some fall in love. i shatter.

Bikeshare (#26)

In Stories Volume 2 on October 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

            I feel like a fighter a lot of the time. Fighting with myself, my instincts, my inclinations, my obsessions. I fight and then I always submit. Like tonight, I know what I shouldn’t be doing and yet know exactly what’ll come to pass. I can’t help myself though I wish I could. Everyone else in this crowded bar has self-control in excess, that’s why they drink; to release themselves of the bond of control. They keep a tight leash on their actions; they distinguish between right and wrong, choose to do what’s right, and then stick with that choice. Me? Ain’t so easy. I can’t drink anymore, not since adolescence, and the only right choice I ever seem to make is drinking tonic water when I’m in bars. 

            The Pugilist is all dark woods and banker greens with a boxing memorabilia across the walls and a smattering of kitschy pug-themed artwork here and there. I sort of love the dog art. It’s dumb and it feels like a descendant of T.G.I. Friday’s but I like pugs and silly art, and I love collections. Of course I love collections. So what’s kind of great about waiting for him in this bar is analyzing the different collections of people; how big they are, who they’re composed of, how the internal dynamics work. I wish that I could hear better but the bars I end up in tend to be so packed and so noisy that it’s all visual. Throws me off when some guy comes to buy me a drink. Happens every time, that I’m certain of, but I can never be certain how long it’ll take to shake them. Can’t you guys tell that I don’t care?

 

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“They must’ve cut the lock.” She stood directly in front of the ‘No Parking’ sign and he stood halfway between his bike, locked to a lamppost, and the sign that she claimed her bike should have been affixed to.

“They cut the lock and took it? What’s the point of taking a cut lock?” Three beers had left him a little unfocused. She spun to face him, her navy blue dress catching the breeze of her movement, her red hair bouncing and highlighting the unmasked frustration in her green eyes. “Maybe they were worried about evidence. Or proof of the crime.”

“The proof is that my bike’s gone!” He wondered if she was always so fierce.

“Right. Sorry.” She wondered if he was beer-dumb or deferential.

“Hey, look, I’m going to make a phone call real quick. Do you mind hanging around a minute?” She dug into an oversized purse with both hands, the sunflower pattern undulating with the movement of her searching knuckles.

“No problem.” She finally pulled free a slim phone and stepped away. He dropped his olive messenger bag to the ground, next to his bike’s back tire, and was puzzled to realize that he felt something akin to guilt; not for anything to do with the disappearance of her bike but instead for the maintained presence of his own. Sort of a survivor’s guilt. He wondered why his bike wasn’t taken. She’d said her bike was a Fuji Absolute, which was a good bike even if it had a few years on it, but his new Limited Edition 3-Speed Linus Roadster Sport was a better bike and much more valuable. Not to mention his lock was cheap and thin. He knelt down and fingered the braided steel cable wrapped around the frame and front tire. I really should get a stronger U-lock, he thought. The atmosphere was quiet around him. Barely any cars passed through the business district that, with the exception of a few bars hoping for better times, shut down after 6pm. He turned to see her standing behind him.

“Rethinking your choice of locks?”

“A little bit.”

“So listen, I just talked to my friend and she’s going to come pick me up but it’ll take her about half an hour. Is there any way I could convince you to stay with me until then? We can go to Black Star around the corner. It’ll only be thirty minutes, tops.” She had a nervous smile that was difficult for him to look away from and yet he usually ducked out of things by looking at his feet and speaking quickly before any engagement, emotional or otherwise, could be established.

“I… are you sure it’s only thirty minutes?”

“At the most, I promise. Thank you so much. I just feel really weird having my things get stolen and it makes me really want to not be alone, you know what I mean? But come on, no need to stand around out here. Let me buy you a drink around the corner.” He glanced back at his bicycle and the lock that suddenly seemed so thin. “Are you worried about your bike now?”

“A little bit, I guess, but that doesn’t make much sense, does it? The odds of two bikes being stolen from the same location at two different times in one night are pretty unlikely, right?”

“Probably. My assessment of situations is obviously off since my bike is missing while yours is here, but I think they would have taken what they wanted during one pass through.”

“You’re probably right. Okay, it’s fine, I’ll leave the bike. You said you wanted to go around the corner? You don’t just wanna go to the Pugilist?”

“I was just in there and it was too loud for me. I could barely hear a thing.”

“Black Star isn’t gonna be much quieter.”

“It’s worth a shot. Come on, I just had my bike stolen, let’s go to my bar.” He took one last glance at his bicycle and followed along.

 

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            I never understand the vagaries or the functions, the catches or the controls. I understand when something is beyond me and so many things seem beyond me sometimes. Who’s in control if not me? What if I were to be in control at this point – what would I do? I’m already enmeshed, he’s already entrapped.

 

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“Are you gonna bother filing a police report? Do you have insurance?”

“For my bike? No… and no, no police report. I don’t think it’s really worth the time. Do you know how many bikes get stolen every year and how many are retrieved? It’s a fraction, a tiny fraction.”

“So you’re just gonna let it go? Let the criminals win?”

“I filed a police report for a bike that was stolen from me two years ago. It made no difference. It’s not worth the time or the effort.”

“I would still do it on principal.”

“Well when your bike gets stolen, you can file a report.”

“Don’t say ‘when’ – I’m a little nervous about my bike right now.”

“Good, because I’m tired of talking about bikes.”

 

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            This feels different. This doesn’t feel right. This is too fast. This isn’t the headlong rush. This is me being dragged with my heels dug in. I hate this. I hate this. I can’t…

 

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She pulled her phone once again from the cavernous bag that sat upon the barstool to her right and checked the time. He couldn’t see the display but knew that they had to be approaching the thirty-minute mark. She looked up and smiled apologetically for pushing the limits on her promised timeframe.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m having a good time.” He leaned over towards her left ear as his voice had grown a little bedraggled from competing with the bar crowd.

“Thank you for being so patient. I couldn’t have picked a better stranger to pass the time with.” She glanced down again, the phone silent but the display alight. “I’m just going to run outside to try calling my friend. I won’t be able to hear a thing on this phone in here.” He nodded as she stepped down from the stool and grabbed her purse with a wink. “Even if you are a great stranger, a girl can’t be too cautious.”

Stepping into the quiet night, she was shocked by just how loud the bar had been. Ethereal fuzz permeated her ears, finally dissipating after a few uncomfortable seconds. Standing in front of the wide windows of the bar, she lifted the clamshell phone to her right ear and began the lazy wander of someone waiting for someone else to pick up the phone. She drifted out of the window frame and when she was certain that he could no longer see her, she dropped the phone into her bag and took off towards the Pugilist. She skidded to a halt at the street corner and peered around like an agent in an old, low-budget spy flick. Nobody lingered outside the bar. The coast was clear. She glanced back at Black Star. That coast was still clear.

Without any hint of the internal raging adrenaline on her calm surface, she turned the corner and walked purposefully to his Linus, locked up to the lamppost. She was barely in the slanted line of sight from the Pugilist’s windows but it would require someone purposefully looking directly at her to follow what she was doing; at this hour, such attention was unlikely. Who would watch her kneel down to get something from her bag? Who would continue watching to see her pull a pair of fourteen-inch bolt cutters from her large bag? Who would bother to see her set her feet, position the bolt cutters, and in a steady motion, bite that lock into two pieces? Nobody would bother doing all those things at that hour.

The bolt cutters dropped back into the large bag that was empty other than her wallet and cellphone. The mangled lock went in as well. She didn’t believe in evidence, she believed in rapidity. Less than a few seconds later, she was biking north on 14th Street and catching all the green lights that. Twenty minutes later, she reached the front entrance of her building and paused on the concrete steps before wheeling the bike inside. Her breath came back while she sat on the concrete steps and the bike leaned against the chipped, black iron fence surrounding the small plot of grass the tenants jokingly referred to as ‘the yard.’

She carefully wheeled the bike upstairs to her two-bedroom apartment on the second floor. The black, rubbery scuffs on the pale floorboards near her door were nearly as numerous as the nicks, dings, scratches, and scrapes around the doorframe and just above waist height. The spacious living room that she entered onto echoed back at her the squeaks of the tires and the clipped sounds of her own footsteps. No magazines or newspapers cluttered the coffee table, no shoes made treacherous the entryway, no dishes littered the kitchen sink or counters. She was anti-septic, a ghost, a living anomaly in the tableau of the minimalized and straight-lined apartment, and yet she felt so comfortable there. But to be honest with herself, she had to admit that it wasn’t the entire apartment that made her comfortable. Just one room did that. Just the spare bedroom. The spare bedroom, which the floor plan called the master bedroom, for she didn’t need that much space in order to sleep.

She drifted towards the spare room, leading the bike with one hand at the crux where the handlebars met the stem. The closed door was at the end of a short, dark hallway that she could just barely fit into with the bike rolling to her right. A glimmer of light shone from underneath; she’d left the overhead light on the night before, so when she opened the door wide, her pride and guilt came flooding and crashing on a chrome tide.

Dozens of bikes – twenty-seven at her last count, twenty-eight with this newest addition – lay piled up against the far wall of the room. They stretched from the floor to the ceiling, which admittedly wasn’t that high but was tall enough that she needed to flex her muscles and throw some of the lighter bikes to the top of the heap. Half the room was occupied with these bikes while one stood solo closer to the door. She propped the new bike against the door, lifted the solo bike, placed it on top of the nearest and lowest pile, and then placed the new bike in that solo spotlight. Everything in place, certain that the piles of bicycles remained sturdy, she shut off the light, shut the door, and took herself to the living room couch where she lay down with her eyes shut.

The guilt had come on surprisingly robust for that night, for that bike, for that guy. Something was different. Guilt, when it came, which was rare, never manifested for a few days and then it settled in for a week or two before dissipating and being replaced by the renewed urge to steal another bicycle. Men, women, tactics, time of day, type of bike; nothing ever made a difference. Something had been different this time and she was fairly certain it was him.

She walked back to the spare room to look at the bike once again. The track lighting was set-up like a spotlight and the bike shone with remembrances of the sun and less enclosed spaces. She gazed on it, wistfully and angrily, and she realized that she missed him. Against all logic and all expectations, she missed him. The guy she’d barely listened to a word of, the guy she’d picked out based on whatever equations operated in the darker spots of her mind, the guy who was nothing more than the deliverer of a thing. She missed that guy. She’d destroyed his defenses and gotten through but in the haze of the demolition dust, he’d also slipped past her defenses. Lodged himself in her mind. Made himself unforgettable.

And now she’d stolen from him, just for the sake of appeasing the tense kleptomaniacal beast that raged inside of her. She couldn’t go back to him, she couldn’t go back, she couldn’t. Weakness or fear, it didn’t matter, there was no returning to confront the victim; neither her body nor her mind would allow her to do it.

 

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The cab dropped her off just as the police car pulled away and turned the corner; a certain measure of reassuring serendipity. He stood in the middle of the sidewalk, shoulders slumped, looking weak and directionless now that he’d done all he could with the cops. The cab door slamming shut caught his attention and he turned in her direction, eyes wide the moment he recognized her.

“You stole my bike.”

“I did. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, give me my goddamn bike back!”

“I will. It’s at my apartment. I have something I want to show you.”

“Is this a joke?” They maintained the space between them. He used it to store his overflow anger; she transmitted a jumble of emotion.

“Look, I steal bikes. I’m not proud of it, I don’t do it for money, I just need to do it every few weeks.”

“You’re like a kleptomaniac.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I can’t help myself.”

“And all that about your bike being stolen was a lie?”

“Yeah.”

“Unbelievable.”

“But I came back. I never come back.”

“I wonder why.”

“Because it doesn’t… oh, right. But I came back because… I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?”

“I’m sorry about what I did. I’m sorry about what I did to you. I’ve never cared before about the people whose bicycles I’ve stolen but I got home and something was different. I felt… sorry that I’d taken it from you, because I liked you, I liked talking with you, and stealing your bike meant never being able to see you again. Unless I came back to find you and, well, confessed.”

“You’re crazy.”

“A little bit. But I’m really sorry too and I want to know you better and I want to give you your bike back.”

“Why didn’t you just ride it back?”

“Cause I want you to see all the bikes I’ve stolen since moving here. Nobody’s seen them before. I want you to see. I don’t know if you’re a catalyst or something but my problems are bigger than just your bike and I can confess without you seeing them but it’s like confessing to an invisible crime. I need you to see my crime before I can begin looking for forgiveness.” He was silent, uncertain of her honesty, uncertain of her motivations, uncertain of the strong sincerity in her voice. “So will you come with me? The cab’s waiting. If you won’t, I guess I could just ride the bike back.”

He was silent, one hand holding the strap of the messenger bag slung across his chest, the other jammed into his pocket so fiercely she could see the outlined knuckles of his clenched fist. She could also see the fist loosening, the ice melting.

She appeared plaintive, her face pale in the darkness, her eyes wide and transmitting something directly to him. He understood her as little as she seemed to understand her own compulsions. Admittedly, compulsions were confounding him at the moment.

The cab honked.

“No, no, I’ll come.”

“Good,” she said.

 

 

 

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