The Other Cyclist by Dan Crawley
Lilly brakes hard at a red light. She is going to be late. Alex believes that people who are late have no self-awareness. She’ll be sure to tell Alex when she gets to his house, “I’m so aware I’m late.” A fast food place on the corner has only a few cars parked in its small lot. No one else is on the boulevard. A raucous choir of birds hidden in a nearby Palo Verde tree causes Lilly to roll up her window. They unnerve her, along with everything else this early on a Sunday. After letting her car slowly inch over the crosswalk, she guns it across the intersection. The red traffic light glares from above in the middle of a pallid blue sky.
Lilly sees the light go from yellow to red at the next intersection. Braking hard again, her thumbs drumroll on the steering wheel. A truck crosses slowly in front of her. Then a lone cyclist approaches the intersection at the opposite corner. Annoyed, this keeps Lilly stuck behind the white line. She notices the cyclist’s bike helmet, a sleek armament. He sports tight black spandex shorts and a pale blue and black cycling jersey. His thin leg is a long kickstand. Lilly makes out another cyclist farther down the boulevard, a woman dressed like the man but with a less severe style of helmet.
The light finally changes. The cyclist bolts forward, his muscled calves pumping like glistening pistons. The other cyclist now nears the intersection, up off her seat, furiously pedaling to catch up. Lilly watches the woman chasing after the man in her rearview mirror. This goes on all the way down the boulevard until the cyclists waver into the asphalt and cinderblock walls and tree-lined streets like a mirage.
“What am I doing?” Lilly wants to know from the empty car. She missed the green light; no other cars were around to blow their horns at her. “What am I doing?” The digital clock on the console shows she is ten minutes late.
When the light changes again, Lilly slowly drives her car in a wide U-turn. She pulls into the fast food place on the corner and turns off the ignition. She listens to the ticking of the engine, playing out how Alex would start walking beside her at the beginning of their weekend early morning hikes, mostly concentrating on the dirt path winding out into the desert behind his subdivision, but inevitably broke out in front of her. She would try to catch up, too. “This isn’t a race,” Lilly called out. Alex only sped up, wryly calling the same comeback every time, “This isn’t a slog either.” What is ridiculous to Lilly now: “You hiking with me, something I love so much, shows me how much you care for me,” Alex would say more times than she could count, but only after the exhausting chase ended. Lilly’s phone chimes. Instead of checking the text, she starts her car and heads for the drive-thru and orders pancakes and an orange juice. She parks in the same space as before, overlooking the wide, empty boulevard. After rolling down all the windows, she hears the birds in the nearby tree still going at it. Gradually, she picks out the many different individual voices of the birds, discovering a chorale less chaotic and more harmonious. Lilly decides she’ll look forward to sleeping in on weekend mornings. But this is nice: the birdsong and rising sun and cheap, syrupy pancakes and OJ.
The woman cyclist rides fast up the peaceful boulevard again, this time without the toned cyclist. Lilly puts down the pancakes on the passenger seat. She moves her upper body out the open driver’s side window and sits on the door. She reaches and her fingers fan out across the cool rooftop of the car. As the cyclist comes closer, Lilly lets out a shout and waves. And when the cyclist slows and passes in front of the hood, she raises a few fingers off the handle bar at Lilly. Lilly cheers louder. The nearby choir swells.
Dan Crawley‘s stories have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Camroc Press Review, matchbook, SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years, North American Review, Wigleaf, and Gravel. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts Fellowship and has taught creative writing at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and other colleges.
(Front page image via.)