Nobody Rides for Free


I wrote this story a while back. It is my version of a Lifetime channel docudrama. While some detail and events are exaggerated, perhaps even made up, the bones are true, and the end result was real.

This is for you Penni.

I am not sure how things ever got this bad. Our relationship had always been rocky; with times when we were very close and other times when it seemed that all we could do was plot inventive ways to hurt each other. I looked down at the papers in my hand that my soon-to-be-ex-husband had just handed to me. They were so neatly typed, perfect except for the lower case e that was slightly higher than it should have been. It was during one of my more creative plots that my sister’s typewriter developed this small defect. It was bad enough that my life was falling apart, but did my sister have to type the petition for divorce papers I was just handed? When I exhaled, a big drop of blood dropped on the documents, my nose had started to bleed.

I remember being seven years old. I was raised on B-rated horror movies and thought that blood and ketchup were one and the same. My dad, my sister Penni and I were in the hospital’s emergency room, and I could taste the antiseptic smells on my tongue. I heard the clots being suctioned out of my broken nose before I could actually see them running down the clear flexible tube. Both Penni and I watched their slow progress until they were sucked out of sight. The ugliness of the clots was in sharp contrast to the party dress my sister was still wearing. The procedure was painful, and she seemed to delight in my discomfort.

My sister turned thirteen that day. The best thing she got that year was her new bike. It was a Schwinn with three speeds, a genuine white leather saddle seat and the most beautiful grass green paint job that I had ever seen. It was the only bike in the family that had handbrakes. Best of all, it was a girl’s bike. A virtual guarantee that my brothers would never lay a hand on it. This was the bike that my sister had obsessed over. She had talked about it for months before her birthday.

It was her first boy-girl party, and she made sure that I knew that I was not invited. She didn’t want me anywhere near her or her friends that day. She insisted that my father find somewhere else for me to be, anywhere except for her party. So when my father wheeled her new bike out of the house, I tagged behind like the tattered piece of wrapping paper that was stuck to the wheel. I pulled our old Radio Flyer wagon over to the bike and sat down in it. My brothers never put it away in the garage, so there was a thin coating of dusty orange rust on the bottom. I didn’t care. I just wanted to sit as close as possible to that bike.

“I hate her.” I thought “she gets everything.

The bike seemed to shimmer in the afternoon sun. I wanted it. I didn’t want the old hand me down bike with the black electrical tape wound around the seat. I could hear the music from the party inside. They were playing one of my sister’s favorite records. “Secret agent man, secret agent man,” a voice echoed from the house. I could hear my sisters laughter. I stood up and threw my leg over and sat on the seat of the bike. My legs, not long enough to reach the pedal, dangled over them. My weight was against the grooved handgrips and the ridges pressed against my palms. The silver and green streamers that erupted from the ends of the handlebars shivered with the slightest movement of the bike. Perched on the edge of the seat I watched the house. I hoped that my sister had not developed x-ray vision within the last ten minutes and knew what I was doing more than just sitting innocently in the backyard.
I looked up and down our street and wondered how long it would take me to ride to the top of the hill.

“I could do it,”I said to myself. I slid forward on the seat to extend my feet to the pedals. I stood and balanced. “I could do it, and she would never even know,” I said again, this time with conviction.

My tongue darted out and slid across my upper lip. It was salty from the blazing sun and sweet from the black cherry Kool-aid mustache I wore. Before I really thought it out, my foot hit the kickstand and I was across the lawn. I had to stand to pedal. I felt the power behind each push. I rode up the sidewalk, and I could feel my heart starting to pump harder. The streamers snapped in tune with the music I had just left. The bike was so smooth, so beautiful and so perfect. I reached the crest of the hill and turned the corner as flawlessly as my grandmother could dosey-do on a square dance floor. I was flying. I hardly felt the cracks on the sidewalks. The tires just made a whooshy sound on the concrete. Another perfect dosey-do corner and I was headed down the hill with a dumb grin on my face. I felt free. It was the greatest feeling I had ever had. I was going to get away with it.

I started down the hill standing on the pedals. I leaned over the handlebars and pumped energetically. I could feel the heat building up in my thighs. My braids were slapping against my back. I was halfway down when I realized I was going too fast and I should slow down. I pushed back on the pedals. There was no resistance. I pushed back again harder and again nothing but the pleasant clack clack clack sound of the gears and the escalating whoosh of the tires. Then I remembered…handbrakes. I didn’t know how to stop with handbrakes.

The end of the sidewalk was approaching rapidly. The handlebars were suddenly slick from the sweat on my hands. In what seemed like a heartbeat I was at the end of the walk. I looked down and saw the tire go over the curb from what seemed like a great height. I got that funny feeling in my stomach that you get when you are falling asleep, and you suddenly jerk yourself awake. I heard the screech of metal against metal as the rim crunched against the rain grate. My hands slipped off and flew out in front of me. I really was flying.

My hand hit the asphalt first, the hot stickiness of the tar doing nothing to stop my forward progress. The pain was so bad that I didn’t feel the rest of my body come in contact with the street. I saw sparks. In time I managed to roll over and look at what had been my sister’s perfect bike. The front tire was slowly, and the forks were bent at a strange angle. The green paint was scraped away, and the pure white saddle seat was smudged dusty orange. I could hear faint refrains of Happy Birthday coming from our house around the corner.

Eventually, I picked up the bike from the road and started to walk home. I was scraped everywhere, my knees, my arms, my elbows and my nose was gushing blood, and I was crying hard. I had ruined my sister’s prized possession. As I walked I knew two things for sure, one day my sister would get even with me, and blood sure didn’t taste like ketchup.


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