Art Pact 252 - Running

The four of us running, helter-skelter pelting down the alleys and up the roads, pouring our hearts into our legs so that we could feel nothing except the pulse pounding of rubber soles on tarmac and concrete, running with all of the desire for freedom and fear of punishment that our friends and enemies respectively had filled us with, we were a team, a herd, a flock of miscreants escaping from the predators of law and custom, the men in their grey coats and blue uniforms that were ever on our heels. We were alive for those moments, perhaps because in the other moments we had let ourselves become dead by our ways, but in those moments such differences, such philosophies were all forgotten, our flight was just nature, the call and response of fists and feet, the old story of animals that must catch other animals to eat, and those that must survive by escaping such capture. We might have whinnied to each other, we might, when the spirit took us and we were so close to our foes that we could mock them but not so close that we had not an inch to spare, have bokked, leaping extravagantly over stalls and railings in manoeuvres that gained us no extra spot of earth, no extra molecule of air between us and our pursuers, but which lifted the heart and reminded us of what we were about, which was tweaking the noses of those in authority, of committing our crimes as if we could never be caught, and then proving that in truth we never could. Those were moments of spectacular time, of treacle seconds that moved so slowly that as you were in the air you could see every wrinkle line on the old faces of the watchmen, ever twitch of muscle in a policeman's scowl, you could count the feathers on the wings of pigeons in flight and shoulder aside raindrops that were falling too lazily to the ground. Those moments made the heart sing and the loins burn, and the lungs and the legs and hands and all the other bits of you that were one small part of the great multi-legged many-headed self that we formed into as we ran in our pack were made of gold and joy and did their work with the pride of the greatest master. There was no ego, no separation between us. There was no my hand, my leg, because the leg of the man beside you was your leg as well, and his face your face, and both of you shared a hand with the woman further along, and a all three of you a heart with the man in front of her, so that for one to leap was for all to leap, so that you could watch yourself fly through the air and come down gracefully on the other side of a barrier. There was no greater feeling than that, not one watered down by being spread so thin over so many of us, but enhanced, bounced back and forth within our hearts and our grins like a cry of ecstasy in an echo chamber so that it grew stronger and stronger with each return, with each one of us that it flowed through, climbing higher and higher and lifting us until it seemed that we flowed across the city like water, our legs were so light, our splittings and rejoinings so fluid. You could not have counted the steps, because all steps were one and none at the same time, because where our feet landed they left no footsteps, because all of our faces were the same, boy and girl, as different and identical as the waves crashing upon the shore, and like that too in that small treasures were washed away in our wake...

But all such races must come to an end, and so did all of hours. In a dark parking garage, in an alley in a maze of similar alleys, in someone's house - one of ours, or a house that just seemed right to host us and whose occupants were elsewhere. When we began, finally, to tire, and made that last extra effort to put the law so far behind us that we could not hear them and neither could they hear us, then we started to become separate entities again. Carl, at the head of us now, a mind over our minds, not the same person but a welcome or unwelcome leader, would turn us towards one of the shelters we had spied out before and we would hurry inside and stop, like water that had frozen and shattered into quarters. Those people who had a second ago been my brothers and sister - no, more than that, had been myself - they were suddenly other again, nothing but Carl and Tracy and Rudolph again, petty thieves and criminals and idiots who thought that the law could not touch us just because it never had, three fools who had let another into their midst to confirm their folly, painfully limited human beings who thought themselves gods above their others and mistook cynicism for wisdom, ignorance for practicality, anecdotes for experiences, a year for a lifetime. The change was so abrupt that it was as though we did not run into a shelter, but into a brick wall. The moment of sameness, of closeness, was gone, that long instant that flashed by, and we were left broken and tired to face the thousand years of isolation that awaited us, of having to talk but having nothing worthwhile to say, of discussing our new possessions as if they were the keys to happiness rather than just some trinket we had bought with another's petty misery. What did it profit us to gain things we could only use when we were standing still if we could only enjoy life when we were on the move? It gained us nothing - worse than nothing, it gained us ballast that would keep us anchored to the ground and tie us there forever more so that each new prize we won held us back more and more from the only worthwhile endeavour. We could not put it into words - not words that we were willing to say to each other, that is - and without words for the outside world we were confused about how we could communicate our thoughts even to our own selves, so that we did not even know, not truly, how miserable we were. We cheered and jeered where we could, showing off the things we had stolen and making light of those we had stolen from and those we had outrun, but there was an emptiness at the heart of us. So separate were we that at first I thought that it was merely me, that I as a newcomer was not so knitted into the fabric of the gang, but it must truly have been all of us, all of us thinking that we were alone when just a few minutes earlier we had known right to our marrow that we were not, that we were closer than lovers, closer than twins, closer than any humans had a right to be, that we had stolen gadgets and purses and tidbits of food, certainly, but that the real prize we had stolen was our closeness, a prize we had pickpocketed from the gods, that we had swiped from nature. That was our true treasure, and we did not even know when we had it.


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