Xuan Lin, Grade 9, Balwyn High School -
Finalist in the 'Just Keep Writing 2019' competition
Riley's muscles contracted and relaxed in a syncopated rhythm as her legs propelled her forward in an elegant motion. Her lithe body was quick and moved with practised ease. The tense set of her jaw the only sign of her discomfort, but if one looked closely enough, they could have seen the quickening of her breath. The little white puffs that blew away on a bitter wind. Sweat cast a thin sheen on her skin and stuck Riley's white shirt against her body. The purple paint that curled in bold strokes across the front and the back of it was a reminder of why she had run today. Riley's hand twitched, although she had stopped herself from rubbing the similarly designed yellow flower off her cheek. It had seemed like a good idea, but now the itch was driving her crazy. Like the rub of a shirt tag against skin. However, Riley felt as if she had more pressing matters on her hands. The pain was a slow, searing burn, it twined up her muscles and squeezed tighter at every step she took. Riley heard each rasp of her jagged breathing but her lungs had refused every pull of fresh cold air she took. Riley's eyelids drooped in exhaustion as black spots crowded her vision. All she wanted was to stop, to stop fighting so hard for every breath, to stop pushing back against the grief that was festering inside. Breathe, Riley. Riley's eyelids snapped open. The low rumbling cadence of her father's voice whispering from the corners of her mind. As Riley remembered, the small proud grin when she won her first race, the comforting voice that had sung her to sleep, the strong arms that had batted away her nightmares and kept her safe from thunder. Memories flashed like the flipbooks that her father used to love. Riley's steps quickened, forming a fast rhythm with every thump. She could barely think above the cheering and jostling of the crowd against the metal railing that held them back. Now, Riley could make out the distinct purple banner that flew high, signifying the end of the race and the unbroken gold ribbon that was pulled taut against two poles. Adrenaline pumped hard and fast throughout her body as Riley pushed towards her final stretch. Five feet, three feet, one foot. Riley snapped the gold ribbon in half, a resounding crack that was lost in the crowd's noise. Before she could fall to her knees, Riley was pulled into a tight embrace that smudged the yellow daffodil on her face. She leant into her mother, drawing strength from her. Riley pulled back and studied her mother's face, pride shone through every feature. Riley spun and faced the crowd as she pointed to the purple words on the back of her shirt, 'For Dad'. Riley looked towards the sky, knowing he was there every step of the way. Above the crowd’s noise, Riley smiled through her tears and let go.