Nancy Lynn Weber
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 118 in June, 2009.
Debbie was proud of that blue bike, the one flecked with silver sparkles, with the American flag sticker on the back of the banana seat. Even though she carefully stored her blue bike under a clean tarp in the garage, the flag sticker had gotten scratched and worn, and two stars from the American flag had disappeared. “Alaska and Hawaii,” Debbie would say, whenever someone pointed out the missing stars. She had gotten the bike for her birthday in May, and would try to cheer me up that summer by saying, “Maybe you’ll get one for Christmas,” making the summer seem pointless, each day empty and redundant.
I spent most of my summer inside behind heavy green curtains and wood paneled walls. Sometimes I would slip my small frame between the curtains to catch a glimpse of Debbie doing figure eights on the blue bike right in the middle of the empty street. I could tell when she sensed me watching – she would lean heavy into the handlebars and stare straight-ahead, pretending that there was a purpose to what she was doing, pretending that she was not alone.
One Sunday morning near the end of summer I walked into the wood paneled room and found the family TV tuned to a woman in a long yellow dress saying that the world was ending. A group of men in brightly colored suits stood behind her with their eyes closed, hands folded in front of them. The men nodded and whispered to no one as the woman in the long yellow dress talked about the earth ending, how most of it would burn, and the rest would split apart and tumble into the sea. The end would come soon; there were signs everywhere. I rushed out of my house to find Debbie, who was at the end of my block, sitting on her blue bike, waiting.
When she saw me, she lifted her bare feet off of the ground and began to peddle. The elm in front of my house had grown thick, bulbous roots, which sprang up through the concrete, causing a tent-like formation in the sidewalk. Debbie sped up as she approached the broken sidewalk, and used it as a ramp to do an Evel Kneivel-style jump through the air. I watched her fly, her long thin blonde hair flapping at her neck, the plastic streamers on the handle bars blowing straight up in the wind. Debbie landed hard but steady, and I had to run right up in front of her and grab on to her the handlebars to get her to look at me. I told her about the woman in the long yellow dress, and how the spirit had spoken to her in a loud hush, and how hail and fire would mingle together and rain down from a daytime sky.
“So what,” Debbie said, as she backed away from me on the blue bike. The fires were burning; I could feel them rolling down the dirt hills by the railroad tracks, their embers falling like confetti into the trees. The earth underneath me moved and I thought the sidewalk would buckle and crack. I had to hold onto something, so I reached for the plastic streamers on the grips of the handlebars as Debbie sped past me. She was going fast, so I went fast, running to catch up to her. I reached up under her hair. I felt the soft flesh of the earlobe in my fingers, and then the cool metal of her gold hoop earring. I wasn’t expecting blood, and it was everywhere, down Debbie’s white tee-shirt, up my right arm. All it took was one tug. I thought that Debbie would at least slow down, but she pick up speed instead and rode as fast as she could to her white aluminum house at the end of the block. I held the gold hoop in my hand and waited.