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RLG7 - Step, Step, Breath

by Colonist 

Posted: 02 July 2004
Word Count: 853
Summary: My take on the June Random Line exercise.

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Step, Step, Breath
By Del Shannon

It remained unseen in the morning mist, traveling at speed through the trees. A poet would have taken five lines to describe the figure, breathing in sync with his strides, taking a particular interest in the mingling of his sweat with the drops of mist that were marshalling on his forehead. At least this is what the runner told himself as he ran. Another lie to keep his legs moving despite their burning.

But there were no poets lurking in the trees this evening. The only sound, save the quiet drips falling from the broad-leafed plants, was his own rhythmic breathing and his footsteps padding along the trail. At this pace it was two strides per breath. Step, step, breath. Step, step, breath. Like a noisy clock in need of a kind hand.

He was thankful for July, when the mist didn’t sting his face. November’s moisture was angry, barking without the luxury of good manners at the approaching cold. The rains of March were better but still held the bitterness of a long winter. But in July the moisture – even as slight as this – was happy, even mirthful.

He smiled at this. He must be running too fast, pushing his pace and denying his brain of oxygen as he rummaged through his memories of rain. Wasn’t there anything better to think about? He immediately regretted the question.

What had it been now, two years? Rebecca had left for no better reason than a job. She hadn’t even bothered to lie to him when they sat in the café, shared a last drink, and broke the news. Three days later she was gone. It was the only time he could remember begging. “Please don’t go,” he managed to plead between sobs at the window of her car. She smiled, full of pity, said goodbye, and drove away. He remembered, again, why he ran.

Rain was better to remember than Rebecca.

He tried to blame her but found he couldn’t. Despite what his friends would say he knew he wasn’t handsome. They were never good at lying. When he looked in the mirror he saw a short, overly thin man with stubby legs, a small chin that hinted at inevitable jowls, and a chest that barely wrinkled the fabric of his shirts. Not anyone’s vision of manliness.

He never thought a woman like Rebecca would look twice at him. Her hair was the color of autumn and smelled like the mist that he now wiped from his eyes. She was fair skinned and made fruitless attempts to hide behind broad hats and layers of clothes when the sun was out. But by the end of the day her hats and light sweaters would always come off, baring her small shoulders, and she would swim through the sunlight. He loved her best when she lost these walls, when she left her sensibilities and drank from the moment.

The trail rose and fell to his feet as he ran on and he pictured her face and the curve of her chin where it blended into her neck. The hollow made at the junction of her collar bones. The backs of her knees when she wore short skirts.

“You make me laugh,” she answered in the middle of their second month together when he gathered the courage to ask her why she sat across from him now.

“Thank God. For a second I though you were going to say it was my rugged manliness. My machismo if often too much for most women,” he said. Another joke designed exclusively for her as an exit to the awkward moment. Still he knew, right then, that she would one day leave. One day he wouldn’t make her laugh.

He slunk back to his mistress – running – and endured her chiding for hoping to believe there was anyone else in this world for him.

Step, step, breath. Stay with me. Step, step, breath. Stay with me.

It was better alone, with his mistress, he reasoned as he crested the last rise and filled his nose with the scents of heavy earth mixed with the mist. His unseen home was four minutes ahead.

Maybe he would call Rebecca tonight, to tell her that he was well just in case she was wondering. Yet he knew she didn’t worry for him. One letter from her in two years had cured all fantasies of her misery and regret.

Step, step, breath. Step, step, breath.

Tomorrow he would send her from his heart he concluded as he crossed from the trails and onto the cold pavement where islands of shiny light clutched to the base of the light poles. Tomorrow she would leave.

He saw his front door now, as nondescript as he was, and quickened his pace. His mistress always demanded a strong finish. His breathing quickened to match his strides. Step, breath, step, breath, step, breath…

Tomorrow, he would again travel at speed through the trees where even a poet wouldn’t be able to see where the mist stopped and his tears began.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 07:09 on 02 July 2004  Report this post
Del, I really enjoyed reading this. I liked the image of running as a mistress. The simple description of his relationship with Rebecca tells a lot.

Rain was better to remember than Rebecca. = this line has a great rhythm to it.

Well done

bjlangley at 09:12 on 02 July 2004  Report this post
Thoroughly enjoyed this Del. I think that the step, step, breath recurring throughout the piece kept it a great rhythm for thepiece as a whole.

I liked theway the details of his relationship came back to him, and the rather sad thought that I guessed he'd been saying that "tomorrow he would send her from his heart" for a while.

Loved the last line too, finishes the piece well.

All the best,


olebut at 09:19 on 02 July 2004  Report this post

I really enjoyed this, in fact in many ways it read like a poem and one never quite knew how it was going to end well done

take care


Colonist at 15:42 on 02 July 2004  Report this post
Elspeth, Ben, David -

Many thanks for your kind words. Had me blushing.

I'd stay and chat more but my mistress is calling again. Training for a 2 day relay race from Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean (195 miles) in Oregon (USA). It's called (quite creatively) Hood To Coast. Want to know more about me? This is what I do for fun - www.hoodtocoast.com. I've got to get a life...


Jumbo at 18:40 on 02 July 2004  Report this post

I enoyed this - well worth a few minues on a Friday evening. Now, where's that bottle!

I particularly liked the repetition of the Step, step, breath. It seemed to set the pace of the piece (no pun intended) and form a thread all the way through.

One small point - you have 'morning' in the first paragraph, and 'evening' in the second. Or was it just a long run?

Nice writing. Thanks.

All the best



That should, of course, say 'few minutes'!

Jubbly at 19:11 on 02 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Del,

I concur, very well written with great pace. I could easily visulise the runner and feel the breeze as he passed me by. Thanks for posting.



Colonist at 20:07 on 02 July 2004  Report this post
Julie, John -

First - Thanks for the catch. I'd automatically written the first sentence per the requirement, forgetting what time of day it really was. I prefer to run in the evenings so that's where I placed the piece.

Second - I thought you had the bottle!?! Damn. Guess I'll have to finish the afternoon out at work.

Third - Thanks for the kind words. And glad you picked up on the pace theme. This was subtle underlying tone I tried to set. I couldn't tell if it worked or not. It gave it a bit more of a poetic canter than I'm normally used to writing, which is probably why I felt unsure.

Fourth - I and my fellow colonists will be celebrating our independence from the British Isles this weekend. So please think of me casting a giant raspberry across the Atlantic in your general direction.


Jumbo at 00:25 on 03 July 2004  Report this post

Thanks for the raspberry - and have a good weekend!

From All of Us, This Side of the Pond

SamMorris at 15:46 on 03 July 2004  Report this post

This has a neat structure and rhythm to it, like the rhythm of running itself. I could really feel the mc trying to burn away all those negative thoughts as he runs, and never really succeeding. Some of the descriptions were indeed very poetic.

Nicely done!


Dee at 15:54 on 03 July 2004  Report this post
Del, I loved this.

Forgive me – on the eve of 4/7 - but it’s so evocative of a beautiful misty English morning. And I agree with the others, the step, step, breathe rhythm gives it a wonderful pace.

A few specifics:

and broke the news. You need a ‘she’ in here. ‘and she broke the news.’ Otherwise it follows on from the preceding phrases and reads as if ‘they’ broke the news.

My machismo if often too much ‘is’ often too much?

He slunk back to his mistress – running I know what you mean here but the contradiction between the words ‘slunk’ and ‘running’ is confusing. Could you maybe say ‘He slunk back to running - his mistress. ?

the scents of heavy earth mixed with the mist. LOVE this. I’m there. I can smell the damp earth. Great!

Tomorrow he would send her from his heart he concluded as he crossed from the trails and onto the cold pavement where islands of shiny light clutched to the base of the light poles. There is some lovely imagery here but the sentence is a bit clunky. Maybe you could break it up a little…
As he crossed from the trails and onto the cold pavement, where islands of shiny light clutched to the base of the light poles, he came to a decision. Tomorrow he would send her from his heart.

S’up to you. It’s already a great story.

From this side of the great divide – have a good 4/7.


ps - I'll have some raspberries, with clotted cream please...


Colonist at 21:32 on 03 July 2004  Report this post
Sam, Dee -

A great big Independent Yank thanks for your comments. I guess I managed to make some sort of impressing with the pacing. Thanks for noticing. I'd caught the "she broke the news" flub earlier but I'm a lazy American and haven't changed it yet. And yes, the sentence toward the end is a bit jumbled. I like the suggested fix quite a bit. Do I have to include you on the byline now?

You think I can find clotted cream out here? HA! Maybe mushy peas, but not clotted cream. And don't even think about HP sauce. My mate from Manchester had to have a friend ship in for his bangers.

BTW, would somebody over there please take Dido back? Every time I turn on the radio or tellie I hear her moaning about her awful love life. Bit annoying as I don't believe it for a second. She's gorgeous.


scottwil at 09:42 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Del, this is excellent writing. Very accomplished with a nice little twist about the mistress. I was going to say that it reads like a poem but I see that David has already done that. So I won't.
Great work. I'm going to have a look at your children's stuff now.

Colonist at 16:03 on 07 July 2004  Report this post

Thanks for your kind words. And thanks for the welcome. I'll try and keep pace with all of you.


Colonist at 17:09 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Adele,

Thanks for the free therapy. I'm always on the hunt for a bargain. And Congrats! as you're the first the hit on another subtle theme I was trying to portray. Here in the appearance obsessed US we have some the ugliest beautiful people on the planet. My fit, trim, 3% body fat narrator could grace the cover of Fit Magazine, yet the woman of his dreams still leaves. Hmmm... But just so you don't think I'm some self-loathing twit, the narrator and I share only the habit of running. The rest I'll leave to your imagination.

I once wrote a short story titled The Beautiful Angry Face (exploring this same theme) in a fruitless attempt at being included in an anthology for Dutton Children's Books. I got a wonderful note back from the editor saying, in short, "Wonderful story, fantastic writing, but we need writer's our readers have heard of." There are days when I hate this business.

And thanks for the book tip. I'm halfway through Peter Mayle's French Lessons - the wrong book to be reading when you're training - so I'll track down your friend's book when I finish with Mr. Mayle.

Have a great day and thanks for the note.

The Running Mariner

Al T at 17:12 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
The Editor was clearly a twerp: even my Grandma has heard of Del Shannon!

Colonist at 17:17 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
You're restating the obvious. Nearly all editors are twerps. But good to know I'm on good terms with your Grandma.

"I'm a walking in the rain, tears are falling and I feel the pain..."

eyeball at 19:37 on 07 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Del,
This is really evocative. I haven't read all the comments,s o I don't know if this has been said, but I felt he was pacing himself through letting go of her in the same way he made himself run, one step at a time, lying to himself to make each one.

word`s worth at 09:46 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
Hey there, I REALLY liked this. I don't think I've read any of your work before, but if this is anything to go by then I'm certainly going to be trying out any other uploads you have (will check later). I've only ever jogged (run) once in my life (and never again!) but I can appreciate how the narrator can lose himself in his past which he'd rather not think about but is somehow forced to analyse it because although he's running - there's no way of running away from his thoughts. I loved the snippets of conversation regarding Rebecca and the image of her in the narrator's head. I was really with him all the way.

Step, step, breath. Stay with me. Step, step, breath. Stay with me.

I really liked that line - the pleading and unyielding grip of the 'mistress'

Great story


Colonist at 16:39 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Nahed,

Many thanks for your very kind words. Running is certainly one of those things you either take to or don't. For whatever reason, I get all my physical and mental torturing over with when I run. I guess I'm efficient that way.

My writing is all over the place, so you may find my other pieces whiplashing you around a bit. I've finished a children's novel and am gearing up to write a humor column for the Denver Post here in Colorado (US). In short, I guess I'm a bit of a goofball with a short attention span who enjoys all sorts of writing.

I'll be sure to return the favor and review some of your uploads. This site can get a bit overwhelming with all the content, so I'm looking forward to reading just yours.

Thanks again!


Dee at 17:07 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
And I wonder. I wa-wa-wa-wa-wo-onder… are you really called Del Shannon?

When I was about 10 years old my grandparents had a pub (that’s a bar in US-speak, I think) in the depths of rural Northumberland. They had a record player and my sister and I used to ‘entertain’ (I use the word in its most generous sense) the customers by bopping around to Del Shannon...

Sorry! Tried to resist... Blame Adele!


Colonist at 17:46 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Dee,

No need for apologies. I'm happy to tell you that, thankfully, I'm not the real Del Shannon. If I were I'd be dead. Based on evidence that I just consumed a cream cheese pasty (ha!) I appear to be quite alive. If you really want to know more about the other Del Shannon, check out this site.


More stuff on the bloke than you'd care to know.

Despite my US upbringing, I try to stay current with the world around me. A trait not shared with many of my fellow colonists. If you're a Northumberlander then I do believe you're a Geordie as well. If not a Geordie, then not far removed. More correctly, maybe your grandparents were (are?). Why aye man! But I've been known to hoist more than one Newcastle Brown on occasion, so thanks to you Northumberlanders for that. Great beer!



Dee at 18:11 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
Del, you continue to surprise me!

Strictly speaking, I am not Geordie but I am Northumbrian and, man, I was weaned on newkie broon. (that’s Newcastle Brown in English!)


Colonist at 18:42 on 14 July 2004  Report this post
Sorry to inadvertantly throw you into the Geordie category. You have to understand, the western US is an amazingly large place and I consider neighbors those who live 1,000 miles west of me. It's a little different than in England, where if you cross the street you're suddenly in a foreign country. It's not unusual for those of us here in the west to drive 100 miles a day just to get around. And you wonder why we yanks love our cars.


crowspark at 19:14 on 18 July 2004  Report this post
This is a beautiful piece of writing. I loved the rhythm, like the pounding heart of the runner.

I enjoyed the sights sounds amd smells of the landscape and the touching trail of the rememberance.

Great writing.


Colonist at 04:02 on 20 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Bill,

Many thanks for your kind words. They're appreciated. I was a little nervous about submitting this quite serious piece as it's a lousy reflection of me and my writing. I tend to lean towards very odd humor and children's writing. But this somehow just popped into my head.

When I get a chance I'll look over some of your writing as well, although it'll be difficult as I'll be on vacation from Wed. through the weekend.

Thanks again.


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