The Reluctant Wrench 11: Black Sheep Friday

“New York City? Really?” he asked, shifting himself forward in his chair, leaning in close to the two cups of coffee before them. “I’ve been there. It’s kind of like Disneyland with drugs and clothing stores that smell like pesticide. And the pizza isn’t all that, either. Not enough sauce.”

“But,” she countered, “this is what young people do. They move into a big dirty city and muck up their lives enough to learn to love their crappy little simple hometown.” She cupped her hands around her coffee and gently lifted it to her lips. Sipped. “So I might as well, like, go to the biggest, dirtiest city, right?”

“They’ll, like, chew you up and spit you out,” he said. “Like, suck the youth right out of you.” This was a thing he did to her often, a soft mocking of her youth and her generation. “Or worse, you could end up in Brooklyn and being all hipper than thou. Or even worse, you could strike it rich and end up living in Connecticut.”

“Maybe I want to get chewed up and spit out,” she fired back. “Or I could just settle down, get married at twenty-one to some hometown boy, and wonder what I could’ve done with my life.”

She was right, of course, and he knew it. Diane, being twenty-one but wise as his oldest friends, was always right. He had met her when she was a senior in high school, when he was working a stint at his hometown shop. Sold her a ‘cross bike thinking she would just use it as a college commuter. The next year she was state champion. She had too much life to contain in this little city. As if to prove her point, the old Coca-Cola clock behind her hit three pm and the small table between them rocked and clambered as a freight train lumbered by, as it did every afternoon at three pm in their crappy little simple hometown.

“Speaking of moves…” she said. She took a drink of coffee, looked out the window and twisted her little elf-like face and thin lips into a smile. Turned back to him. “What’s your next one?”

“I’m a little confused about that,” he answered. “I mean, look at me…I hate Jersey so bad I consider visiting here a vacation. Maybe go out West?”

She looked down at her coffee. Shook her head.

“What?” he asked.

Dylan had been away from his parent’s house (his home?) long enough that everything seemed small. The doorways. The windows. The proximity of the refrigerator to the kitchen table. He spent the majority of his time in the house not yet full-grown, and it was as if his mind hadn’t caught up to adulthood inside those walls. He was in the spare room, putting on layers of lycra, fleece, and flannel to try to stay warm enough for a quick ride when his phone rang. The shop. Then he heard a knock at the front door. “Got it,” his mother yelled. He glanced at his phone again, decided he should answer.

“What’s up?”

“Dylan-it’s Mike. Sorry to bother you. Do you know where the parts are for Leonard’s Colnago?”

“You would have to ask The Boss. I filled out a special order form three weeks ago before I left.”

“He said he thought we already ordered them, so he didn’t get them.”

“Ugh…” Dylan heard two voices in the living room, and glanced down the hall. There were two young men in dark brown suits talking to his mother. Mormons? “…hold on.”

One of the men was holding a briefcase. Salesmen. One of them pointed to his bike, which was leaning against one of the couches. “It’s my son’s,” he heard her say. “He’s kind of…visiting.”

“Oh,” one replied. “Where does he live?”

“He was in New Jersey,” his mom replied. “I’m not sure where right now.”

“Oh, I get it,” the salesman said. “Don’t feel bad, every family has a black sheep.”

“Holy freak he did not just say that.” Dylan whispered through clenched teeth.

“What? Dylan?” He had all but forgot he was on the phone with Mike at the shop. He felt his face grow red.

“Listen, I filled out the form to get the parts ordered. If The Boss didn’t order them, then he needs to tell Leonard that is the reason his bike isn’t done.”

“He told him that he couldn’t read your handwriting on the order form,” Mike said.

“Oh, so he has one excuse for you, and a different one for Leonard, and I get thrown under the bus because I’m not there? I have to go.”

He tucked his phone into the shirt pocket of his coat, slipped on his gloves and stocking cap, forgetting his helmet, and walked down the hallway. He glanced at the photos along the wall, his older brother and sister, their spouses, their beautiful kids, poised with their beautiful cars and beautiful houses as backdrops. He tried to call them that morning. They were all out shopping. Black Friday.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said as he grabbed his bike and headed out the door. “Nice suits. By the way, I don’t know what you’re selling, but it’s not going to work. Have you ever heard of the internet? It’s where everyone buys, like, EVERYTHING, for at least a good decade now. Enjoy your careers.”

The main trail was made for hikers, eventually opened in the late eighties to bikes, and wove a paltry four miles through the woods of Fireside State Park. The fun trail, however, branched off from the wide trail and wove its way just a foot from the bank of the Sycamore River. Many times of the year the river swelled and the whole trail was underwater. You can usually see a ring around the trees about waist-high left by the most recent flood. It was the only area where the trail undulated at all. He grew up in the flattest corner of the state. Glass flat.

By the time he got to the entrance of the park it was nearly dark and he was thankful he had thought to bring an LED. The bike was an old one he had left at his parent’s for his visits, a steel Voodoo he had put a rigid fork on when he bought it used from someone that didn’t appreciate what a classic it was. He made it a single speed, put 2.4 tires on it, and it was a pure cushy pleasure to ride. It could sit for a year, all he had to do was pump up the tires and go. Although the park was desolate and isolated, it was officially closed at dusk, and the Rangers had little to do but kick out kids making out in the parking lot and hassling those skirting the hours, so he waited until he was back on the narrow river trail before turning on his light. It was much dimmer than he remembered. He hadn’t checked the batteries.

The ground, like most of the river, was frozen. He picked up his speed, despite the lack of visibilty, because his feet were getting cold and he wanted to get his heart pumping. He began taking ruts and frozen puddles faster than he should have. His handlebar grazed trees on his right side. On his left was just a few inches then a three foot drop to the river. He realized he was mad. Straight up angry. He was taking it out on his bike and body as best he could, trying to work something out. It was his mother. Her silence. Black sheep, the salesman had said, and she replied with silence. Maybe she shrugged. Nodded? He knew one thing, she didn’t defend him.

He rounded a bend in the trail, realizing he was already halfway done with the loop. Then he saw stars. He was lying on his back, and he was really REALLY cold. He blinked. He saw the stars in the sky, so many stars, back home, where there is little light pollution. So many stars. He wiggled. Everything was moving. Nothing broken. But when he tried to sit up, he heard a cracking underneath him. He was lying on the thin ice covering the river. He must’ve hit his head on a branch and fallen right over. Lifting his head, he could see his bike tangled in brush at the river’s edge, just past his feet. He giggled. Tried to slowly roll over, thinking he could scoot on his belly. But the ice protested with crackling at even the slightest movement. He stayed on his back and pulled out his phone.

There were two text messages:

Mike: Hey, this guy came into the shop described you to a T, you helped him with a frozen brake on the descent at Pine Crest way back on July 4th. Brought you a case of Arrogant Bastard. Can I have one?

Diane: You seemed down today. Want to hang out?

His head was pounding, but it was so pleasant lying there. So many stars. “Yeah,” he said, giggling. “I wanna hang out.”

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