Coach Milton climbed the bleachers overlooking the football field where on crisp Friday evenings in early Autumn the Fighting Bluejays of Middlesburg High battled other local teams on the gridiron to an insufferable soundtrack of current pop hits arranged for marching band. This was, however, early Spring, a period that marked the beginning of track and field season. At the top of the stands, Coach Milton had a commanding view of the dirt ring that orbited a green sea of turf where an assistant coach led a new crop of would be sprinters, high jumpers and pole vaulters in calisthenics. Watching the gawky teenagers struggle with the coordination required to perform jumping jacks, brought to mind an analogy between track and chorus. It wasn’t his own, he knew next to nothing about music, but was tendered to him by Mrs. Blackmore who at the time was Middlesburg’s chorus instructor. That was in the early part of his teaching career when a new school year promised a fresh start even though they all ended very much the same.
Track is to sports as chorus is to music, a dumping ground for students eager to participate but not talented enough for the football team or the concert band.
How did it go? He lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and fiddled with the little wheel between the lenses to bring into focus a distant point. What emerged from the blur happened to be the shapely rump of a girl genuflecting in a hamstring stretch.
Track is to music, no, that wasn’t right. The looming sky looked as if it could have been an artist’s interpretation of sorrow done in charcoal. He searched it for the answer like a bad student consulting his crib sheet but heaven held no inspiration.
He took another peek at the girls bottom. Oh, yes. Track is to sports as chorus is to music, a dumping ground for students eager to participate but not talented enough for the football team or the concert band.
At first the observation had pissed him off and he had wanted to punch Mrs. Blackmore’s sad, weary face that was made all the more unattractive by her jaded attitude and an enduring puffiness caused by too much wine and sodium. However, each school term since had come to an unwavering conclusion, bringing the idiom into perspective.
He sighed and brought his attention back to the business at hand. In the lenses of his field glasses stood the magnified image of Wilton Brown, his lean regional champion of the 400 meter hurdles. A senior now, he would surely go All-State this year. Coach Milton made a habit of observing his best athletes from different vantage points in order to spot potential weaknesses or strengths that could be exploited. As of yet, he had seen nothing but perfection from his star runner. His measured steps between hurdles were swift and consistent and he leapt over the obstacles with the ease and beautiful grace of a deer hopping a fence. Watching this youth excel reminded Coach Milton that there were indeed rewards to his job.
But just as Brown cleared the final jump and sprinted the remaining stretch to the finish line, the coach felt something tighten in his chest and he grew short of breath. At first he thought he was having a heart attack but seemed to remember hearing somewhere that cardiac arrest always starts in the left arm. He flopped down onto the smooth wood of the bench under the crushing weight of an unpleasant epiphany as lethal as any infarction, albeit much slower, painful and cruel.
It was an utterly banal reflection for a track coach. Nonetheless, he had never thought about it until this moment. All of his life up he had been going in a circle, an endless loop of years. It didn’t matter who came in first or dead last, we all end up right back at the beginning to start all over again. Worse still, he was teaching young people the same circuitous pattern that would lead them spiraling to their own unfulfilled existences until they disappeared like water down the black hole of a drain.
He jumped to his feet, allowing his binoculars to slip from his grasp and go crashing through the crisscross of steel support beams that held the tiered seating erect. He descended the stands at a clumsy pace that nearly caused him to trip twice. He darted to the school parking lot and his dumpy Ford Fiesta with faded paint and a squeaking fan belt that needed changing. He jumped in and raced home.
His wife, who was not expecting him home so soon, was interrupted from her afternoon routine of Boone’s Farm and self pleasure. She wrapped herself in a bathrobe and concocted a haphazard lie about being under the weather as an excuse for her unkempt appearance. Coach Milton took no notice as he pushed passed her into the bedroom without saying a word. He wrestled from the closet the same Samsonite that had carried his things to Myrtle Beach on the couple’s honeymoon years ago. He tossed it into the middle of the sagging mattress and began filling it with items from his chest of drawers.
“Aaron, what on earth are you doing? Do you have a track meet out of town or something? It’s not on the calendar. Aaron?” His wife, still groggy from the effects of wine and mechanized ecstasy, watched her husband’s erratic packing in an indifferent stupor that suggested she didn’t really care if he answered or not.
From behind the screen of the front door she watched Aaron Milton fling his single piece of luggage into the gaping rear of the hatchback and drive away. She waited for him to return the next day and the next. After two weeks she called her friend Sandy at Coldwell Banker and put the house on the market.