Runner Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11 – 15


When Charlie meets Norman on Saturday morning, he lies and says he’s hitting the bag already. Norman asks to join and Charlie remembers the nursery rhyme with dread. They go to Stone’s Timber Yard. Charlie is nervous because it’s the first time he’s been there since the fight with Peacock. Norman notices the bandage around Peacock’s head. Charlie pretends not to know what happened. Charlie is satisfied as they load large logs into Charlie’s trolley. With a stick, he writes UP YOURS PEACOCK in the dirt. Later that afternoon Charlie meets with Norman and his family to attend Norman’s football game at the oval. Charlie notices a girl with a mop of dazzling red hair among the opposing Fitzroy team’s supporters.

The Richmond Hill Tigers come out dressed in black and yellow. Norman’s opponent on the soccer pitch turns out to be Jimmy Barlow. As soon as the whistle blows, Barlow elbows Norman in the stomach. Barlow’s aggression distracts Norman, and by halftime Richmond Hill is down sixteen points. Norman’s father runs onto the field and throws his arm around his son. Charlie feels a pang of grief as he realizes he’ll never again feel his own father’s touch. In the second half, Norman ignores Barlow and focuses on the ball. He scores an elegant goal. His father tells Charlie he told him to start thinking smart. He keeps it up, and Richmond Hill wins by twenty-two points. As people leave the stands, Charlie hears a friend call the beautiful red-haired girl Alice. He considers speaking to her, but is too stunned by her beauty. He smiles and is pleased to know her name.

On Monday morning, Charlie wakes to see Alice’s freckle in his mind. He fantasizes about her until he hears his Ma in the kitchen. She is on her hands and knees, using a knife to dislodge compacted dirt from the edge of the floorboard. Her condition hasn’t improved over the past few weeks. Charlie worries about Jack. That morning he finds Jack in his bassinet with a cockroach feeding from the dried milk at the side of Jack’s mouth.

At Squizzy Taylor’s, Dolly warns Charlie that Squizzy is in a bad mood. Charlie overhears Squizzy talking to Dasher about Snowy Cutmore, who is giving Squizzy trouble by bad-mouthing him all over town. Charlie listens through the door as Squizzy admits to Dasher to having short-changed Cutmore on a jewelry job in Kew. Dasher warns Squizzy that Cutmore has been drinking with the notoriously violent Micky Morgan. Charlie comments that Cutmore is also known for his violence, and that he once used a hot iron to brand a woman who refused his advances. Teamed up with Morgan, Cutmore would be difficult to beat. Squizzy Taylor Charlie a list of six names from whom he is to collect money. One of the addresses is in Fitzroy, where many of Squizzy Taylor’s enemies reside. Charlie sets out, deciding he will be polite but firm as he asks for the money. Albert Fox, a greengrocer, is reluctant to pay, but Charlie says Squizzy Taylor will come with Knuckles if Fox doesn’t pay him. Fox relents and hands him an envelope of cash, filling Charlie with bravado.

Charlie’s next four collections go similarly. Having saved the Fitzroy address for last, he finds his chest deflate as his boldness leaves him. He waits outside the bake shop, afraid to enter. He enters the shop to discover the girl with freckles working behind the counter. Charlie orders a cream bun, which she gives him with hostility. He decides he ought to try to make her laugh if he’s going to get anywhere with her. But just before he strikes up a conversation, Charlie sees Barlow coming into the shop. Charlie drops to the floor and hides under the counter by Alice’s feet. He shushes her and Barlow walks in, addressing her by name. Barlow asks if she’ll be coming to Saturday’s home game and she says she will, but not to see him; she reckons he cost them the game last week. Barlow says Norman got lucky and he’ll fix Norman on Saturday. Barlow tells Alice if she changes her mind about going to a movie, she knows where to find him. When Barlow leaves, Charlie thanks Alice. She says Barlow thinks he can push people around because he’s done some boxing. Charlie asks if she doesn’t like boxing, and she says she hates it.

Charlie remembers why he’s there and asks for Kenneth Cornwall. Alice looks shocked and then calls out to the back for her father. She confirms she is Alice Cornwall. Charlie considers running out, but instead goes to the back to speak with Kenneth. While he is the spitting image of his daughter, he lacks her fire. Charlie notices Kenneth hobbles and looks worn out. He says he doesn’t have Squizzy Taylor’s three pounds and picks up a rolling pin to threaten Charlie with. Alice intervenes, telling her father to drop the pin and Charlie to leave. Alice and her father hug each other. On his way out, Charlie begins to tell her something, but she tells him to leave her alone, because he’s just like the rest of them. Charlie runs back to Richmond thinking about how he’d been able to distance himself from Squizzy Taylor’s debtors before, but now he knows the Cornwalls are real, desperate people, like himself and his mother.

Charlie slows down when he runs into Daisy Moloney. She smiles at him and says she’s going home to breastfeed her youngest. She says her breasts are so swollen they are nearly bursting. Charlie drops his eyes to her chest and notices a black silk camisole under her coat. Daisy says Charlie is looking handsome and jokes that if he was a bit older she’d want to sleep with him. She asks about his Ma and slips her arm under his. Daisy warns him that there are some nasty people among the Richmond push. He walks her home, as he worries about men trying to rape her or be violent with her. She tells him to do something good with the money he’s saving, which gives Charlie the idea to take three pounds of his own money from under his bed. At Squizzy Taylor’s, Charlie notices Squizzy's cheeks are red and that he’s been drinking. He gives him the money, saying it’s all there. Squizzy Taylor warns him that things will be heating up soon, and that there’s another two-person liquor run in a couple nights.

That night Charlie brings some logs of wood to the Redmonds’. They have a gramophone set up for him to practice his footwork. Charlie says he’s retiring from boxing. Mr. Redmond is disappointed and asks if it’s the nursery rhymes or gramophone, but Charlie says he’s simply a runner. But he’d like to borrow the gramophone. As they load the gramophone onto his trolley, Charlie and Mr. Redmond discuss the trouble brewing with Squizzy Taylor. Redmond offers to train Charlie to be a race runner. Charlie thinks of the Cornwalls at the bakery when Redmond speaks of the prize money. After fighting with Harry the duck, Charlie brings the gramophone in for his mother. Charlie is pleased to see her and Jack nestled before the roaring fire. After eating, they crank the gramophone and dance together. Ma says Charlie is becoming more like his father every day. She admits that her parents disowned her for marrying his father, who they believed was beneath her. That’s why they never visit. Charlie and Ma agree they both miss Charlie’s father.

The next morning Charlie begins race training with Redmond, who has Clarrie the dog to help Charlie run fast. Charlie tries to keep up with Clarrie as the dog chases down rabbits. After six rabbits, Charlie meets with Norman. They discuss Norman’s rising status as a local footballer. They see a Porter’s wood yard is for sale and imagine co-owning it. At Squizzy Taylor’s, there are cars and bicycles out front; they assume he’s having a party. Knuckles lets them in. In a haze of cigarette smoke, Squizzy Taylor addresses the gathered men and confirms the plan to do a drive-by shooting the next night. Squizzy takes Charlie aside and reprimands him for having paid Cornwall’s debt. Squizzy points his gun at Charlie and says if people hear he’s forgiving debts, they’ll all be wanting a handout. Squizzy gives them the liquor drop instructions and says he’s out of a job if he messes it up. Outside, Norman says this is getting dangerous; someone will get hurt. Charlie says he’ll do the job on his own if need be. Norman appeals to him, but Charlie says without Squizzy he’d be out on the street. The boys load the three bags of beer onto a trolley at Mr. Jenkins, who advises them to take back streets. They realize they’ll have to cut through the Fitzroy Gardens.


Adding to the theme of masculinity, Charlie pretends to Norman that he is already punching the boxing bag; with shame, Charlie recalls how he in fact was emasculated by the actual training procedures. At Peacock’s timber yard, Charlie continues lying to Norman by feigning not to know why Peacock’s head is wrapped in bandages. Feeling the power that Squizzy Taylor’s intimidation of Peacock has granted him, Charlie writes an offensive phrase in the dirt after helping himself to a trolley of logs.

The theme of grief arises during Norman’s football match: Charlie sees Norman’s father run out to the field at halftime to console his son and, presumably, offer words of encouragement. The pang of grief Charlie feels—a sharp, anxious, draining feeling in his stomach—causes Charlie to reflect that with his own father dead, he will never experience the simple comfort of a father throwing his arm around his son.

The motif of Charlie seeing images in the mold pattern on his wall continues with the vision of Alice, the freckled redhead girl from the football match. Charlie’s fantasy of the beautiful girl contrasts with the imagery of his reality: in the kitchen, Ma has taken her cleaning to an excessive degree as she uses a knife to scrape dirt from the edge where the cabinets meet the floor. Though he still doesn’t have a term for her condition, Charlie understands that Ma’s PTSD is worsening. Despite her attentiveness to cleanliness, a cockroach is nibbling at the dried milk around Jack’s mouth.

The theme of violence re-emerges when Charlie arrives at Squizzy Taylor’s to learn of a coming eruption in tensions between Squizzy and his violent rival, Snowy Cutmore. In addition to violence, the themes of power and masculinity also arise when Charlie sets off to collect Squizzy's debts for the first time. Though Charlie is initially frightened and uncertain, he learns that he can intimidate the greengrocer by threatening to send Knuckles (implying it will be a violent visit) over to collect the money. The cash in Charlie’s hands fills him with boldness, and he uses the same tactic on with his remaining collections.

Although Charlie has an increasing sense of power and masculine toughness, he learns during his visit to the Cornwalls' bakery that Alice, the same beautiful girl from the football match, is repelled by Charlie’s association with criminality and also by boxing. Having been forced to look at what he’s becoming, Charlie decides to use his money to pay off the Cornwalls’ debt. Charlie also informs Redmond that he needs to give up boxing. That night, instead of training, Charlie decides to try to repair the rift with his mother by bringing the Redmonds’ gramophone over to play music for her to dance to.