Short Story Month, Day 10: "Distance"
In 2007, I received in the mail the latest issue of The Cincinnati Review. I was living in St. Louis at the time, and so when I flipped through the Contributor Notes, I discovered there was a story by a woman who had graduated from Washington University’s MFA program. I had never heard of Rebecca Kanner before. And I’ve never forgotten her name since I flipped to page ninety five and in one sitting read her stunning story “Distance.”
“Before I met him I spent a lot of time in bars” we’re told, the story beginning with a clear setup of a narrative that will focus on two people, with your initial expectation that this man will somehow save or destroy her. Neither is true. “One night” the story continues “when I hadn’t passed out or picked anyone up, I found myself—a nice-looking girl in high heels and a short skirt—walking around a lake.” There is no shame in the narrator about her lifestyle, but she also doesn’t seem particularly striking as a person; her appearance is plain and nondescript, and yet precise to how she imagines herself.
She attempts to pick up the man, and even after he runs on, she knows he will return: “Who runs at midnight if he could be doing something else?” He returns, brings her back to his apartment, which is dark and minimal without being threatening. On the walls are dozens of plaques, medals, and trophies of his running glory, which is years in the past, and the man quickly shuts off the light to hide them from her even though they “were clean and shiny enough to be seen clearly from any distance.” The protagonist is not a fool: looking at the man, she thinks “I was already beginning to see the differences between his smiles. This one didn’t reach his eyes.”
The reader never learns the characters’ names. The reader never discovers what city they are in or what they do for a living. Like the man’s apartment, the story is stark and minimal, focusing in a single-minded way on the man’s running. The reader’s experience is much like the woman’s: nothing else but running, nothing but the body, matters here. She moves in with him immediately. He doesn’t mind. In time, curious, the woman takes up running too, and she is as prepared as we would expect. It’s also fascinating what the man says about her appearance, which is both mocking and revealing of how little he knows about her.
The next day, I picked up some tennis shoes. He laughed at the sight of me in shorts and a T-shirt. “I always suspected you had a great sense of humor,” he said.
Her body begins to change as the speed hidden inside her emerges. She hopes to become faster, to catch him, and the chiaroscuro that Kanner laces through the prose takes on a menacing tone. This surreal story, almost like a fable or dream, continues toward an ending for these two runners that gives the title “Distance” a new, haunting definition.
Rebecca Kanner’s debut novel is Sinners and The Sea, released by Simon & Schuster in April. Her stories have been published in numerous literary journals, including The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Bellingham Review, and Third Coast. Visit her online at rebeccakanner.com