Right after dinner after getting the girls in bed I get to the garage and grab my bike and I’m ready to go. Rode it yesterday after not riding it for years and stuffed it in the van and drove it to the QT to inflate the tires for free and rode that bitch. It’s got one sticker on it from the move up north and one from the move back down and all the dust and rust from in between and the front tire is flat again already. Goddammit.
I can stuff it in the van one more time and fight traffic to the QT or I can go two blocks to Wal-Mart and buy a pump. Or I can go back inside and stare at the computer again for a couple hours before I have to get up.
Wal-Mart has the kind you pump with your foot and that’s what I want. I’m not pushing down on some bullshit dynamite contraption like Wile E. Coyote. The cashier could be more civil but it’s Wal-Mart and I expect to be treated like shit. Outside, the heat feels right. Like stepping into an oven. “They don’t have heat like this in the Midwest!” I scream at the parking lot. “They can’t handle heat like this! I grew up in this oven!” Mexican illegals are approaching and I point at them. “Did you? Or you?” And to the man with the turban, “What about you?”
Back in my driveway the wheel is angled so I can’t see the tire is off the rim. I keep pumping and kicking and pumping harder and grinding cause I got the one with the foot thing not the dynamite thing. I rip off the hose, straddle the bike, and the tube is ballooning like it’s some cartoon tube twice the size of my head. I touch it, just touch it, and it explodes. Twice. Why twice I don’t know but I bet it woke up my daughter in her room above the garage and I cuss the world loudly in my head where no one can hear me scream and wait for my wife to come out and say what the fuck you know she just went to bed.
Back to Wal-Mart to get a new tube. It’s the same cashier and this time I’m reaching for the 44 cent bag of peanuts I didn’t get last time because I’m a hungry motherfucker. I’m impulse buying and I’ve got the funds to do it. She doesn’t look up just says “I’m closed.” Like I’m the problem. You horrible witch! I scream in my head where no one can hear me scream. Fuck your peanuts! Screw uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!
“Sorry,” I say, and walk.
I walk past closed registers. There is an open one somewhere up ahead, I’m sure of it because I know how this economy works. I find it and I’m getting in line. A lady on a motorized scooter is coming at me, looks right at me, right the fuck at me, and cuts a hard left across my path into the line. My line. The line I’m getting into. And I have to stop so we don’t crash. “Don’t let me get in your way, Your Highness!” I demand.
I contemplate what it will be like when I arrive in Hell.
I’m getting the bitch on. The tube. On the bike. The back door swings open violently and yet (here’s the thing) oh so quietly and it’s my wife whisper-shouting, “What the fuck?”
I tell her I’m going to Hell. She says nothing. She doesn’t have to.
My hands are black. I’m sweating like a race horse. It’s an oven out there like they don’t have in the Midwest, can’t have, wouldn’t know how to have. I’ve got my tire on and it’s inflated. Everyone better get out of my way because it’s late and I have to get up at five to drive an hour to work nine and drive back again.
I’m sweating like a race horse. I pull a bottle of red wine from the pocket of my cargo shorts. Glug glug I’m 44 on a bike with cargo short pockets full of wine and no one can stop me. Not shitty cashiers, not old ladies on scooters, not my wife. I’m pedaling down the street I grew up on. Pedaling past the house I grew up in. And I slow down like it’s a goddamn movie. I stop pedaling and the chain clicks like film in a projector. I feel myself braking like I’m in a movie, and the music changes and we cut to the driveway, the lens pulling back, and then cut back to me as I roll up and put my foot down.
A ghost runs out and jumps on the handle bars. I put my arm around her waist and start pedaling again. I start to feel the wind again and she turns back to me and smiles. “Remember that time you moved back in?” she says.
“Which one?” I say.
“Yeah,” she says, her hair blowing back to tickle my face.
“Yeah,” I say, cicadas buzzing in the trees.
“Remember that time you rode your bike drunk around the lake and scattered the ducks?”
“They put a sign up says ‘Don’t Disturb the Ducks.’
“Because of me?”
Her hand cups my cheek as the neighborhood slides past. “I’m just saying there’s a sign.”
“Can’t just be me disturbing the ducks.”
“I’m just saying.” She’s got one hand behind my neck and her forehead tucked under my chin as she points with her pinky. “There’s your dad’s old house.” It goes by like an old black and white movie. We’re on the set and the background is fake and repeats.
“Don’t you want to peek over the fence?”
“Yeah. Not now, though.”
Her hands on my knees as we coast, she points with her toes, “There’s Sandra Bourland’s house.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t live there anymore. I’m sure her parents don’t. I’m sure it’s bought and sold a couple times since.”
“Don’t you want to –”
“Yes. All of it. Everything you want to do.”
She smiles. “Is that why you came to get me?”
“It just happened, but everywhere you want to go, me too.”
“You were so done here.”
“But I’m back now. And here we are.”
“I didn’t expect it.”
We arrive at the lake.
“There’s the bench where—”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Tires in the grass and I’m pedaling as hard as I can in high gear and there are no ducks which is good because I’d fuck them up. I turn the wheel and destroy the brakes and skid sideways to a stop and dismount the machine and sling it into the water and it goes glug glug down to the bottom and a duck squawks, put out.
I pull another bottle of wine out of my cargo short pockets and collapse on the bench with my ghost.
“I love you.”
“Glad your back.”
“Me too.” I spit red wine into the air and it arcs triumphantly towards scorched earth. I wipe my mouth with my wrist.
It feels okay. It’s hot as fuck and the sun has gone down. I have to be up for work at five. I bet my wife is worried but she hasn’t called.