I walked back to Dressendorfer, a little shaken, for in my 38 years this had never happened before. I gave him the cup. "We'll follow up on this," he said eagerly, the scientist aroused. I had more beers, four to be exact, and got into a pain-liberated mood, proud, in the perverse way of distance runners, of how I'd used everything. Measured by its toll, I'd elevated this race beyond even the Olympics. Henderson noticed my right thigh was misshapen. The quadriceps just above the knee was swollen and discolored, as if a horse had kicked it. More road damage.
It seemed almost incidental that the reason I had done all this—to gain time on McCormack—was successful. He had wilted in the heat and finished 13 minutes back. But he recovered quickly.
I wandered through a cemetery beside the road and picked pink plumeria blossoms. I got another cup from Dressendorfer and tried again. This time I brought him a specimen so clear it might have been gin. "Probably just traumatized bladder," he said. "I'll bet the pounding bruised ail kinds of things."
I tried to swim, to let the little waves revive me. They rolled me about, cloudy water and bright green shreds of seaweed before my eyes, and almost drowned me. I was made to lie in the shade of a pandanus tree, on a white towel, and it seemed as if I slept, for I had the impression of having been in a lonely place for too long. But that was over. I was coming back.
There was a period when the discomfort seemed all right, justified by its origin, by my having been able to measure up to an old, hard standard. Then Scaff brought another can of beer and sat with me, impressed with my effort, admitting it was not of his world. I thought I'd get a second opinion on blood in one's urine.
"I'd say it means your system is cracking," he said. "It's a sign of impending injury."
"Great. Why hasn't this ever happened to me before?"
"You're older now, of course." He said it aggressively, with the sense of age being an equalizer, that which brings us all low. But it struck me then that this brute fact of all our lives, their being temporal, had been shown by my experience to be something not especially worrisome. If there was a lesson in these hard-racing days it was that you ran until you dropped, and then you lay under a tree with faint melodies infiltrating your consciousness and knew the Tightness of everything physical having an end.
I let my mind run on where it would. It seemed, if any of this were right, that we only feel cheated of immortality when we are young and racing headlong. But when we begin to have intimations of that eventual tiredness, we may feel better. It isn't necessarily solace that age brings to bear on this question. But it is a harbinger, a foretaste. When I peacefully slipped from consciousness under that tree it was, in Updike's phrase, "death's rehearsal."
Other people sat with me, not as with the sick, but with a regard for what I'd been through because they had been through something like it. I was absolutely without self-consciousness and grateful for others being there to hear my silly jokes and homilies. Eventually, with some food and juice, I rallied. After dinner, when most of the camp began dancing happily to loud music, I sat alone on the beach and watched the sea, the flickering lights of Honolulu. I was withdrawn by then and almost lamenting the loss of that beatific state of exhaustion, wishing I could be as natural in other times of life.