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.