By Melinda Chapman
My lungs inflated right before my knees, chest and mouth hit the pavement. My beautiful ice-blue bicycle mimicked my fall like an adoring pet, only with the instinct to fall on the grassy nature strip. Teeth panging and mouth laced with fine gravel, I rushed my fingers up to my face. The wet on my lips was as red as my mother’s good lipstick – the shade she wears to the Parents Association meetings, where [my aunt Lilly says] they all throw verbal punches at mum. I pressed my lips together to stop it dripping.
Mr Allemand’s cream picket fence blocked out the morning sun while I sat and recovered from wheezing. The milk was still on his porch from yesterday, turning into brilliant yellow bottles of cheese in the sun. Just not the kind you can eat, as mum always says. We have cheese of both kinds in our fridge. Mum and I got our refrigerator much later than other families did. I thought fridges kept food safe forever, and I was quite sick that month. My best friend, Martha, missed me terribly in those days I skipped school. How would we cope now?
Counting my grazes, I picked the best, imagining which my mum would choose. My left knee – wait – no. Yes, definitely my left. I hauled my bike up theatrically, pretending it was a motorcycle while I grimaced sideways at Eddie Pierce’s house, but he wasn’t in his driveway yet, washing his motorbike. I would see him on the way back. Suddenly my chest ached more than my teeth at the thought of returning home.
Martha’s driveway was several houses ahead, in view between the Robinia trees lining her lovely street. From this distance, I could believe her parents were having a garage sale of furniture on their lawn, and if I blurred my eyes – a birthday party for Martha. But the giant truck parked on the street would need to vanish, or turn into a travelling carnival stage. I dangled my feet off my pedals and let the wheels soundlessly carry me, rolling in front of Martha’s house like I was perched on a moving set in a Broadway musical. The familiar chrome glint of my rims would now be sparkling through the lace curtains of her windows. The front door opened.
Martha took a step forward, then the crutches did. I dumped my bike among the boxes and furniture, and ran to my friend. We simply stared at each other, not knowing what to say anymore. We hugged each other hard and soft and hard again. I cried helplessly. Was this the worst I would feel? What about tomorrow? I thought of mum and how Henry went off to war. I never met him, and all the times she told me she missed him so bad it hurt, my eyes would daze off. My tears doubled and my chest deflated with a long, quivering breath.