A Change Is Coming by Milly Johnson

Getty © Lady with lovely hair and bright red lipstick looking sad Illustration: Getty Images

Watching someone else slowly and determinedly succeed made anything seem possible…

There he is again – the Running Man, thought Lizzy, looking out of the window as she was drying up plates. It was the third morning on the trot he had passed by on the opposite side of the street.

Well, she supposed he was aiming to be a running man in his long shorts and baggy tracksuit top, but at the moment he was more of a collapsed-against-a-lamppost-with-a-very-purple-face man.

She watched him set off again

He didn’t really run very far, just a few yards, then he had to stop for another breather.

He wasn’t very old – maybe early twenties. The weight he was carrying made him look older. He had obviously decided to make a New Year’s resolution to get fit.

Lizzy had made a resolution, too – to finally leave Richard. She had made the same resolution for nine years now and every year she had broken it. Here she was, still struggling on with a marriage long dead in the water because she was frightened to go. Life with Richard was miserable, but she was scared of leaving the familiarity for the unknown.

She’d promised herself that at some point she would rent a small flat and begin a new Richard-less phase in her existence, but she had never been brave enough.

She heard Richard bark at her from upstairs, for his lunch – no please before, no thank you would be issued when it was delivered. He had “man-flu” and was always hideously bad-tempered when he was under the weather.

Lizzy sighed.

There was no Valentine’s Day card for Lizzy that year. So, much the same as any other year then, thought Lizzy as she watched the postman through the window, bypass her house.

On the other side of the street was the Running Man. Lizzy smiled to see him. For six weeks now he had been there in his shorts and dark tracksuit top, whatever the weather. That top was looking quite loose now. And the Running Man hadn’t stopped to lean on the lamppost since the end of January.

Life was getting harder with Richard

It must have been hard for him running with all that weight, thought Lizzy. She herself had the opposite problem, she was skinny as a stick. That was stress, she knew. Living with Richard was getting harder with every passing year.

She couldn’t remember the last time he had said anything pleasant to her. She wished she weren’t so weak and could pack a suitcase and walk out to a new life. She could quite happily leave behind everything but a few essentials.

She used to lie awake at night in bed dreaming of a tiny flat which was all hers. She knew she was far too young to settle for such a sad existence.

Across the street, the Running Man bent down to re-tie the lace on his trainer. His bulk made it a struggle for him to kneel, but he was soon up to his feet again, glugging from his water-bottle.

Easter Sunday was the wettest day Lizzy had ever seen. She hadn’t slept well because Richard’s snoring had kept her awake. Lizzy thought how wonderful it would be to sleep in a room by herself with nobody there to disturb her. She would have a pink bedroom with fluffy pink cushions and white frilly lace curtains. Richard would hate it – but then he wouldn’t be there, would he?

Through the kitchen window Lizzy spotted the Running Man. He hadn’t even given himself the day off today. He rested by the lamppost and took a drink from the long straw attached to his backpack. He’d gone all high-tech now as his running became more serious.

He was wearing a new top as his old one was far too big for him now. His legs were a totally different shape. He no longer had wobbly thighs that jiggled as he attempted to run, his calves were leaner and becoming shaped by muscle.

He ran on the spot as he drank, as if he couldn’t wait to be off again on his run, unbothered by the rain lashing into his face.

Lizzy’s smile at seeing him dried up on hearing Richard calling to her from upstairs. Demanding to know what she had done with his grey trousers.

It was the week before Lizzy’s birthday. The skies were blue and filled with sunshine and Lizzy was standing beside the kettle waiting for it to boil, looking idly out of the window.

She hadn’t seen the Running Man for a couple of weeks now and hoped he hadn’t given up. Then suddenly there he was. His legs and arms were tanned, she noticed. He must have been on holiday. And he wasn’t alone. He was running beside a woman of a similar age with a smiling face and long blonde hair tied in a jaunty ponytail.

He was unrecognisable now as the portly, puffing man she had first seen in the New Year. He was fit and handsome and looked twenty years younger.

The sight of him, pacing effortlessly along the pavement while having enough breath to converse with his companion was all it took for Lizzy’s life to switch tracks.

She didn’t hesitate…

Without waiting for the kettle to finish boiling to make Richard’s coffee, she walked up the stairs and pulled out her suitcase from under the bed.

She knew that the next few months would be hard work and emotional. She knew that she would feel pain and be tempted to give up the fight. But she also knew that she could make her life so much better.

In a few months, she would be looking back at her old sadness, glad that she had finally changed things.

The Running Man had taught her that the impossible was possible.

Richard was still shouting for his coffee when Lizzy took a deep breath, opened the front door and took the first steps towards her new life.

Author Milly Johnson Pic: Chris Sedgewick

Author Milly Johnson Pic: Chris Sedgewick

Look out for more Big Name fiction online every Monday and Thursday throughout March

Read our review of Milly’s brand new novel
The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me kbyrom@dctmedia.co.uk