The Bicycle Ride
by Mercedes Lucero
What matters now is that Margaret is sitting on the handlebars while Phillip pedals through the side streets along Maple Avenue. He is smelling her hair and she is tilting her chin up, letting her feet dangle and her blue dress ripple against the wind. The brown tote she uses to carry her books is clutched underneath her arm. He offered her a ride home from school since they did, after all, live on the same street.
Up ahead, Maple Avenue turns to brick. Had they remembered that they were on one of the oldest streets in town, they would have observed this. They would have noticed that, of the hundreds of bricks laid down upon that block, a single brick has shifted loose. No doubt the shift is the result of decades of settling earth and subtle movements of land. No doubt the loose brick has been caused by the continual pounding of cars. A single brick is loose and sits at such an angle so that when the front tire of Phillip’s bike hits it, it is enough to send Margaret in her blue dress, up off the handlebars and into the air.
Had Phillip not been smelling the sweetness of Margaret’s hair, he might have acted differently, but because his nose was so pressed up into the back bulge of her hair, his weight seemed to follow her. Or maybe he was following the smell of her hair, what it reminded him of. Maybe he was following the family dinners, before his father’s heart attack in the basement bathroom. It is this that carries both him and the bike forward.
It is not really a scream that Margaret lets out but more of a gasp, an intake of cool afternoon air. The sunlight peeking through the leaves shines upon her dress.
Now, as Margaret lifts her arms upward, her dress ripples out tenderly. The impulsive twitch of her left ankle releases her sandal and it falls flatly against the brick street. It is because she is half-gasping that her mouth is open just slightly. It is because her arms and hands are not quick enough that her teeth hit the bricks first, chipping the front one.
Phillip cannot help but run over the back of Margaret’s calf, leaving darkened zig zags of tire treads on her. Soon, he falls over, with the bike underneath him. He falls into the handlebars, feels their hardness press into his ribs and then his face pressed down into the bricks. It is just the two of them lying in the middle of the street. Phillip and Margaret, both with their faces pressed against the bricks, pressed into centuries of earth and clay and dust.
They begin standing up slowly as if still unsure they are not dead.
When Phillip stands up, there are little pieces of leaves and dirt pressed into the sides of his arms and face. Even with his glasses now broken, he can see clearly as Margaret stands up that her gums are bleeding. There are little streams of red outlining her teeth. He watches her as she spreads her tongue over her gums.
Neither knows what to say to the other. An elderly man walking along the sidewalk stops for a moment but keeps going.
“I think I’m bleeding,” she says, although she already knows this, can smell it, can taste the sharp pinch of iron in her blood. She is not crying, though. She slides her fingers across her gums and feels the edge of a broken tooth. She wipes her fingers on her blue dress, which leaves streaks of light pink.
“Your tooth is chipped,” he says.
He reaches out for her, and the closer he gets, the more her gums shine red in the sunlight. He hesitates. He picks up the bike instead.
“My face,” she says, “It hurts.” Her eyes water.
“Do you need a doctor?” he asks, “Should I call for help?”
He reaches into his khaki pants and pulls out his cell phone.
“I should go to the emergency room.”
“Isn’t that so perfect,” he says, “just when you’re starting to like someone, they have to go to the emergency room.”
“You were starting to like me?” she asks.
“I was just trying to be funny.”
“It’s not that funny,” she says, noticing how her words sound wet.
“I know,” he tells her and he can’t help but look away at the sight of the blood dripping from her mouth. He has never liked the sight of blood since that one year he played soccer and each time he looks at Margaret in her blue dress, with her curly brown hair framing that round face and blood filling up her mouth, he has to look away.
“I just need to go home,” she says. She is standing there and even if she had considered herself decently pretty before, she is not so sure anymore, not so sure with a chipped tooth and bleeding gums and surely by tomorrow, a bruised face.
“I can still give you a ride,” Phillip motions to his bike.
“No,” she says, “I’m not getting on the handlebars again.”
“You want me to walk with you? It’s only a few blocks more.”
“Do you want the bike?”
“No, I’ll walk.”
She doesn’t want the bike because that would mean she would have to return it to him. She wants to be home.
The wind is crisp. From one of the houses, a curtain moves.
Phillip grips the handlebars tighter. He isn’t sure what to do. He wants her to like him, he does. The bike ride was going to be the beginning of everything but it never worked out, did it? He looks at Margaret in her blue dress with a leather belt nestled just under her breasts. She keeps sliding her tongue over her gums.
Margaret slips on the sandal that has been laying in the street.
“It never works out the way you want it to,” he says. There was never a right time. And if there was a right time, there was always a loose brick in the middle of the road.
In a few moments, Phillip will offer to call someone again and Margaret will decline. In a few moments Margaret will begin walking along the sidewalk toward her house and Phillip will stay in the middle of the street watching her until she turns the corner. In a few moments, Margaret will wash her bloody mouth in the kitchen sink and her mother will insist they set up an appointment with their dentist. Phillip will spend the night thinking of all the things he should say to Margaret the next day, but he won’t be able to think of anything.
For now, their eyes rise to meet one another’s and then fall away in a strange and sudden pulse. For now, they are filled with years ahead of never really knowing how things began or ended.