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Skinned Knees and Dead Trees
I have a new bike. It’s pink, with white streamers that hang off the handle bars like a horse’s mane. I imagine once I can go fast enough they’ll blow in the wind, reflecting light like fairy wings. Or, at least, how I imagine fairy wings, ‘cause I’ve never seen a real fairy. Anna has, she told me so, in her gramma’s garden. Anna’s known how to ride a bike for a year, but her bike isn’t as pretty as mine.
Mama and I walk down to the old parking lot, the one down the street. There are no cars, just cracked, faded pavement and dead-looking trees sprouting from dusty dirt. I imagine it’ll be torn down soon, to build more houses for more neighbors, but I hope not for a long time. Anna and I love coming down here to play pretend. Usually we pretend we’re trapped on a desert island, with just dusty dirt and dead-looking trees. But Anna isn’t here today, it’s just me and Mama. Not even baby Tom is here, he’s at home with Daddy. Mama holds my hand, something she hasn’t done in a while, since she’s always holding baby Tom.
Mama and I walk out into the middle of the parking lot, where heat floats up in waves I can see. Mama gets down on her knees and holds the handle bars of my new pink bike.
“Sit down,” she tells me. I put my leg over and slide back onto the soft white seat. My legs touch the ground, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to go anywhere. Wheels can’t turn if your feet are dragging on the ground and holding them back!
“”Now put your feet up onto the petals. Don’t worry, I’m holding on so you won’t fall over,” Mama reassures me. Shakily, I lift my light-up sneakers off the ground, but Mama’s right. I don’t fall over. Teeter a little, swaying like those dead old trees, but she hold me and the bike up.
“See how that feels?” Mama asks.
“It feels wobbly,” I tell her.
“It’ll stop feeling wobbly once you start going fast enough,” she explains, though I don’t see how two skinny wheels could ever balance upright.
“Would you like to try riding?”
“Yeah!” I nod up and down, helmet ker-thunking back and forth on my head.
“Ok, put your feet back down, just for a second,” she says. The lights on my sneakers skip up and down when my shoes hit the pavement.
“Now, I’m going to hold onto your back so you don’t tip over, but you need to push on the petals to make the wheels move.”
Sticking out my tongue in concentration, I try to do as she says. But the petals don’t want to move, and I have to put my feet back down to steady myself.
“Mama, they won’t move!” I cry out.
“Here, I’ll push you, and then once we’re moving, then you can try to petal,” she suggests, and gives a little shove on my back. My front wheel wobbles back and forth since I can’t seem to hold on to the handle bars tight enough, but when I put my small feet back on the petals they turn with ease, and I totter forwards.
“Mama, I’m doing it!” I shout with joy.
“Great job, honey! Now, I’m going to let go, and-”
“Mama!” I exclaim, pounding my feet down. “Mama, you can’t let go! What if I mess up!”
“Then you’ll mess up,” she says.
“But what if I get hurt?”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could skin my knee!” My eyes tear up at the thought of the injury.
“That’s not that bad, you’ve skinned your knee before,” Mama points out. I sniffle.
“Don’t worry, even if you mess up, even if you fall, you’ll be alright.”
~ ~ ~
I’m learning to drive Mom’s old car, the white one that’s sat dormant in our garage for years. We clean the spiders out, or, rather, she cleans the spiders out while I sit and watch, yelping at the slightest indication of an eight-legged beast, but even once scrubbed and polished it’s not exactly a splendid sight. Oh well, I guess I should be happy I have a car at all, most kids my age don’t.
I sit on the passenger’s side while Mom drives the two blocks to the old parking lot and swings her door open. Hesitant, I slide out and claim her spot in the driver’s seat. Slamming the door closed, I look out through the spotless windshield. The cracked pavement, the wilting, decrepit trees, they all look so different, as though the glass has somehow distorted the outside world. It really is a wonder those trees are still there, they must have been dead for years. I guess all they are now is shells, hollow bark statues. They really should get rid of them, I’m surprised branches haven’t fallen and crushed innocent bystanders.
“Buckle your seatbelt!” Mom says irritably, annoyed that I didn’t immediately do the obvious first step. I roll my eyes and snap the metal into place.
“Now, turn the key, but keep your foot on the brake,” she instructs. I press down hard on the pedal and twist the key in the ignition. The car creaks to life, and I can feel it’s feeble rumble vibrating the seat.
“Shift to drive,” she orders. I push at the gear shifter, and the car shoots forward.
“THE BRAKE, THE BRAKE!” She shouts. My feet Irish-jig as they struggle to find the right pedal. The car jolts to a stop and idles, growling, in the middle of the asphalt.
“I said put your foot on the brake!” She nags.
“I thought that was the brake!” I cry.
“That was the gas,” she says dryly.
“Sorry,” I murmur, clutching the steering wheel in sweaty hands.
“Let’s try again,” she sighs, rubbing her eyes with the palms of her hands.
“We don’t have much time, I have to pick Tom up at five.”
I don’t move.
”Well, what are you waiting for?” she says, exasperated.
“Mom,” I begin quietly.
“What?” she snaps.
“Mama,” I whisper, “What if I mess up?”
Her expression softens. “Then you’ll mess up,” she says simply.
“But what if I get hurt? What if someone else gets hurt?”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
I say nothing. What is the worst that could happen? A lot more than a skinned knee, that’s for sure.