by Shya Scanlon
Seth is out ahead a couple hundred yards but I'm gaining on him. Thirty, thirty-five miles per. Haulin' ass. Knobbies unzipping the street with a buzz I can feel everywhere and it tickles my balls so I'm smiling. Seth is looking back at me pretty regular, and every time he does I let up a bit so he doesn't see me trying. Only gaining. I know this pisses him off, which is why I do it, and I can't see his expression but I know what its like: upper lip drawn like curtains with two points above his canines making freaky white diamond shapes. It looks like a smile right after the realization that what you thought was funny is actually kind of sick. What's sick is he only had a good start 'cause he called Go. He took off and there was that second when I thought I didn't even want to race, but I realized he'd probably think I was just accepting defeat. Not that I don't like to race. Any time anywhere. But recently I've been noticing the street a lot. All these patterns everywhere.
Seth looks back again, flashing his diamonds. He's throwing his bike back and forth underneath him so fast it looks like a rubber pencil trick, and for some reason I bend around too and look back up the hill. Hypnotic. With no focus your eyes just stare, and the broken yellow stripe, far enough back, doesn't go by so much as gets smaller and rises up the hill, two dimensional. I'm looking at this and can feel my body want to turn back around but my eyes are stuck. I coast about 100 feet before my eyes agree and let me swing face forward and rock the crank.
Now's when it happens.
I'm halfway in between Rice and Latona and ahead to my left a station wagon makes for it and I know right off that there's no fucking way. This is not happening in slow motion. I strangle my back brakes and start pumping the front. There's a ripping sound as my rear wheel rips across the pavement, skipping on dips and root-raised cracks. '77, '78 Ford LTD Wagon, green. I kick my ass end out to slide sideways and begin to creep forward in the same direction as the LTD. This is not happening in slow motion and I know because Seth hasn't looked back again since before I followed his gaze back up the hill, and he looks back every five seconds.
Seth still hasn't looked back by the time I make contact. There's a chuck sound as my pedal hits the door and then a whump as I spring up against the side of the car and my eyes are closed for the following calm.
- - -
"Every bike you see out there's a used bike," I said.
"And your budget wouldn't let you in on this kind of hardware, new."
I noticed Seth had a week's worth of growth on his face, which he'd made such a point to keep clean shaven.
"I think he knows the deal," he said.
I decided not to mention his face.
Luke was squatting and spinning the free wheel backwards, looking down the length of chain to the rear wheel sprockets.
"Chains a little loose," he murmured.
I let the comment stand, and turned to face Luke's house. I'd been here once before. With Seth.
"You paint your house?" I asked.
"The house hasn't changed," answered Seth.
It stood on the side of Queen Anne that overlooked the University district. I could sense Seth sharing my view, and recalled the many occasions we'd biked through that part of town, keeping to the middle of the street. I glanced over at Seth and found he wasn't facing that direction at all, was in fact bent over the bike with Luke, plucking the cables that run down the underside of the frame.
"How are the brakes?" Luke inquired.
Seth forced a cough.
"Oh... I mean, I didn't--"
"Hey, no, don't worry about it," I reassured him, wondering why Seth was making this more awkward than it had to be, "they're actually just fine."
He fingered the levers.
"Look, why don't you ride it around the block?"
Luke looked up at me and sort of smiled. The idea had occurred to no one.
We watched him pedal away. We watched until he turned the corner.
Seth made a noise that sounded like 'mom' or 'dumb'.
"I think he seems pretty interested," I offered passively.
"Of course he's interested," Seth countered, barely concealing his contempt, "you're asking half what its worth..."
One of us sat down on the grass. The freeway washed in the background, riding right under the sharp puzzle of lawnmower music.
I tried to think of something to say.
"How's your bike?"
Seth looked at me, squinting. He looked down the hill toward the University.
"How's my bike..." he repeated, 'bike' just dropping from his mouth, none of the airy uncertainty that had carried mine up and out. The feeling of his words was instead spread heavy across every sound.
- - -
My eyes are closed in the following calm and I'm thinking Hey, that wasn't so bad. I think about Seth and wonder if he's looked back yet. Maybe he resolved not to look back anymore and so won't realize until he gets to the bottom of the hill. Which means he'll feel like he's won for that last little minute. I think, maybe he does win. I'm lying on my side and the pavement by my head is falling in and out of focus. Its like you can see down into it. The separate stones caught steady together form all these crazy combinations. I'm thinking that, and start to feel an intense heat. The heat is nice, I think. That wasn't so bad after all.
About the author:
Shya Scanlon lives in Seattle where he works stupid stupid part time jobs he's too smart for so he can write. He always feels like he's "scheming." You know what he means? Well, if you'd like to talk to him about the whole "scheming" thing, or anything else, click this: firstname.lastname@example.org