First Love, Last Rites

Long after the judges, marshals and time-keepers had gone home I remained at the finishing line in the descending gloom of the late winter’s afternoon to watch the last of the runners crawl across the end marker. Those who fell I helped to their feet, I gave handkerchiefs to bloody noses, I thumped vomiters on the back, I massaged cramped calves and toes – a real Florence Nightingale, in fact, with the difference that I felt an elation, a gay fascination with the triumphant spirit of human losers who had run themselves into the ground for nothing at all. How my mind soared, how my eyes swam, when, after having waited ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes in that vast, dismal field, surrounded on all sides by factories, pylons, dull houses and garages, a cold wind rising, bringing the beginning of a bitter drizzle, waiting there in that heavy gloom – and then suddenly to discern on the far side of the field a limp white blob slowly making its way to the tunnel, slowly measuring out with numb feet on the wet grass its micro density of utter futility.
Ian McEwan, Homemade

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