Not the next day, not a month later
The red bike sat on the median strip with a placard tacked to it. Police aware, it read. The bike was a Kawasaki and Astor had owned one just like it years ago. The night he crashed it, Astor was on his way to a friend’s, a girl he’d known for years, and he’d been too busy thinking about the one day he’d kissed her, the one time they nearly made it through sex without him crying, and then he came off hard, except the bike skidded down an embankment, made a soft landing somehow. Astor hadn’t been quite so lucky. He had broken both arms and suffered a mild head injury that made him dizzy, so he was put off work. It was weeks until he could finally stand without feeling as though he was going to fall over.
I like to ride, he’d said to the girl once, when the truth was he liked the idea of riding. Saying I like to ride made it seem as if it was part of his skin when it wasn’t much more than a response to a billboard with a guy standing beside a bike, the sun almost set, the wind pushing his hair back off his head and a half smile, the kind you wore when you were doing okay, like an expensive coat. The truth was Astor hadn’t ridden in years.
The red bike sat on the median strip for another week. It rained and the placard fell to the ground. Every day the bike seemed to beg to be taken for a ride. Astor’s bike had sat in the garage for six months after the accident. It looked forlorn. Dust gathered over it. Astor wiped it once in a while.
Not sure I’ll ride it again, he told his girlfriend.
You will, she said.
How can you be so sure?
She smiled and ran a hand down his chest, ran it right down to his crotch. Because you haven’t finished with it yet.
What if I come off again. She paused for a minute. She wanted to tell him he would come off again, it was a bike, in bad weather riders came off. Cross that bridge if you get to it, she said in the end.
The median strip led to the bridge. It was one of those cantilever bridges built in the mid-1900s, solid steel, every inch of its might on display, the bolts and girders reaching up like arms making a pyramid. The question of why the bike was on the median strip started to nag Astor like a fly making loops in a glass jar. Where was the rider? Was someone supposed to be coming for it?
Astor had abandoned his bike twice. Once when it ran out of fuel on a long stretch of road where the only things you could see were tufts of spinifex and a drying steer hide and the sky just fistfuls of blue. The second time he was going to get rid of it. I’m not feeling it, he told his girlfriend. They had stopped having sex a month before. She was too busy with a new job in an art therapy retreat. He just lay on the couch and watched the sun cross the sky.
It’s not the bike, she told him. Go somewhere you haven’t been before. You just keep taking the same roads.
So he took the bike out again; rode the coast, watched the sun dance on the waves. Well, she said when they caught up three days later. Good ride?
Yeah, it was a good ride. Still, he sold it the next day.
His girlfriend tells him he will miss it but he doesn’t. Not the next day, not a month later. He doesn’t miss it until he sees the red bike on the median strip. By now he thinks the bike is begging him to take it. It has that candy fire-red trim he’s always wanted, the metallic black, the retro look that he feels sure will give him the ride he is looking for.
I’m going to take the bike on the median strip, he tells his girlfriend.
You know that’s stealing.
He smiles at her. It’s abandoned.
Maybe the rider will come back, she says.
I doubt it, he tells her.
Don’t you wonder about why it’s there, she asks.
Sure, he tells her. He’s pictured it. The rider stopping the bike at the bridge, early morning, sun just coming up. He’s going to climb to the top of the bridge, watch the daybreak. Maybe he doesn’t come down. Maybe he falls. Maybe he just leaves the bike behind.
The next day Astor walks the bike off the median strip, waits for the traffic to slow and then crosses out over the two lanes to the footpath. Then he realises the key is still in the bike. Somehow he doesn’t expect the key to be there and he turns it round, walks back to the median strip and takes the bike to the spot where the grass has grown a little longer around the wheels and the side-stand, and he leaves it as it was.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 21, 2023 as "Not the next day, not a month later".
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