I am too tired to write—but the tired-er I get, the more my mind seems reduced to images, sounds, scents, some swirl of sensation that I can’t shake. My house smells too much of onions, and I’m wondering if Merry, who visits on Wednesday afternoons, lost some of the sprigs of wild onion she’d woven into her hair while gobbling down piles of potato cakes. Add now the scent of hyacinths, a better-smelling member of the onion family, atop my desk, and the aroma of coffee. We will burn the sandalwood and myrrh candle later, to add another layer and hopefully neutralize the onion.
As I was rushing back from the bookstore last night, my mind kept replaying the sound of my brothers pumping the pedals of an upturned bicycle, its rear wheel raised to eye-level with a couple of young engineers in training. Plaid shirtsleeves rolled up on two young towheads who might’ve been the prototypes for Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, dad’s tools and the brass oilcan and some reddish gray shoprags hanging from the upsholstery sawhorse.
“Hey Fuzz,” my older brother would greet me as I walked in with a popsicle from the freezer. “How’s the weather? Give me a hair, come on!”
“You leave my hair alone, greasy fingers. Who lost their bike chain today?”
My younger brother tended to treat me like a human being, so he chimed in, “Leave her alone—it’s a flat hair day. No rain.” My older brother learned that curly hair could be used to construct a crude barometer, from our very cool science teacher Mr. Zeigler. Curly hair shrinks into tighter curls with damp weather. Since I was a Walking Barometer, he at last found some use for a younger sister.
Anyway, there’s a story in there, or twenty, involving the texture of asphalt seen at eye level, the smell of a hot day in late summer, the sound a bicycle dropped to the pavement when there is no time to use a kickstand, the sound of the front wheel continuing to spin like a gyroscope after the bike is dropped—it’s a quiet sound. But what starts the story in my head is the whir of tires spinning in the air, the bicycle resting on its handlebars on the sawhorse in the cool cinderblock garage, the memory of straw-like lengths of plastic attached loosely to metal spokes making the clackity-clip, clackity-clip rhythm as the wheel turns. And the sound of a playing card, clothes-pinned to the wheel support so the card drums a motor sound as the bike is pedaled down the street—that is elementary school. Life was wheels. Life was imagining how far wheels can take someone. Roller skates, skateboards, anything that moved, but mostly bikes, chases, races, getaways and getting away from my house and my too-little life. I think of weaving back and forth to get the feel of a new bike or new tires. I think of speed and wind and a bandana to keep the sweat from pooling down my neck, riding my teenage-sized blue Schwinn four miles to my best friend’s house, my parents pretending not to notice I was breaking the rules of where I could ride and where I couldn’t. I was an A student, not too terrible, Honors Society kid, hard to scold too much. And I was crazy about motion, about the blue Schwinn and the hours to ride with no hands down the straightest flattest roads known to humankind. The sound of wind whipping the hair out of my severe ponytail, covered by a baseball hat to block the sun from my face.
I saw a photo of a retro-design bike, a little old lady bike, a don’t-have-to-stoop-and-bend to ride it girl’s bike, sigh, while I leafed through my stack of five juicy magazines at the bookstore. My escape. But the phone rang, an emergency, just as I finished the fifth magazine. Karen is not well. I flew back toward her house quickly, thinking of the blue Schwinn moving as fast as I can go, the sounds of travel as it used to look and sound. The blue minivan and the blue Schwinn are worlds apart, but not the experience of going, going as fast as I can.