Katie’s father drove her to her cross country meet on Saturday morning. He was in a bad mood. He took pills, she didn’t know how many or for what. He hid them from her and she never saw him take them. Sometimes they improved his mood, sometimes they worsened it, sometimes neither, but she could sense the pill presence in him, and in his periods of abstention, the pill absence. They arrived at her meet, three high school teams running five kilometers on Katie’s home course. She hugged a few of her teammates and said hi to the rest. They admired her because she was fast, and she liked them fine, but she did not want to get drunk with them on the weekends or, as often happened, sit along a wall and watch the boys get drunk. She befriended the foreign exchange students from places like Germany, Norway, Finland, and South Africa, who introduced her to music, books, words, and ways of thinking that were new and exciting to her. Then they went back to where they came from. She lined up with the girls from all three teams, and a coach from one of the other teams fired the starter’s pistol. For the first 400 meters they would run across a field, take a long looping trail through the forest for the majority of the race, and finish back across the field. By the time they got to the woods, the girls who’d sprinted out front had faded to the middle of the pack, and the three runners battling it out for second place were ten yards behind Katie. She sped up, faster than she would usually run at this point in the race. She checked in with her breathing, her posture, her stride, her arm swing. She relaxed her shoulders. She had many opportunities for solitude. The solitude of the race was one kind of solitude and the solitude of her room was another and the solitude of cooking dinner while her father was late at work or asleep in his room or mysteriously away was yet another. She ran past the semi-blur of green trees, 35 yards between her and the pack, 36, 38, 41. She rounded a bend and no one behind her could see her. There was a fork in the trail. To the right was the final thousand meters of the race. To the left was the railroad track. She took the left and soon was running alongside the commuter train to the city, which was slowing down for its stop at the mini-station between towns. Katie leapt up onto the platform. When the train stopped and opened its doors she boarded the rearmost door of the rearmost car. Her friend Jürgen was waiting for her just inside the door with a small overnight bag containing a few changes of clothes, some toiletries, and her wallet. Her wallet contained $500 in cash she had earned from babysitting as well as the credit card with the $10,000 spending limit her father had gotten her under the influence of his troubled conscience. Jürgen hugged her, handed her her bag, and stepped off the train. He could not accompany her or his host family, the Lieboviches, would be worried. Katie sat down in an empty seat of the mostly empty car as the train pulled away from the little station. She wanted to try out city life for a week or so and then return home, for now. Her father, Mel, watched as the first few runners emerged from the woods and came into focus, racing furiously toward him across the field. There was a close battle among two of Katie’s perplexed teammates and a girl from another school. Mel was dejected that his daughter would not be coming in first.
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