Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Bicycle (p. 27)

This piece is dedicated to Tristan, whose eloquence and unconventional elegance has allowed me to stride forward in a wholly less affable world than the one he would mold for me and the one from which he continues to lift me with his shaky hand adhered to mine.

The Bicycle
Royal Young

His mother had explained, after what had happened they needed a change. She had described it all in clear and simple tones to him when he had woken up and was still groggy with sleep. His eyes were closed against the blue dark of the room and she had told him all about the sloping hill and the sea, flat and gray, beyond. She had told about the little old house. He imagined it would have a fantastic attic with long, slender windows. She had told him about sailboats, how they sometimes looked like birds, and smoothed back his hair and promised they would have a good time.

They left in a red Chevy she had rented. He had to count everything out as he put it in his bag. The morning sun was weak but ever-present, and he wondered if he would have a good vacation. He was scared because this was his first. She had gotten the idea the day he came home from school with a black eye and leaves in his hair. She helped him finish packing and his bag was so heavy that it bumped against the hallway walls as he walked out the door behind her.
“Come on,” she said. “You can sit in the front.”
He got into the front seat while she shut the trunk and his legs felt small amidst all that space. She got into the car and started the ignition. The street fell away behind them and the rows of trees got thicker and thicker. He drifted in and out of sleep, and each time woke up to the distinct feeling of movement and his face closer to the cool window. Soon they were on highways and he knew they were almost there when the highways turned back to roads, and through the partially open window he could smell the sea, or at least what he thought he remembered the sea smelt like. He rolled down the window all the way and let the wind whip back his hair and rush against his eyes.
“Get back in,” she said. “You’ll get your head knocked off.”

The house was different from what he thought it might be. It was up a winding path on a sort of cliff overlooking the bay. A short, fat old woman greeted them and handed them a key. From the outside, the house was bigger than he thought it would be. It had a large, majestic doorway. The walls were white and the windows had crooked shutters. There was indeed an attic with a great pointed roof and even a small, beaten weathervane, which was swinging to and fro in the wind.

His mother thanked the woman, who nodded and went off. There were many small bedrooms at the ends of the little hallways. None of the windows had curtains; just open shutters, so the light poured in dully from all sides. His mother showed him to his room. He put his bag down on his bed and looked around. He went up to the full-length mirror and stared at his reflection. His legs looked long and bony and his hair paler than ever.

The room had wallpaper with little gypsy people leading a caravan across the desert. The sand was sepia green and the gypsy people were intended to be brightly dressed, though the colours had faded considerably. He went over to the window and looked out. He could see a bit of very green grass and the sea rippling gently.

He closed the shutters and the room got darker. He went back to the mirror and took off his shirt. He stared at his reflection. It almost felt as though the gypsies in the wallpaper were staring at him and he thought he could almost hear them whispering fitfully and sharpening their daggers. He took off his pants and folded them neatly on the bed. He studied himself again in his socks and underwear. His legs looked thinner. He smiled at his reflection and his reflection smiled back. He lifted one hand, waved, and his reflection waved back, still smiling. He tried to imagine that he didn’t know the person in the mirror. He squinted and thought he saw his reflection wave at him again. He tried to imagine the boy in the mirror was someone he hadn’t met yet.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” said the boy.
The boy waved again. He unscrewed his eyes. He felt the gypsies shifting and coiling about each other. His reflection stared back at him and he felt dizzy—a dizziness that came on him as it had come before, its familiarity lending it greater power. The door opened. His mother stood in the doorway staring at him then she went to the window and opened it.
“Get on your clothes,” she said. “We’re going down to the beach.”

The beach was empty and vaguely cold. He was wearing a sweatshirt and she put her arm around him. The sand was very pale and hard. They walked along it.
“Don’t you like it here?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, “I like it a lot.”
“The beach is so nice,” she said, and gestured with one hand. “I always loved the sea.”
“I like the beach a lot,” he said. “The water is so big.”
She smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder. “I knew you’d like it,” she said.

They had sandwiches for dinner all alone at the big dining table. Every so often she would look up at him.
“Did you remember your toothbrush?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I packed it first so I wouldn’t forget.”
She looked at him sharply. “You’re not thinking about that bicycle, are you?” she asked. He shook his head.
“Nope,” he lied. “I don’t think I rode it much anyway.”
“Honey,” she paused, “you know you’ll never see it again.”
“I know,” he said.

That night he took a bath and then went right to his room. As he was putting on his pajamas she knocked on the door and called goodnight into the room. He got into bed and thought about his reflection, how it had waved to him, how it made him feel happy but scared. He drifted off to sleep and dreamt briefly about boats on flat, black water. He woke up at some point and his light bulb was flickering dimly on and off as though it had been halfway unscrewed. It threw strange yellow shadows on the walls, but then he closed his eyes again. He woke again and the light was off—the mirror glistened palely in the light from the window. He heard the waves and the wind and though he couldn’t see out the window from his bed, he could vividly picture a figure walking across the beach outside, tired and trudging in a sloping way down towards the surf. When he next woke, the room was bright with morning.
“Mom?” he called. There was no answer. He went downstairs and stopped at the foot of the staircase. Through double doors he could see his mother laying on the couch with her back to him.
“Mom?” he asked and walked over to her. Her eyes were open and she had been crying.
“Mom, are you okay?” he asked.
She looked up at him and sighed, then got up, pushing him to the side. She pulled her hair into a ponytail and wiped at her eyes.
“Good morning,” she said. “You must be hungry. Do you want a sandwich?”
“Yeah,” he said. “But are you okay?”
“I’m fine, honey,” she said. “Let’s go eat something.”

She made black coffee with the sandwiches, his with lots of sugar. She leaned on the table.
“What do you want to do today?” she asked.
He shrugged and took another bite of his sandwich. “Go for a walk,” he suggested.
She smiled and nodded her head. “I think I would like that,” she said.

The beach was sunny that day and warm. He took off his sweater and tied it around his waist. The sea looked greener and more inviting. His mother had her arm around him again and they walked slower.
“What are you thinking?’ she asked.
He thought about it for a second. “I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I’m thinking about how nice it is here.”
She nodded. “It’s a nice change,” she said.
”I was thinking,” he said, hesitantly, “maybe we could do this again next year, come back here. I like that house.”
“I like it too,” she said.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Why were you crying this morning?’
“I wasn’t.”
He looked up at her and she looked down at him for a second and then looked away. “Sometimes I just feel very far from everything,” she said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I feel like everything is very distant and that I cannot touch it.” Then she shook her head and smiled and looked at him again. “I knew you’d like it here, though. That’s why I brought you, so you and I could spend some time alone in a nice place. We haven’t done that in awhile and I felt this would be the perfect thing to keep us close. You know I want us to be very close.”

That night at dinner they spoke very little. She had brought a bottle of red wine and kept it close to her on the table, refilling her glass often. Her face got flushed and her lips were touched with a purplish stain. He cleaned up and she went to the couch and lay there facing the cushions. He glanced at her once as he went upstairs and she was rocking slightly. He started to say goodnight but decided better of it and went straight to his room. He turned off the light and opened the shutters so that the moon lit everything gently. He tilted the mirror just the way he wanted then took off his shirt. He took off his pants and put them on his bed. He looked in the mirror and paused. He looked like a very slender girl. He took off his socks and stood there playing with the waistband of his underwear. His reflection looked sullen and dark in the dimness.

“Hello,” he said to the reflection.
“Hello,” the reflection said.
“What’s your name?” he asked, smiling warmly.
“Luke, what’s yours?” the reflection replied.
“Mine’s Luke, too.”
“Oh, gee! Now that’s a coincidence.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Have you seen my bike, Luke?” his reflection asked.
“No, I haven’t seen it—did you lose it?”
“Well, I guess you could say that,” his reflection smiled.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I broke it,” his reflection smiled more widely.
“How?” he asked.
“I can’t say.”
“Oh, sorry—well, I think I’m going to go now.”
“Please don’t.”
“Well…” he paused. “I don’t know.”

He glanced back at the room and it was empty. The wallpaper was not threatening and his bed looked very soft, but everything was so shadowy. He turned back to the mirror. His reflection was motionless, waiting. He felt like he had a great secret, a new friend.
“Okay, I won’t if you don’t want me to,” he said.

His reflection nodded and stared at him. “That’s exactly what I wanted,” it said. He felt blood come to his cheeks.
“Why do you look embarrassed?” his reflection asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said.
“Is your mommy downstairs?” his reflection asked. “Can she hear us?”
“I don’t think so,” he shook his head.
“Do you like her?”
“Yeah, sure I do.”
“I don’t like her much.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t.”
“I should go,” he said, suddenly feeling very, very certain that this is what he must do.
“Okay,” his reflection understood. “It was nice meeting you, Luke.”
“You too, Luke.”

He stepped back from the mirror and put his shirt back on. He lay down on his bed and felt like laughing. He wondered if the other Luke once lived in this house, maybe even slept in the same bed he was laying on. He smelled the bed and it smelt like the other Luke. He put his head on the pillow and he could feel something near him, something that had been there for a long while, waiting.

Suddenly, he got up and put on his pants. He turned on the light in the room so it would be on when he got back. He walked quickly down the hallway, down the stairs, and into the living room. His mother’s shoes were still by the couch but she was no longer there. He went into the kitchen where the tap dripped into the silence. He went back upstairs and into her bedroom. One of the windows was open and there was a small electric fan on. Some of her clothes were on her bureau and her bed was unmade. He left the room and walked down the hallway looking in the two other bedrooms and the bathroom. He put a hand to his face and realized he had been crying. He reached for the cold-water faucet to wash his face and drew back in shock. The faucet was burning hot and he heard something coming from the ceiling above him.
“Mom?” he shouted, ran out of the bathroom, and started climbing the steps to the attic.
The stairway was long and narrow and a small bare bulb hung lit at the top. He reached for the door and found it locked.
“Mom?” he called again. He heard movement behind the door. “Mom?”
The door opened and she looked down at him. Her face was still flushed and her movements seemed very tense.
“What is it, honey?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he managed. “I was just thinking if maybe we could leave tomorrow.”
She stared at him for a while before she answered and it made him very uncomfortable.
“No, I don’t imagine there will be any need for that,” she said. “In fact, I quite like it here. No, I don’t think we can even think about leaving just yet. Stop being ridiculous. I brought you here because I thought you might need a vacation and now you want to go home? What do you think you’re going to do there? Stay in your bed day and night? You need to get fresh air; you need to get out.”
“I’m fine, Mom. Please,” he begged, “I don’t like it here.”
“Of course you are, darling. We all are,” she said. “Now go back to bed.” He nodded and walked back down the stairs. He heard the door shut and lock behind him. He walked slowly back to his room and lay down on his bed.


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