by H. E. Sappenfield
part 1 of 2
It had started with a caress: desirous fingers running down the length of a deep, red top tube. Carol was startled at the warmth of it, a temperature to match her own.
Pressing those fingers to her lips and resisting an urge to taste them, she knelt beside the bike, gaining a more intimate view. Campagnolo Record, the best components; they shone as if they’d never been used. The frame looked virginal. The black handlebars curved like a ram’s horns.
New to serious bicycling, Carol was searching for her first nice bike. This one was handsome beyond her dreams, like a muscular lifeguard on the beach, and not the cheesy kind but the kind that made your knees weak and had that hint of danger.
Carol wetted her lips and asked, “Are you sure the price is correct?” Her heart beat quickly because normally she’d never be able to afford a bike like this; she couldn’t believe her luck.
She craned her neck over her shoulder and flicked back her prim, dark hair so she could see the sheriff’s officer manning the booth at the swap.
Ma’am. When did I move from miss to ma’am? An unmarried, thirty-something ma’am.
“Where’d it come from? Was it stolen?”
The officer shrugged. He was sort of cute, with close-cropped dark hair, but he couldn’t compare to the bike.
Carol turned and ran her fingers down the tube again, this time finding even more pleasure in the uncanny warmth. It triggered a mood she’d experienced only in her covert reading of romance novels. She grew nervous, like the two times she’d faced a first date. What’s wrong with you? Are you that desperate? It’s a bike!
Carol sucked in her breath and climbed on, testing the fit. A low, seductive heat stole that breath and flushed her cheeks in a way no man had for years. Forcing herself off the bike, Carol glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. It took a while to gather composure, and all that while she eyed the bike with alien hunger.
“I’ll take it,” she said to the officer.
“You all right, ma’am?” he asked, studying her.
Carol struggled to meet his eye, to not look at the bike. She glanced at him for a moment, then her eyes shot back to the bike. “I’m going to love it,” she murmured and marveled at her good fortune.
* * *
Later, Carol laughed at herself for wanting to bring the bike into her bedroom. She’d left it in her immaculate garage, taking one last, yearning look as she leaned against the doorjamb in her bouquet-patterned pajamas, hair tucked behind her ear. At midnight she’d gone down to admire it again. At one, she’d finally bumped it up the stairs to her bedroom, scooched her favorite lace chair to the side, and lovingly positioned the bike.
Carol settled onto her bed, switched off the lamp, and gazed at the bike’s murky silhouette. In the haze of first slumber, her body felt an embrace.
In the morning, Carol woke in shock: her alarm had been blaring for six minutes. Usually, she woke just before it, watched the digital numbers change, then languidly clicked the blare to public radio, her daily indulgence. Instead, her pink sheets were moist, and her pajamas lay on the floor beside the bed. She flopped back, grimacing. Then she smiled.
“Hello, lover,” Carol said, rising onto an elbow, and she eyed the bike like an accomplice. She giggled at her bold words, letting her head drop back, her hair stretching in tangles to the sheet.
It’s a bike. Yet, when Carol looked at the bike again, her face went straight and hard. She pushed back the blankets, squatted naked before it, and ran her fingers along its pulsing warmth.
* * *
When it came time to leave for work, Carol couldn’t bear to part with the bike, so she loaded it onto the rack at the back of her Saturn and took it with her. As she glanced in the rearview mirror, she’d feel a charge of arousal.
“Lover,” she whispered and peeked saucily into the rearview, then laughed at herself.
Work was a challenge. She was the Business Manager for the Falcon Valley Library District, a job of prosaic, hushed order. It suited her, and she was respected for her impeccable organization, fastidiousness, and reserved kindness.
Yet now every time Carol tried to concentrate on a balance sheet or dial a phone, a warm sense of the bike would usurp her. She would catch herself, or worse a colleague would catch her, immobile and staring into air, or out her office window at the bike.
Joyce, her boss, even sidled up next to her and peeked over her shoulder to see what Carol was gazing at. When Carol sensed Joyce’s presence, she wheeled around. Carol’s hand rose to strike.
They both looked at it.
“Sorry, did I scare you?” Joyce asked.
“Yes...” Carol couldn’t think.
“Is that a new bike? You finally got one?”
Carol nodded, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Sunday. At the Swap.”
“That’s right...” Joyce tilted her head. “You feeling all right?” Her voice held the familiarity of close friendship.
“Yes, why?” Carol said quickly.
Joyce took in all of Carol, tilted her head. She smiled, put her hand on Carol’s shoulder, then stepped around her. “You’re off a button,” she whispered, as she passed.
Carol looked down. Above her full hips, the curved hem of her shirt met with one side an inch higher than the other. Carol quickly re-buttoned it as she stepped to the window.
* * *
When Wendy and Kerry pedaled over to pick her up for her inaugural ride that evening, laughing loudly as they rolled into her driveway, Carol felt stretched thin.
“Well, this is a switch,” Kerry said as she saw Carol wasn’t sanctimoniously punctual.
Carol realized the truth in their words, then resented them.
While they waited for her to strap on her helmet and cleats, they stood over Carol’s purchase, assessing it. Wendy was a good foot taller than Kerry, and usually Carol couldn’t help but smile when she looked at them side-by-side. Now, she frowned.
Carol had met them at Mass, and they had become her riding mentors, the ones who had cajoled her into trying it. “It’ll be good for you. Loosen you up and get you off those crazy diets,” Wendy and Kerry had said, and Carol had thanked God for them: she’d become social and fit, even if she hadn’t lost much weight.
“I can’t believe that’s all you paid. It’s full Campy Record,” Wendy murmured.
“What was a bike like this doing with the impounds?” Kerry echoed.
Carol watched warily.
“Makes you wonder,” Wendy said, then reached out to touch the red metal. Her fingers brushed a round hip instead as Carol stepped between Wendy and the bike like a covetous lover. Their eyes locked, and Carol saw a flicker of recognition, then confusion, in Wendy. But Carol made no room for compassion. She fiddled self-consciously with her helmet as her friends rolled out the driveway, then she followed them.
Carol’s cheeks flushed, turning darker than the roses on her jersey. She gasped and pedaled on as Wendy and Kerry chitchatted ahead of her, and she wondered if she could ride in this condition. She was lightheaded, knees weak with a molten arousal which was spreading through her. She glanced toward her friends and considered divulging her secret.
Then she found the pulse.
She had mistaken it for her own, but as they rolled onto the frontage road, Carol was able to find her own elevated pulse, then a second, which she acutely felt at each point she touched the bike. Steady and powerful, it was a virile demand that coursed through her until her heart willingly fell into its rhythm, a split second which felt like a launch.
In that moment, Carol surged with power, her cadence increased as her legs coursed with strength, and her eyes glazed over with conspiracy. Wendy and Kerry, who had always been a challenge for Carol to keep up with, were suddenly arduously slow. She tried to follow them, but the beat urged her on, and on, growing louder, louder till it throbbed in her head, pulsed through her body, impelling her forward. Her mind felt ready to explode.
Finally, she succumbed, passing her friends without even a glance, shuddering with the utter release. When she circled back to let them catch up, she ignored their confused stares. By the end of that first ride, there was nothing but the bike.
* * *
At the end of a long workday, lucidity came to Carol in a jolt that made her sit with the shock of it. She was pulled back like a camera looking down at herself, and she panicked at what she saw: every morning, she awoke, sated, the bike resting warm by her bed, and her sheets tangled around her naked body.
Carol reddened with embarrassment, glancing about the closed library. What am I doing?
Carol’s surroundings seemed as if a brighter light had been turned on, and she noticed that her skirt, once snug, sagged on her hips. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d attended church. Chatted with a friend. Called her mother. She realized the heat and solitary passion of every ride, how she’d given control to the bike, how she felt it cared for her, and so she’d consigned her life.
And then she realized that the beat had ceased.
Carol raised her hand to her head, pressing it to her temple. She hadn’t even noticed the beat’s presence until it was gone, and her body hollowed in its absence. Brows knitted, she rose, pondering the abrupt silence. She swayed as she walked between two tall shelves of fiction, her finger twisting in her hair. Toward the row’s end, panic struck her. Every day she brought the bike to work so she could be near it. Maybe it was stolen!
Carol raced to her office window and peered out.
Three boys stood at the back of her Saturn, huddling around the bike. One of them was touching the sleek red top tube.
Carol bolted from her office, frantically pulling out her keys to unlock the library’s front doors. Hands shaking, she turned the lock and burst out, flying at the boys who all had a hand on the bike now. Their faces were transfixed. She recognized the look in their eyes.
“Get away from my bike!” she shrieked, racing across the lawn in pumps and a conservative skirt. One heel sank into the grass, and she left it in her rage. The boys’ heads snapped up and saw her rushing toward them, legs pushing against the confines of her skirt, one shoe gone, and eyes with lethal intent. They gasped, spun, and sprinted down the block. As they wheeled around a corner, the last boy glanced back in terror.
Carol stood at the rear of her car, chest heaving. As she pushed back her hair with both hands, revealing her face’s skeletal angles, she giggled. It grew to high-pitched laughter and she doubled over. Then it turned to sobs.
When she finally quieted, and she noticed the way the gravel pressed into her stockinged foot, the beat began again, low and seductive. Carol froze, grasping the disappearing silence like water in cupped hands.
The volume grew. Carol straightened, aware of its intoxication but unable to resist, and comforted in knowing the bike would care for her. She turned and caressed it, tenderly checking for damage.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by H. E. Sappenfield