The Race

by Stephen Swann

Preface

A man loses his mother.


A new short story. Takes 11 minutes to read.

He'd trained for years for this moment. He looked at the crowds in the big stadium , and a feeling of excitement ran through him. An older gent on the left of him gave the order to get into the starting blocks. The nine men were ready for the race of their lives. It was now or never. Then a shot echoed loudly.

    Michael sat by the bed. His mother looked at him with sadness, knowing she didn't have much time left. She looked so frail as the terrible disease had ravaged her body. He got hold of her hand gently, then gave her a smile which signified, please don't go yet, mum.

    Michael's father was no longer with them, as he'd died five years ago from a heart attack. All Michael had was his mum who he loved very much. The thought of her not being there anymore made him feel depressed.

    Jane kissed his hand, then said, "Don't be sad, love. You've got your whole life to live, I know that doesn't mean much at present, but please don't be too sad. I've had my life, and now I can see Geoff again, your beautiful father."

    Michael had to look away from her gaze, as he knew the medication she was on was causing her to talk like this. "I love you, mum."

    She smiled, before replying, "And I love you too, my special little boy."

    A short moment later she'd passed away.

    That evening he sat in the living room of his mum's house, in the middle of putting her personal items in boxes. The tears came while Michael held a framed photograph of them all, when he was only sixteen years of age. He put the picture down on the coffee table and wiped his eyes. For the next two hours he carried on with the job in hand. By eleven o'clock Michael felt tired. It was time to head to bed.

    He drove to the training ground early the next day, still upset. Parking the car in its normal space, Michael got out. At the front of the small building stood his coach.

    "Are you okay, mate?" asked Trevor, giving him a concerned look.

    He was far from okay, but decided not to show it. "Yes I'm fine, coach," he answered. "So what's the plan today?"

    Trevor pushed the door open, and both went inside. They proceeded down the corridor to another door which led to the running track. On the track Michael ran two laps to warm up. His coach seemed happy with his progress, especially after everything that had happened lately. For the next three hours he trained hard.

    After lunch both headed to the gym where Michael lifted some weights for the next two hours. After that he'd had enough for one day. It was time to drive back to his mother's place, to carry on packing items. His coach wished him well, then he walked to his motor. Once inside it rained heavily. Michael started the engine and started the journey back.

    A week later his mate Marcus met him in the local pub which was down the road from where he lived. The drinks were served to them by an attractive woman in her twenties. Both sat at the table near to the window.

    Marcus gave him that look when he knew something was up. "How are you, mate?"

    They'd known each other since they were kids, Michael trusted him with his life. "I miss mum, mate. It's like a hole has been ripped out of my heart. If you know what I mean."

    "I understand, mate. Really, I do. But you can't give up with running, it's your passion. I remember you as a kid at school, while the rest of us were getting drunk and smoking, you were out on the school field getting ready for sports day. You can't give up with what you love doing, mate. I know you miss your mum, she was a great lady, but she would want you to carry on. She always said to me how she was so proud of you. All the races you won. It was awesome, mate."

    Michael wiped a tear away. "I hear what you're saying, but I feel so numb, it's like the fire inside of me has been put out. When I'm on the track it means nothing."

    Marcus placed a hand on Michael's shoulder, then said, "Give it time, mate. The funeral's next week, after that see how you feel. Honestly, you have a talent, mate. Your mum would be gutted if you turned your back on it."

    Maybe he was right?

    Only time would tell.

    At the funeral just over sixty people attended, including family members. Michael gave a speech, and it was very emotional. Afterwards, at the wake which was held in the local pub, everyone remembered her life with love and respect. By the end, most were drunk. Around 11pm Michael left, as most people had left. He thanked the landlord, then made his way home.

    His mate Marcus had a point, and a few days after the funeral he began feeling a little brighter. Michael still missed her dearly in so many ways. But it was time to get back into doing what he loved.

    His training was going very well, even his coach and good friend seemed impressed with his improved attitude, his new zest for life. His times in the two hundred metres had got considerably better, even knocking a second off his time from a few months back when his mum had first fallen ill. Trevor was now attending meetings involving the best sprinters in the world, as some top boys had noticed Michael on the track. Things were looking up after such a terrible time.

    One Tuesday after a hard day's training Marcus rang him asking if he fancied going to the pub. Michael knew he couldn't drink alcohol, but said yes. In the pub the landlord asked Michael how his training was going, and he replied it was going very well. The attractive barmaid served them with a smile. Halfway through the evening Michael asked her out, and she answered yes, to his surprise.

    The first date they went on ended in a kiss. After that their relationship blossomed.

    Sarah kissed him while they sat on the sofa watching TV.

    Michael peered at her with a grin, and said, "What was that for?"

    "I know you love running more than me, but I'm happy to be second. That's why I kissed you. I know that sounds odd, you've only known me a few months, but I understand that you've been competing since you was a child, and I truly respect that, which means I don't mind your smelly shoes in the hallway."

    Michael laughed. Deep down he was falling for her, but the strange thing was it didn't scare him, because he felt like he understood her, if that made any sense.

    "I love you," he said out of the blue.

    She looked alarmed at first, then a smile appeared. "Even more than running?"

    "Well to disagree with you from earlier, I think I love you as much."

    That night they made love for the first time.

    A few weeks later Trevor looked excited as Michael approached him early one morning.

    "What's wrong, mate. Too much Viagra last night?" Michael said laughing.

    "It's better than that, you cheeky sod. Last night James McPhillips rang me to tell me some great news."

    "What do you mean, the same bloke who's in charge of the big events like the Olympics and the Diamond League?"

    Trevor stood there proudly, before replying, "Yes, it's the same fella. Finally after all this time we've made it, mate."

    Both men hugged. It was the best news in the world.

    Michael trained longer and harder for the chance of going to the Olympics next year. He entered countless events, winning most. Things were looking good. His girlfriend came regularly to watch him.

    A week before Michael was supposed to travel to India for the big event, Sarah his wife was involved in a terrible collision. The hospital rang him saying it was serious and he should come immediately.

    In the corridor was Sarah's father. His name was Gareth. He looked anxious. "It's not looking good mate," he said, as he stood outside his daughter's room.

    Michael looked through the window and saw Sarah in bed, an oxygen mask placed over her mouth. Her eyes were closed. He thought back to his mother who was in the same situation some time back. Sadness consumed him. "Let's hope she'll recover quickly, if not, then I don't think I could cope. How could this have happened?"

    He cried.

    Three days later and the doctor, who'd been monitoring her, approached them in the corridor.

    "What's the latest, doctor?" Michael asked, needing to know.

    The man told them to follow him to a quieter room at the end of the corridor. In the room was five chairs, all three sat down.

    The doctor looked at them, before saying, "I'm afraid I have some bad news. Sarah has fallen into a coma. She could wake up tomorrow, or she may never wake up, it's hard to know, as everyone is different. We need to move her to a permanent location, with all the equipment they have, they can monitor her progress better, just in case she recovers from this. Have you questions, and I'm so sorry for the terrible news."

   Michael and Gareth agreed with the idea, realistically knowing there was only a slim chance of her waking up, but they needed to try.

    That evening he waited for the phone call from the hospital.

    Just before ten the phone rang. Michael picked it up, "Hello."

    On the other end was the doctor from earlier. "Good news, she has been moved safely to the Norwich Specialist hospital, where she will be looked after very well. You can visit tomorrow, but ring first so they're aware of you turning up. I gave you a card this afternoon with the number on it. I wish your wife a full recovery and take care. Goodbye."

    "Yes, goodbye and thank you for everything you did for her."

    Michael put the phone down, then headed to bed.

    The place which was now her new home for a little while had about twenty staff. Compared to the main hospital it was quite a lot smaller, and there was a nice sized car park for the visitors. Michael proceeded to the main entrance a little nervously. The two glass doors automatically opened, and he walked to the reception, where a woman in her sixties sat.

    "How can I help you?" she asked politely.

    "My wife Sarah was brought here last night around 10pm. I rang earlier to see if it was okay to visit."

    "What's her surname?"

    "Willis, same as mine," he answered.

    She peered at the screen in front. With her right hand she moved the mouse, then clicked on something. "Yes, I've located her. She's on floor 3, there's a lift over there if that would be easier. She's in room 4."

    "Thank you," was all he answered, making his way to the lift.

    On floor 3 Michael walked down the white corridor until room 4 appeared. Inside the small room, sitting by the bed, was Gareth. He saw Michael straightaway, and said, "She's in the best place, mate. I hate seeing her like this, it breaks my heart. If only her mum was still here, so sad."

    Michael pulled up a chair, then sat down beside Gareth. "Yes, I know what you mean."

    Both sat there for some time in silence. A woman doctor came into the room holding a blue folder. She opened it and scanned the pages.

    Michael said something. "Will she ever wake up, doctor?"

    The woman with short dark hair looked at him, then answered, "I can't say, as it's too early to predict what might happen, but Sarah is stable at the moment. In my experience this is a good sign. There's no reason, in my honest opinion, why she shouldn't fully recover. But take what I say with a pinch of salt, as every individual reacts differently."

    Gareth got up from his seat. "So what you're saying is, my daughter could fully recover from this?"

    The woman in her forties smiled. "Yes, in my experience there's a very good chance she will wake up. It could take a few days, or in rare cases, months. The only negative is, if it's months, this may cause damage to the brain. But I prefer to look on the positive and for the time being she's in very good hands and doing well. I must go, a nurse will be in shortly to check on some things. It was very nice to meet you."

    To Michael, that sounded better than expected. "Please God, take care of her," he muttered.

    Gareth turned to Michael, then said, "The last time I chatted to Sarah she was so excited about you going to the Olympics."

    Michael looked down at the floor and sighed. "My wife is more important than some silly race."

    "I completely understand, but Sarah wouldn't want you to miss out on it. She would always talk about you with such pride. And as the doctor just said, it could be a few days before she wakes up."

    Michael stood up. "Are you being serious? You want me to travel halfway around the world and leave my wife on her own at a time like this."

    Gareth looked at him, understanding completely how Michael felt. "But when she wakes up and finds out you missed the race, the race you have trained for, for most of your life. It would destroy her. I know my little princess, and she wouldn't be able to forgive herself. If you won't do it for yourself, then do it for my little girl. Do you understand, Michael?"

    Tears flooded his eyes. "But if I went I feel like I'm abandoning her when she needs me the most."

    "You'll only be gone for four days at the most, once the race has finished, fly back straightaway. I'm here, and I'll sit by her bedside while your gone. If she wakes up I'll call you, I promise."

    Michael hugged his father-in-law. "Okay, but I'm doing it for her, not me."

    Late afternoon he caught a plane with his coach.

    A shot echoed loudly, and they were off. Michael ran as quick as he could around the bend. He observed two men a metre in front, Michael needed to catch them. With gritted teeth, he carried on. The 100 metres was now in sight, the home stretch. He'd trained hard all his life to get to this moment. He thought back to his wife laying there helpless. I won't let you down, Sarah, I promise, I won't. Michael had now run just over 130 metres, 70 to go. With a determination he had never felt before, Michael pushed himself harder. 40 metres left, do it for her, do it for her. He passed one man with only 15 metres to go. His legs burned. He couldn't give up now. With only a few inches behind the leader, Michael crossed the finishing line and fell clumsily, exhausted. Trevor joined him on the track.

    "You came 2nd, Michael. You did it, mate. You did it," he cried out.

    He looked up at Trevor, not quite believing it.

    An hour later in the dressing room, Michael was taking a shower when his mobile made a noise from the locker. He ran from the cubicle, then grabbed it. "Is that you, Gareth?" he asked.

    From the other end came a faint voice, as it said, "It's me, Sarah."

The End

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