Land Speed Record
by R.H. Slansky
Your first bicycle is the candy-apple red of a roadster
from the 1950s. From the painted chain guard, it declares
its name with braggadocio, “THE RED DRAGON,” but
the creature above it is green, wide-eyed and friendly
as a Labrador retriever. You see one thing,
it clearly says another.
The bike is for babies and you hate
the color red, the training wheel legs
painted blinding white, the way
the hard rubber bumps and shocks at the turns,
hitches up on the shifting funhouse floor
of the squares of sidewalk pitched up
and down by tree roots.
When the wheels come off, you think,
Riding will be easy now. But how
will you go from four points of contact on the ground
to balancing on two? It seems impossible
to find that portal, to go
from one reality to another.
Dad holds the bike steady, pushing you, walking
alongside. His silent worry sours the summer air
and makes you grip the handles tight. He speeds
to a jog, then a run, then lets go. The fixed gears turn
your feet in a circle as you fly
fast and smooth, too stunned
to push the pedals. The bike slows,
wobbling, then tips over.
If you fall off a horse, you get back on,
the same rule applies for dragons. Dad rolls you
back and forth across the pavement until boredom
dulls your fear. Your busy mind lacks stamina
and lags behind, then you find the portal by feel
and slip through, shaking hands
with gravity to seal the deal.
A seed in the loamy dark
of your young and yearning
heart begins to sprout. You are learning
that there is something inside
you that already knows what to do.
You want to ride all the time. You practice enough
to graduate to a big-kids bike
and spend the first of many summers as a bullet
singing through the lilac-scented air.
Wind in your ears, dodging bugs,
nothing between you, road rash, stitches, and fractures
but your own thin sunburnt skin. The protection
of the thing inside that guides you dampens the hum
of danger. You pop wheelies,
bump down stairs, race from steep driveways,
ride with no hands, seek out ramps of cement
to launch yourself from. Speed becomes
a place you go when you can’t bear
to be who you are. The crimped ribbons
of your self-devouring thoughts unfurl
and spill out in your wake, snapping in the wind
like the streamers from your granny-handlebars. You are
more solid on the thin rail of two wheels
than on your own two feet.
On the day you play in the shaded space between the houses
your bike is on its side nearby. Your dolls
are reenacting the romantic scene
from your favorite movie
when it hits you in the gut that
the man that your heart yearns for is
just a character, and not the actor
who portrays him. That the future-seeming past
world in which he lives is not a place
that you can ever go. That the world
where you don’t need to see to conquer
evil if you have the gift to feel the thrumming threads
that bind us to each other; the world
where there is grace to be found from
the tiny stubborn pearl of good burning
in the black and briny depths of
the darkest heart, doesn’t exist.
Drowning in impossible, you take up your bike, fly
down the drive, and ride. One hour, maybe two,
weeping for the scoundrel, the cloud city, the planets
of sand and ice. Hidden in plain sight, you stand
on the pedals, just another neighborhood kid racing
yourself, eyes tearing from the wind. Your spinning tires
speed you into sanctum, the only place
that you can go that’s real.
PHOTO: The author riding the Red Dragon, not long after the training wheels came off.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
R. H. Slansky, a six-time 3-Day Novel Contest entrant, two-time short-lister, and 2013 winner, has been featured in the Silver Birch Press ME, IN FICTION SAME NAME, and MY MANE MEMORIES Series, Geist literary magazine, theotherpress.ca, and the Literary Press Group of Canada’s website All Lit Up. Vancouver-based Anvil Press released her novella, Moss-Haired Girl, the Confessions of a Circus Performer in 2015. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.