g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
She found him feral and rusted, cuffed in a pile outside. Chains hung loose from their gears, with breaks disconnected and missing wheels. An unfortunate few lay dismembered. Maria came for the scrap heap, hoping to scavenge and sell. Not much caught her interest. Greasy and nimble, she worked through the stack. The Schwinn was unrecognizable—barely a frame. Her hand brushed his joint on the way to a tire. She stopped. Those welds were superb.
Maria excavated him with great care. Even so, her hands bled. Spokes bit and chains scratched. Schwinn’s frayed cables poked wild. The clerk offered to help, which she refused. Nine dollars cash. That’s what it took to be hers.
The rust needed scrubbing and new wheels attached. One by one, cables were inspected, discarded, and cut into place. His obstinance made it go slow. Fierce with neglect, the bike attacked, and when it did not attack it hid. She coaxed him out from under the car. She beat him back with a U-lock and chain.
Her father offered to buy a domesticated number from an actual store whose displays of polished chrome and titanium piping gave a sickening mix of want and contempt. It reflected, for her, that initial betrayal—his moving to a city before she was born, to land pre-conquered, pre-tamed.
Maria pressed on her challenge until he obeyed. He adjusted to her and his new saddle. She mounted him once and he kept still. Maria almost had her feet up on the pedals when a car zoomed past, he spooked, and she flew. Skinned knees, ripped jeans, small prices to pay.
She walked him around after that, as an introduction to urban noise. Gentle but firm she guided his throat, fingers ready at the metal stem just in case. They walked through sunshine and drizzle, past vacant lots and freeway stops. She held tight when the sigh of a bus frightened him, or motorcyclists took off their mufflers. They walked beneath a big cherry tree whose pastel blossoms covered the ground. Wet petals clung to his tires. One by one they dropped in a stumbling line, becoming either his footprint or shadow.
And when he was ready they went to the night-emptied parking lot that sat beneath a grid of telephone wires and cables woven so tight they kept the sky out of reach. She mounted the saddle and he obeyed as concrete blurred under his tires, moving faster and faster as the ground dropped away and, eventually, the city too.
Calvin Gimpelevich is a Pacific Northwesterner of ill repute.