Saturday, November 17, 2018

Running Man

"Please try not to blink that bad eye while we do our thing. I know its uncomfortable with your lid bent around like that. What I found is that the strain of keeping one eye from blinking can be lessened if you blink away with the other eye. So...blink away! Good. And don't hesitate to cuss me out. It's all good." 

"Good. Just a few more pulses -- steady. Good.

"Feel like God is opening up inside your head? Well, I mean, you see a blinding light, but I promise it's just a the laser and not a celestial event. It's all good. All. Good.

"Just a few more seconds, Paul. Good. Good. I understand this has distracted you from life? Amazing what a little floater can do to your psyche. Good."


Forever, since he first saw him appear during a Ninth grade English class twenty years ago, Paul Cowlings knew the man running away in the corner of his right was a peculiar manifestation. He thought it began when he was forced to read, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, when he realized while staring into page 3 after several attempts to absorb the book's plot, but then lost interest and tried to envisage how Roderick Usher might look that a man appeared; or rather, someone appeared to be running inside the Usher home. 

The odd thing interested him more than anything else. He could stare into the page no matter what story he was forced to read and there he was: Running Man. Paul could watch the man run for hours. 

"Pay attention, Paul!"

Soon, Paul could see Running Man just about everywhere in school. He heard "Pay attention, Paul" throughout his school activities. During Math class before lunch, or PE in the early afternoon...during History class at the end of the day and eventually outside of school and during football practice, church, and at home. No matter what he was doing or where he was at, Paul could clearly make out the man running in the corner of his right eye, just within the periphery, and forevermore interesting than what he was told to do or expected to do, or even when he thought better.

Paul tried to mentally tempt Running Man to go away -- hundreds of times. He tried more fervently to get the man to look back at him, or to just slow down and walk to wherever he was going. No matter what he said to the man running, pleas or suggestions, both mentally and verbally; Running Man never stopped running.

Running Man never looked back.

Pay attention, Paul. He heard throughout his adult life, too. He had been accused by family and friends, professors and bosses, girlfriends and college mates of just skidding by...just knowing enough to keep abreast, but never a strain beyond. Smart, even gifted -- if only he did a bit more or simply paid attention to his surroundings. He was always naturally aloof, his mother once said to a neighbor friend. He's good looking, but it's a shame he once heard his ex-wife's mother say on the cell. Even just the other day, his grumpy boss sat him down and claimed he liked Paul's software development skills well enough, but it's a shame he didn't try to fit in. Are you hearing me, Paul?

Running Man was easy to keep an eye on when developing and testing software. Paul was always at his best studying Running Man when work was laid out in replication events and outlined and when double- or triple-checked. To an extent, Running Man was a partner in all his life events...or non-events. Paul did his best work when Running Man was just within his sight. 

Running Man never changed over the years. While the 90's and 2000's fads came and went (not that Paul took much notice), Running Man always wore his pinstriped baggy suit that crumbled just above his polished black shoes and his dark-gray brim hat half tilted to the left of his head that hid the man's hair and gave only a glimpse of a profile. He looked more like an Al Capone, or a John Dillinger, and not some Roderick Usher or Nineteenth Century guy. And always - always - the man frantically ran away from some unknown pursuing thing -- or, did he run towards something? 

Paul asked this a trillion times -- and he rather enjoyed thinking about it, even killing his favorite guesses so as to beget more guesses. He thought to ask his colleagues what they might think of Running Man -- but no; no. Only Paul never brought it up. Only Paul and Running Man knew of each other. Why should he tell anyone? Running Man was harmless.

Running man never got old.

Paul could not 'not' see the running man. Even when he closed his eyes, the man was there; albeit, less defined and more shadowy like he was chasing – or being chased - into a gray fog. Yet, Paul could make out the usual baggy folds of the man's pants; see the brim of the man's tilted hat, silhouette or no. 

Of course, the man running distracted him from time to time, especially during Paul's most stressful moments.

Job interviews, the running man kept running. Marriage and the ultimate divorce -- the running man never slowed. Parents death, one just after the other -- running man still ran to or from something or someone unknown. Apartments, diploma, text books, graduation, roses, wedding ring, a corner house, trips, bills, threats, lawyers, wreaths, wills; Running Man ran.

Paul, however, took a pause one summer afternoon at work when his boss rolled a chair next to him and, with a sense of hesitancy, finally plopped down and scooted closer.

"You've read and signed your evaluation. But, Paul -- I figured that I just lay this on the line for your benefit. To the the point. If you don't push yourself a little harder, Paul. Well, I really hate to tell you this, but I'll have to let you go. Again."

For once, Paul paid attention. He liked his job. He liked his boss. He liked his computer...his desk...and his post-it notes. He liked the simplicity of his career...of following his outlines drawn up by the team...he liked doing exactly what he was told to do -- and, for once in his life, to not look out of place. He liked having a job that did not take too much attention away from Running Man.

"I wish you weren't so distracted in your own thoughts. Your staring into space scares the hell out of us -- but, we know you don't mean to do that. We accept people with, uh, disabilities. Don't want to live in a world that doesn't. Listen, Paul. Any chance you can get out of your head? Get some help? For once?"

The psychologist referred him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist referred him to another psychiatrist who then figured something out, more on a hunch than by some intense therapy session: Paul had an eye issue, and not a psychosis issue.

"You are naturally inside your own head. To others, you might seem aloof. Adapt to your surroundings. Be aware. Pay attention more, and you'll do just fine. I want you to visit the Optometry office across the hall. I think you are suffering from some kind of vitreous abnormality of the eye."


"Okay. Let's see if that works. Now...where's my slate. Look directly at the blank slate. Tell me, Paul; what are you seeing? 

"Do you see a projection any longer? Well, I call it that. Don't mean to offend. As I understand it, you might 'think' you see the dog running -- What's that? Oh. man running. Got it. But, that's just your mind subconsciously trying to make sense of the floater shadowing. 

"We have a tendency to associate natural things and events to what we see with our own eyes -- even when they can't be real in the slightest. Ghosts. Deja vu. Trump elected President. Gotcha. Takes all your attention, doesn't it?

"Good, keep looking. What do you see, Paul? Keep blinking. What do you see? All good?"

Paul blinked. He stared at the slate held by the doctor. Gone. He then stared at the mauve color of the doctor's office. Gone. He blinked again. Gone! The man running in the corner of his right eye; he had disappeared. He was no more. Running Man finally ran away!

It was all good. For once.

Paul was their last patient. After the procedure and with no Running Man to take his attention, he felt all alone, but heard every scuffle of papers from the receptionist desk; heard every unanswered call and every shutting of the door. He saw nothing but the white ceiling as he lay there recuperating -- no Running Man; only white plaster, until the nurse's face appeared over him. She bandaged the patch over his eye, asked if he needed a ride back to his apartment. No, that won't be necessary. Not at all. Paul saw well enough out of his left eye, and thankfully, he saw nothing but black out of his right.

"Mr. Cowlings. Please reconsider. I know Dr. Irvine won't be pleased that you turned down our Lyft service."

Paul started the rental car. He rarely drove. He had to renew his Driver's License twice and take three Driver's retraining courses to reduce the points added to his license -- but, he still drove short distances, if infrequently. His ex-wife Logan used to do all the driving. She didn't mind it. She was afraid he'd be, well...distracted. The engine noise was hardly noticeable. He stared at the radio and thought he might do something he had never done before: listen to music. Did Logan listen to music? Yes, he remembered that she did. But, he couldn't recall what kind. He drove across the parking lot, took note of the few cars remaining. He discovered the southeast exit was blocked and wondered if he had noticed that before. He returned to the doctor's building and drove around back to get to the north entrance.

He thought the world anew! He wanted to do things. He looked forward to driving his car...the sun-baked plastic dashboard was intoxicating. He might stop by a park and go walk...maybe go to the used book store after picking up some coffee and find that House of Usher story-- and finally give it a good read. He never ordered anything but 'coffee'. Maybe he'll buy one of those seasonal drinks! 

Logan, too. He will give her a call tonight and just -- well; he would just like to talk to her, instead of just hearing her talk. This time, he'd pay attention to what she says. What she needs. He remembered they used to sit on the couch and watch TV. He never paid attention to what they were watching -- Running Man sometimes lost his step and had to restart. It was a fairly new phenomena, and he had wondered if the television screen might have had something to do with Running Man stumbling and needing to regain his pace.

He admired the large sycamores in the parking lot islands left behind by the land developers, to give the new complex some feel of age. He tried to guess how old they were until his guessing was interrupted by a familiar blurring in the corner of his right eye.

He blinked.

The blur only grew larger with each tree that he passed and clearer and clearer. Yes. It was not a figment of his imagination. It was that floater. It was that man. Running Man had returned!

Though, the Running Man seemed to be walking. No. No. Now, he was running. He ran frantically, too, not like the slower pace run from before. Running man took on a new gate and, frankly, seemed more real, as if the laser treatment made him more dimensional, more vibrant than ever. Yet, the man no longer wore a hat, and he had on what looked more or less like modern pants and a striped shirt.

The therapy -- it only brought Running Man to the modern world, to the forefront. He even appeared to be running towards the office building, and -- for once in over 20 years, the man actually looked back. Finally! Paul strained to get a good look, and for once -- for once! -- Paul would see Running Man's face. Paul focused his attention on the man's eyes: wide with fright as if he was, indeed, running from something and not towards something.

And, just before the guy disappeared from Paul's sight forever, as Paul finally, somehow, met up with Running Man and he even appeared to run over him by Paul's car; Running Man had a kind of resemblance to Dr. Irvine.

But, Paul didn't pay much attention to how the doctor looked. He just wanted the laser thing done and hoped he would see Running Man less frequently -- but not gone forever.

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