In the Black of Alaska, My Brother

I stood in a field of dead bicycles. Man bikes and lady bikes and little kid bikes, fallen and still. Wheels bent into els, frames rusted, saddles torn, the stuffing strewn and mildewed. All this, and the sun about to extinguish itself behind a crest.

My brother had pulled up alongside the field, kicked me out of his pickup truck, and threw a shovel out after. Sis, he’d said, you’d better get to it. He’d driven off and left me to the work.

I built a fire of old tires, burning back the darkness and cold, and then I set about digging my first hole for an older bike, one with leather grips and metal fenders. The ground was hard but my body knew how to do it, how to stab and lift, stab and lift. For hours I worked, the hole growing deeper and darker and finally big enough. I climbed out, and as I pushed the bike to the rim, a Canadian infantryman from WWI appeared. He showed me where a Colt machine gun had been fixed to the frame’s top tube. It sure was tough to balance, he said, and then he took the bike by its leather and walked it into the night.

I grabbed a girl’s bike with a glittered banana seat and streamers hanging from the handlebars, and next to me the girl appeared. She wore jeans that hit above her ankles and a quilted jacket. She showed me where she had lodged a pair of scissors under the seat in case she couldn’t out-pedal the gang of dogs that stalked her. I snipped and snipped, but not fast enough, she said. Then she dragged the bike by its front wheel into the dark.

It went on like that, bike after bike, story after story, until 100 in–150?–I grabbed a mountain bike with a front suspension fork and my brother returned. We looked at the bike, and this time I was the one who told it. Here, I said, and I pointed to the spot on his handlebars where he could have mounted the bell I bought him for Christmas, the bell that would have warned the grizzly. He pointed to where teeth had sunk into his head and crushed his skull. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, he said, and hoisted the bike onto his shoulder.

Stay, I said. Stay with me.

Got to get to it, he said. This is no place to party.

Please. Look, you haven’t told me what to do with your records, or the rest of your bikes. You haven’t given me messages for anyone. Christ, you haven’t said what this hole is for.

That’s a metaphor, duh. For what’s missing. That’s yours.

What am I supposed to do with it? I asked, but he had slipped off past the light. You’re no help, I yelled with all of my mouth.

The hole was pupil black, and I didn’t like it looking at me. I didn’t like these decaying bicycles or the fire receding into embers. I laid my back against the mound of displaced dirt, anchored my heels, and heaved. What didn’t drop in I pushed with my arms and fingers and legs and chin. The dirt coated my clothes and hair and skin and nails. I could barely see my arm as I reached into the hole to feel the bottom, as I stretched farther and toppled over, only to fall and fall and fall.

 

 

Kara Vernor‘s stories have appeared in Wigleaf, Hobart (online), The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, [PANK], and elsewhere. She was a Queen’s Ferry Press Best Small Fictions 2015 finalist and the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship. More at karavernor.wordpress.com.