Moira rode her bike like a six-year-old: pedal, pedal, pedal, coast. Pedal, pedal, pedal, coast. A cigarette dangled from her lips as she wove in and out of traffic. Passing the dark splotch on the tar just past the Quik Mart, she discreetly signed the cross. That splotch was all that remained of some guy whose head was run over by a city bus when his bike veered into traffic. Apparently the head had squished, or, more appropriately, popped like a big juicy melon. He was wearing a helmet. She never did.
This is what she did every day: ride her bike all the way to work, and then she would bring it into the store. It would be safe there in the basement with all the other bikes. But fuck that. It was a stolen bike anyway. She didn't steal it but the guy she bought it from—Jason, the ex-pro roller-figure-skater—probably did. It was only $50 but it was a nice mountain bike, electric blue. She put stickers on it in case the owner was one of those kids she tried to hit at BU, where she aimed for the people in the crosswalk instead of avoiding them.
It was precarious. Always. The ride.
Case in point: the night before something had happened. Something she couldn't quite put into words or form thoughts around. It was an instant that left her feeling as though she was longing for something or someone. She felt missing.
After closing the store and counting the cash in the back room with Jeppy—who wanted to be an actor but had stringy hair and crossed eyes and a stumpy girlfriend with a shelf of an ass—she had gotten on her bike and headed home, just like always. She was tired after hours of standing on a concrete floor, under fluorescent tubes with music screeching, video screens flashing. Her brain felt crusted over with images and talking and money changing hands. As she approached that large building just before the slight rise and one of the bridges leading nowhere, she saw a guy walking, flicking in and out of the lamplight, across the cement field leading up to the street and a waiting cab.
It seemed one of those moments of random crossings. She would likely pass the cab, just as he was sitting down in the plush seat, breathing in the air freshener, listening to the static on the radio. Those moments were not to be ignored. They could mean the difference between a melon and a head.
Once she had picked up a piece of paper someone had dropped and handed it to the person, meeting eyes, eyes meeting. And then he went one way and she went another. It might have easily ended differently. She might have gone home with the guy and found out that he liked to keep girls in a cage in his basement. She might still be there, wearing a neon green T-shirt and singing karaoke with him when he came home at night, drunk, breath smelling sour of bathroom blowjobs. He would videotape the two of them and it would look like they were having fun but then when the tapes surfaced and played on "Inside Edition," it would be clear that the setting was an unfinished space, the walls fruitlessly stucco'd into a dusty meringue. Singing "Karma Chameleon," Moira would smile listlessly for the camera.
Or the time she was pumping up her bike tires and the guy in the fucking Mercedes asked her if she partied and she shook her head no. But she might have said yes and gotten in his car and she might have been the one they found one hot summer morning in the dumpster. Headless. Her naked torso without hands or face, her skin pale against the rusty metal. Metal rusting.
It was a chance. A random crossing.
So the guy was walking out to his cab and Moira approached on her bike, in the dark, pedaling slowly, her hands loose on the handles, as he opened the door to the cab. And when she was 100 feet away, a voice: "No. No. No." And feet slapping on pavement. A man, thin and pale and clothes-less, ran to the cab-entering-man and hugged him from behind. "You can't leave," the naked man said. "No." She turned her head as she passed, catching the embrace, keeping it. She was pedaling harder then, up hill and looking back over her right shoulder. She saw the headlights of the cab and the dark blob of bodies and then nothing as she crested the hill and descended.
Then she coasted, heavy with never having wanted that much.
But to be on the streets alone like that. Late at night. With her feet humming and her fingers still moving from counting money. To be out and breathing in the chocolate air.
When she got home, Moira didn't go right to bed like she should have. Instead, her stolen bike safely tucked in the alcove at the top of the stairs, she went out onto the porch and pulled down the ladder which led to the roof, climbed it and pushing off the lid, she entered the silent expanse of flat tar, warm from the late setting sun. Up there was all nascent stillness with the chance of stars cutting through the ambient light, surprising as they sliced through the dark.
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