The Reluctant Wrench 16: Stump-jumping the Shark.

“Everyone has a breaking point, and anyone that hits that point, pushes through it and keeps themselves moving will be a better person afterwards.”

Those were the strongest words Dylan had ever read to describe a mountain bike trail. It wasn’t like he sought out killer climbs, he took more joy in getting through a technical rock garden or hitting a berm faster than he should, but the description of the trail he was planning to ride the next day appealed to him.

He set his phone down on the motel nightstand. Stared at it. The last time he had done this, driven across the country hitting state parks with bike trails and cities with skateparks, it had been necessary to do a lot of research. Call parks departments for hours, redraw his route on a pile of paper maps when he found another skatepark had closed. Now he just props his feet up on some filthy motel pillow and he can read trail reviews and see maps on a phone that isn’t even connected to the wall. He picked it back up and wrote a text to his friend Ted:

“Still can’t believe you talked me into getting this phone.”

Ted: “That’s what you find unbelievable after we stuck a cat in your car without your knowledge?”

“The cat just poops. I can talk into this thing instead of typing my texts. Crazy.”

Ted: “You are old beyond your time Dylan”
Ted: “Andy wants to know how the trip is so far”

“ugh. I fixed a flat. lost the cat. almost got hit by car looking for cat. found cat. mocked by hot girl.”

Ted: “I can believe that last part. Did you have a nervous breakdown and start smoking again?”

“No. That is old Dylan. New Dylan is smarter and stronger.”

He glanced over at the pack of smokes sitting on the dresser. Someone had carved an anarchy symbol into the wood. What a dump. And he had actually thought about telling the guy with the huge moustache in the office that he had a cat.

“Thanks to this cat I have to stay in motels instead of car camp.” He wrote. “If I get bedbugs…”

Ted: “Yeah. We didn’t really think that part through I guess.”

He set the phone back down and watched Frankencat circle the room. She sniffed the dresser. The door. Disappeared into the bathroom, where she probably sniffed the toilet. Then back out and to his bike. Sniffed his front tire. Sniffed his flat back tire. Flat back tire?

Upon inspection, there was a slit in the sidewall of his tire that the sealant had almost managed to seal, but when he tried to pump it back up, it wouldn’t hold. He looked at Frankencat. “Did you do that?” She just looked up at him.

He remembered seeing a Coke machine by the office; making a tire patch and using a tube would have to do. He thought about finding the closest bike shop in the morning, but he wanted an early start and couldn’t yet imagine paying full price for a tire and watching some other mechanic half-ass the installation.

He stood in the stone parking lot by the machine, under the old buzzing flourescent lights, sipping on the Coke and cursing himself for breaking down and having another cigarette. Across the lot, at the far end, sat a familiar truck with a familiar bumper sticker. He noticed it when he pulled in and had almost turned around, but he was exhausted. He was both wanting to enjoy a slow smoke under a starry sky and wanting to retreat to his room to fix his bike. Alone. Of course, the door near her truck opened, and she bee-lined over to him.

“What’s up, Tahoe?” he asked.

“What? Oh, I get it.” She scanned him over. “I kind of like that. What happened to you? I got here, like, three hours ago.”

“Little delay,” he said. “Had to get some cat supplies.”

“Can I get a smoke?” She held her hands palms up and gave him a look like he should have already offered.

“Are you old enough?” he kidded, already fishing the pack from his shirt pocket. He held the match up to her face. Her cheeks shined. “I thought you were driving straight through to Memphis?”

“Yeah, like, I thought about not having my phone working, then with the delay of the flat tire, I would have been showing up there sooo late.”

“I’ve gotta fix my bike,” he said. Tahoe followed him to the door of his room. He ground the butt of his cigarette on the concrete and opened his door slowly, in case Frankencat had ideas of escape. She was asleep atop the dusty old TV.

Tahoe followed him in, uninvited but certainly welcome, and plopped into the lone chair, something that looked like it once belonged to a dining room set. She looked around the room.

“This room is worse than mine,” she said. He smiled, popped the back wheel off his bike. She stood up and went over to pet Frankencat. “So, what, you are a crusty mountain biker with a cat that’s just driving around the country from trail to trail?”

“That’s pretty much it,” he answered. He felt like she was trying to figure him out, to put him in a category to make herself more comfortable. He had met a few Millenials (perhaps he was looking to categorize her too)like her the last time he was single and he would put himself out there to meet girls. They often said things like, “Yeah, I went through a phase where I dated skaters,” or “In high school I only slept with college guys.” Never embarrassed, always eager to bare all to the world, these youngsters. Won’t it be great when they get old and are running for office? Some day a presidential candidate will be standing in front of the world saying: “When I was 14 I stole a car, drove over a statue of Jesus, shot heroin and woke up in a pile of sweaty naked bodies in the basement of an abandoned house. You know normal kid stuff. Still up on Instagram if you want to check it out. Don’t forget to vote!”

By the time he found his pocket knife and carved a tire patch out of the plastic coke bottle, Tahoe had managed to turn on the clock radio next to the bed and pick up Frankencat. She started singing along to some awful pop country and dancing around with the cat strung over her shoulder. When she spun around, Frankencat gave him a look like “What the hell!?!” He gave her a shrug.

Illustration by Evette

“Sorry, cat,” he thought, “but a guy usually has to pay for a girl in short shorts to dance in his motel room. You are going to have to take one for the team.”

He finished his bike and leaned it back against the wall. By then Tahoe had turned on the TV, but it had no reception. That didn’t stop her from trying, flipping the channels over and over.

“Fifty Shades of Static, I’ve been wanting to see this,” he said.

“I’m going back to my room,” she announced, seemingly more to Frankencat than to him. “I don’t want to miss American Idol.”

With a quick wave she closed the door behind her before he could offer an escort. He pulled the curtain aside and watched her cross the parking lot and made sure she got into her room. “Oh well,” he told the cat, “it wasn’t going to happen. She’s Miranda Lambert, I’m the man in black.”

It took him a couple of hours to drift off, and he was falling straight into a dream when she knocked on the door.

“I’m creeped out,” she said. Her arms were crossed in front of her chest. She was shivering. “It’s sketchy here. I heard people arguing earlier.”

“The most danger you’ve been in is walking over here so late in your underwear,” he joked.

“These are shorts.”

“So you want to stay here?”

“Let me think about it. I have to go get my purse,” she said.

He sat on the bed. Thought about changing shirts. Too contrived. He brushed his teeth again. Time crept. Ten minutes. Twenty. Maybe she changed her mind? Then he heard stones crunching in the parking lot. He pulled back the curtain, then rushed to the door. He opened it just in time to see the Tahoe’s tail lights disappearing out of the lot and onto the highway.

“What the hell?” he asked himself. He put on his jacket and crossed the lot. The door to her room was open a crack. He turned on the light. The room was cleaned out. Empty. He left and let the door stay open a crack just as he found it. What now? Would she just take off? Could she have been taken? Should he call the cops? What could he tell them?

He went back to his room and locked the deadbolt. Wedged the chair under the doorknob. Smoked another cigarette.

Slept in fits.

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