It was winter’s first bitingly cold morning. Even the taxis and black cars, whining and spewing out dense clouds of smog from their tailpipes, seemed as if they wanted to hide inside. The frosted streets of Manhattan were devoid of other pedestrians, and so he ran aggressively, pumping his legs harder and faster than he should have, hoping to make his body heat itself. With every short and shallow breath, his mouth shot out plumes of steam that whorled his wake.
He was wearing the gloves he donned whenever it was colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit out. He was also wearing his sub-40 thermal shirt, sub-30 running tights, and sub-20 hat. But this frosty morning, at 5 degrees, was untested thermal territory. Even with all his running gear, his fingers were already frozen, and his nose was sure to follow. At a stoplight, he tried to strike a balance between catching his breath and stabbing his lungs with icy air.
“How crazy do you have to be to be running on a morning like this?!”
Her voice was light and clear, and she said it as if she were half laughing and half singing. He looked up to find the voice. Through her plume of breath steam, he saw that her face was mottled with blush from the cold, and that she was framing her silly grin were clothes that just as silly: a bright blue beanie and a hand-knitted rose pink scarf with tassels on the ends. One end of the scarf had unwound and fallen over one shoulder.
He laughed in response, almost instinctively. “I know, right?! It’s so cold it’s silly!”
“Yeah, I’m wearing two pairs of leggings!” she exclaimed, gesturing down at her slender legs. The outer black leggings were torn at the knee and showed the psychedelic patterned pair underneath.
His mind, already boggled by oxygen deprivation, scrambled to find conversation. “Why didn’t you just take the day off running?”
“Well, when you gotta run, you gotta run!” she retorted. Somehow, she could smile, talk, and laugh all at the same time. “Why are you doing out here?”
“Groceries,” he stated simply, holding up his canvas bags. The stoplight turned, and he darted off to expedite his commute but also because he was further motivated by embarrassment. “Stay warm!” he yelled behind as a salutation.
But when he was stalled at the 5th Avenue stoplight, her familiar footsteps came to stand beside him. She was fiddling with her pink scarf again, trying to drape it across her chin. Their eyes met, and they were both dotted with tears from running against the bitter air.
Then, he couldn’t help but laugh. “And aren’t those socks on your hands?”
She replied with her magnetic laugh. “Yeah, I don’t have gloves.”
“What, you don’t have gloves?!”
“This is my first winter on the east coast. I just moved here from the California Coast!”
He held up his gloved hands, not mentioning that he couldn’t feel his hands. “Hey, I’m from California too! But I’ve been here for seven years now, and gloves are a worthy investment.”
“I’ll consider it.”
Without warning, she raced off into Central Park. Her stride was loping and carefree, and she was fast. A few locks of her curly hair bounced out of her hat and became tangled in her scarf. They whipped around together in the clouds of steam that her breath left behind.
Bemused and intrigued, he sprinted to catch up and matched her stride, coming to run alongside. Their step cadence matched effortlessly, two agile runners racing each other through the desolate park.
He fit a question between painful staccato breaths “What route do you take…” he managed, “…when you run in the park?”
“Most mornings usually run to the park…” she paused for a quick sharp inhale “… and then run around the reservoir…” Another breath. “A nice 5-mile loop!”
“Whoa…,” “Me too!…” then he stole two fast breaths. “Whenever I’m not shopping, anyway.”
“Well, enjoy your run!” She smiled her smile and veered off another path. Her knitted scarf and her curls of hair were still bouncing merrily behind.
Awkwardly, he waved after her. “Thanks, you too!”
He stopped to catch his breath, and a cloud of steam grew and clung around his head. What a serendipitous encounter, he thought, owing to a shared passion for running and an insane irreverence for inclement weather. Under his frosty breath, he mused aloud, “Perhaps we’ll run into each other again.”
I’ve been reading some F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories, and I wanted to try emulating his style. The way he starts stories, writes conversations, describes his characters. This story is based on an encounter I actually had on Sunday, but I tried to make the character less me and more… Fitzgeraldy.