Fiction, special to the Clarion Content every other Monday.
From Kate Van Dis, read more at The Palmetto Blog here.
Kress Building, Lime Bike
by: Kate Van Dis
Laura is driving with her five year old son. It seems like Laura is always driving with her five year old son.
“Mama,” he is always saying, “How many minutes?”
“Mama, did you know that paleontologists just dig dino bones all day?”
“Mama, did you know that my kindergarten teacher lives in a house with an UPSTAIRS?”
“Mama, did you know that you have to pay extra for chocolate milk at lunch and it’s not fair cause only some kids get it?”
This line of questioning continues, sometimes, for as long as the car ride. There was a time when non-committal murmuring satisfied him (“Hmmm?”).
Those days are over. “Mama,” he wants to know, “Are you LISTENING?”
This afternoon they are sitting in traffic downtown where some company has dumped a boatload of neon colored bikes on the sidewalks. “They’re controlled by apps!” someone told Laura. Which meant what? That someone else drove it for you from a remote location? The prospect horrified her. She avoided them.
“Mama, do you see that bike?”
“Mama, do you see that BIKE?”
“Yes, darling. I see the bike.”
“Do you see how it’s lime green and it’s called a Lime Bike?”
“Yes, I do see,” says Laura, wanting to roll her eyes, thinking about the obnoxious marketing team that conceptualized the things.
“Mama, tell me a story about the bike!”
Laura considers it. “Okay… Once upon a time, there was a lime green bike…”
“I’ll tell YOU a story about the bike,” he says.
“Tell me what to say.”
“I can’t tell you what to say. It’s your story.”
“But how do you tell a story?”
“You make it up.”
“WHAT? How could I possibly do that?”
“You just say, ‘Once upon a time there was a lime green bike and …’”
“Once upon a time there was a lime green bike and …”
They drive two more blocks in silence.
“Well, then you have to say what happens, sweetheart.”
“How should I know?”
“You don’t KNOW, you imagine. It’s called storytelling.”
“Ok.” He looks out the window. “One time there was a lime green bike and it was parked all alone next to a building.”
Laura waits, watching the sea of red taillights in front of her.
“And a man walked by. And he needed a bike. So he got on the lime green bike and he rode it away – far, far away.”
“Like, to the beach?” Laura asks.
“My story, mom.”
“Not to the beach. To the grocery store, of course,” he says. He is hitting his rhythm now. “To buy lemons. He went in to buy lemons and when he came out of the grocery store his arms were all full of lemons but …
“The bike was gone.”
“Yes, the bike was gone. Just gone.”
“And so did he make lemonade?”
“NO! Of course not,” he says. “He cried.”
Laura pictures this, the man standing outside the grocery store with an armful of lemons, crying.
“And he dropped one of his lemons and it got squished by a truck.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
He nods. “And he realized he didn’t even want all those lemons! So he handed them out to all the people coming into the grocery store, until they were gone. And then he walked home.”
“Did he ever find the bike?”
But he seems to have lost his train of thought, staring out the window at a crane that stretches into the almost-evening sky from the ground floor of a yet-to-be-built building.
“Did the man ever find the bike?”
“What?” he asks, looking at Laura’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “How should I know?!”
Laura continues to drive. The silence envelops them, and she breathes it in – in through the nose, out through her mouth – like yoga breathing, or inhaling the aroma of a fine wine.
Finally, they reach home, and Laura cuts off the engine in the driveway.
“Mama,” her son says as they climb out of the car, “Don’t you think he was happier without the bike anyways? Don’t you think he didn’t even need it?”