At the intersection of X and Y streets, a cyclist was hit by a car and killed. You were not the cyclist who was killed. I made sure to check. I watched the news and saw the bike, blue, and knew it wasn’t yours. This is all I know of you now, that you weren’t the last person crushed by a truck. I watch the news to find out. Was it or wasn’t it your bike pictured? Were those your spokes, tangled in themselves? Was that your ruptured chain, split in two?
We first met on the roadside. Your shins were covered in dust, bike chain dislodged. I pulled over to fix it. You chewed the end of your ponytail and I offered you water because it was so fucking hot that day. I lifted your bike into the back of my truck and drove it home. You eyed the purple fuzzy dice I hung from my rear-view mirror. Didn’t know these were a real thing, you’d said, giving one a squeeze.
I gave myself a crash course on bike maintenance and fixed all the broken-down parts of your rusty old bike, starting with the half-inflated tire. I pulled the limp chain back into place. You watched over my shoulder. Done, I said. You began to cry.
What? I said. What did I do?
Nothing. I just would be so lost without my bike, you said, wiping your eyes. Thank you.
In return for my work on your bike, you insisted on fixing my nails. You dumped out your bag and fished out your file, a bottle of lotion, and nail polish; you dipped my hands in the bathroom sink, scrubbed them with orange cleaner, massaged circles in the v-shape between my fingers. You patted my hands dry and then lay them on your lap, filing my bitten-down nails and then, and then. You rubbed lotion over every fingertip, the little hollow of my wrist. You uncovered a softness I never knew was mine.
In time you pushed me inch by inch from the middle of my bed to the right side. You took up the left. We put a new nightstand there so you would have a place to set your rings before you went to sleep. I washed rust and sand from my hair every evening and then fell into bed, exhausted from the heat, and you would find the little smudge of grease or dirt I hadn’t managed to wash off, usually on the underside of my square jaw. We went to sleep. We woke up.
The park was our favourite place to visit in the summer. We’d walk through the tall fronds of frost grass to our spot. Micro-snails clung to the backsides of the longer shoots. We favoured the shade of a maple tree and to sit with the hundreds of maple keys that helicoptered down when the wind blew.
The sun and the beer made you drowsy and you would rest your head in my lap. Hair like yours never stayed put in a ponytail, always too soft. It fell across my lap and down my leg, touching the earth between my knees while we sat at the park drinking beers. I played with the elastic, stretching it between my fingers, twisting it into 8s, peanuts, letting it come back to its circle shape and sit in my palm. Once, I told you about the dream I had, that someone invented a siren only queer folks could hear, as a means to out us all. We could all be found writhing on our front lawns, sidewalks, dive bars, hands clamped over our ears, begging for the siren to quit.
Then what happened? you asked.
I don’t know. I switched to another dream before I could find out.
So a siren to out the queers. I can see it. You said this and closed your eyes. What did it sound like?
If the colour neon yellow made noise. But way way worse.
Two weeks from then, you refused to walk through the tall grass and wouldn’t hold my hand. Instead, you announced that you didn’t want to be with me anymore. Before I could even exhale, you climbed onto your bike and rode away. You pumped your squat legs to climb the hill, barely making it over. I stared as the white flash of your t-shirt disappeared.
My insides seized. I should have run after you, yanked you off that stupid bike, insisted you finally get a licence and drive, because you were a grown-up and grown-ups drive cars, not bikes. Or maybe that wouldn’t have been the first thing I said. Maybe I would have begged you not to leave me again.
I arrived home later that night and drank the six beers we had packed for our trip to the park. We didn’t get a single one opened before you took off. I stormed through the house and threw away any indication that there had been a me/you. Photos, bracelets, the shirt you insisted would look good on me, all of it went into the garbage. I dragged the bag out into the yard and heaved it into the garage, narrowly missing the coiled-up garter snake sleeping besides the downspout.
You had done this before. That was our third break-up. But there wasn’t enough doubt in me to lunge at the garbage and retrieve the things I pitched. There was something different, the way the wheels on your bike turned, spinning in place before catching the grass. We were not going for round four. You would not show up in my kitchen in a week and bawl about the mistake you made; I would not rub your back and want to slide my hands under your clothes and whisper it was all right.
My backyard was full of junk. I inherited it all when I bought the place from an old man whose family was forcing him into a home. You had joked that it was perfect for me, because I loved rusty crap and the risk of tetanus. But it wasn’t rusty crap I was into, it was welding. I loved welding: welding scrap metal parts together, sculpting pipes and fenders, dismantling rusted-through cars. I remember the night you first wandered outside to find me, your skin fresh from having just shaved. The smell of you made me wet, and you pushed me into the chassis I was sanding down and pulled me on top of you.
The night of our third break up, I sat in that chassis and drank until I was too dizzy to stand. I imagined turning the chassis into a hot rod or something one day, or maybe an armoured car, or whatever, and taking you somewhere where we couldn’t hear cars on the road or had cell service, especially if things were going the way of my queer-outing-siren dream.
In the morning, I searched the junk pile for every old bike hiding in my yard. There were four. I set to work on taking apart all four bicycles, piece by piece by piece. Started with stripping the chains bare-handed, grease oozing from between the links to stain my fingers and palms. Grease is like blood, messy, distinct.
I wrenched the bolts free, pulled the handle bars away from the frames, clipped the brakes. Deflated each tire. Snipped the spokes, stomped on the wheels until they bowed in and would never spin again. I torched the chains piled up on the grass. Sweat dripped into my eyes and washed the dirt from my cheeks. I did not turn my focus, not when my hand cramped, not when the dog next door bark-howled just as he always did when he heard me in the yard, as if he could feel me, like the heat from the torch was too much for us. I did not stop until the bike chains melted.
Slippery with tears and grease and beer, I collapsed on a patch of grass and begged the sun to ignite my insides and burn me up.
When the sunlight disappears at night and I retreat into the house, I scrub my hands with orange cleaner, quickly, not looking down at my fingers. I don’t need to. I stare at my reflection, the chain looping, the wheels turning.
Nikki Donadio is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and holds an MA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Gertrude, Yes Poetry, Vessel Press, Jellyfish Review, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @nikki_donadio
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