Katie announces she and Rick are taking up mountain biking at their fortieth anniversary/retirement party. They are going to “get tired and happy in nature,” and this is news to Rick. He’s been looking forward to playing the trumpet in The Mid-Town Swing Band and chairing the Caribbean Student Association in retirement, but he doesn’t show his surprise. He stays sunk in his slouch against the living room wall. Ankles crossed, one hand in a pant pocket, he raises a languid salute and smiles as their guests applaud this declaration.
Katie calls the way he stands “making himself small” and gets frustrated with him. It’s an old habit, but his height intimidates people. He’d make himself Katie if he could: fearless, bright, so certain it is okay to be right—and white like her, of course. He’d make himself white if he could.
He takes a swig of sparkling wine from his Happy 40th paper cup and looks down at his thickening middle. Emphasized by his stance, his gut bulges against the buttons of his party shirt. A career behind a desk ruined his slim profile, though he still has the fluid long limbs of the basketball player everyone assumed he was when he first came to the US. His paunch is the reason Katie is pushing the biking. She always worries about his health.
At the bike store, a lean assistant with the slightly hunchback posture of a racing cyclist questions Rick and Katie in detail about their plans. He suggests the same sturdy bike model for both of them. With a salesperson’s instinct for who is calling the shots, the assistant upsells Katie on accessories in the nicest possible way. Rick stands back and watches the man’s Adam’s apple bob as he helps Katie choose a black helmet and red and white bike shirts, the sort that wick away the perspiration and have useful pockets all the way around.
When they get to padded biking shorts, though, Rick refuses. “They’ll emphasize my spare tire. You get them, honey. I’ll wear regular shorts.”
It would be ridiculous to have precisely the same gear as his wife, like one of those couples who dress identically to show they are together. Anyway, most people won’t see him and Katie as a couple whatever they wear.
Their first ride is short but successful. Early summer and the trees are a gorgeous green; the birds are on a busy schedule. He enjoys the other trail users. Cyclists coming in the opposite direction acknowledge them with business-like nods, as if accepting them into a club. Walkers say “Hello” or “Beautiful day!” Rick grins at Katie. The sun warms his back. He welcomes its energy into his body as he pushes the bike pedals. The effort of cycling is unexpectedly satisfying.
Rick rings the bicycle bell to chase away the squirrels but won’t use it to warn walkers he’s overtaking, though the trail sign says they should. It’s too…abrupt. He’s used to tamping things down. Like just having a quiet word with the Grade 2 teacher after their daughter’s classmate told her she didn’t poop from the same place as white people, while Katie wanted to march the incident straight to the school board. Then a dog walker on the trail shouts at him because he nearly gets tangled in a dog leash, and after that he rings his bell well before passing, but just a half ring—a timid ting.
For the next ride, Katie chooses a more challenging coastal trail. A sharp wind scoops up protesting seagulls over a choppy sea. The path is stony, the gravel loose; they must concentrate on the ground. They encounter a few mountain bikers and almost no walkers.
On the way back, Katie is riding in front, downhill, distracted by a corn-blue butterfly the color of her eyes, when her bike jolts over a stone. Gravel slips under her front wheel, the handlebars buck, the whole bike slides. Then she’s falling and hits hard, knee first, elbow and hand skidding, head knocking. The bike bangs into her torso. The fall kicks the breath out of her.
Rick is off his bike and bending over her by the time she can fill her lungs again to exhale, “Oh! Oh! Oh!” Charged, urgent, animal sounds. “It’s alright, lil’one,” he says. “We’ll get this bike off you; it’s going to be okay.”
A mountain biker hurtles around the bend into Katie’s screams and sees Rick crouched over her. The man flings down his bike and chucks up gravel as he makes for them—he makes a stop gesture like his hands are going to tackle the situation before the rest of him arrives. “Hey! Get off her! Leave her alone—get away from her!”
Rick rears up, black helmet askew, sweat flicking off his wide nose, lips stretched in a snarl. He pulls his bike shirt out from his chest, pinches a block of red with a block of white between thumb and forefinger, and tugs it toward Katie’s shirt.
“She’s my wife, dumbass! She fell off her bike—I’m helping my wife!” He holds up her bloodied hand to show their identical wedding bands. “What is wrong with you? We’re wearing the same stuff.”
He needs to help Katie, who is injured and moaning under the tangled mess of the bike; instead, he straightens to his full height for the first time in many, many years.
Now the biker finally skids to a halt and backs away from Rick as if he’s encountered an aggressive bear. “Hey, dude, my bad. I didn’t, I thought—”
Spittle sprays from Rick’s broad lips: “Matching shirts, matching bikes, matching helmets! Dammit, man—everything’s matching!”
When we ride a bike, if we dream
we will hit with accidents like this.
Heart Warming comody Plus Pain
So true! Thank you Jose.
Perfect last line. This piece well illustrates the difference between what our eyes actually see, and the conclusions our brains jump to.
Yes, those pesky assumptions we tend to jump to. Thank you for your comment Nan.
Brilliant. Very effective
Kind words, thank you Catherine.
Thank you Amy.
Elizabeth, it is short to the point and very vivid. The message is clear and let your imagination finish the story your own way. Well done. It is like a beautiful stamp post.
Thank you Anne, great comment, I appreciate it.
Delightful! Thanks for the chuckle!
Glad you enjoyed it Diane!
Another great story. You are on a roll Elizabeth.
Andrea, thank you for reading it!
This was a great story emphasising on how not judge a book by its cover.
Thank you Sue.
Great story. Loved the well drawn characters.
Thank you Edward, and great to read your comment about the characters, as it’s something I am working on in my writing.
Loved it. You lead us down one path and ended on a completely different one
Glad you enjoyed the journey Candace!
Thank you David.
Everything matches , Elizabeth, except…… super effort and kept me reading. Great descriptions. Xo. Debb
Thank you Debb, glad you enjoyed it!
Great example of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Yes, sadly very true Vivian.
A really well crafted story. I appreciated that the marriage wasn’t perfect. I like that they are much more real than that. The details about how he sits and why, take me to a place where I believe in the characters. She may take charge in the bike store but he is not hen-pecked and able to say no to the shorts. I also acknowledge, with a grimace, that the need to protect himself with matching shirts, is a thing in this situation. Great work.
Deborah, thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. It’s very helpful to me to know that the characters are developed so that you believe in them and the story worked for you.
I loved it Elizabeth. Would love to read more!
Thank you Fiona, it’s always a good thing if the reader wants more!
That was a well-constructed story, Elizabeth. I especially liked the random, subtle hints of the mixed relationship/marriage. The story flowed nicely and held my interest.
Thank you Carl, I appreciate your comments.
Fully engaged! I liked the writing and the ending!
I am very glad to hear it Charlene, thank you.
A story that is so much more than post-retirement plans. You’ve captured so well the subtle societal racism only those who are subject to it can feel.
I’m so pleased to read your comment, Lois. Thank you.
Very nicely drawn characters. And you make a powerful point in a subtle way.