Note: This story received an honorable mention in the 2010 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.
The man, his son and his daughter had a routine when they went for a bike ride. Taking point position would be the son, about to turn age 12, on a medium-sized bike. In the middle would be the daughter, just short of eight years old, on a small but not too small bike. Bringing up the rear and keeping an eye on the whole convoy, the 50-something aged man was on the biggest bicycle of the three.
They would ride in tandem down the street that ran past their cottage and up and down the undulating hills that made their little community such a pretty place in which to live. White pine, spruce and cedar mainly hid the oak and maple that came to the fore in the fall when the leaves changed colour. Multi-hued and variously-sided cottages were set back on sandy soil.
There was one biggish hill they liked to pretend was a monster. They called it San Garganza for no particular reason, except it sounded like the kind of place where the souls of dead bikers might have made their heads-over-heels exits. It was fun to pretend they were scared by the place. The pot-holes on that particular stretch of pavement were a bit of a safety hazard.
Most often, the rides were pure enjoyment with not a lot to upset the pleasure of the experience. There were a few cars and trucks that would drive past and sometimes annoyance was expressed when it was obvious someone was driving too fast through what was basically a residential community with quite a few kids. All in all, the man knew his children would remember these rides with fondness when they grew up and had families of their own.
It was the spring of the year and the three of them were particularly glad to be out for their first ride. Winter in the city had been medium harsh, with an average amount of snowfall. The father had been working quite hard and while he had by no means ignored the children, it was easy to underestimate how much they’d grown up.
Leaving their wife and mother behind to attend to some womanly matters, and because she needed time to herself every now and then, the outbound ride from the cottage was uneventful. Including the plummet down San Garganza hill, the journey took twenty minutes to reach the local playground with a swing, slides and other contraptions such as monkey bars at different heights. They each took their turns doing silly things, including the man, although he did also rest on a bench for a while. After half an hour they were ready to head home again.
Something about the moment quietly overwhelmed the man. Perhaps it was the perfection. Not purely perfect but as close to perfect as anything was going to be in this life. Here he was on a beautiful spring day with two of his three children and they were all feeling young and coltish.
With age, the man had come to realize that, at its core, the nature of time is illusory. The body is merely a shell to the mind. Memories are skipping stones with their immediacy undimmed by the size of the skip. It had been only a hand wave ago when each of the children was a baby and needed a good deal more attention than they truly required now.
Last year the daughter moved up a size in bike and what had been an awkward exercise in balance and mobilization then was now a thing of ease and grace. That was just one of the changes underway on a day-to-day basis in their lives. Time was getting away from him, no doubt about it, and he was helpless to do anything but run with the stampede.
He thought back to his own father’s far-fetched stories about biking adventures. His father claimed to have ridden for hours to escape the big city on the weekends. There’d be visits to relatives at a farm. It was deemed nothing to pedal 50 miles at a go. Measurement in those days was in miles, not these newfangled shorter kilometers.
Looking back to his childhood, the man never remembered seeing his father on a bike. It had all been serious transportation by means of a shiny new company-bought car each year. There wasn’t the emphasis on healthy exercise that came later with the post-war baby boom generation.
When his father was in his 70s and far from completely steady on his legs, he’d surprised everyone by purchasing a bicycle for himself. He was supposedly acting on doctor’s orders to maintain as much physical good toning as was likely to be achieved. The suspicion was his father really wanted to re-capture some of the joy of youth that came with hopping on a two-wheeler.
The three of them saddled up and headed back to the cottage. This time, they panted and puffed to ascend San Garganza Hill and felt the exhilaration of mountain climbers when they crested the peak. From there, it was mainly a straight-line hillocky ride for two kilometers.
The son started to pull ahead. The man understood the boy needed some independence. He watched him speed out front. The boy would disappear over the top of one gentle hill to quickly re-appear on the upward slope of the next. Each time, he was moving further and further away.
The man had a flashback to the exhilaration the youth must be feeling. There would be the pleasant breeze in his face and the throbbing stretch of leg muscles. He couldn’t have kept up with his son now if he wanted to. Besides, he had to stay with his daughter to make sure she was safe in traffic. Thank goodness he had that excuse. And the sun was in his eyes, he laughed.
This was another nugget to be deposited in his memory bank. The results from panning his slowing stream of years needed to be treasured and hoarded. He knew no such thoughts were entering the mind of his son. The boy embodied the moment and the future in an instant. For the boy, there was infinitely more to look forward to. The father was fleetingly envious.
They all met back at the cottage. The son was waiting for the father and the daughter.
The son asked, “Dad, do you suppose I can have a little more allowance each week?”
“Yes. You’re getting older and you’ll need to learn how to handle money better.”
“And can I stay up later on school nights?”
“If your mother agrees, that’s okay with me. It might actually help you sleep better.”
“Can I go on your computer?”
“Absolutely not. Use the hand-down from your brother.”
For another tender-hearted family story, there’s In Memoriam, Life Magnifico.