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Pink Flash

October 9, 2011

“Careful with that box, it’s kinda old,” Jimmy told the driver of the delivery truck.  “Don’t drop it!   I want to save the carton.  Hey, Jason…C’mere.  Gimme a hand with this willya?”

Jason, an impossibly thin kid in his mid 20’s with greasy black hair, sauntered over to the back of the van.  “I still don’t get it.  Whaddya need an old bike for when the shop is full of new ones?  Damned thing is gonna rust in the salt air the minute you pull it from the box”, he said matter-of-factly.  “Waste of time and money, if you ask me.”

“Just shut up and help.”  Jimmy pulled the dusty crate off the end of the truck and shouldered it.  It was heavy for a bike box.  Jason grabbed the end and they walked the box back to the store with Jimmy carrying the bulk of the load.  “Can’t wait to open it up and see what condition it’s in”, he thought as he carefully set the box on the floor.

Jimmy had been looking for a bike like this shortly after his arrival on the island, a new old stock 1950’s vintage tank bike.  Cruisers were the standard issue bikes all over the island…Hell, even rental bikes were cruisers.  Problem was, they were copies of the real deal…Plastic pedals, cheesy decals…every one with a ‘MADE IN CHINA’ sticker on the headset.  Jimmy felt they were the functional equivalent of a Disney vacation, a cheapened, whitewashed version of the real thing.

Jimmy was a purist.  He wanted the real deal.  Not a restored Schwinn Phantom or a Roadmaster Luxury Liner, like everything else in his life he wanted something different, something obscure, something off the beaten path.  He even chose the bike shop job to help him find ‘The Bike’, a brand new bike at least a half century old.

The wooden crate matched the seller’s description.  Oxidized softwood, dry and brittle with age.  Even though it had been shipped over a thousand miles, there was still the better part of fifty years of accumulated dirt on the exterior, the manufacturer’s stencil barely visible on the side.  Jimmy peered through one of the cracks, getting a glimpse of coral and chrome.

Two years…Two years he’d looked for this bike.  After moving down here from Cleveland after his mom’s death, Jimmy found himself searching for a way to connect with the past – the stories his mom told him of her life on the island, stories of neverending stickyhot days where she could get to everything she ever needed, or wanted, on her bike.  That was before she’d met the military man whom she loved, married, and followed to the mainland.  While born up north, his spiritual home was in the tropics, in the stories his Mom told while his dad was either working the afternoon shift at Cleveland Casting or pissing his paycheck away in a bar half a block from work.  A quiet kid who grew to be quiet young man, Jimmy awoke one day shortly after his mom died amidst the place he’d memorized from stories…but not quite.

The island had changed since his mom left.  No longer the sleepy backwater town winter forgot. Town teemed with tourists, along with their idealized, T-shirt gift shoppy, attention-deficit-disorder version of paradise.  Don’t make me walk more than two blocks for instant gratification, they said, otherwise we’ll get bored.  Jimmy felt cheated by the intrusion of gimmie pigs onto his mother’s memory, and his quest for ‘the bike’ helped keep his mind off of what he’d missed by arriving decades late.  While he’d finally made it, the island had moved on.  He wished fervently for the sleepy village etched so vividly in his mind.

When Jimmy arrived on the island, he’d looked at it differently.  He’d seen the tropical vegetation, the tightly packed conch houses, the cars, the bars, the cruise ship tourist traps, but he’d seen something else.  Never seen it straight on; rather it was something he’d pick up at the corner of his eye.  A combination of colors; the angle of a roof, long thin shadows of a banyan tree.  For an instant – he’d see a glimpse of his mother’s island.  The moment he’d turn to look straight on… gone.  He thought this a combination of light, beer, and imagination and promptly dismissed it.

Idly surfing the web one night from his creaky 2nd floor studio apartment over the bike shop, he stumbled across an archive of tax roll photos updated and posted by the Historical Society.  The hairs on the back of his neck rose as a chill ran down his spine, for they matched his fleeting vision.  He slammed the laptop shut and went to bed, but the combination of indelible images and the salsa of a half dozen palm rats in the attic made sleep elusive.

He rose with the sun and headed off for the morning’s infusion of bucci, and it happened.  The brightly painted Conch cottage he approached faded, the porch sagged and took on a weatherworn gray patina while immaculate tropical foliage disappeared.  He twitched his head, blinked his eyes and color restored itself on the century-old house.  “I’ll need two cups, today”, he thought aloud.

After several similar experiences that week,  he decided there as more to this than wishful thinking or lack of sleep.  Either the ‘pink flash’  – as he’d come to call it – was real, or he was going mad.  The first, intriguing, the other not uncommon on an island known as the end of the line for those whose cheese was not tighly affixed to their cracker.  Since madness was an acceptable state of mind, Jimmy wasn’t concerned.  Either one was preferable to his then-current funk.

It was only after picking up a pair of new old stock Chuck Taylors online (there was a store up in Toronto that bought out the entire US production when the factory closed down) that Jimmy noticed a change.  He’d laced up the canvas Chucks, put them on and gone for a walk.  Strolling past the places where he’d first experienced the phenomenon, he was startled to discover he could see more than just a fleeting glimpse of something else.  Standing stock still on the sidewalk, the flash became a sustained event.  While he still couldn’t see his world straight on, his peripheral vision contained a view different from the one directly ahead.  Late afternoon shadows intensified the effect – a weathered white facade would emerge from the corner of his vision, only to be replaced by the gingerbreaded verandah of a gentrified bed and breakfast when viewed directly.

Inspiration struck.  It seemed to Jimmy that with effort, he could indeed travel to island of his mother’s youth – if he collected enough talismans to transport him there.  A vintage shirt, Ray Bans, straight leg Levis – each one old yet new – provided additional depth to his deisred place and time.  With each acquisition, he’d carefully go about town, memorizing details, like the lack of fences,  narrow sidewalks and spare yards.  Problem was he’d only see the world – his world – sidelong, so he developed an odd look about him walking as if in a daze, occasionally bumping into people.  The locals figured he was another guy strung out on something and steered clear; this was okay with Jimmy, as it gave him more time to himself.  During one of these excursions, he hit upon the idea of using a bike, which quickly became an all consuming quest.

He’d found the bike in a defunct Gambles general store in northeast Arkansas.  Supposedly when the bike showed up, the owner, aghast at the color (pink jus’ ain’t right for a man’s bike)  reboxed  it and tossed  it in the loft.  After the death of the proprietor, his family squabbled over the estate for decades, only to have the contents of the store moulder.  The bike was one of the few items to survive intact, primarily because it had migrated to the bottom of the stockroom pile boxed in its sturdy original crate.  The story of the store and its contents found its way to the island by way of spring break this past year, a conversation Jimmy overheard while managing the bike shop, and shortly thereafter, Jimmy found himself the proud possessor of a boy’s cream and coral, circa 1956, Rollfast bicycle. It was an odd color, a color scheme used only one year, one that was quickly phased out due to poor sales.  He’d seen the color only once on a ’56 Chrysler at a car show, and it spoke to him.  Seems only fitting to ride a pink bike down heah, he thought.

“You gonna open the damned box or not?” Jason sucked back another energy drink while flipping thru a mountain bike catalog.  “I wanna see that goofy bike you’ve been talking about for the past month.”  Jason was the store’s sole employee besides Jimmy.  A college refugee from Michigan State, Jason was, in Jimmy’s opinion, a self-indulgent, self-absorbed asshole.  His sole redeeming quality was the ability to show up to work (more or less on time) sober – a trait most likely a result of being diabetic.  “Damned thing’s gotta weigh in at fifty-plus pounds.  Whatcha gonna do with it?  Flip it to one of them drag queenies for double your money?  That’s what I’d do.”  Jason was always looking for ways to make a fast buck.  Jimmy hadn’t been able to prove it – yet – but he was pretty sure Jason was skimming the rental till by renting two bikes and writing up one, pocketing the difference.  Bastard.  It was hard enough making a living on the island as it was.  He didn’t want to be fired from the one job he tolerated  by his subordinate’s insubordination.

Jimmy fumed.  “Shut up and gimme a prybar.”  The nails did not easily yield their half century home, squealing protest as the top was separated from the rest of the box.  Moments later, the bike was free of the box, yet still sheathed in oil paper and Cosmolene…just like it was supposed to be.  Jimmy was shaking with excitement.  The original shipping wrapper meant the bike was sure to be in great shape – a literal time capsule.  He carefully pulled away the oil paper and set about assembling the pink Rollfast.  An hour later, he stood back and admired the fruit of his labor…

The bike was indeed gleaming.  A deluxe model, it had chrome rims, wide chrome handlebars, white sprung seat, big balloon tires, luggage rack and both a headlight and tail light powered by a brace of ‘D’ cell batteries concealed in the tank.  The tires were a little hard and cracked with age – but they held air.  And the paint…with the afternoon sun streaming in the shop, the coral finish on the bike made the storeroom glow with an aura of the sea.   Jimmy was stunned by its beauty, and spent over an hour studying every minute detail.

“Looks like one of those yellow rental bikes, man,” said Jason dismissively.  Jimmy considered throwing a wrench at him, but bit his lip instead.  The sole flaw that he could find was a scratch on the back fender, which had allowed moisture and rust under the paint.  It appeared to be a wound from when the original shopkeeper inspected the contents and found it too pink for his tastes.  Jimmy loved the bike straight away.

“Jason…Close for me.”  Jimmy’d decided right then and there he needed to take the bike out for a maiden voyage, if only to discover her personality.  Inanimate objects couldn’t receive a name until they’d revealed their personality, and the only way to discover that was to swing a leg over and let the spokes spin.  He’d briefly considered clothespinning a queen of hearts to the front fork in an effort to sound off his trophy to the island, but something held him back…No, this ride was personal.  Jimmy and the bike, that was all.  That was enough.

Jimmy slid onto the Troxel saddle and sat, savoring the moment.  There was only one first ride…

Jimmy recalled the purple Sears bike his mother had given him when he was eight.  It had cost a small fortune – ninety-nine dollars – at a time when money was tight, but Jimmy didn’t find out until later.  The bike was better than a spaceship, as it transported him to places far beyond Cleveland on its fat tires.  For the first time in his life, he was the coolest kid in the neighborhood, and the bike was the vessel to places in his vivid imagination.  He treated that bike like the treasure it was, and was able to sell it as new years later – so perfect the paint and chrome.  The first ride on Max the Purple Bike transformed Jimmy; now, over two generations later, Jimmy had the chance to relive his first ride.

With the lightest of pushes, the pink Rollfast entered the street.  Jimmy was off and pedaling before he realized it; the bike had perfect geometry and balance – allowing Jimmy to ride no-handed within the first ten feet.  Not that he would – he just knew.  In the same pedal revolution, Jimmy had the name of the bike…Audrey.  Gracious and elegant with the lightest of touches; Audrey was her name.

Audrey and Jimmy headed south on the street adjacent the bike shop.  The island’s main streets went east-west (more or less) so traffic on the north-south routes was much lighter.  Jimmy didn’t like to be bothered by the diesel trucks, the boom-boom of the mainland car radios, or even the insistent buzz of omnipresent scooters.  Nope – the side streets were where Jimmy was at home, and he was determined to give Audrey a proper tour of  town.

Jimmy quickly discovered Audrey was electric motor smooth; the design of her knee action fork absorbed slight pavement imperfections, so unlike the stiff tubes of modern bikes.  She was gracious and elegant,  Audrey and Jimmy became their own island parade, spectators optional.  Block after block unwound, or rather glided by, as Jimmy gave Audrey a tour of her new home.

After a couple of random rights and lefts, Jimmy found himself hugely entertained by Audrey.  It was as if she was leading, and he a willing passenger.  Once he’d adjusted to her (which didn’t take long) he found himself merely pedaling, with Audrey directing.  They’d approach a street, and Audrey would lean in anticipation, and they’d be humming down a fresh street in less time than it took to think about it.

After several minutes of the bike leading and Jimmy getting comfortable with the ideal of following that he became aware of the change.  At first, he thought the glow he felt was because of the bike,  he realized how sunny it had become.  The palm trees which towered over the streets were half their size, and the traveler’s palms which stretched to the upper stories of the large conch houses were mere shrubs in front yards.  Gone were the hurricane-proof concrete utility poles, replaced by rickety sun-weakened posts of upstate cypress.  The buzz of scooters had disappeared, replaced by the occasional hoot-hoot of doves.  Cars were largely absent.  All of this impinged on Jimmy’s consciousness, but not directly so.  To Jimmy, the world had become more ‘right’, if only because he was astride Audrey.  He was ‘in the moment’, and the outside world a mere distraction.  The sun on his face, the wind in his hair and the feel of Audrey peeling away the miles…these were all-important.

Jimmy discovered he could tilt his head back and close his eyes for long stretches, and Audrey would stay the course.  He’d smile and chuckle…this was way better than anything he’d imagined!  The aromas of the island came to him as he shared it with Audrey.

Jimmy was jolted by a hard left turn near the cemetery.  Audrey had taken a turn down a narrow lane.  Smooth pavement was replaced by crunching coral, with the occasional pingzing of Audrey spitting coral gravel at quiet cottages.  Air was dead calm and stickyhot; Audrey slowed to a crawl.  A lone Ford business coupe partially blocked the lane, its license plate obscured by coral dust and salt spray.  Jimmy could smell the catch of the day bein’ fried up with generous amounts of garlic and onions.  Off to the right ‘String of Pearls’ could be heard playin’ softly and warmly.

Jimmy had been all over the island many a time, but he’d never been here.  Not that he minded; rather to Jimmy the place seemed more ‘right’ than anything he’d seen in all his traveling.  He was close, very close…

Audrey came to a stop in front of a narrow cottage, whitewashed with dark green shutters and a wraparound porch.  Jimmy stared at it for a long while – drinking the essence of its presence.  The door opened.  A girl , mid 20’s, bobbed auburn hair and a gingham dress appeared on the porch.

“May I help you?” the girl asked.  ‘We don’t get many folks down our lane heah.”

“Sorry, miss…I appear to be lost,” Jimmy apologized.  “Didn’t mean to trouble you.”

“No trouble at all,” she smiled in a way which warmed Jimmy to his bones.  “What’s your name, and where did you get that beautiful bike?”

“My name’s Jimmy, and this here bike is Audrey.”  Jimmy felt all jerky inside, like back in junior high when a pretty girl walked by.

The girls’ eyes went wide.  “You don’t say!  That’s My name, too!”  Jimmy went flush and dug his toe in the gravel.  Looking down, he noticed the skin on his hands was taut and brown; the veins and spots of  age gone.  “We’re about to sit down for some supper…won’t you join us?”

Jimmy’s heart skipped a beat.  “Sure!”  He swung off the bike, set Audrey on her kickstand , and went around back to go inside.  The door closed.

Audrey sat aglow in the afternoon sun.  The rusty scratch on her fender nowhere to be seen.

Jimmy went missing at work the next day.  They say he left Key West after work, a story not quite true, yet plausible to those preferring the present to the past.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 6:35 am

    Nicely updated…love the new ending:) Pheebs

  2. October 10, 2011 1:43 pm

    a beautiful story.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 10, 2011 3:26 pm

      Thanks, Jim!

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