by J.R. Hershberger
Laughing, we jostle into Katja’s living room with our shopping bags.
She drops hers. She is not laughing anymore.
I turn to see what she does – two embracing figures. One is Katja’s husband. The other is a woman I do not recognize.
Katja shoves past me, back out the door.
I follow her.
She runs up the street to the park on the corner.
“Katja,” I call. She does not slow down.
She turns onto the park’s running trail. I fall further behind but am confident I will catch up. She has always been the faster of us, but I have always had more endurance.
It’s been years since either of us has done running of any significance. She tires after less than half a mile and collapses on the grass next to the trail.
When I reach her, she is hugging her knees and sobbing.
“This sucks,” she says.
“It does,” I say, “but you can’t run away from it.”
“Didn’t I just, though,” she says, laughing through hitched breaths.
I laugh, too. “I mean, I guess you can. You did. But, you’re going to have to go back. Deal with stuff.”
She rocks back and forth on her bottom. Watching her, I’m reminded of a game we’d played as kids.
“Remember, ‘Rotten Tomato’?” I ask her, joining her in the grass and hugging my own knees. I push myself backward and attempt to use momentum to right myself without letting go of my knees. I flop onto my side.
“Oh, yeah,” Katja says, then tries herself, rocking backward and then straining to come back to sitting position. She fails; her hands slip and she releases her knees.
We each try again, hugging our knees and rocking backward.
Attempts once again unsuccessful, we lay sideways in the grass.
A teen-aged couple appears on the trail. They stop, staring at us.
We stare back.
I ask, “wanna play ‘rotten tomato’?”
They do not answer as they continue past, wearing worried expressions.
When they disappear around the corner, Katja and I laugh.
We laugh until there are no tears left for crying.
Then, I walk her home.