Alex Wilson placed her hands on the heart rate sensors of the treadmill. Two miles down, two miles to go. This was her thrice weekly training routine for the upcoming Pasadena Marathon. It was her first, so she didn’t really know how to train, but she figured as long as she kept running, she wouldn’t fall apart too badly. She began to give herself the internal encouragement speech she gave herself every time she ran, to keep from quitting early or thinking about a juicy cheeseburger.
All right, you’re halfway there. You did one half; you know you can do two. Doin’ great and feelin’ good.
She adjusted the volume in her earbuds, attached to the TV mechanism of the treadmill. Sometimes, she came to the gym just to watch TV. At home, she got eight channels. At the gym, she got 150. Friends asked her why she didn’t get cable, but between her job at legal aid, where most of her cases involved helping illegal aliens seeking asylum, and her law school student loans, it just wasn’t in the cards. Alex didn’t mind much, though. There wasn’t a whole lot on TV she wanted to see anyway. Except C-SPAN, which she was tuned to now. Alex didn’t care that other people considered C-SPAN the golf of the news world; to her, it was like porn. She couldn’t get enough of it, and it kept her going through those extra miles. It was keeping her going right now.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Coughing Dude approaching. She called him Coughing Dude because she didn’t know his real name (and didn’t care to), and because he coughed and cleared his throat constantly while working out. Alex had considered choosing a different treadmill, since Coughing Dude liked to pick the one next to her, but she liked this one, and thought that because he was the annoying one, he was the one who should pick a different machine. She adjusted the volume in her earbuds higher to have a plausible excuse to not talk to Coughing Dude, but the House floor was in the middle of voting, so there was a lot of intermittent silence.
“Hey, it’s C-SPAN girl,” Coughing Dude said in Alex’s general direction, throwing a gym towel over his shoulder. She briefly considered by saying Hey, it’s Coughing Dude, but instead pretended to not hear him and placed her hands on the heart rate sensors to indicate how focused she was on her workout.
The gym was Alex’s fourth least favorite place to be hit on, behind the ultra-cheap grocery store, her office, and the laundromat. She kept her eyes locked on the tiny TV screen and tried to avoid watching her un-California white legs in the giant mirror facing the entire cardio room.
“So,” Coughing Dude yelled from his treadmill, his pace a brisk walk. “Whaddaya think of the healthcare bill?”
Alex half-considered pretending she didn’t hear him again, but knew he wouldn’t fall for it. Her thoughts on the legislation in question were many, and complicated, but she just wanted to placate him and get back to her run. She removed her right earbud only long enough to answer.
“There are things I like about it and things I don’t.”
He sped up his pace to a jog. “Think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Alex smiled, nodded, and fixed her eyes on the screen again. One and a half more miles to go. The floor was taking a fifteen minute recess. She thought about changing the channel, but then thought Coughing Dude might just ask more questions.
“Ya think Obama’s gonna reverse all the actions in the Patriot Act? I sure hope so.” He coughed, then cleared his throat.
Alex didn’t bother removing her earbuds or looking at him. “Me too.”
As soon as the red digits under Distance ticked over to 3.25, Alex turned up the pace. She hoped she could do the last three-fourths of a mile in enough time to avoid any more questions from Coughing Dude. Five minutes passed before his treadmill slowed to a stop and the next question came.
“So didja hear ‘bout Jackson buildin’ 3,000 more square miles of razor fence at the border? Right thing to do I hope.”
Alex looked up from the TV and caught her face reddening in the mirror. She hoped Coughing Dude didn’t see it. She thought of all the immigrants she saw in her run-down, musty office, day in and day out. She thought of the young women who spent every penny they had to come to Hollywood, where they were promised an acting or modeling job that didn’t exist. She thought of the young men who washed dishes in diners that couldn’t pass health inspections so they could send money back home to pay for a parent’s medical operation. She thought of the children who smuggled drugs in for the Mexican cartels only to end up living on the streets. She thought of all these things as she told Coughing Dude what she thought of the additional fence at the border, running hard, her face flushing brightly.
Coughing Dude nodded. “Makes a lotta sense.” He wiped his face with the towel on his shoulder then exited the treadmill.
“Y’should really run fer office,” he said, walking past her.
Funny, Alex thought of saying. I didn’t know watching C-SPAN and having an opinion qualified you for public office. Instead, she shot him an incredulous half-laugh to signal what a joke that’d be. He waved as he rounded the corner out of the cardio room.
Alex was no fool. She knew how Pasadena politics were. Her family didn’t live in an estate overlooking the Arroyo or have ties to the Hollywood elite like other Pasadena politicians, and she didn’t play well with the State attorneys who wanted to get tough on immigration.
Still, Alex thought to herself, there’s a lot of good I could do.
© Copyright 2010 Kelly I. Hitchcock. All rights reserved.
Kelly I. Hitchcock is a novelist, poet, and blogger from a poor stretch of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri. A graduate of the creative writing program at Missouri State University, Kelly’s poems have been featured in Clackamas Literary Review and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. She lives in Kansas City and is an avid volunteer and fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Learn more about the author and her work by visiting her website and following her on Twitter.