Into the Night

Caitlin McGill

Caitlin McGill

I woke thinking how much I wanted to be outside with the rest of Boston. Instead I was holed up inside my seventh-floor apartment, writing a research paper, finishing teaching applications, occasionally jumping onto my bed and staring out the window and down at the sidewalk below where people were roaming, shouting, walking their dogs. It’d almost reached sixty degrees. At least, I thought, at least I’ll take a long lunch break to watch the runners.

At one I ventured outside. Students hollered down the sidewalk, stumbling over drunken feet. I neared Hynes train station, grabbed free hummus and pita chips from the stand on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street, and made my way down the grassy center that divides Commonwealth Avenue. I’d planned to meet my boyfriend at Hereford Street. Pink and white buds had begun to bloom on the tree-lined road. Parents and children and friends perched on their stoops and balconies and rooftops, cheering the runners on, on, flags and signs and beer in hand. I watched runners struggle up the incline just past Mass Ave, some barely able to pick their feet up off the ground but still moving, some gaining speed as they neared the final mile of the twenty-six they’d begun that morning.

I spotted David in his red sweater, his blue eyes coming into view as we approached the statue between Hereford and Gloucester from either side. We ate sandwiches and watched the runners scrape on, pointed to the men and women in army uniforms with packs on their backs, trudging alongside other runners in leggings and t-shirts, shorts and sports bras. Toddlers played in the grass. Bicyclists whizzed past. At his owner’s feet, a white dog sat covered in blankets. The dog looked back at me. I snapped a photo.

Just after two, we headed toward David’s office at Arlington—two blocks from Copley Square. We grabbed coffee at the Wired Puppy on Newbury and walked up Exeter Street to Boylston, where runners plodded to the finish line. We had no idea how fortuitous our timing would be; we had no idea that we’d walk past the site of the bombings ten minutes before the explosions ripped limbs from bodies, ripped Boston from its people.

2:30. We turned left onto Boylston Street where flags waved runners toward the finish. Across the street, outside the Boston Public Library, bleachers shook with the audience’s cheer.

“Hold up a sec,” I called to David. I snapped another photo. We neared the Charlesmark Hotel, spotted the white medic tents across the way, listened as a man congratulated runners on the microphone. We passed CVS, Boloco, and, our favorite, Finagle a Bagel.

2:45. We parted at the Arlington train station. The corner of Boylston and Arlington Street swarmed with people. I looked back at David as he pushed through. I raced down the stairs, past lines of more people waiting to enter the station. A transit officer yelled, “Runners ride for free, through this entrance!” But no one seemed to hear. My train pulled up as soon as I made it down to the tracks.

2:50. I arrived at Symphony Hall, walked down Westland Avenue where I stopped at Whole Foods for milk.

2:52. A text from David: You okay? There were just two big bomb noises. There are clouds of smoke near the finish line. I can see them from my office. Not sure what’s going on. I hoped it was a celebration. I Googled “Boston Marathon explosion” on my phone, but the server was too busy. Inside my building, I shared the elevator with three runners. Medals hung around their necks. I congratulated them for finishing the race. They smiled, opened their mouths to speak, but paused. The male runner read from his phone.

“Thanks,” he said. “But I don’t know what’s going on right now. People are posting on Twitter about bombs at the finish line.”

Sirens and helicopters persisted outside my window the rest of the day. I kept it shut. Through the noise I could still hear musicians playing in the street, playing long into the night. I tried to work on a paper, that teaching application, but I kept refreshing my Google search—“Boston Marathon Bombing News”—reading each update that trickled in, wishing for the first time since I moved to Boston that I had a TV.


Caitlin McGill is an MFA candidate at Emerson College. She is a nonfiction writer with a serious addiction to dancing, dogs, and all things chocolate. She received her BA in English from the University of Central Florida where she worked on the editorial staff of several publications. She is currently a reader for Ploughshares, a writing tutor at The English High School, and an intern at Grub Street, the second largest independent center for creative writing in the United States.

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