The bike was still there. I saw it through the shadows, wrapped in lock and chain, in the back corner of the garage. Even covered with dust, it sparkled in the faint light. Bright red, with built in lights and big wide tires, I waited almost a year to ride it again. Even though it wasn't as fancy as the new ten speeds, over the years it served me well.
I remember, one spring break, I rode to the old neighborhood to visit my fishing buddy, Marc. Two blocks up the hill, then a turn down the dirt road that led to the back entrance to Schultz's Nursery. I curved past a few trees and then rolled down a steep hill. I flashed past lilacs, rhododendrons and boxwoods, only slowing when I got to the front of the nursery. Slipping out the front entrance, I then pedaled over about a mile of dusty dirt road, and then another mile of paved street until I reached Marc's house.
As much as I enjoyed fishing and hanging out with Marc, I think the best part of it all was the ride over there. Riding down the hill and through the nursery was incredible, like rushing though a forest at ninety miles an hour. The wind wrapped around me, and I was bathed in green. Each day the ride differed, depending upon which plants were blooming. Colors flowed past me, and the fragrances made me dizzy. I never felt so free.
Free! I remember the next year too, spring break again. At the back of the garage the bike leaned against the wall, but my grandmother had bought a chain and locked it up. The tires bulged under the weight of the chain, and the lock dangled almost mocking me. I couldn't believe it.
"Grandmother..." (last summer it was Mom Mom, now it's Grandmother) "... are you sure you can't remember where you put the key?"
"Michael, I told you I have looked everywhere for it. Besides, what good will the key do you now?"
She was right of course, even though we visited on spring break, the first week in April, it snowed over a foot the night before. Expecting spring weather, we had no heavy clothing. Without snow tires on either car, we were going nowhere until the town cleared the roads. In the meantime we paced.
Trapped within the house, my mother became the warden, my grandmother one of the guards. Not just any guard, she was the one you see in movies. The one who perversely tortured the inmates. At least that is the way my brother and I saw it.
"Have you heard the story about the dirty shirt?" She smiled a moment, "Oh, that one's on you."
My brother and I just rolled our eyes. My little sister made it worse by laughing and asking for more. She was just six at the time and it was new material for her.
"Did I tell you the story of the Rice Krispies?" My fist hit the couch as she went on: "It's a serial, come back tomorrow."
We begged the warden for a reprieve. Pleading for her to take us anywhere.
"We can't go anywhere, not without snow tires. Just read a book or something. Why don't you listen to Mom Mom, your sister just loves it." I think I caught a sadistic smile as she said that. Sure she was in on it, my brother and I brooded.
"Did you hear the tale of the rotten roof?" The minutes seemed like hours. "Oh, it's over your head."
Days like weeks passed. Finally the snow melted enough and we escaped. My grandmother even found the key to the bike and I spent the last couple of days visiting Marc. Each night my brother and I laughed at how good it felt to escape the prison . . .
"What about the bike, does that go with the rest of the stuff?" I spun back to the present. A kid in coveralls stood in front of me. I say kid, probably in his mid twenties, but to me now, he was a teenager.
"Excuse me?" I asked.
"The bike, should we take it. The old lady said something about keeping it."
"Oh sorry, no, take the bike too." I watched him load the bike in back of the truck and close the doors. The writing on the doors folded together: "Salvation Army." I signed a paper and the kid handed me a sweaty receipt. He climbed into the truck, ground the gears a bit, then crawled off down the road.
"Bill, there's a bike out there, why don't you take it with you?" My grandmother asked me.
I just looked at my Mom. With a tear in her eye she whispered to my grandmother. "Mother, Bill's not here, this is Mike, your grandson. Remember, Bill is your son, my brother?"
My grandmother said nothing, she just stared distantly with a slight smile. She slowly walked out to the car leaning on my mother's arm, her left hand limply dangling beside her. Her walker sparkled in the faint light of the trunk. I closed the trunk and we drove quietly to the retirement home, none of us speaking a word. I stopped at the front door as my mom helped my grandmother out.
"I'll park and be right in." I whispered.
As I pulled into the parking space I noticed a spot of mustard on my shirt. I bit my lip as I thought about the dirty shirt on me. I walked towards the door where my grandmother and mother waited. I noticed a sign by the door "All doors locked after 6 PM, ring bell to enter."
"Oh hi Bill, thank you for coming to visit me."
I looked at my mom as tear rolled down her cheek. I just looked at the ceiling, wanting to explain to my grandmother, but I realized, it was over her head.