Nick Ellis


Blink of an Eye

You're all set to throw that damned bike into the car again and weave through traffic to the sanitary track when you hear Mary call after you, telling you to be careful. It takes you back, back to when your mother used to say the same thing before you went out to the movies on your bikes with your friends because none of you were old enough to drive. It was safe to do that back then, safe to just walk right out the front door and start riding. Now you've got to load that thing that your son abandoned after he got his license into the car and drive thirty goddamned miles just to ride in a circle for a few minutes.

You're standing by the doorway to the garage as all of this stuff comes flooding back into your head, memories of when it was safe outside. You run a hand across the forehead that's wrinkling more every day in spite of the vitamins and the exercise and the sunscreens you bury yourself in every fucking morning and try to remember what it was like to not have to worry about being careful. You try to remember but it was a long long time ago.

Suddenly you're seized by something that you can't explain and you choose a different door, the one that leads to the outside; the one you never open anymore because it's safer just to get right into that car and go straight to the parking garage at work. You open that door and back the bike out so it doesn't make that clicking noise as it rolls forward because god damn it if Mary doesn't have a blind man's ears you don't know how she manages to hear every move you make from anywhere in the house. The bike bumps its way backwards down the steps onto the jagged concrete, steel and rubber touching the ground of the real city for the first time in its manufactured life. You lift your gaze from the maze of cracks in the street to the black night sky, feeling a chill run through you as the cool air gently tries to push you back toward the house and you see the outline of the monolith buildings downtown. The bike is suddenly lighter than you remember as you lift it up and swing it toward the city.

Ten seconds later you've forgotten how old you are as you realize that you're probably the only bastard crazy enough to be on the streets of this town at this hour at your age on just a hunk of aluminum and rubber. You're coasting through the streets that were never meant for this sort of thing when you start to wonder what old Harry would say about this. Harry never could understand why you worked out and ate right and fought the years that inevitably wrote themselves on your body. Harry just went with it, got fat and old and ate whatever he fucking wanted and sat on his ass while you ran and pedaled and swam and pushed to beat the reaper out of just a few more years. Harry thinks you're a crazy son of a bitch already, better to just keep your mouth shut about this stunt if you survive it.

Now you're slowing down at a red traffic light when you realize that you're not in a car and you can just shoot out across the street. You shift it up to sixth and stand up on the pedals, leaning towards a gap between the cars and going for it. A couple of people honk their horns and some asshole flicks his brights at you and you haven't felt this alive in months. The city looks different; you're in it now, you're not a spectator anymore, you're part of what the people see. And the lights of the oncoming traffic makes it hard to see the curb in the darkness of the night, so you lean to the left and make a hard turn that fires you down a sidestreet where there's no lights at all.

And you're remembering just how much you hated the dark when you were a kid; how much it still scares you, and the fear is making you pedal faster and smile harder and cram yourself deeper into the darkness that holds more secrets than a lifetime can uncover. Thoughts of Mary and your job and the kids and wondering what's for dinner and if the milk is too sour to drink all seem alien, like they're part of a life you lived so damn long ago that it doesn't affect you anymore. You didn't even notice the hill you just pedaled up but now you're noticing the speed of the downhill coast. You shift it all the way up to eight and pedal as fast as you can, feeling the wind chill your sweat and weave its way through your silver hair, the hair that Mary loves to run her fingers through.

Then for a second it's back. Your wife and family and your job and the little worries that come with that life, and you feel more than a little stupid for risking it all like this. You remember that Mary is the reason you load that thing into the car every night and do a couple miles at the track, the reason you run and row and swim and push, the source of your drive for youth. A few years back when you felt that throb in your chest and then the ache in your teeth followed by nothing at all and when you fell to the ground the only thing you could think of was that you were too fucking stupid to tell her that you loved her.

And then it all went black, and it wasn't like those bullshit stories that people tell about seeing a light at the end of a tunnel, or Jesus Christ calling out to them or doves or angels or anything like that. There was just the darkness, man, and it was a cold fucking place to be without her. And when the black turned to grey and finally the white of an emergency room, your first thought was that you were never going to let this happen to you again.

Now the darkness is sliced by two beams of light from behind you, and when you take that glance over your shoulder those headlights seem like a pretty sinister thing against all that darkness. You put your head down and pedal a little faster, building up some speed just in case, and you find yourself holding your breath as the car begins to pass you at what seems like a pretty slow rate, and even though you try not to, you can't help snapping your head sideways as the windows pass you by and looking at the old couple match your gaze, bewildered, before powering away. A quick right takes you back toward the lights, nervous again and welcoming it, taking the air in gulps now as you leave the darkness behind and the sensation of being born hits you as you fire out into the traffic; out of the definite sameness of the sidestreets and into the indefinite variety of the rolling lights.

This is different, man, this may be the same damn street you take to work every day, the same street you'd be driving on if you were fucking smart enough to take the car to the bike track, the same street you use to get to the highway but it's different now because now you're in it. You're not above it all in that umbilical cord of a car you've lived in for the past ten years, not above it in the high rise office with all the other stiffs who dare to call themselves civilized, not above it in the bedroom with Mary as she runs her fingers through your hair; you're in it, you're not protected, you're not safe from your world. You've stepped down into the masses; into a place where politics or how rich you are or how good you are to your family doesn't mean shit to the people you're right next to, the people who may look like you under their ugly clothes and their dirt, but god damn it if they aren't a whole separate fucking species. They'll rip you apart if you stop moving, man, and that's making you feel more alive than you have in years.

You've taken the choice to play it safe and put it in the hands of those people and the bastards on the road. You've put your life in the hands of everybody but yourself for the first time and it's one hell of a fucking relief, more than when you hired an accountant to balance your budget, more than when you hired a doctor to tell you what to eat, more than when you shelled out all that money to have one of those god damned soulless heartless blood sucking lawyers figure out who gets what when you finally buy it. You've shelled out a shitload of money to feel relaxed; to take the weight of decision making off your shoulders and now all you've done is put yourself on a hunk of metal and rolled yourself through town and you've managed to relax your brain and electrify everything else.

And when you feel the chain break because you didn't hire someone to oil it and you pitch over the handlebars and see the oncoming traffic you're too close to avoid all of the sudden you're fucking mortal; it wasn't the city that killed you after all and it didn't cost you a penny. Here comes the darkness, man; here comes the nothing, and it's gonna be a cold fucking place to be without her.

So take a second--take your last second in between life and nothing to ask yourself this: The locks, the walls, the precautions--your entire life spent trying to keep the enemy away when it turns out the enemy is a 1998 Chevy with a dented grill. Take that last second and dig down, deep down inside yourself and ask yourself if it was worth it.

And hurry up.


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