Catherine Brereton

The Runner

She crosses the road opposite me at such a bold angle that I can’t help but notice. I’m waiting for the traffic signals to change, for the green filter arrow to give me the go-ahead to proceed. She is already proceeding. She emerged, I think, from a side road, although I can’t be entirely certain of that. But the tilt of her body when she crossed the road suggested that she’d been maintaining a steady direction, a straight line from the well-to-do cul-de-sac, right across the wide road at the intersection of expensive houses and well-worn commute.

While I’m waiting for the lights to change, she glides along the sidewalk, turquoise running shoes flashing with each stride. The sky is winter bright, a thin, brittle blue that looks like it could shatter with too loud a noise or too heavy a step. Even from fifty yards away I can see the small puffs of air she’s exhaling into the atmosphere, tiny clouds of heat. Her blue shirt, which matches her shoes, has no sleeves, but she’s wearing neon yellow gloves, like she’s stealing the sun.

She’s moving with an unparalleled grace, a long-legged gait, skimming the earth, stretched out and swift. She’s wearing black leggings, taut against her lean legs, and her blonde ponytail barely swings, her movements so elegant. I wonder, briefly, if this is the start of her run and if, in an hour, she’ll be heavy-legged and weary, if her calves will sting, if her thighs will ache, if the frigid air will strip the warmth from her lungs leaving her tight-chested and breathless. Then, I wonder where she’ll be in an hour, how far she can travel at such a pace, whether she has an end point, whether she runs in a carefully thought-out circle, whether she’ll stay on the roads or break off into the arboretum nearby, where she can run among the bare trees without breathing in the exhaust fumes of a thousand coughing vehicles.

The green arrow signals me to go, and I go, easing the car onto the road that she’s galloping along. She’s running not on the sidewalk, but in the cycle lane—I’ve heard it’s easier on the shins—and I nudge the car out slightly as I pass to give her more room. Then, she’s behind me, and I see in my rear-view mirror her flushed, hot cheeks, determination etched on her face.


Catherine A. Brereton is from England, but moved to America in 2008, where she is now an MFA candidate at the University of Kentucky. Her essay, “Trance,” published by Slice magazine, was selected by Robert Atwan as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2015. She is the 2015 winner of The Flounce Non Fiction Writer of the Year award. Her more recent work can be found in and The Spectacle, and is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Star 82 Review, The Establishment, The Toast, GTK Creative Journal, and Graywolf Press’s anthology Burning Down the House. Brereton is the current Editor-in-Chief of Limestone, the University of Kentucky’s literary journal. She lives in Lexington with her wife and their teenage daughters.