Chia-Chia Lin is the author of the novel The Unpassing (FSG). Below is an excerpt from her short story “Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres” from the Bay Area Issue, which you can purchase at the link. You can also apply to our Fiction Workshop with Chia-Chia Lin by submitting here.
When Delepine first started running, the air shredded her lungs. Like inhaling powdered glass. After a run, she kept right on sweating and her face kept coloring, peaking at its maximum carmine hue when she was doing something embarrassingly low-impact, like sitting at her desk and rattling the pencils in her cup. She was an assistant at a design firm, and the last thing that belonged with all the high-gloss furniture and filmy blouses was her inflamed, oddly porous face.
It was ludicrous she was running at all—and more so that at thirty, she was running alongside Eva. Eva, for whom running seemed as easy and restful as sleep. Eva, who could turn her dark eyes to the scenery— eucalyptus tree, sea cliff, rolling hill. Her body lean, movements fluid, footsteps light.
They had met in the mid-nineties in a continuing education class, Intro to the Internet for Business. Delepine’s firm had sent her when her boss had fallen sick, but Eva, an ER nurse, was there on her own. Eva scorned the men who spoke up in class. On the first day, a pigeon had flown into the classroom, and she had swatted it with her notebook and then chased it out by flapping her windbreaker behind it like a giant pigeon herself.
Always get the last word.
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On the third class, during the fifteen-minute break, Delepine and Eva walked to a pond and back. It was a paltry thing, the size of a parking space, but they stood at the edge and peered at the algae, which clumped in places like pureed peas. It had been a week of bombings—yesterday, a letter bomb in Sacramento, said to be the Unabomber’s work; last Wednesday, Oklahoma City, with the death count still rising. Delepine never knew what to say about tragedies; she’d end up sounding mawkish or flippant. She could only think in images: the nine-story hole, papers from file cabinets blowing down the rubbled street, a toy truck covered in ash. Eva told her a man had plunged seven floors in an elevator during the blast and emerged unscathed. Another man crawled under his desk while, beside him, the floor dropped away.
Week after week, they walked to the pond on their breaks. Eva was thinking of starting a home care business. Just an idea. Just a thought.
They both lived in the East Bay at the time, and they started to walk, then jog, outside of class. Suddenly, Delepine realized, Eva was racing. She was not racing Delepine—there was no point to that. But she clenched her teeth and fixed her eyes on a point far down the road. When she reached it, she chose another spot, a rock or shadow, and ran for that, too, in a way that made Delepine wonder what was at stake.
All she knew was that Eva had grown up in Texas, in a tiny, mostly Latino town an hour’s drive from Odessa. During summer floods, cantaloupes from the farms floated down the streets. Later they rotted in the sun. Her father disappeared with her brother, leaving behind a house full of women. Eva was different from her five sisters. She was slender, not religious, not a mother, far from home. In the summer, when Delepine tanned, she felt they could have been sisters, too, even if Eva’s dark spirals of hair stood in sharp contrast to Delepine’s thin wheat-colored strands. Sometimes Eva said, “I came out of nothing.” She looked Delepine straight on, eyes squinted to sharpen the gaze.
A few months into their runs, Delepine found a free book in a bin, a paperback from ten years ago, Running for Women, written mostly by a man.
The broad pelvic girdle of women inclines them toward straddle-legged running. Women, therefore, should try to run with their legs as close together as possible, especially on flat turf or pavement.
If you are attacked by a rapist on a run:
The first thing you should do is to begin a controlled scream.
If you are confronted by an exhibitionist:
Don’t give him the satisfaction of a shocked look.
There was also a bewildering section titled Hair Removal for the Underarms. Delepine used the book as a training manual anyway, though she never mentioned it to Eva. Week 1: five-minute warm-up, six 300-yard jogs alternated with 100-yard walks, five-minute warm-down. By week 12, she could toss off a half-hour run—not a jog, not a trot, but a sustained, honest run.
They tried a few 5Ks, and as the months and then two years ticked by, moved on to 10K street races, 10K trails up and down the headlands of the North Bay, half marathons, marathons. Eva was fast. Once she took fifth in their age group. Other times, eighth and ninth. The real surprise was, Delepine was no longer slow. She thought of her old Phys Ed teacher, a squat man who stretched his sweat-wicking clothing to capacity. During the rope-climbing unit, he looked up their shorts, or so some said, and he was chummy with the girls. But Delepine he only mocked, saying as she was lapped by the whole class, “There goes our track star,” and, “Guess someone’s on the rag.”
In the constant running they now did was a certain hunkering, a blindered resolve or grit. Once Delepine had pounded out the first ten or twenty steps, all thoughts vacated her mind, except how many miles had been covered, how many were left. On the uphill, how much was left until the downhill. Math and estimation: the percentage finished, the approximate time left, the pace so far, and on and on. She never questioned whether they would finish, only how long it would take and how much it would hurt.
It mimicked her life at work, when she calculated the hours until lunch, or how much of the day was left, or how much of the week or year. But her new athletic life was a different kind of life. A second, better life? Some kind of answer to her first. It had the quality of immense potential. Their times were getting shorter, their distances longer, their bodies more compact. Their lungs were expanding. Everything was expanding.
Read this story in full by purchasing the Bay Area Issue from our Shop today! You can also apply to our Fiction Workshop with Chia-Chia Lin by submitting here.