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Chapter One

April 1985

Olympic Material
"And then," Harlan continues, "they put me in the four-by-eight, right after I'd run the quarter!"

"The four-by-eight?" his father asks.

"Yeah. Four guys, we each run a half-mile. It's a relay."


"Whenever something starts 'four-by,' that means it's a relay."

They're sitting in the den; the television bathes them in a hypnotizing luminescence. His father is eating what would be Harlan's equivalent of breakfast. It's five p.m., but Dad works the night shift. He's only been up
an hour.

"So then what happened?"

"Well, I've really been running well lately," Harlan says. "So they wanted me to anchor."

"Anchor?" His father takes a bite of a scrambled-egg sandwich. He looks at Harlan briefly, then back at sitcoms.

"Yeah," Harlan says. "That means to go last. The best guy goes last."

"And they wanted you to go last?" With affected pride.

"Yeah. But you know, I was still tired from the other race."

"The quarter."

"Yeah, the quarter."

A breeze blows through the patio door. Beyond the chain-link fence that marks their territory, cars hurtle. Station Road is a place where kids drive fast. Harlan will start driving next year, and he imagines he'll follow local custom.

His father eats quickly, ravenously. He's listening to Harlan; that is, he wants to listen, but he keeps thinking about the time that Harlan came up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third in the bottom half of the last inning of the Little League championships. He belted a double into the gap in right-center. Was that so long ago? The team had lifted his son onto their shoulders. They'd paraded his boy around the diamond. And he'd called Harlan "Mr. Clutch." "That's what they'll call you from now on, Harlan! Mr. Clutch!" he'd screamed. He'd felt like a father, like it meant something to be a father.

He swallows up the rest of his sandwich. Harlan goes on.

". . . I wouldn't let him pass me though. Bobby Miller, the best half-miler in the state! And I held him off!"

"Wow. That's great, Son. That's terrific, Harlan. Maybe you'll be a track star."

"Well, I don't know about that." He shrugs.

His father carries his plate and coffee cup into the kitchen. The water runs. Harlan doesn't know why he lied, but he knows that he had to. He knows it might not even be a lie. In his head it's very clear, it happened just like he said, he ran anchor, he held off Bobby Miller, it might have happened that way.

That night his father will unleash the story on a co- worker. "My son's a track star, you know. Best relay runner in the state, the whole damn state!"

And years later Harlan will dust it off, in a bar, for a woman who isn't going home with him. "Sure, we've all got a few things that stick with us. Like my sub-two half-mile. I was a real speed demon back then, Olympic material. Why's that so hard to believe?"

by by David Hollander

  • paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345441001
  • ISBN-13: 9780345441003