The first-person narrator, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, known as Squeaky, is a young girl growing up in Harlem. Squeaky prides herself on her performance on the track and her ability to care for her mentally handicapped brother Raymond.
A little girl with skinny arms and a high-pitched voice, Squeaky is a self-confident, cocky youngster who boasts that everyone knows she is the fastest thing on two feet. Squeaky takes her running seriously; she is not afraid to practice high stepping out on the street where anyone can see her. She is also a responsible and caring child. Although Raymond is actually older, Squeaky thinks of him as her little brother because he is less bright than she is. She is proud of her ability to care for him, protecting him from the taunts and threats of other children.
The May Day celebration in the park includes a race, but the most important event is the maypole dancing. Squeaky has refused to participate because she is uncomfortable getting all dressed up in a white dress and shoes to dance. She is a practical girl who describes herself as “a poor Black girl who really can’t afford to buy shoes and a new dress you only wear once.” She is there to compete in the track meet. Secure in her identity as a runner, she explains that she uses her feet for running, not dancing.
Squeaky’s main competition is a new girl, Gretchen Lewis, whom Squeaky has tried to size up on the basis of a few brief contacts. When Gretchen smiles at Squeaky during one of their encounters, Squeaky does not think it is a real smile, because, in her opinion, girls never really smile at each other. As Squeaky checks out her rival on the day of the race, she notices that Gretchen kicks her legs out like a pro, and she begins to look at Gretchen with respect.
As she crouches down waiting for the crack of the pistol to start the race, she notices that Raymond is on the other side of the fence “bending down with his fingers on the ground just like he knew what he was doing.” As she runs, Squeaky glances over to watch her brother running on the sidelines. He runs in a unique style, with his palms tucked up behind him, but Squeaky sees that he has the potential to be a good runner. She remembers that he always keeps up with her when she trots around the neighborhood.
When the race ends, Squeaky is thinking of how she could give up her own career as a runner to concentrate on coaching Raymond, rather than listening for the announcement of the winner. Because she already has a room full of trophies and ribbons, and Raymond has nothing, she thinks that she could help him get some recognition as a runner. Squeaky changes as she shifts her attention from herself to her brother. As she hears her name announced as the winner, she is already focusing on Raymond’s future. Although Raymond was not actually in the race, this was really his run.
When Squeaky realizes that winning is not everything, she sees Gretchen in a new light, as a person who also works hard to achieve her goals. She looks at her former rival with new respect, thinking that perhaps Gretchen is the type of person who would help coach Raymond. The story ends with Squeaky and Gretchen exchanging a big smile of respect that is “about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day.”
“Raymond’s Run” appears in the collection Gorilla, My Love and has been published independently as a work of young-adult fiction. The story features twelve-year-old Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, who narrates the story. Nicknamed Squeaky for her high-pitched voice, she is a competitive runner, as is her older brother, Raymond, her unofficial training partner. Because he has Down syndrome, neither the community nor his family expects him to succeed in life. The Parkers seem to have accepted Raymond’s limitations, but Squeaky is cognizant of her parents’ embarrassment over her tomboyish activities. A connection is implied between Raymond’s developmental disability and Squeaky’s supposed gender deviance, both apparently aberrations of nature.
Squeaky’s independent spirit refuses to bow to social constraints, however, and she ignores maternal advice that would retard her pace. Recalling how she danced in a school pageant, Squeaky critiques her parents and the social norms they attempted to enforce: “You’d think they’d know better than to encourage that kind of nonsense. I am not a strawberry. I do not dance on my toes. I run. That is what I am all about.” Confident in her self-knowledge, Squeaky pushes the boundaries of socially prescribed norms.
Readers are privy to the thoughts, emotions, and attitudes of the unabashed Squeaky, a skinny black girl whose sole ambition is to cross the finish line first. Among the challenges she faces preparing for the annual May Day event are sexist notions of appropriate behavior, particularly as they apply to a young girl on the verge of adolescence. Squeaky is encouraged to trade her gym shorts for a skirt and to adopt a slower, less assured stride. Even her school principal suggests she let another student win the race, perhaps the nice new girl whose dress and demeanor the principal approves. However, false modesty is a virtue that Squeaky rejects. In her eyes, girls should not diminish their abilities but work as ambitiously as boys to develop their talents.
Running is a metaphor for transcending limitations of race, gender, and disability. In the act of crossing the finish line a mere step ahead of the new girl, Squeaky notices that Raymond, in a lane of his own devising on the other side of the playground fence, has beaten them both. For the first time she shifts her vision away from her own goals and expands it to include those of another. She realizes that Raymond can be a competitor in life, and Squeaky vows to help him in his personal race. Ultimately this is a story about dismantling barriers to form a more inclusive and tolerant society.