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The International Writers Magazine: On Your Bike

The Novice
Jason Walls


I have a crooked nose. My sunglasses (gradually) tilt, so my left eye gazes low; my right, high. The effect is like riding a train that slows down, waits, jostles and starts again. Momentum is never steady. Rarely does it upset me, but sometimes I reach up, level the sunglasses; I forget what it’s like to see clearly.

Sunny days, strange clouds; on these days, I like to ride my bike. Pedals whirl as clouds convert my thoughts from one to the next. Clouds are comical. Sinewy snakes stretch beside puffy mushrooms, but no matter how diverse all shapes are pretty— though some are, in truth, different. When I say different, I mean that they have to be interpreted. I have to pry into their curtained, strange-shaped mystery. That’s when I ride my bike.

The story I’m going to tell is like strange clouds. Unsolved; a two-plus-two equals five story. It’s easy to get lost in if not told carefully.

The day was in mid-July— actually, right in the middle of July. The clouds were a mystery. I watched my sunglasses tilt— momentum— as I put them on, and filled my lungs, turned the tepid door latch.

A breath of wind harassed my hands first, and then, selectively, the rest of my body. Wind is confusing. It can push, prevent, beckon. It advises, warns, inspires, befriends, attacks— an empathy vortex. Wind is a best friend and an enemy.

I pedaled slowly— whiirrr whiirrr— up the street, on the right side, employing my weight to careen the bike right and left, mostly right. I steadied my sunglasses and finished weaving. Then, I turned right.

The exact mid-July weather had an effect. Like a girl’s blush on a first date, it made me want to say countless things. Daylight flickered through trees on the roadside like a memory. There was someone on the other side of a track. She warmed the cracks between train cars. A smile flickered on her lips as she gazed, and time backpedaled. I was diaphanous, glimmering with bits and particles that make up this world. It seemed that way.

Bits and particles glowed in my thoughts. At this point the story forms a beginning, like a lone bass line leading into song. Sunny weather, pedals whirring, ideas dipping in and out of my mind.

Smooth cement soothed my bike tires until I stopped at a stop sign. It began. I waved to a passing car— did she notice me?— and turned right onto a gravel path. Rocks tumbled in the blurry spokes. Snaps, crackles and— once in awhile— a pop. The sound startled me. Everything was novel though I’ve biked the trail many times.

I always enjoy how the first hilly climb becomes a swift downhill snake pattern. The change is drastic, like warm fire after a cold walk. All yearnings vanish and embers in the fire want to tell a story.

I glanced up. The clouds had moved and the curtain, concealing their secret, opened a bit. Shades of blue sky around got brighter, hyper-real, as my olfactory sense spoke of pine trees. I peered ahead. A grove’s hole grew as I approached; a sap aroma stuck to my tongue. I entered.

The pace changed; my thoughts resembled the new richness of color. Old thoughts left, new ones came; two happenings together in a split second. Passengers, odd-shaped, snuggled amongst normal ones on the train. Moldy pine scent mired into the crowd. No glances exchanged, they waited for their destinations. My stop would come, too.

Time hesitated in the gaps between trees. My bike rounded a corner and I saw, through the pine needles, a still pond in sunny weather. It connected there— that thing I had forgotten. Distant embers reached for me, lured me ripple by tiny ripple to the pond’s other shore. She jostled in my mind again.

The last few paragraphs are part of the story’s middle. Liquid, poured into a glass, sloshes at first but calmly rises. The novice doesn’t know that glasses can tip at the “calmly rises” part. They can tip, spew the content into things nearby that soak it up.

I was approaching twenty years when I met her. Well, I shouldn’t say I met her. I saw her— on the other side of an underground railway station, staring my way but not at me. Her hair was black, maybe dark brown, and I could just tell that her pale skin reddened near the cheekbone. Her lips parted to say something. The bustling ambiance made it hard to focus on that solitary voice.

Remote rumbling jogged the surroundings. Watches flashed 9:00 AM. Feet shuffled. Clothing whished. I clenched my ticket stub, hoping she was still there. Another minute and the train jostled, started again. Her white blouse warmed the cracks between train cars, like sun rays peeking through an umbrella wrought with holes. I blinked for a split second and she was gone. She vanished— no way around it. The subway was quiet.

The bike’s front tire skidded in the path, back tire following. My legs burned. An engine revved in my stomach. Pointless bridges came, went, and my watch ticked off seconds like a fingernail picking at scab. I leveled my sunglasses. It helped. I listened to the mixed sound of tire on gravel and blustery wind.

The wind was against me now— not a strong wind, but enough to make ascending slopes hard. The clouds were a curious blend of pink-gray colors with azure sky filtering through. Trees bent; the wind brought pond water smell. The path straightened.

It was finally here: the trail’s long, lackluster middle.

When life doesn’t twist and turn me, I twist and turn to compensate. I don’t look up, down— just hope for an end. The straight, never-ending path stretches until I break. I tip, spill my content, and feel those around slurp and swallow it.

The wind blew me into my recent past. I met her, had some drinks, but her eyes— did she notice me?— were in the clouds. She never spoke her name; I nicknamed her Skyline.

I thought: if I pedal and keep at it, I’ll get close.

Her body was healthy, ripe-peach-like. She breathed like a cloud might. On her face, one eye squinted and the other opened hyper-real wide.

Though she was Skyline, I tried to get close, just as a train comes to a destination. I liked trying; it opened me; I breathed like a cloud. Words (wanting to form long sentences) fizzed up my gut and traveled to the tips of trees, but never beyond. I spent time in her eyes. After holding her, I’d go home and imagine that warmth in the palm of my hand.

Storms smother a beautiful silence. The warmth of a moment is transient.

My bike got clumsy, as if out of tune, and the music stopped. At a bridge, caged on both sides, I rested my indolent legs and felt the fresh blood. A railroad track extended perpendicularly beneath the bridge. I was tired. I imagined cross shapes everywhere.

Pine needles were scattered on the ground like words erased from trees. Lesser words. They fell in cross patterns, and above, the clouds weren’t so strange. They were readable cotton swabs, expanding with details of a long trail.

We spent month after month at coffee shops. I told her all of my details— pieces of a train that make me function. She gave me junkyard scraps, dead by the time they reached me. She remained elusive. Time backpedaled as that distant horizon welcomed a setting sun. She gave me fading embers that burnt out before they reached me. My heart felt footsteps shuffle, twist and turn upon it. I clung to a moldy idea that got fainter and fainter.

She was seeing another person— a friend of mine; a great friend. My bike rested on the cage, metallic and full of metallic life as long as the remaining sunlight gleamed in it. The clouds were calm, like well-placed thoughts in a chain. Everything found the right station.

Was my nose too crooked? Did she ever like me? My organs turned to stone; Or rather, the elements that made up my organs grew into serious, heavy elements. I weaved a bereaved pattern up and down the rest of the trail— mostly down. A gust propelled my hair back. One drop, two, and a torrent of needlelike, cross-shaped, raindrops. A cow looked up from the grass.

I looked toward azure sky as the trail ended… listened to my watch tick away. Sunny days, strange clouds; on these days, I like to ride my bike.

I arrived at my destination, took off my sunglasses and saw the world right itself. Feet shuffled. Clothing whished. I had no ticket stub this time but I smelled distant pond water (a memory of it). I needed to say countless things. The next day I wrote.

That’s my story; however, I didn’t include the entire ending. The ending continues like train tracks that extend towards Skyline.

We got together again— Skyline and I— over coffee. Her white blouse and ripe-peach-like skin were still remote. My friend had moved on, but she wasn’t spilt-liquid about it. I spoke with her this time, and she listened. She sent ripe words back, like rare summer leaves drifting from a tree into pond water. Every word was a new day jostling, starting again.

What would the clouds in the sky reveal tomorrow? I would wait. Soon the memories of today would disappear and reappear into memories of tomorrow.
© Jason Walls April 2010
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