Prompt: Cut the Strings | Word count: 1000 | Genre: Drama
Cut The Strings by Maeve Kousiakis
Winnie watched the sky. It was Highveld Winter Blue, a perpetual canvas of blinding cyan, not a single wisp of cloud. She struggled to keep her eyes from being distracted by the chaos at the starting line.
Coaches were voicing jarring commands to runners busy with warm ups. Beady, judging eyes from sports scouts and gawking lenses of photographers jostled for the best view.
She kicked her legs and wriggled her ankles with her hands on her hips, sweaty palms to Lycra vest. If she pretended they weren’t there she could shut them out and focus.
Her eyes caught Anita, on their way down to the tarmac, throwing her slightly off focus. So much was riding on this race, a prestigious race, with a large cheque attached to the winning position. Winnie was hoping not to have to challenge her old rival as well.
The enormously talented Anita had fueled Winnie’s training. She had only beaten Anita once, which had enticed massive amounts of effort to do it again. They’d met up at most of the races, but never made friends. It was difficult to want to beat a friend. It seemed like a mutual, subconscious decision to keep away from each other.
Winnie closed her eyes and grasped her mother’s name on the chain around her neck. The familiarity of the golden, cursive letters that spelled “Thandi” scraping her fingertips.
“It’s now or never mom. You always said to watch the full glass and not the empty one. Here it is, the full glass. Suspended in animation.” She whispered to the gold name.
She glanced passed her clasped hand at her odd socks, the only ones she could pair together that morning which didn’t have holes in them. It would be the first thing she did. Winnie’s first mission would be socks.
Thick, fluffy new socks, bright pink with stars or stripes or flowers. A pair for every day of the week. The hole on the inside lining of her Nikes didn’t grate her nearly as much as the constantly holey socks that worked their way round her toes and strangled them. Arrogantly reminding her of their presence and all her financial woes with them.
The socks, the badly worn running shoes, the faded Lycra vest and pants, the hated shack she shared with her bed-ridden grandmother. Her daily struggle with long public transport commutes and getting to work on time.
With Winnie’s mom gone, she’s all her Gogo had left. Winnie’s days, in between work and training, were filled with bedpans, feeding times, linen washing, medication schedules and long trips to the clinic. All the while, keeping her sweet, dear Gogo as happy as she could in her last days.
Winning would put her in place for a deposit on a car and a deposit for a caregiver for Gogo. That would both free up time for a full time job she didn’t have to travel three hours a day to with a better salary to find a proper house again.
She had finished her last year at school as a promising runner with a university entrance, all the while mourning the death of her mother. Thandi had died in a car accident eighteen months before prelims.
She had left Winnie and Gogo without an income and very little to survive on after they sold the house and most of their belongings to live. Winnie never had a father. A half-day job as a receptionist at a private school in an affluent suburb thirty kilometers away was all she could fit in while looking after her Gogo and training as professional runner.
She breathed in deeply and exhaled. Focusing on that glass, half full, dangling confidently.
The runners stood ready, poised for the fight to the front, while the countdown began. Adrenal glands, sparked by the clap of the starting gun, yanked muscles into action, thrusting anxious bodies into motion.
Winnie elbowed her way to the back of the leading group, where she routinely kept her place. She would imagine Anita was two or three people behind her. They would haggle it out at about twenty one kilometers once they’d overtaken the rest.
Striding along, those early morning, freezing cold training sessions were paying penance. Next to the glass suspended in her mind, was a list. She repeated the list over and over as she pounded her Nikes onto the tarmac.
“Socks. New Nikes. A car. A caregiver. A full time job. A house.”
She got to the top of the race’s notorious hill in the lead, Anita’s familiar pace behind her. They were both well ahead of the rest. It was going to be a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint, and she was ready.
Fifty meters from the finish Anita picked up her pace. Winnie retaliated. She managed to keep Anita from passing, but a strangled sound dragged Anita from her side. Anita was down.
A new hole sprouted between Winnie’s toes. She couldn’t fight the impulse to turn her head. Anita was trying to get up. Winnie furrowed her brow and picked up the pace. There was a snapping and a crashing as the glass emptied its contents.
Reaching Anita she hoisted her up and levered her to standing while hanging on her shoulder.
“What are you doing? Go! Why would you give it up?” shouted Anita
“I’m not. Shut up and hop.” commanded Winnie.
“Socks. New Nikes. A car. A caregiver. A full time job. A house.” Repeated Winnie. They stumbled to the finish. Winnie judged the last meter and threw herself, arm outstretched, over the finish line, dropping Anita behind her.
“Why? I would have been second?” gasped Anita.
“Apparently we’re friends. You weren’t next to me anymore.” Said Winnie.
“Winnie Masilela, winner. Anita Dupreez, second.” Said one of the race officials as the rest seeped over the finish line.
“Socksssss.” said Winnie, with a sly Gollum-smile.
“Pardon?” said Anita, brows arched.