Running

Virgie Townsend

We start running when church lets out. Prayers and communion crackers are still on our lips. It’s summer and Jesus loves and hates us. Or He loves us, but hates our sin. Either way, it’s summer, Wednesday evening Bible study is over, and we’re running out of the church building into the untended field. The grass is long and budding with feathers of golden seeds. We run with our palms out and the grass can’t decide whether to brush or scratch us.

These are the wild days. We girls grow our hair long and insouciant like horsetails. We don’t think about boys. We don’t dress for them or take pictures for them or worry about what they’re thinking. Someday we’re supposed to submit to them, but not now. For now, they’re just boys. They’re not God. For now, we run with them.

The church sits on a hill overlooking the highway and blue-pink-purple sky, with the steeple cross overlooking us. No one can see us. The church grounds are private. There’s a house on the edge of the property, but a thicket of trees seals us off. We’re in the world, but not of it. We’re soldiers in the army of God, and we’re children.

Our parents are running, too, but we don’t know it yet. They stand in the parking lot under the lamplight talking to one another, consumed with eternity. They look like they’ve always looked to us: unsatisfied, unconcerned, waiting for deliverance. We don’t know it yet, but the past is always at their heels. Its teeth are sharp, its mouth a void.

Nobody knows who’s it or who’s supposed to be hiding or who’s supposed to be seeking. We keep running. We’re all hiding. We’re all seeking.

Virgie Townsend is a fiction writer, essayist, and journalist. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, Gargoyle, and other publications. She is a staff reader at SmokeLong Quarterly. She is currently working on a collection of short stories about fundamentalist girlhood. Find her online at virgietownsend.com.