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"Over The Edge"Excerpt:  Over The Edge

Chapter Three

Franky fumbled with the crumpled material at the bottom of the metal bucket.  An uncontrollable desperation drove him to destroy last night’s soiled garments.  A fire flamed three feet away in the impractical miniscule fireplace.  Gasoline fumes induced growing nausea.  His senses revolted at memories of the disgusting alley, his reaction accentuated by the absence of sleep.  His blood had turned to sludge.  Things had gone to hell overnight, literally.

Anthony had dropped him at the small two-story brownstone in Jersey he shared with his mother and demanded the gun.  Said he’d dispose of the weapon.  You didn’t argue with Anthony.  Now his brothers would have a priceless piece of blackmail to chain Franky to their dangerous, idiotic plans.

He squeezed excess flammable liquid from his dress shirt, the remaining garment, then tossed the tight ball into the flames.  Everything he’d worn last night now flared brightly in the miniature pyre.  Except for the expensive camel-hair coat.  There were limits.

He’d had to wait in bed until his mother left.  Now he’d be late for work.  He had watched through his bedroom window as his mother’s slight figure, wrapped in her ugly gray coat and ridiculous pink wool hat, drifted into an unforgiving morning and her daily Confessional.  Pity muted his anger.  Pity, and not empathy.  He knew the difference.  Now the old questions:  Did he feel obligated to care for her?  For how long?  Forever?

*  *  *

Sarah slipped out the door, bounced down the steps, and hit the sidewalk in a slow jog.  The wintry blast off Lake Michigan had filtered unimpeded to her crumbling neighborhood.  She trotted into the wind, down the deserted streets.  No gradual awakening or warm-up at 5:30 A.M.  Immediate entry into exercise forced the flow of blood into her sore legs and grateful lungs.  Wednesday was Day Three of her five-day run week, always the toughest.   

Her footsteps slapped flat on the cement in the comforting quiet of the early morning.  Her thin-soled, men’s Adidas required thick, wool socks to fill the excess width.  Couldn’t someone make a decent woman’s running shoe?  That would be the day.

Hat, mittens, and sweats hid her tight body from the occasional stare of one of the City’s perpetual garbage collectors.  Some still waved, others ignored her presence as they would a destitute, homeless soul on permanent Night Patrol.  That served Sarah’s purposes just fine.  She’d attempted an afternoon/evening running routine and been harassed into crack-of-dawn peacefulness.  The change had transformed the loneliness of her life at that hour into a temporary, comforting solitude during the calm morning runs.  If only an equally easy solution existed for dealing with the ham-handed advances of her son-of-a-bitch boss.

She trudged down Lemon Street, following her usual route.  The darkness of winter signaled the imminent reward for months of sweat and pain:  Ski season, a return to Jackson Hole.  Her pace quickened at the thought of her scheduled two-week passage to paradise at the end of February.  She would be one flatlander who came to the mountains ready for the physical challenge.

She turned right on Rush Street.  Steam from her breath was now visible, not stripped from her lips by the wind’s harsh, head-on gusts.  She nodded to the skinny banker pictured on the tattered poster advertising the Chicago Trust. 

The faded, torn image always reminded her of Bruce Cohan.  He had run cross-country for Loyola and provided indirect inspiration for her running career.  She had run with him out of desperation.  Anything for a date.  He’d turned out to be gay.  But she’d kept running through college, never looking back.  She’d been viewed as a freak even then.

The corner of Rush and Detroit appeared out of the gloom.  The three-mile halfway mark so soon?  She performed her usual pirouette around the thick lamppost and headed home.  Strange how the same distance expanded and contracted, depending on her mood. 

Traffic picked up.  She accelerated through the awakening city, cruising with the wind at her back.  Comments from curious, early-morning commuters became more common.  Intervals of speed had to suffice to simulate the extra effort of hills or the stadium steps of her earlier running routines.

A piercing wolf whistle bounced off her back.  She considered turning around.  One look at her large red nose and long chin framed by her homely knit ski cap would shut him up.  Just like the Mad Magazine cartoon picturing the rear view of a voluptuous blond, who turned to present a mirror-shattering ugliness of buckteeth, pimples and crossed eyes.  At least she wasn’t that bad.  And next week she’d be picking up her vacation tickets to Jackson Hole, where even she would be a star.

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© 2005, 2006 Marc Paul Kaplan, All Rights Reserved