Running English

He said if you wanted to learn English you could run with him in the mornings. Then they followed him in droves. Every morning the foreman ran by the sleeping quarters, his broad chest upright, his limbs a blur of motion, while the workmen panted after him. Half an hour later they would pass by again, in squad formation, a military march. He called out the words and they repeated them. Their voices chanted past us in the dawn.
Mondays, they did the conjugation, Wednesdays the verbs, Fridays the prepositions. “From!” “By!” “To!” he yelled, going by, and their voices rang out in response. Their chanting became a chorus, a rhythm we felt in our hips as we lay there under the window. We got up to wash in the dark morning light, crowding each other in our slips, while the cadence of their feet ticked out the seconds, stomped away the dawn. They ran around and around the factory complex. When he got to the “You” conjugations, it sounded as if he was demanding something of everyone: of himself, of us, of the running men, of anyone who lived within earshot of the crater and the fallen market and the smoking veins of the factory. He called out, and the men repeated:
“I will!” (“I will!”)

“You will!” (“You will!”)

“We will!” (“We will!”)
Spring came, and we began to grow tired of the runner. Who was he to jog his purgatory around our rooms, around the crater, around the smoking veins of the factory? Every morning we lay there with questions in our own bones, our muscles humming with talk. We listened to his orbit of conditions and wish-making, his prepositions to and fro, his litany of conjugations.

Barbara Barrow has been published in The GSU Review and Zahir, and has work forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes. She is working on a novel about clowns.