Things Close Up Are Not As They Appear

Muscled thighs brush their insides against her outsides, a bicycle situation that keeps him pumping and her hunched as he thrusts his chin into her hair in rhythm, his face loose in the thrill, in the effort.

They are not killed. Those who believe foolhardiness earns its reward are not rewarded. The traffic, both crossways and that which rushes forward, allows the bike clear passage. Of course night complicates their chances—fewer cars speed past, but appear less visible—and they do too, mostly in black after the fashion, with just the chrome bits of the bike shining. The darkness, the sudden bursts of streetlight, the nervous laugh he makes brushing her breast—all of that is what saves them.

The numbered husbands have begun for her. This latest divorce leaves her in a trance of courtship no one yet questions because she is still under thirty, the age of reason with regard to marital error. A night ride with a suitor after some movie, foreign or comic—who can recall? with this man pumping his bicycle so hard around her down the slick city streets—the relationship needn't go anywhere, they are joined already in his pumping.

They can't afford a taxi.

But they are not killed and she jumps off at a high numbered address. He pedals away without any offer of a caress or a When, tomorrow? and then he is not killed, as his tires swish away through trash or leaves fallen almost out of season.

She turns to the apartment door as it opens to her ring and someone saying, Don't catch a chill. Like a No, she smoothes her dress down over her thighs and proceeds in. People more leonine than human drink in staggered clumps in her way until the host takes up her hand and leads her to stand under a Clemente. There the host tells her everyone's first names and offers hers, as if that is all that they will ever need.

Things close up are not what they appear, she says after all the nods and the shakes, in the pause before they all turn back to themselves. Money,for example. You don't love it.

The host orders a drink delivered. He holds his own under his eyes, about to toast to her wit or her acumen or even to await her explanation, if she dare offer one, when a man puts his hand on the host's elbow. Your eyes, he says. Magnificent, he says.

They are framed behind him in gilt, the painter doing just his pupils. Beautifully dark, sad enough but cold.

I am a bit of a voyeur, he says, with a shrug so will-less she kisses him.

- - -

She is driving the vehicle at less than the limit, letting the other cars shriek past at their own speeds. She finds it hard to hurtle, to think of her foot at the end of the hood, stopping or nosing, to deliver herself into the trance that still allows care, but not so much care that you think. She dodges a stockcar-towing trailer by yanking on the wheel, but straightens slowly so as not to break the trance of the passenger, the real trick, yanking it with a hand that is again unringed.

Where are we? she says to the child-passenger beside her.

He answers correctly, pointing to the hill they approach.

Someone has cut two eyes into the hill, over a smiley face. Cows crop the corners, a horse is almost a nose.

What will it be for winter? she asks.

A frown, says her son. Until I get my bicycle.

She laughs at his cleverness, promises to find the money to buy a bike not unlike his father's, wherever he and his bike may be.

The eyes on the hill narrow as she passes, as she changes a lane like it's a tire—that hard—and the conceit of the cut-in eyes watching is all in the distance, as in Money, she decides.

Like it's a choice.

The boy watches her and does not wonder at how she yanks and slows and loses her way. To him there is no danger.

About the author:

Counterpoint Press published Trailer Girl and Other Stories, Terese Svoboda's third book of fiction in 2001. Zoo Press published Treason, her fourth book of poetry in 2002. Her poetry videos have shown at the Getty, PBS, MoMA, MoCA, American Film Institute and abroad. She's taught at Sarah Lawrence, San Francisco State, Williams, William and Mary and elsewhere—and Russia this summer! Disney Hall's RedCat performance space will be premiering her opera, Wet, in 2005.