by Helen Chambers
AFTER COOKING SUNDAY lunch, and clearing up after them all, I’ve reckon I’ve earned some peace and quiet, so I bumble out into our patch of garden. That’s what our Dave says: ‘You bumbling about again, woman?’
I say my name’s Alison, not ‘woman.’ He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t come out here, either. No one does, these days, but me.
That clean smell of sunshine after the rain is so good. Lovely out here after the hot kitchen. Sun peering from behind a cloud, not quite sure of itself. I close my eyes and tip up my head to feel the warmth. It’s good. How do I feel today?
I feel middling to OK. I want to feel better than middling. I want to feel bright like the sun.
Dave won’t have outdoor furniture—poncey waste of money, he says—but I look at it in the glossies and pretend, while I sit on my fold up chair. I’d choose that fancy stuff with wooden slats and a huge umbrella, and we’d eat all our meals outdoors in the summer, come wasps, mozzies or rain.
The shed’s a right mess, and my chair’s stuck at the back, next to our Brad’s mountain bike. Maybe I could sell that bike on eBay? Brad won’t use it again now he’s got my car. I clamber over to it, and wipe off a cobweb. It takes a bit of shifting stuff around, and out it comes. Heavy, but the tyres are still hard as stone. I wheel it round the patio. It still runs smooth and the wheels purr. I remember how our Brad’s face lit up when we gave it him for his birthday.
I’m half expecting Dave to shout at me, but he’s slumped on the sofa. Snoring, probably. Telly’s too loud, but I won’t be the one telling him he’s going deaf. No sign of Brad—expect he’s gone without saying goodbye. Still, at least he actually comes home.
It’s a good job I’m wearing leggings, quite apart from how they can stretch over my flabby legs, because I’ve got this urge to swing my leg over the crossbar and have a little ride round. Look at me, scooting round the side of the house out the front. I don’t know why, but I want to ride it properly. No one will miss me. I’ll ride to the end of our road. Just round the block.
I’m a bit wobbly changing gear but it’s coming back to me. It feels so good, the wind lifting my hair, what’s left of it, of course. Dave used to love playing with my hair. Kept it long just for him, even when the kids were small. Took ages to wash and dry, so I cut it all off when he stopped. Comfortable: that’s my style these days, if that’s a style.
Round into Corder Road, and I’m going fast. So fast I miss the turning. A quiet voice in my head tells me to keep on and I listen to that voice for once. I’ll just head for Jubilee Hill. Haven’t been up it for ages. I can walk the bike upup, I’ll get that lovely view over town and then I can freewheel back down.
Queen of the Road, I am, up on this bike! I wave to that little boy looking out the window. Boys’ seat on the bike makes my behind ache. I need a padded seat. Armchair, more like. I always used to like riding a bicycle but I can’t think how many years since the last time. I’m a bit heavier, for sure, but it’s true. You never forget.
Of course, not far up Jubilee Hill and I get out of puff and my legs shake with all that uphill pedalling. I get off and walk and don’t look behind me, because if I do, well, I might turn back.
Climbing the hill is hard work. Did I really bring Brad and Lyn up here with a picnic when they were little? Those days are long gone, but now I’m higher than the roofs and I see fields and hills rolling away from me for miles and miles. Something prickles inside my heart.
‘It’s yer angina, you daft cow,’ is what Dave’d say. Shut up Dave, because it’s a feeling, not a pain. I should do this more often. I’ve always liked a good view.
A memory weasels into my head. When I asked the kids if they wanted a picnic up the top, like we did every summer, they both said they’d rather stay home. Just like that. No more picnics. We’d had our last one and I didn’t even know it was the last. I’d thought we’d always come up here, even when they were grown up. Thinking about that makes my throat tight and my breath burn.
Who are they, all those people waiting at the top? I don’t want them looking at me. Or sharing my view.
There’s someone on a bike speeding—yes, he’s really speeding, up Jubilee Hill—and he’s wearing tight-fitting lycra and goggles, with a number on his chest. They’re cheering him on! He whizzes past and I wobble in the gust of wind he made. Stop catching flies woman, says Dave in my head, and I snap my mouth shut. Before I know it, he’s out of sight. And then there’s another one, and another, whooshing past. All that shouting and cheering and clapping. Sounds of happiness.
The stone wall at the side of the road means I’m in the way. It’s like when I’m driving and there’s an ambulance bearing down and nowhere to go, so I have to drive on and I get all hot and flustered. When I finally look back, there’s a whole pack, a tidal wave of cyclists rolling and cresting the hill, some overtaking, some three abreast, and all heading up Jubilee Hill!
This view. You can see everywhere and it’s magnificent. I’d say it takes your breath away, only I’ve no breath, what with all that uphill. The bikes surge past and still there’s more. There’s no way of crossing the road to the picnic area, and anyway, that’s where all the staring people are.
‘Hop back on, love – you can freewheel down the other side!’
Did he really say that? I’ll do what I’m told. ‘Always does what she’s told, she’s a good girl,’ says our Dave.
My legs shake with the strain, and I can’t hop anywhere, but look at me, getting one leg over the crossbar, sitting myself on the seat and I’m away downhill too!
I’m really flying.
I’ve never gone so fast. It knocks my breath away all over again. My eyes stream and the sun’s blinding off the wet road. I skim through puddles and spray up water, just like a proper cyclist. I’m in the middle of the pack. My tyres fizz on the tarmac and the gears click and whirr. A bicycle orchestra.
Sheesh! I squeeze until my fingers hurt, but the brakes aren’t working. I’m cold all over. Dave never fixed Brad’s brakes, even though he said he had. I’ll give him fixed brakes. I’ll have to fall off or carry on. Carry on wins, but it’ll be a long walk back up this side of Jubilee Hill from the bottom.
So here I am, on our Brad’s bike, without brakes, in the middle of a race. I can’t believe it. Dave certainly won’t, when I don’t bring him his three o’clock cuppa.
I’ve never even been down this side of Jubilee Hill. I’m not wearing a helmet. If I fall off and die, no one’ll know who I am.
There’s a field opening down a bit, I could steer in there.
No! I want to go all the way down!
Did I say that out loud? I feel sad now it’s nearly over. Listen to that crowd!
Some of that’s for me. They’re actually cheering me. I wish Dave could hear this – people cheering for me! That quiet voice inside my head bellows now. Keep going! I stand up on the pedals like when I was young, and crunch down through the gears, and it’s slow, but I’m doing it.
Sod your afternoon cuppa, Dave. I’m doing one more hill.
Of course, they wouldn’t give me a medal when I got there, as I wasn’t in it properly, but who cares? People shouted and cheered and clapped me. They told me when the next ride is – for beginners, and took my name and number. Fixed the brakes. No stopping me now.
I’m so proud I could burst.
Back home, I put Brad’s bike in the shed at the front, so I can get it easy next time.
I tell Dave I’m having a bath. He asks where his tea is. I say, ‘get it yourself, and bring me up a cuppa while you’re at it.’
I crawl upstairs on my hands and knees, everything aching. Locked in the bathroom, I run the deepest bath ever.
‘Where you been? hollers Dave.
‘Out. Leave my tea outside the door, please.’
I hear him grunt, but then I slide right under the water, let it steam and bubble over my head, into my ears and I can’t hear him.
How do I feel? Tired, proud, and something else besides. I know what it is. It’s happy. This is how happy feels.
Helen Chambers is a short story and flash fiction writer from North East Essex, UK, who dreams up ideas whilst out walking by the river. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Essex and she won the Fish Short Story prize in 2018. Helen has several publications, many of which may be read on her blog: https://helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com.