. She got up top, to Beaver Lake. She ran along the grassy knolls that surround it. She found it pretty there. Not gorgeous. Nice. Nice enough. There was hardly anyone at that hour, and it was cold besides. There was a very happy dog running around with a friendly looking old man stood there looking at him and smiling, and she played with him a little. The dog that is—she just smiled and said hello to the old man, since he didn’t look like he was about to start hopping around like an idiot the way she was doing with his dog. The dog played along. The old man smiled back at her and said That dog certainly is full of life. Yes, he certainly was.
She found an old tree she liked, and she leaned on it to unwind her legs and do a few yoga stretches. It wasn’t a big tree. It had obviously been beaten up by the elements. There were lots of branches missing. And still, there were tender fresh new leaves all over it. It’s misshapened, poor thing. But we understand each other she thought to herself. She pushed against it, and she imagined it pushing back againt her too, and she was quite sure she felt they were exchanging energy. Something like that.
She was inspired to do a handstand. But she needed more support and her present companion wasn’t up to the task. She found a great big oak tree with a very large trunk. It was a good tree. A strong tree. She knew it could support her fumbling attempts at doing a handstand unflinchingly, and not let her down. It didn’t. She felt happy as she looked at the world upside down, even if for just a short while. A great change of perspective indeed. Good to get the blood flowing to the brain when you use it as darn much as I do, she thought. Her arms were strong and they held her up just fine, but she’d need more practice to stay up there for longer bouts. I’ll just keep practicing she said to no one in particular.
She felt a special connection to trees somehow. That’s what her name meant: tree. But it was a foreign and strange sounding name, so kids would to tease her about it relentlessly. She didn’t mind now. Tree hugger indeed she thought, smiling to herself.
She decided to continue her run through the cemetery. Grand Maman Margot was burried here, though she wasn’t sure where exactly. Mère-Grand, she called her in French sometimes. She felt her presence still. She liked to honour her memory whenever she got a chance. Margot is short for Marguerite, which means Daisy in English, so she’d been buying daisies every week. Granny flowers. She sometimes made sure to let the florist know that they were actually meant for her grandmother. They didn’t need to know she’d passed away long ago, did they? And besides, she figured they’d understand even if they did know. Florists must hear all kinds strange stories.
There was a beautiful cemetery near the ocean in Bronte, Australia, where she’d jogged while visiting there. She’d had qualms about disrespecting the dead, but those were appeased when she saw several runners making their way the path by the tombstones. After that experience, she’d felt quite sure the dearly departed enjoyed getting visitors—even if only the occasional joggers. So on this day, running on the montain, she though it might bring her some measure of peace and comfort to go running though Mount-Royal cemetery, where her beloved Gand-Maman Marguerite was burried. She had fond memories of going to visit her after class at Victoria School, playing cards with her, eating Pringles chips. How old was I then? Seven or eight maybe? she wondered. Granny always wore a dress. Always seemed well put together. Was always kind and gentle with her grand-daughter. Or at least that’s how she liked to remember her. When she got Margot her daisies, she always make sure to put them in Mère-Grand’s painted ceramic pitcher, imported from Italy, way back when.
From a distance, when she started nearing the cemetery, she saw a bunch of multicoloured stickers with bad typography stuck haphazardly all over the entrance gates. She hesitate to go in. This was not her idea of a peaceful run in a lovely setting. She reached the entrance gates: “on strike” the stickers read. The cemetery itself was filthy. There were plastic bags and newspapers strewn all over the place. It saddened her to see how very little respect we have for the dead. “But then again, we have so very little respect for the living nowadays, why should we be bothered once they’ve gone to another place? Why bover? Right?”. She joked to herself to push away the indignation she felt.
She continued running along nonetheless. Don’t let it bover you kiddo, She thought to herself. Grand Maman is here. She’ll be glad that you’ve dropped by for a visit. She had good upbeat music playing on her iPod. She focused on that. She noticed a huge section with tombstones that were especially glitzy. Black granite no doubt, all done up with golden lettering. Cyrillic. A russian section. She hadn’t realized the russians had taken over such a big section of the cemetery that way. She hadn’t realized there was such a big russian population in Montreal to begin with. Are they mostly living or mostly dead? she couldn’t help but ask herself. That thought makes her chuckle for some reason. She had a morbid sense of humour, that’s for sure.
As she continued running and gazing at the tombstones, she wondered just how “beloved” some of those dearly departed husbands and wives had been while they were still living. Did the size and quality of the tombstones have anything to do with the love and appreciation the bodies burried beneath them had received, while they were still alive? or with the legacy they’d left behind for that matter? She wondered. Of course not. Sometimes… diametrically opposed, I would suspect,
Was Mozart’s carcass not just tossed into a communal ditch? One of the greatest composers that ever lived. All those treasures he’s left behind; 600 compositions… with works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music… Considered among the most enduringly popular of European composers… Many of his works part of the standard concert repertoire… Considered to be one of the greatest composers of classical music. etc, etc… “He was not buried in a “mass grave” for paupers but in a regular communal [unmarked] grave according to the 1784 laws in Austria.” She’d read somewhere. That was so terribly reassuring. Terrible, mostly. Once we’ve used up the bodies, we just toss them aside. Oh Wolfgang… the injustice of it. They should be ashamed of themselves. Still, she continued running to the beats of the electronic music blaring into her skull. The Crystal Method. A running track done for Nike. Purchased on iTunes. It was a good one. Not great. Good. It prompted her along, helped her push further on, and that was all that was required at the moment.
As she started making her way out of the cemetery, she saw some words chiseled into granite steps. She backtracked to have a closer look. “Riposa in Pace” it said . Keep that one in mind, She thought, That’s quite beautiful. Italian I think. I might want to use that somewhere. “Riposa in Pace”. Am I allowed to rest in peace while I’m still living? She was tempted to ask aloud. Tempted to scream actually. But she didn’t. She just continued running along.
She kept running. She was tired now. Very tired. Depleted. Thirsty. But she needed to make her way back home. Needed to feed herself. One option was to take some of the cash she always carried “in case of emegency” and take a bus or taxi ride home. But that was out of the question today. May as well make the end of the run a pleasant one she decided. I’m fine. I have enough energy to carry me home. She pushed on. It was all downhill from there anyway, easy enough. She took the large winding path down the mountain, down Pine Avenue. She liked Pine avenue. She always asked taxi drivers to take that route to bring her home when she finished late at the office. It was so stately. There was a nice view of the city on the left, and the mountain to the right.
She saw a few other joggers running towards her. Everybody had their music on. Some of them nodded and smiled back at her. Mostly they didn’t take notice. Focused on their own run. That’s fine, I do that too a lot of the time. They’re in the zone. It occured to her: “how many of those runners feel as badly as I do right now? And how many people must think we’ve got it all together because we sure LOOK like we do? We LOOK like we know exactly where we’re going. Today, I actually do, she thought, not always by far. But making my back home is simple enough.”
It felt colder outside. She pressed on. The Crystal Method mix was getting more and more upbeat now. She was tempted to start sprinting, but there was a good fifteen, twenty minutes to go still, so she increased the speed a little, but she made sure to pace herself. She went down Dr. Penfield. Ran past the dog park. She made a mental note to go have a walk there with her camera sometime. Just hang out with the dogs for a while.
She continued running. She started sprinting in short spurts. Getting hungry. Getting thirsty. Made her way down Sherbrooke. She loved Sherbrooke street. Perfect to run along with those extra wide sidewalks like the ones in New York City she tought. She started feeling… the loneliness crashing in again, here in this most familiar setting, so close to home. How many times have I walked here… alone? How many taxis and buses have I ridden in… alone? And that car door I slammed… was it just a year ago now? Ugh. T’was better to just slam that door and walk away in the pouring rain. He wasn’t worth the trouble. Lonely or not.
She was nearing that pretty little parc now, close to Dawson College. The same college where that shooting had occured the previous year. But that’s not what she remembered it by. She remember her days as a student there. And all the doors that opened up for her before she’d even graduated. Now still, even.
She made her way down Elm street. So pretty. So British. She decided to end her run there. She wanted to go pick up a few things at the local grocery store. She didn’t want to go inside sweaty and short of breath. Wouldn’t do to show up in that state. We are in Westmount after all. Elm… She saw a triplex up for sale. The brick was… not a very nice colour. Too dark. But otherwise it looked like a very good building from the outside. Solid. Respectable. I’d just paint the brick white and it would look great, if only I could afford it, she thought to herself.
She was getting close to De Maisonneuve now, right by the grocery store. She decided… give yourself a hundred meters, then go for your last sprint. That’s what she liked to do. Always keep a little for that last push. That was the fun part. When she could finally let her legs do what they did best, pound hard against the pavement, launch her forward, propel her into the air. It was almost like flying. Almost.
Someday… I too will fly. But I must stay grounded for now. I wish to rest in peace while I’m still among the living. Riposa in Pace.