For one whole summer, mid-May to the dawn of September, we watched the man run. He was visible to us from our third floor apartment window, two blocks away, making his circuit around the plaza before heading into the park proper, at sundown.
Three to four hours later he would reappear, lighting his way with a ridiculous and practical head-mounted flashlight. Jogging Freak, as we referred to him, emerged from the darkness of the park as The Unicorn. Legs pumping methodically and silent.
We decided he ran because he had to run, because it was what he was destined to do. He wasn’t like the other regular joggers. Not the after-work crowd, the happy hour running junkies we liked to observe. Maybe there was another jogging freak in the mornings, maybe there were several, fulfilling their destinies while we were occupied in one of our local coffee shops. But we didn’t know them.
There were at least a dozen regulars who made circuits of the plaza, the acre of solid green containing a restored antique carousel and several food kiosks. Most of them would appear most evenings of most weeks that summer. Jogging Freak was the only clockwork runner. He didn’t miss a day: by 6:00 sharp he was there. The strangest part was that neither Steven nor I ever actually caught his arrival at the plaza. One minute it was 5:59, and the next he was just there, a transfiguration. Did he drive from somewhere else, a suburb or another urban enclave, or was he forever on foot?
He had brownish hair, slight to average build, wearing the ephemeral singlet and shorts common to serious runners. He was not pale or tan, short or tall, fast or slow. He was interchangeable and even-keel. There was something melancholy about his devotion. Steven didn’t own binoculars; I considered buying a pair, but the idea of getting a closer look at this guy seemed both pointless and creepy.
I did wonder what happened once he was lost to view in the park. Did he run the entire time? Rest? Use the shadowy woodland trails or stick to the winding roads? Did he get scared when the darkness became complete? Maybe he even had a home on the park’s other side, where he grabbed a nourishing snack before heading back out. Was it worthwhile to speculate? Not really, but speculation is in our nature.
I was more invested than Steven in the man’s seemingly fated perambulations. After I first pointed him out in the week before June, Steven would watch with me on occasion, but I was compelled to watch every single day. I needed to know he was there, that he was running two circuits around the plaza before directing his stride to the park; I needed to peer through the blinds later, in the night, and see his figure in shadow behind the glowing horn of his head-mounted light.
There was not any way to verify for certain, from a distance of two blocks in the dark, that this reverse-lit figure was the same man. I simply knew that it was; I witnessed most of the other runners quit after a few circuits around the plaza, or go off on other tangents, and if a couple of them did sometimes enter the park, I usually caught them coming back out again after a time, while it was still light. Statistically, it made sense that this was the same man, but even had the variables been less exclusionary my certainty was complete.
I wasn’t bed-ridden, crippled, or ill. This wasn’t a Rear Window scenario. There was no great mystery waiting to be solved or explained. Just Jogging Freak. In some sense, his presence confirmed my own existence, and this was comforting. Having “nothing better to do”, in general, leaves one feeling on the verge of dissolution, of ceasing to be. The lonely, rhythmic travails of the Jogging Freak was a kind of corrective measure for my drifting formlessness. We were counterparts.
I never found out what happened with the runner after that summer. On the 2nd of September, I parted ways with the living world. I don’t know anything further about the runner; in fact, I know nothing further about Steven or anyone else whom I loved in those times. Time has ended for me. I can know nothing more. I can only hold my memories, countless snow globes revolving in constant rotation, reflect on them, savor or regret them. In the absence of time, they can never fade; likewise, there is no chance they will ever make sense.