Cult Bump

solo

He had put himself alone almost immediately. Thursday night group ride from the brewery, six men out, together for the first mile. Then the expected surge at the front. Three fast men away, and caught by a red light with the slower duo. Good guys. Would have been a pleasure to ride with them. But a steady effort kept the leaders in sight, and a bit more pressure pulled them closer. They were strong men, soft-pedaling a bit to let him back on.  Everyone in limbo. It would take a good amount of energy to catch them, and much more to stay once they upped the pace. Two miles later he was on, and they descended together into Poolville.

“You must have had the hammer down to catch us like that.”

“Pretty clear to me that you guys didn’t have the hammer down.”

That was the salute.  He hung on for the short climb out and settled  comfortably into the last spot in the pace line. Mark pulled a couple miles miles, then John. Twenty three mph mostly. Easy enough to hang on. He decided to do his duty and got to the front, Cateye reading lower twenties. About a kilo in the train went by,  too fast to board. The big boys were warmed up and racing, and he shouted for them to go.

Twelve miles later he killed the front flasher and rolled, alone, back down the brewery driveway. Flashy new jersey. Loose stone. Spectators at the outdoor tables. Well done. Blared the car horn accidentally struggling out of his cleats, but what the hell, he had a story.

He offered the first rendition to the two riders he had left behind, one of them the titular host of the ride. Indoors, he kept it snappy. A report fitted in between their bites of pizza and grilled cheese.  The second five ounce beer made him brave.

“Mind if I join you, ladies?”

Beth and Zoe, the wives of two friends who were still out on the off-road ride. Early forties, and as radiant as can be. He imagined that if he were to ever blog post his story, his friend RR would protest for more detail on these two. They had no food.

“How are you?!?!”

They seemed delighted.

“Not bad for an old guy.”

Beth’s response made him remember that she’d encouraged him once before, on a ride that left from her house. “You’ll be fine” she’d said that time, and she’d been right.

“You’re not that old.”

He smiled.

“Yes. Yes….I am exactly that old.”

Smiles all around.

“Well I’m pretty thoroughly beaten up. Twelve miles of John and those guys and I’d had enough of that.”

Smiles and nods. Both husbands were tough nuts on a bike.

“But I did have an adventure.”

A sunny summer evening at a picnic table. Four eyebrows raised.

“”I peeled off to SC Road to leave those guys at it, figuring to take River Road back here. And where SC hits River there’s a short little climb, and as I came up it I could see an Amish buggy coming down River, so I prepared to wave and be friendly. Once up onto River though, I could see the buggy pulled over on the shoulder, man and woman standing in the front, two little kids standing in the back, and all peering down into the ditch. As I got closer I started to glimpse another buggy, this one in the ditch and practically upside down. As I slowly passed I asked if they needed help.”

Zoe and Beth looked apprehensive. Perhaps I was telling it well.

“”No, but thanks for asking. We don’t even know what happened.”

The man had reins in his hand. As I rolled slowly past the scene I could see that a very substantial county route sign, the sign and steel post, were bent flat to the shoulder. Bent right at ground level. I thought about the phone in my pocket. I knew the Amish didn’t have one. I circled back and asked:

“Are there people down there?”

The man clucked his cheek and the horse took a step forward. A little girl, two or three, flipped off the back of the cart. She landed right on her head.””

As the ladies gasped and grabbed their faces he remembered the tumbling dress and bonnet. He remembered saying “You lost your baby”.  He remembered that the impact had sounded like a bag of potatoes dropped from a height onto the pavement. He did not mention the sound, but indicated the height with his hand.

“About four feet, I’d say.”

He could not leave the mothers of a collective eight children there for long.

“And she jumped right up and started crying.”

He remembered saying “You’re okay baby.” The relief washed over him again as he granted it to the ladies. He had been surprised to see the child jump up. He’d caught a brief glimpse of the side of her face, crying, from five feet away.

“So the man handed the woman the reins, came back and hooked the little girl under the arms and took her to the woman. He took the reins as he got back on the wagon, clucked again, and they drove off down the road. And as they rolled away, the man and woman both were looking over their shoulders at me with big, laughing smiles on their faces.”

The story had survived the crashing relief of an undead child. His listeners were not fanning themselves but leaning in to grasp the surrealness of his experience. Where had he learned to tell stories like this?

“So I was alone, or so I hoped. When they rolled off like that I was inclined to think it was foul play of some sort. I could see splintered wood at the back of the wrecked buggy. It was well off the shoulder in a deep ditch with tall grass all around it. I thought about calling 911, but I didn’t. I went down in the ditch the best I could with my cleats on and braced myself on the buggy and peeked inside. No one inside. But it was clear, if only from the road sign, that there had been some violence, probably with a car involved. A hit and run? I decided to call 911 before I started looking through the brush and jungle for victims. Operator asked my location first, then the nature of my emergency, and then assured me that they were aware of an incident there and that it had occurred earlier in the day. I said thank you.”

“So they were just there gawking?”

“Maybe. Maybe they were trying to figure out how to pull the wreck out, but the man told me they didn’t know what happened.”

He thought of the little girl and wished he’d caught that train. He told himself to try harder next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 responses to this post.

  1. Singing takes priority at the moment, but I’ll be back.

    Reply

  2. Also from Roderick Robinson, via email: “Carefully wrought text and a blurry (over-enlarged?) photo – you’ve got your priorities in the right order. Normally I trawl regularly through my small list of contacts but I missed this when it was first-born. My apologies.

    My resources are thinly spread. I am final-editing my third novel, Second Hand, (rejected by 24 agents) and have cut 4000 words of dross from a previous 89,000 words; then it will be vanity-published. I am adding another chapter to my non-fiction book about learning to sing. I am starting out almost from scratch with a new duet, It Was A Lover And His Lass (words by WS; delicious setting by Roger Quilter.). I have a fabulous idea for a short story (two actors – female, male – who hate each other are putting together a two-hander stage presentation of love poems) and am doing the plot in my head as I eat, watch telly, go to the supermarket, rehearse It Was a Lover, and, incidentally, as I write this comment. I could say I’m too old for all this but age is not necessarily the same as unfruitfulness.

    So, we have this guy on a bike. Or rather in a bubble where much of the outside world has been edited out, reduced to a time-distance equation, he aware in a minor competitive way of other stronger bikers, conscious of what’s left in his legs, later pleased to talk bike-talk. Non-biking car drivers would regard him as an irritation but he wouldn’t give a toss about them: he’s getting there, they’re being got there. They’re just passengers. Perhaps Hemingway never saw the Tour de France; if he had I’m sure he’d have written about the strange solitariness of man as a machine.

    I worried about “night ride from the brewery” – was the location significant in a Bacchic sense? The style is pared down so all the words are working for a living. Decided the brewery was incidental. “Miles” is repeated in the fourth para. Explaining or not explaining jargon is a “nice” (old-fashioned meaning) judgment; most times I’d say don’t explain but “about a kilo in the train” was beyond me. These are minor matters. This guy is in a contracted world I used to inhabit sixty-plus years ago; like me he’s talking to himself but, then, there’s no other option. Linear progress frequently identified by gaps: my energy to the top of the kill, my desire to catch the others – the business of from here to there.

    The radiant ladies are subjects in your kingdom not mine. I only qualify as a random thought in the mind of a biker, one of many – even over a mere hundred yards.

    I think of a title: Bike Ride To An Undead Child. But you saw the child fall and you may find this frivolous. It’s true, nevertheless. Grabs attention.

    There’s a sense of fragility at the end. Bike riders are fragile, Amish buggies are fragile, most horrifying of all children are fragile. So there is no happy ending. We don’t know what happened to the occupants of the other buggy. The child was unhurt but we – the listeners – are still stuck with what might have been.

    Do you want more? There is more and that’s the sign of a good story.

    You want to be read, I want to be read (viz. your comment on my hatred post). But that’s not quite enough. There’s reading (as of a medicine bottle label) and there’s proof of some kind absorption. An understanding. I think you could say by now we both practice that. “

    Reply

    • Thanks Robbie. Sorry to have taken so long getting this up. I suspect your problem posting this was an error by me, not WordPress. I noted at one moment that I had a “pending” comment, but then I could not locate it. I may have slipped up.

      Reply

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