By Garnett Kilberg Cohen
She rides her bike at night, across town, joined by other pale riders on her way. They fall into line and ride in packs—girls and boys, men and women, non-binary folks—departing from the places where they were fatally struck. Every night, at the spot she was hit, the girl throws her right leg over the seat, mounts the bike—and remembers how her mother had instructed her, “Don’t forget to get one of each kind, both fresh, not frozen.”
If you looked out at the road from the curb, you would not see them, but from high above they look like a cloud, a cloud that travels within the lines of the street and turns corners sharply, always stopping for red lights.
These ghost bikes, spray-painted completely white and festooned with brightly-colored plastic flowers, are planted all over the city, secured to trees and lamp posts by loved ones as memorials to the fallen.
You see one on the corner of Damen Avenue and Belmont, another on Lincoln and Irving Park Drive. Once silver handlebars and black tires are now as white as bleached flour. Ribbons and roses sprout from spokes. Drivers who see them know there was once an accident at the site. Sometimes, signs tell them who died and when:
TED, BELOVED FATHER AND HUSBAND, JULY 10, 2018.
The girl’s bike has a baby doll strapped to the handle bars, the once pink doll now chalky, its painted, rosy cheeks pale. The bike’s diminutive size, its mangled front wheel, and the doll reveal all that most people need to know to slow down and stare or to speed up and look away, depending on the kind of people they are.
“See that,” some mothers say to their children, “a person died at that very spot for not obeying the traffic rules.”
Other mothers say, in response to their children’s queries:
“Hmm, I don’t know why that bike is there. Maybe someone just thought it would be pretty to paint it white and decorate it with flowers.”
The children of the first type of mothers will eventually tell the children of the other types of mothers what really happened.
On the near-empty nighttime roads, the ghost girl rides quickly, plunging forward, her tiny rear end hovering above the seat, her legs going round as fast as she can, her transparent curls bobbing. She doesn’t know what the living mothers tell their living children. She just knows what her mother told her before she rode off and that she needs to bring back two kinds, but two kinds of what? No matter, she knows that she must ride until she finds them.
All the pale riders are looking for something. They know they were on a mission, going somewhere; they simply can’t remember where.