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December 1, 2006 | Fiction

Bike Birth

Emily Taylor

Bike Birth photo

I.

On a balmy day in March I went down to the shop and rocking heel to toe with nervousness, explained my preferences: curved back handlebars (weak wrists), bar across or down – doesn’t matter, comfortable seat, slim strong tires.

“I have something like that,” she said, and went to the back room. I paced. I tugged on the sleeves of my short denim jacket. She brought you out. You were a dark orange color like a rusty retro car, and you glinted in greeting. I opened my arms and you rolled into them.

That day I rode you slowly home in the dusk: up the street, under the bridge, past the grey trees and brown tufts of grass. I lifted you up the narrow staircase to my apartment, your front wheel skittering back and forth between banister and wall. I steadied you and wheeled you through our door.

“Where are you going to keep it?” my roommate asked as I lowered your kickstand to the beige linoleum kitchen tiles. I turned my back on her and rolled you into my cramped bedroom. 

“I’ll keep it in here.” I said. Your reflectors glowed in the dark room and I turned on the light. You glided into the space between my bedframe and bookshelf like you had been there your whole life.

“You should really get a helmet,” she said. “And a lock.” I reached for your seat and rubbed it reassuringly.

“I know. I will,” I said. I promised you that first night that I would keep you safe, I’d keep air in your tires and never leave you out in the rain. We would be whole together, like a centaur.


II.

We rode through different neighborhoods, learning how one merged into the next, and how they were encroaching upon each other. In the park meadow a new friend shaded the sun from my eyes, and ran his hands down your frame – he asked first – in admiration of your cool copper beauty.

One day we were coasting down a hill, clicking along the faint white line of the bike lane, and a kid kicked a ball – we swerved: our one and only accident. You swung your wheel erratically, catching on a patch of gravel. With a scraping sound and the smell of hot rubber we were on the ground. You lay beside me, front wheel spinning. The kid came over, holding his hand out to help. He had ragged breath, a sniffling cold. He wiped his nose on the back of his arm. My knee throbbed.

“You okay, lady?” he said. I was dazed, but you were scratched.

“My bike,” I said. I put my hands out to you. The boy lifted you and rubbed at a scratch with his thumb. I took you from him. Your handlebars were slightly crooked. Were they were always a little off, or had I done this to you? I never knew.

“Sorry, miss,” the kid said, and ran away. Slowly, we rolled down the rest of the hill. I must have been confused, because instead of heading towards home, we drifted along the side streets. At an intersection I dismounted to examine my injured knee – blood was breaking in lines down the cleft of my calf. I was now far from home, in a neighborhood with high straight balconies and bars on the windows. Hasidic men with prayer shawls across their arms averted their eyes from us. The women walked side by side, straight armed – children in tow. The sun was dipping low, making a hazy mess of the buildings across the way. You were my silent partner in orientation, occasionally bumping my thigh to show comfort, or to tell me that you were anxious too that we were lost.

We rested. I sat on the curb while you tilted against a street sign. You leaned closer to me, and I put my hand to your seat. The dark was rising and silently, a young man with a patchy beard and long curls offered me a gauze bandage, medical tape, and a bottle of water. I thanked him.

“No problem,” he said. I may have imagined it, but I don’t think he could take his eyes off of you.


III.

We had a beautiful summer. After a ride we both were beaded with water from perspiration (me) and condensation (you) in the leaden air of August evenings. When it did rain, we’d go out afterwards to cut wakes in puddles. We rode down to the beach on one of the last days of that summer. Your gears groaned and my muscles strained with a deep ache by the time we got there. At the end of a baking asphalt road I chained you to a sign. With a casual squeeze, I left you for the tangy air and shrieking gulls, your chain clinking against your frame. 

I walked down the beach away from the sweaty vendors. Removing my shoes, I cooled my feet in Atlantic water and let the sea lick my shins.

You were waiting patiently on the street for my return, but when I came back refreshed, you were gone – removed – your lock lying on the ground cut through by a powerful instrument. I ran the length of the hot road, but I could not find you amongst the crowds and cars. Children pushed by me, their cotton candy clinging to my elbows. I thought if I walked long enough, a path would clear from me to you – whole and healthy – on a street corner or against a sign. But I didn’t find you that day, or any other day.

I catch false glimpses of you on every street, see your reflection in store windows, hear your bell at night. Perhaps your captor ripped you seam from seam to sell in parts, and this is what I recognize as my own in all the bicycles of Brooklyn.

image: Sean Carman


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