His middle name was something Italian, and those dark tresses draped him like a morose cloud. He was introduced to her as “my hairy castoff brother.” They had caught him smoking out front of the local pizza joint, and she’s not sure what all was in the cigar. Those hooded eyes, they were shot through with veins, like faults in the earth or lightning.
Erin perched on the edge of my ink-stained desk, and haloing wispy platinum hair, the Thai sun crept in through gold curtains behind her. I had not gotten used to this yet, the relentlessness of the light. Leaning in to smell the spiced pear candle–my one vestige of North American Christmas–she got that thoughtful crease in her forehead.
“It’s not the photography that makes me insecure anymore.” She shook her head, dipping an absent finger in the wax and jerking it back when it was hot. “I see something, I can envision it, and I know what I have to do to get it. But even the things I see. It’s just fashion. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s weird and artsy. But what does it mean?”
“Scoot over a bit.”
She stumbles out the sliding glass door to the back porch, trips over the rocking chair, and suddenly absorbs the deliciously uncomfortable warmth of the August midmorning. They will never suspect her destination. And so she escapes.
The bicycle is a refurbished tie-dyed multi-hand-me-down and actually her sister’s. She manhandles it into the back of the car and ponders the existence of adjectives meaning “of August” — > “Augustinian” … “the Augustinian midmorning” …? “That’s having to do with St. Augustine,” she sing-songs aloud, sliding into the hot leather seat and shoving an orchard apple into her mouth. The apple is crunchy, too sappy sweet. It is not autumn, not yet, and the apples don’t bite like the (Augustinian) wind doesn’t. Not yet.
After gunning down the highway, indie rock blaring out the open windows, she arrives at the first park. It fails her: no bike paths. So she does quiet bookish things at a wooden table and watches ducks. With its great orangey bill, one lone white duck nips its wings clean, feather by feather. It exhausts her to watch. Yet she lingers until her apple is down to the core. Then she cycles back to her car and tries again.
Though known for its running trails, the second park surprises: a Green Way, sanctioned by the city, that mosies by not only main roads but also rivers, fields, and endless rows of corn. It is not autumn yet. But as she kicks her bike into gear and pedals into the heart of a corn maze, she can almost imagine that it is.
She has escaped the house and also most of the lonesome musings in her head of old concert photos, of shut-down coffeeshops, of jotted-up private notebooks, of abandoned stuffed animals, of lost song contests, of graduations… She has escaped most everything except for the barefooted pedaling, the fallish longing for fiery leaves and spicy smells in the air, and the constant thwacking of bugs with hard shells against her damp forehead. One thought of the three rises to her consciousness: the harder she pedals into the golden afternoon, the harder the bug thwacks.
“Exoskeleton,” she says out loud. Third grade teacher taught her that one. She even remembers the picture: a roundwinged black beetle crawling along a green leaf. He looked curious to her with the explorative antennae and bulgy eyeballs, and she wonders now if the kind of bugs that keep hitting her are at all friendly-looking like that. The spider on the bottom of her bike — she knows he clings there still, braving the wind with angry-eyed fierceness — is certainly not.
What do we have? Endoskeletons? Imagine if we were born with exoskeletons, how funny we would look… she thinks. There would be far fewer babies in the world. And she supposes God thought about that, when he gave humans kind surfaces and bugs, particularly evil spiders, harsh ones. She always intuited he had favorite creations, and this seems now to prove it to her.
Most suddenly, God’s favoritism feels as factual to her as the clothes clamped damply on her legs, as the bobby pins stuck in her scalp, as the gravity fighting her over whether or not she will reach the top of the next hill. Oxygen hanging low in her lungs, she pedals harder. It is fact, she thinks. Thwack, thwack, thwack. And she coasts down the big dip in the trail, her heart riding the elevator up to her throat…
The last bend in the cornfields spills her out into the main park again, and she cycles to a standstill, legs straddling either side of the bike. She does not sweat, so she always tells herself, something her high school best friend always told her: “Girls don’t sweat; they glisten.” Now, under one of the last August suns of the year, she glistens profusely. It is quite hot.
A car lingers on the edge of the main road outside the park. Within the car, an old lady pinches at a white bread sandwich, alternately eating the pinches and adjusting her wide brim hat in the rearview mirror. She calls out hello to the girl on the bike and waves and flings crumbs out the window. A gold band gleams on her left ring finger.
As the girl pedals back to her car, she imagines that the old lady also has escaped on this hot, road-hungry day. Possibly because she too thinks too much. She too gets bitten by bugs. She too bears old old memories. She too has realized: “We are God’s favorites.” And it is with an ennobling sense of superiority that the girl finds a twig and bends by her bike to relocate, gently, the ferocious, little spider.