Heel, Knee, Hip (Lisa Muschinski)

My ex’s dad was a professional speed walker. Me and my ex, we’d go watch his races, sit at the track’s edge in camping chairs, watch alongside stoned high schoolers and some confused seniors from the nearby old folks’ home. We’d watch the balding fellas waddle on by, their hips rolling in tight figure eights all smooth smooth smooth. They looked funny walking like that, like they were just trying so hard, trying so fucking hard not to run. Was kind of cute—pitiful, almost—how strained they all looked. How focused. Like kids on their way to the high dive after having been whistled at by a lifeguard. 

Once, my ex’s dad? He even made it to the Olympics. Didn’t win or anything—not silver, not bronze—but still, he had a VCR tape titled 1992 Summer Olympics. Kept it on the mantel like a trophy. Sometimes we’d watch the tape, all huddled around the old box TV. We’d watch his gleaming head glide along the track. Watch as sweat streamed from his sports sunglasses like tears. “Why don’t they just run,” I’d ask in a hush. And he’d sigh, as if vexed by my question. “Oh honey,” he’d say. “It’s against the rules. That’s just how it is.” 

When we were feeling adult, me and my ex, we’d talk about things. We’d talk about the future, maybe. About work or our friends who were getting engaged, getting married. Who were having kids, even. Twins, even. Once he asked what I thought about marriage. I laughed. Was he being serious? “I’m, like, twenty,” I said. “Twenty-seven,” my ex said, his voice falling flat like a pancake. 

Late one fall, me, my ex, his dad, we all went on a walk around the lake. I noticed the speed walker’s strangled stride as he stomped on red and yellowing leaves. “Why do you walk like that,” I asked, gesturing to his knee all rigid and buckled. “Looks like it’d be uncomfortable.” He just shook his head. Said, “It’s habit, darling. Rules are heel, knee, hip in a straight line at impact. That’s what makes it walking.” I looked at his bad knee, wrapped in layers of pink and purple KT Tape, at his other bad knee which he’d had how many surgeries on? Had how much PT for? And said, “Sure. Totally. Habit. I get it.” 

I guess my ex was getting impatient with me. Said he wanted me to grow up. Said he wanted someone to raise kids with, but I still acted like a kid myself. Said it like it was an insult. “Yeah,” I said. “I am a kid.” He pressed his lips into a thin line. Asked me to stop joking around for a second. “Will you at least think about it,” he asked, and I said, “Sure, bro. Totally.” Then it was one of those nights again, after having dinner with his dad again, and we sat around watching the Olympic tape again. At that point, I’d had the whole thing memorized, could recite the commentary from memory: Form form form, that’s all he’s thinking. One foot in front of another, one foot in front of another. Look at that now, he’s going to have to catch up quick, he’s really falling behind. Reeeaaaally falling behind. 

I felt kind of sorry for all those grown men just on the verge of a run, just edging edging edging on that break, on that leap, on that moment of flight. Like, what must have happened to them, to have them decide—of all things on this vast and exhaustive earth—now they’d be speed walkers. Not sprinters, not long-distance runners, but speed walkers. I took another handful of Doritos, shoved them in my mouth, and watched as a German was caught with both feet off the ground, weightless, only for him to be flashed with a referee’s warning. “Do that again, and you’re outta here,” whispered my ex’s dad, clutching his beer. 

Eventually, my ex broke up with me. Which, I mean, we all saw that coming. Still, I made note of his dad’s races. I’d show up with a new guy, or girl, or some friend posing as some new guy or girl, and we’d watch my ex’s dad waddle on by, his tango hips in full swing. I’d catch my ex looking at us, at me and the hot piece wrapping their hands around my waist, and he’d pretend like he didn’t see them kissing my neck, he’d wring his wrists and pretend all he saw was his dad winning. 

I’d smile to myself and think how they were much more my speed, these non-speed-walking people. They saw the humor in things. I liked how they’d lean against the bleachers, joint balanced between puckered lips. How they’d cast their head back with a guttural laugh. How they’d look at me, thumb lolling toward the walkers, and say, “No no no. You can’t be serious.”


Lisa Muschinski is a Colorado-based writer with words in SmokeLong Quarterly, HAD, Flash Frog, FlashFlood, Olney Magazine, Bear Creek Gazette, and elsewhere. They teach English online and spend their days watching the squirrels fight at the bird feeder.


image: MM Kaufman