Winged Helmet
by Isobel Cunningham

I got a bike for Christmas when I was ten years old. After a spectacular head-over- heels crash into a ditch full of stinging nettles I abandoned it. My bike was forgotten in the flurry of our family’s preparation for immigration to Canada. Montreal’s hilly terrain and city traffic made my parents understandably reluctant to get me another bike.   Years passed and in spite of lessons from friends and a sporty ex-husband, it seemed like a lost cause.

Last summer I met a man who heard my profound frustration at my failure. “I don’t know what it would take to get me on a bike again,”I told him.

We went for brunch one Sunday morning. “Hey a bike rental! With tandems! Let’s give it a try.” Was it the effect of two mimosas or his hopeful smile that made me fight down my panic? Joe introduced me to Maria, the young manager of the shop. They exchanged a few words in Spanish and she gave me a helmet.  “This is a magic helmet,” she whispered. “I’ll just adjust the strap.” I was shaking, but I decided to believe in the magic of the helmet. “Hermes’s helmet,” I silently dubbed it. How could I fall with Hermes’s helmet on my head? Joe’s broad back was before me on the tandem. I clutched the handlebars, we pushed down together on the right pedals and off we went!

I was on a bike, gliding along the path beside the Lachine Canal! I relaxed in the otherworldly protection of the shiny black helmet.  A long pleasant ride ended with warm congratulations from Maria and a photo shoot. Almost sixty years since I last rode a bike! There are all kinds of magic, after all.

PHOTO: The author in her Winged Helmet (September 25, 2016 at the Lachine Canal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When people saw the picture of me on a bike they gasped. My inability to ride a bike had always been met with incredulity from strangers and mystified resignation from friends. I could hardly believe it myself when I felt the wind in my face and saw the canal slipping by on that sunny Sunday this past fall. The “Magic Helmet” imbued me with courage, with confidence.  Later, I was delighted when my friend and the playful manager of the bike rental opened up about the kind ruse they had played on me. This is my first opportunity to explain how a long-standing fear was banished….as if by magic!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isobel Cunningham writes poetry and short fiction. She published a book of poetry in 2015 and is working on a collection of short stories. A volunteer docent at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, she loves the outdoors and is a passionate gardener.