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"Come and fly with me..." I don't know if that's in the moonlight, or a commercial for a Virgin Airlines, but let's go. The world is wide and the day is young- the night is younger still because it hasn't come yet. But it will. Jenny needs a new pair of jeans. Like a fish needs a bicycle. But a fish that's just transported itself onto land without a driver's license, and there isn't a subway in sight. It ain't New York City. More like Orlando- in August heat. The slurpee's on the other side of town. Jenny needs a
new pair of jeans because Tom is going to come and take her fishing later that afternoon, and with the current in the river in the spring, they're bound to meet up with some rocks. The last time the old boat dumped them over, Jenny got torn to bits. Her legs got torn up something bad, right before the prom. Not going to happen this time. But my sister has a weird method for self-preservation. I mean, if Tom is the one who steered them right for the center, right for the rocks, you think she'd jump ship and
line herself up with someone else, but no. That won't happen. It's been too long, now. And you can see it between them. Some new equation at work- I don't know what it is, but I guess the rocks in the river must be worth it. I mean, the mystery's there. That tiny golden nugget. Some people spend all their time shopping and having dinners and then just add it up to something, but not these two. There's that something, but they probably don't even know what it is, themselves. I stand up and go and stand in Jenny's doorway.
I don't really mean to start anything- it's more simply to stand up and move away from my computer, and out of my space. I guess I must have gotten to some conclusion the moment before and something said it was time for a break. "What time are you guys going?" I lean on the door frame. She's sitting, well, lying in the corner on her bed, reading a book. She really makes an effort to get off being on-line, and not be sucked into the internet all the time, like I am. "Um, maybe sometime around four. Why?"
"No reason. Are you going to Jimmy's Creek?" "Yeah, maybe. Or someplace up north. Tom has a place he wants to check out." It's the middle of the afternoon and I can hear the crickets through the open window. I used to hate them when I was younger because they meant that summer was almost over and school was about to start. I don't know why it made me nervous-the sound- because I liked school. Nobody shot anyone in schools, back then. We were just nervous for homework. Jenny rolls over on her stomach. Turns a page. Still reading.
"Yeah, it should be good! Why, you wanna come?" She glances up from the page. I feel surprised for a moment because it's so casual. It's the first time she's invited me to do something with the two of them, I mean, he doesn't even really hang around our family, Tom- he doesn't come over, or anything. To be fair, we just do a lot of things solo- all of us, I mean, my parents and Jenny and I, we're a bunch of solos in one tight group, so he's in the same pattern. At least he seems to be.
But they're four years older. And Jenny just finished college. And probably for a second, never hanging out with family groups somehow seems weird now, looking at it from the other side. For a second. "Me?? Naw, that's ok, I've got to clean stuff up. Looking at some applications." It comes out of my mouth faster than I plan. “You sure?” “Yeah…” But she hears the hesitation. We might be solos but we read each other really well. "Well, I'll text you the directions when we go. An open road." She takes her bike helmet off the bed and hands
it to me. I had one up until last month, when I cracked it against a tree. I love trail riding. I say ‘thanks’ and go get some chocolate milk in the kitchen. I clean the bathroom because I’m always cleaning things- it helps me relax- and then I sit out on the porch. I feel lucky to have one because you see pictures on the internet in places with big cities like Tokyo, and they don’t have any grass let alone the time and space for a porch, someplace to sit and look at everything- everything's too
close. I’d like the experience, but I also like to breathe. Jenny’s voice comes out the upstairs window. “Awesome! Thanks so much! Yeah, we’ll be going in about half an hour-you can drop by whenever it’s good!” She comes running down the stairs and I go inside. She’s filling her water bottle in the kitchen. “Who was that?” “It was Helen,” she says. “She’s going to lend me a pair of old Levis.” I like Helen, but I know that she probably called because she just wants to get the scoop on gossip.
And she’s probably coming over with the pants just to get some more. But friends are friends. You can’t complain. I look out the screen door and Toms pulling up in the driveway with a look on his face like he won the lottery. Well, I can’t see his face until he climbs out of the truck but then it’s clear. He strides up the steps. “Hey, Spunk.” He opens the door and brushes past me to Jenny. They kiss and he’s glowing like noon. “You look super happy,” she giggles. “Happy to see you!”
“Mmm.” She nuzzles him. And this is where I see that we’re so different. Because she doesn't stay there. She goes to tighten her water bottle and zips it quickly into her backpack, and slings that over her shoulder. I mean, we’re sisters, so we were always similar but different but now the differences that used to be just on the surface seem to come up like they’re from someplace deep. To really feel alive I feel like you’ve got to slow down to see stuff but Jenny just plunges ahead. Four years of school, boyfriend.
After a moment, Tom turns to me. “You coming with us?” I smile. “I think I’ll follow you on the bike. Get a little wind in my hair.” He smiles back but really, he’s busy with Jenny. She's got his attention again. “Is that going to be too heavy?” he asks, pointing to her bag. It’s got all sorts of snacks and maps. “Naw- it’s o.k.” She heads for the porch and opens the screen door. “Don’t forget your sunscreen!” she calls back. It's for both of us, but mainly for him. He grabs
it off the table. Outside, they start the engine and pull up the road a bit while I'm getting my stuff on straight. Helmet, glasses. I keep the truck in the distance for a couple of blocks and then they pull away, turning up the country highway. The wind is beside me and a little at my back. It pushes my feet as they catch speed off the pavement. My toes settle in. This is my favourite part- flat, not a soul in sight. Jenny texts me the exact destination. I pull off the road to check it- The Crossroads.
As kids, we picked strawberries there in June and if I can’t find it on my own this time, someone can point the way. Or the road will have signs. I push my feet into the toe straps and roll up the road. This is my favourite part- flat, sunshine, not a soul in sight. The wind is at my side and a little behind me and my pedals catch the energy off the pavement, gaining speed. I watch a hawk fly overhead above the fields. If it’s hungry, it doesn’t show it, because that grass is
full of mice and it’s going higher and higher, as if just to enjoy the wind. A car rolls by and someone shouts out the window. I laugh and stick to the side. I think about school and my applications. It’s not that I don’t want to apply to something, I mean, I know it’s for my future but somehow I can’t seem to focus enough to choose anything and stick with it for more than an afternoon, and so I’ve started about fourteen applications and stayed away from really properly filling out anything.
The road forks. I go right. Everything is simpler when it’s right in front of you. Some kids are riding an ATV on a path at the front of their property by the road, and the engine roars along beside me for a moment. I pass a second intersection and another cyclist turns the corner. He rides alongside me.
“Nice day, huh?”
“Yeah,” I answer. We have the same pace and stick side-by-side.
"You've got a strong speed. And good RPM."
"Thanks. I just like to ride."
"You should join a club-we always need women. I'm
“You should join a club. I’m with the Lexington Bike Club.”
“Sure,” I say, but I never ever meaning to join.
We ride on for a little in silence and after a while, he turns back down another side road.
“Have a good one!”
It seems like I’ve only just started the trip but suddenly I feel hugely thirsty. I have yet to find a holder that fits my favourite water bottle, and so I keep it in my backpack. I pull over to the side by a clearing between some trees to take it out.
And then I see the river through the trees. It seems way too soon for the Crossroads. I lean my bike against a tree, take a swig from my water and walk through the clearing, to prove myself wrong. People have worn a well-used path to the water over the years and I start down it before deciding it's a ways and going back for my bike, just in case some loony comes by and decides to snatch it. Unlikely, but it's possible. But when I get to the water, I'm not sure. We used to go berry picking
in some fields that might be nearby, but we never came down by the river. We saw it from a distance, or we drove over a small bridge and that's how I know about it. It seemed like an innocent little river or even just a creek, back then. But now, it's different. The water rushes by over the rocks making rapids in front of me as it twists and turns, extra high from all the heavy rains in the spring. You'd have to know what you were doing to step into it. I only know a bit, not much.
I watch for a long while as the current rushes by. And then I see them. In the distance. Jenny and Tom are standing upstream in the middle of the river in hip-waders, casting fishing lines into the water. Tom has his back to me and Jenny is turned so I can see her profile. The sound of the water is too loud to call out and I watch as Tom re-casts, looking like he's almost caught something. Jenny stands straight against the current and it's like they're glued to the bottom, nothing's going to push them down.
I look back at the water in front of me and a story someone told me at a party comes to my mind. It was a weird story. Something about a monkey who has to choose to go one way or another on a street, and one way leads to a burning house and the other to winning the lottery and living on a cruise line for the rest of his life. I can't remember what happened. I don't know why it comes to me now. I decide to try and walk upriver on the rocks, to meet with them.
I step in the water and feel the cold sink into my canvas shoes. The water spills in the cracks between my toes. I take a step onto a smaller rock and gain my balance and then reach for my first big boulder with my left foot but immediately, I slip and the current pulls me in. The river roars around me. I barely lift my head and I'm pulled backwards, the river carrying me downstream. I try to grab a footing on the bottom but I can't- everything's happening too fast. The trees rush by beside me. I choke.
I finally see a branch laying out from the land, a big one attached to a tree that must have been knocked over in the wind, and I grab it, holding on with both hands. I manage to pull myself in. I've never been so happy to see land. Dirt. Grass. I sit down and look at how far I've come. It isn't that much, no more than twenty meters really, but it feels like football fields. I've come up onto the other side of the bank now, and I can see my bike and my backpack across the way.
I can still see Tom and Jenny, in what looks like exactly the same place. Still enjoying the fishing trip. Tom pauses for a moment with his fishing line- he puts it between his knees as he reaches around to his back pocket. And then he pulls out a small box. It's crazy- it's as if they've been waiting for the right time, for my drama to unfold so they can start the show. But nobody's seen me. I watch and he takes something from the tiny box and shows it to Jenny. She drops her rod in the water.
She puts her hands to her mouth. It must be a ring because he puts it on her finger and she throws herself around his neck and they stay like that in the water. I think of texting her 'congratulations' but my phone's way over on the other side in my bag. I get up and walk to the path at the side. There's a bridge down the way that I can get to easily and I head for that to get back over to my stuff. When I get there, somehow my bike has a flat tire in back.
I'm not sure how I feel about it all-the flat tire is obviously a bummer, but I'm too shocked still from being thrown down the river to really feel like it's a set-back, and Jenny's thing is sort of floating there but I need to process my own state first before involving other people. That being said, there's a new wall- or an old one that's been uncovered and somehow certain things feel a lot more solid. I could phone her now and get a ride back with them but I don't want to. I go toward the
road and look for a general store to get a snack. There's nothing there but as luck would have it, my friend Percy stops in his van by the side of the road. I haven't seen him in a while- ages, actually- and he looks good.
"What's happening?" he asks.
"Got a flat!"
"Jump in the van, if you like."
He smiles, open and relaxed. I text my sister, "Got a flat, but got a ride," and throw my stuff in the back of the van. The bike just fits.
"I'm going home but I'm also going on a slightly
longer trip, if you wanna come," he grins.
I can't imagine what he's describing but I climb in the passenger side and buckle up. Percy starts the engine.
"BC! Vancouver, British Colombia!" he shouts.
"Like, right now?"
"Yep! Bags are packed and ready to go!" he says and he nods to the back. I hadn't noticed the duffel bags before.
"Of course- let's do it!" I answer.
"But right now, no turning back? What are going to use for clothes?"
"No worries, I'll make it work! Hit the road!"
He looks at me for a last
chance to change my mind and I just smile straight ahead and we head west.
"What do you think you'll do when you get there?" he asks after a while.
"Take some school."
"Drywall," I answer. "It's the driest thing I can think of. People pay good money for it. I can get certified and work in construction for a bit. Make some money. I think that's what I need right now."
"Here, here," he says. I don't ask Percy about his plans, but I'll learn about them later. It's funny how things happen and how this day went.
It's like nothing's happening at all and then everything happens all at once. We drive for a long time on the highway, and then switch at a pit stop. I haven't ever driven a van and I feel like queen of the road, we're up so high. The road stretches out and things feel like they make a lot more sense for the first time in a while. I decide I'll phone Jenny tonight when we get to wherever we might stay. Probably someplace around North Bay. We have to get around all the great lakes first before anything else.
We'll be in the middle of the country by the time we get around them, that's how it works, Ontario's so big.
We stop at Wendy's to grab some food, before the sun sets. Percy gets a mongo soda, and wolfs it down. I get a combo. We sit and eat on the slope beside the parking lot. Percy lies back with his knees up, enjoying the last light of day and he accidentally lies down on his drink and spills what's left all over his shirt. I never thought I'd say it but he looks really good, all wet.
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