Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Cyclist

Yesterday, I walked along the wide, busy neighborhood street that has become a cutback for half the city trying to access newer areas with inadequate roads. I frequent the street enough to know drivers rarely acknowledge the stop sign buried in the overgrowth of a dogwood tree. Pedestrians engage unwittingly in a game of chicken to get to that other side. At the street's conclusion, a community pool surfaces from the ten block stretch of brick facades like an oasis filled with pretentiousness and middle-age paunch.

I had seen the man on the bike before, a bizarre, unbalanced two-passenger contraption, presumably for an adult and child, but more like shrapnel fashioned into some semblance of a seat and pedals in the man's contrail. Always, the miniature co-pilot seat was empty. Did the noxious rattle indicate he'd gotten it second-hand? Perhaps from a father who'd enjoyed it with his son decades ago when the frame didn't creak against the fractured road? Did he long to fill it with pint-sized companionship?

The man is of average build, forgettable beyond his overtly dark mustache and sinewy legs as if the bicycle provided his only means of transport. He races along the street, on his own cutback agenda, as if suburbia were a predator and stopping meant he'd be eaten alive. The rattle, like a hundred marbles revolving in a cement mixer, overpowers whispers from sleek foreign cars and the occasional grueling sample of Fergie bouncing from a passing rag top.

My steps carried me at a purposeful, but not demanding, pace beside this stretch of road. Past the hypocritical covenant matron. Past the man who escapes his wife by sitting in his recliner in the garage in hundred degree heat. Past the empty house that will forever be known as the sex-offender's house.

Unseasonably cool, a kick of optimism sprinkled with almost-righteousness to my gait after having finally hauled myself off to the gym, I clipped along the road a good six blocks before I heard it. The rattle came from an otherworldly distance in the rare-June air, this time more like ten marbles. Muted and controlled. I slowed, waited, watched.

The bike emerged from a side street, two masses in tandem: sinewy legs racing tedium and another shorter set of legs dangling, not moving, like a pale flour sack that had sprouted limbs. Late afternoon traffic streamed by, smothered the delicate rattle until such time as he had neared enough for me to see sweat dripping from the man's down-turned face. The child, no more than four and helmeted in baby blue, stared straight ahead at his father's printed t-shirt, or perhaps nothing. The seat's structure lifted the boy under his arms as a parent would collect a child, preventing his round, inert body from slithering free.

And the man's race became apparent.


Charles Gramlich said...

There's a whole story in just the man sitting in the heat to avoid his wife.

This is very well written. I thought it really flowed.

the walking man said...

Laura I loved the walk through the neighborhood, the scenes that shifted so well one to the other but I would like to hear some of you thinking on the man, the bike and the child.

Was he on the bike racing from his wife like the man in the chair or racing to the sex offenders abandoned house, trying to get away from the suburban predation, racing to be a parent, to catch up on something he'd been missing...I could write my own conclusions but I'd prefer to hear your thoughts.

L.A. Mitchell said...

@Charles...the recliner is dense, stifling velour. I can't imagine what must await him inside.

@walkingman...see? the ambiguous nature of it left it open for me to think of it in a new way. I hadn't thought of him racing to catch up on the time he'd missed. Brilliant.

I'd love to hear some other interpretations before I reveal my own and the truth (as I see it) :)

laughingwolf said...

bloody brilliant, lam... as my brit pals would say :)

Todd Wheeler said...

Beautiful writing.

L.A. Mitchell said...

@laughingwolf....those Brits do know how to make something sound better than it is, don't they? ;)

@Todd...thank you :)

As promised, I wanted to weigh in on, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story:

Once the man and his son passed, I felt the heaviness of the moment: the excrutiating sweat and frustration from the man's struggle, both as someone trying to simply make his way through this life and as a father challenged with raising a mentally disabled child. His sweat was merely an insufficient metaphor. I felt winded by my own selfish, jubilant mood moments before, went home and counted my blessings.

the walking man said...

The rest of the story fits in well. That you left the conclusion in ambiguity is fine, I liked my conclusions but yours is fine and acceptable and twice as true.

Sandra Ferguson said...

What a great post. Is more coming? I can't wait to keep up with this man on the bike.

Vesper said...

L.A., I love this, a pleasure to read...