The newspapers once called her whole neighborhood an “open air drug market”, which was bullshit. But you couldn’t tell by what she was seeing now. Four guys off in a corner of the huge park are doing some kind of transaction in a stand of trees while she sits on a bench nursing her bad knee. The men are less than a hundred feet away, silhouetted by the fading evening light.
The trees shields her from their view. She’d come here several times in the last year, running around the park–jogging really–trying to capture some of the spark she used to feel on the track. Back before injury made her lose her scholarship to the small college she’d attended for less than a year.
Back then, all she’d needed was a head start and she was gone. They said she came out of the blocks like a rocket. Then one day she’d jumped in victory to celebrate winning her third race of the season and landed wrong on a photographer’s camera bag at the edge of the track–the same photographer that would take the photo of her on the ground in agony–and it was all over. Her knee healed, but that extra step was gone. And soon she was back in a different set of blocks. The same ones she’d tried to run away from.
Now she was a cashier in a grocery store with “some college” on her resume, working second shift. She had steady hours, but that didn’t stop the rent from being late on an apartment so dated that her bedroom still had linoleum on the floor.
She had heard about a new kind of surgery that might be able to repair her knee, one a lot better than the one she’d received through her school health insurance. Maybe if she’d had that things would have been different.
She’d always thought she would run straight out of the neighborhood to something better. But, in her worst moments, she remembers that tracks are a circle. Especially for someone like her.
The dudes are arguing now. Something is wrong. Bad product? Is someone’s money short? She didn’t really know anything about drugs, except that they’d killed her older sister when she was almost too young to remember.
Their voices are getting louder. She can’t quite hear what they are saying at that distance, but she shrinks back on the bench, now more than her aching knee keeping her in place. She doesn’t want to be seen. Then one guy, very tall, tries to snatch away a backpack held by another one. The smaller one resists for a moment, then lets go as he reaches into the pocket of his oversized jeans and starts shooting, hitting the tall guy twice before the other side returns fire. Within seconds it seems everyone is down. Are they all dead? Not all, she can hear moaning and cursing.
But no one seems to be in condition to get away. The city has this thing like a microphone that can tell when shots are fired–she isn’t sure how–but the cops will come soon. They don’t get to ignore shots the system detects.
So she needs to go. She’s a witness. It would be dangerous for people to even think she knows something. She looks over again. They are less than a 100 meters away, the silhouettes. Less. That was her distance in college. The 100-meter dash. They’re all still down and she begins to wonder–can she get whatever they had been fighting over? Had those shots been like the starter pistol she’d heard so many times before? She could start over somewhere else. Maybe even get her knee fixed. Try again.
Was there money in the bag? Or drugs? What was it worth? Didn’t matter. Had to be worth more than she had. A lot more.
She slides from the edge of the bench, goes down low in her sprinter’s stance, feels the familiar coiled tension in her legs, the pain in her knee momentarily drowned out by adrenaline, by the scent of a chance. Against the roar of the sirens she fits her feet into the imaginary blocks.