Every now and then I run across a stranger so uniquely themselves that I feel a compulsion to sketch them out in sentences and paragraphs. I theorize about what kind of lives they must live, give them names, and maybe exaggerate them a little (like any caricaturist), but otherwise, I try to just put them down as I saw them.
Meet Maeve Harris.
Here she comes, across the grass, towards a crowd of runners bunched in front of the start line of the race. She bustles up, arms swinging in righteous indignation. Everyone around her is wearing exercise clothes and running shoes. She is bizarrely out of place with her neatly arranged hair and her dress with the roses all over it. She clutches a mauve pocketbook under one plump arm as if she’s restraining herself from whacking someone on the head with it.
“Mama came into your room at 6 AM this morning and you weren’t there!” She bellows at an elderly man in the middle of the runners—her grandfather. Dutifully he shuffles over to her and says something inaudible in a voice that rustles like paper.
Privately he thinks he should be given credit for being the only octogenarian attempting a 5k today, but his granddaughter, he knows, would rather he take up a sweet, elderly sport, like checkers, or whittling. It’s why he signed up without telling her or her mother, who is like her.
Maeve has ploughed into the middle of the runners now, dividing a group mid-conversation to better aim her shout at her grandfather. “She was planning on taking you out in the boat, and you weren’t there!”
At the start line, the event coordinator picks up his microphone to announce the beginning of the race, but Maeve is focused—so much so that she has wedged herself in front of a runner who can’t shift backwards any further. The runner politely pretends she can’t hear the conversation being carried on twelve inches from her face.
“She got me up and I had to go in and look for you, and you were here, all the time!”
Maeve’s grandfather seems to be trying to edge away from the blast of her speech and presents his counter argument sotto voce. His papery tone conveys irritation, finally ending up with a statement loud enough to be audible to those around him, “Well she planned this, didn’t she?!”
Whoever “she” was had, apparently, planned this, and Maeve cedes the point.
The runner whose space she has invaded watches to see if Maeve will leave, but no—now the conflict has been dealt with, her equanimity is restored, and she feels sociable. She spies someone else in the crowd she knows and shouts across the pack: “Hi! Christine! Betcha going to beat everybody today! Did you put your age down as 70 plus so you win first place?!”
At that point, the beginning of the race is announced. The runners shift into place, and Maeve, aware for the first time that she is in the way, re-tucks her pocketbook under her arm and heads off on her next errand. There is good to be done and people to manage and she is the woman to do it.