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Tandem

By Dan Libman

Beloit Fiction Journal

Volume 22

T  he moon was orange the evening he got back and he whistled absently while wrestling his bicycle down from the car roof. He heaved it over his head and left it to dangle upside-down like a bat in the garage. Then he took a beer into the shower with him and drank it down while a week’s worth of street dust and chain-grease washed into the drain. At the sink he shaved and then brushed his teeth twice, savoring running water, and after putting the empty bottle in the blue recycle bin, he crawled into bed and woke his wife.

“I had an epiphany,” he said into the darkness, feeling his way into his groove next to her body. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mad for so long, keeping my anger inside, but I’ve let it all go and now everything is going to be different.”

She thought, he thinks he keeps his anger inside, but slid over to make room for him. She re-shifted her battery of pillows, fluffy dark under her head, pinky-feathers clutched tightly against her stomach, a third propped between her knees, and then she took his hand from her breast. “Sounds like you had a peak experience,” she said curling his fingers into her fist. “No pun intended on peak. It’ll pass and within a day or two you’ll go back to being exactly the same person you were before you left.  I’m happy you’re back.”

There would be tests of his new resolve, challenges to the way in which he had decided to live his life post-epiphany, and was shaping up to be an unexpectedly early one of those. “I’m going to proceed with the conversation as though it were happening the way I wish,” he told her, then worried it had came out edgy so he giggled to show no harm meant. He tried to wind himself around her like a helix, arm against her stomach, legs draped across hers while not disturbing her knee pillow. He inhaled the back of her head.

“The epiphany happened when I was coming down Monarch Pass. Summit’s 11,000 feet and the climb was nine miles straight up, three hours of relentless pedaling. The air is so thin up there and then you have to go down the other side, 7,000 feet straight down dangerous, twisty road. I was terrified. I was really, really scared. You start to see signs for “Runaway Truck Turnoffs” and then you think about all the things that can go wrong with a bike. I feathered my brakes—do you

“Hand me my Blackberry and I’ll check Wikipedia.”

“Like this,” and he took first her breast and then her shoulder, alternately squeezing and releasing. “With the brakes, back and forth, first the back then gently on the front, easing off on both.”

“Got it. Thanks for the demonstration. Maybe you’re enjoying this part too much?”

He kissed the back of her neck, pressed in tighter, hoping she could tell the bike had firmed the muscles on his lower half. He didn’t have those ropey calf muscles like some of the grizzled old timers who’d been biking for decades, but he thought he could sense new hardness to his calves, his ass too –it would be great if he could wheel around and present that to her like a chimp.

“If I spilled the momentum alone would probably have pulled me over the side of the road and down the mountain.”

She pressed back into him. “Sounds scary.”

“It is until it isn’t. Suddenly, just out of nowhere, the fear lifts, like a blowing veil, leaving the most amazing, free feeling. No fear now, just the wind and the speed and the bike… I started to describe the feelings to myself in my head so I could remember them, the feeling of being connected to something wa-ayyy out of proportion to my size.

“I thought: this is like riding a broomstick. Of course I’ve never ridden a broomstick, no one has, but that’s the feeling, just hanging on to this thing, keeping it steady between your knees while soaring. I kept narrating the descent to myself so I could remember later. Being able to describe coming down Monarch became the most important thing in the world to me. The only thing. I wanted to be able to share it with you. And then suddenly….”

He felt the familiar moistening in the corner of his eyes that this part of the story always brought. It didn’t seem to matter if he was telling it in the campground or at the beer garden or even just in his head, practicing.  If the lights had been on she could’ve seen the emotion in his face.

“Suddenly…. Epiphany. I realized that I couldn’t keep it. The ride would be over when the ride was over, the elation would be gone. I couldn’t go back up and do it again, I couldn’t slow it down. And I knew I wasn’t even going to remember it again. Not really.”

His voice had slowed and halted a few times and he wasn’t even forcing it. Her throat tightened a little. They were sharing the moment now, his retelling of the epiphany, and she kissed his fingers laced in hers.

“I was descending Monarch right then on my bicycle, it was happening, but I understood the experience wasn’t mine to keep. I started to cry, tell the truth. But I held back because at that speed I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars long enough to wipe my eyes.”

“So you—”

my tent in Salida I recognized it really wasn’t anything new that had occurred to me.  Fact is my epiphany was maybe the oldest one in the world: that life is temporary, just a series of moments and that the key is to be plugged in to each one as it comes because it’s really all you get. Take pleasure in what’s happening when it happens. Don’t look ahead for something that might be. Don’t look back at what was. Somehow coming down Monarch those clichés became real.”

“I see what you mean,” she said. “Arriving at those ideas in that way is different from just reading it in a self-help book. I can see how you might feel changed.”

“I just feel really good. About everything. About you and about us. I feel really close to you.”  And to show what he meant he put his hands under her nightshirt.

She said, “It’s late for me, because I was already asleep. Do you want me to get up and insert my diaphragm?”

The question was deflating. “I guess not, if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t mind. But you have to say it. Tell me to get up out bed and get it.”

“I guess… If you’re all settled in already….”

“Another time then,” she assured him.

“And I have an idea,” he murmured. “About a way for us to be different and burn new memories to replace the old, bad ones. But I’ll….  Tell you the rest of it later….”

They clung to each other for a little while until his drifting body released her tangle of limbs back into the ether. His own legs felt rubbery in dream state, as though still clipped into the pedals, as though pounding over switchbacks, left, then right, then left…. “I’m not mad at you any more,” he mumbled into the dark, not certain if she was awake, not sure if he was really saying it, the feeling of the drift, unaware of how long it had been since either one of them had spoken. He reached across the bed for her, worried suddenly she had gotten up to use the bathroom and not returned or gotten a drink and just disappeared, his arm stretched through an obstacle course of pillows and comforters, stretching like taffy, fingers reaching for her….

 

He waited for breakfast the next morning to tell her the rest of it.

“It solves all our problems” he told her over the magazine she was hunkered behind. “I saw lots of couples on the BRACE riding them. Nothing can come between a couple on a tandem bike.”

She smiled kindly. “Nothing is going to come between us.”  Her narrow cheater glasses perched forward on her nose.

“And on a tandem, nothing can. Hey, what are you eating?”

His tone startled her and she paused before holding open her palm. “It’s an energy bar,” she said.

“Oh no no,” he said. “Cycle Blasts are only for riders.”

“I have a bike. I ride.”

you can eat a Cycle Blast.”

“I don’t want to ride a tandem bike.”

“Well you don’t eat a Cycle Blast just to go teach kindergarten. What, are you going to bonk out getting the kids to line up single file?”

She folded away her magazine and took another bite.

He pressed closer. “When was the last time you rode your bike anyway?”

Her bike was a Schwinn three speed she bought at a yard sale for 30 dollars and had owned since high school. It had wide, white-walled tires and a seat commodious enough for a rider twice her girth. Before the met she had loved riding it around the lakefront, from Oak Street Beach near where she worked to her condo in Lakeview, stopping at cafes in Lincoln Park for espressos and bran scones, where she would invariably meet friends from work or maybe even one of the hundreds of her pals from college, all of whom seemed to be living within a pleasant bike ride’s distance. She hadn’t even needed a car the first couple of years after graduating because she was never far from the red line. Back then, before marriage, she could walk into any tiny Thai place or narrow Indian buffet—sushi at the Tokyo Marina, margaritas at El Jardin—and be pretty much guaranteed to know a handful of other people, men and women near her age also taking leisurely breaks from jobs at nonprofits and environmentals, young adults who shared basic political assumptions and the same taste in movie stars. This was being young and single in this city, the dusky lights of Clark and Belmont on her fat tire bike waving to friends drinking against whale-sized windows under Old Style signs. She never locked her bike in those days, partly from a feeling that having her bike stolen was just something that couldn’t happen to her. I’d rather be mugged than live in fear she told more than a few friends more than a few times. She was also fairly certain she would lose the key or forget the combination anyway. She’d been married now fourteen years, hadn’t taken a bike ride in ten, but still had the thing in the garage hanging next to his expensive carbon bike, a dusty youth waiting to be reclaimed, but just for an hour or two.

“The tandem will also mark a fresh start for both of us,” he continued. “I’ve never ridden one, and as far as I know you never have either.”

“I never have.”

“As far as I know.”  Despite himself, he was hungry and he fished out the last Cycle Blast from the box.

“I suppose I would be the back rider,” she sighed.

“The stoker, natch. But we’ll switch sometimes and you can captain. Not at first, but after you get some, you know… Experience.”

“Do I ever get to steer?”

“From the back?” He used his tongue to pry some of the thick slush from a molar.

She creased her magazine at the picture of the yoga pose she was thinking about trying. “Okay. I’m game. Might even be fun. But I just don’t like the feeling crimes that you think I’ve committed.”

“You know what you did,” he growled, but waved his hands to keep the conversation from slipping into this particular rut. “The tandem is for both,” he said quickly. “So we can start all over. Clean slate the whole mishigas. Burn new memories, like Dr. Shiraz says.”

“There aren’t any bad old memories. You need to stop talking like that.”

He took a deep breath. “Anyway, it’s not just you that needs penance. I have something I should tell you about. I met a woman on the BRACE.”

She stared at him. He took another nibble of his bar and drummed his fingers on the table once before continuing.

“This gal was older than me and she had a bike map holder from REI velcroed to her handlebars. The kind you sometimes see with the Shimano gear shifters?”

She shrugged, cautiously.

“You know. Anyway, it sort of attached to the her Trek mileage computer and she and I managed to get lost briefly while coming in to town. Gunnison, which was sort of a college town, not like Hotchkiss or Boo-wayna Vista which were both pretty small and not hard to navigate in. But we got to base camp late and it was too dark for both of us to set up our tents so we both just pitched hers, me helping her being gallant and gentlemanly, and we drank a lot of beer at the beer garden celebration. Remember I text you about the New Belgium Brewery being a kind of a sponsor?  The lady bought mine, my beer, and then she said I could crash in her teepee since we didn’t set mine up and then it was getting cold so I moved closer together to generate some heat. This was on the high school football field and then she took off her clothes and said I should do the same to generate even more heat. She had a pretty good body too, you know, for an older lady.”

“Did this really happen?”

“Absolutely!  What sort of question is that?”

“I don’t know. I know you have that older lady thing so it seems sort of a convenient detail.”

“I’m sorry if this is hurting you.”

“Also you said it was too dark to see so I don’t know how you all of a sudden can tell she had the nice body—”

“I could tell from earlier, from the way her Pearl Izumi bike pants fit. Anyway all long-time bike riders have nice—”

“And the thing about generating heat reminds me of that MASH episode with Hawkeye and Hot Lips and we both know how nuts you are for MASH.”

“Why would I make this up?  I’m confessing something terrible.”

“You want to hurt me. You were hurt and whether you should or should not have been hurt is no longer the issue, I understand. You were hurt and you’re still trying to hurt me.”

“No!  That’s me before. I’m different now since coming down Monarch. thinking it bad enough?”

“Thinking what?”

“We had sex, me and the lady!  I was cheating on you during this sexual encounter. It was wild too. Well, not that wild maybe, actually pretty standard stuff, but we had our bike helmets on which is at least sort of novel. Oh, and we did it two times in the same night.”  He leaned back in his chair to let that settle for a moment.

“Weren’t you tired from all the bike riding?”

He snorted. “Not that tired.”

“Did this happen before or after the Monarch Pass ride?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did you have sex in your bike helmet with the shapely older lady like on MASH before or after your epiphany?”

“I…. What difference does it make?” He began fiddling with the salt shaker, tapping it a few times, trying to turn the base like a top  “Before, I think. You know when you’re on a trip like that, all the days tend to blur. But I already told you it happened in Gunnison and that was before Monarch, the night before in fact.  I’m sorry if you feel devastated by this.”

“I would be devastated, if I believed it. Which I don’t. I think your epiphanic moment didn’t have as much lasting effect as you thought it would. But before you say anything else, I take the point that this is something important to you. That’s all you needed to say, that it’s important. I’ll try a tandem. Let’s rent one and go around the subdivision. Could be fun.”

“Sure!  You’ll want your own bike in no time. You’ll probably even want to be on next year’s Bike Ride Across Colorado’s Environs with me.”

“Don’t register me for the BRACE just yet, I’m just trying it out. Don’t get me any gear until I see how I like it. No jerseys or pants, and for god’s sake don’t buy me a ‘Livestock’ bracelet.”

“Livestrong!  Wait, don’t tell me you’re against curing cancer too.”

 

The bike arrived at the shop several days later and they went to be fitted, the technicians lowering her seat, raising the stoker pedals, adding bottle cages to the frame, pushing the captain’s handlebars forward a few centimeters. By the time he was disassembling the frame so it would fit on his Yakima hitch she understood they were buying and not renting, but the process had gone on too long for her to say anything. Which is why the morning of the first ride, when he laid out her new bike pants, fresh jersey, shoes with clips on the bottom and a new helmet, she was determined to be a good sport in the spirit of shared endeavor. They dressed in silence, naked by the dim light of the closet. She tugged at the bike pants—hadn’t worn anything so tight since high school. She had to admit that the biking had changed him, and not all for the worse. Physically he was better off, a good twenty pounds lighter. Plus he no longer wheezed during sex although it hadn’t done their connubial bed into a damp eco-system before it was over.

By the time he got the water bottles filled and caged, checked pressure in the tubes, retopped the Presta valves with Schrader converters, the sun was just beginning to rise, bleeding purple slashes into the morning sky.

“Are you sure these pants are even the right size?” she slapped herself idly to keep warm. “It feels like I’m wearing a diaper.”  He had already told her she would feel differently in the saddle and didn’t see any need to repeat himself. He made sure their bike helmets were secure but not constricting and then, after giving a few swings from his hips to loosen everything up, he rolled the bike to the lip of the driveway, just at the edge of the lawn.

“I dub thee,” he officiously patted the seat with his gloved hand. “Fresh Start.”

This was the name she had negotiated, having objected to his first suggestion “Penance” as being a clear attack on her and his second idea, “Peacemaker” as being too loaded and backward looking. He thought her first ideas, “Dream Horizon,” and “Tomorrow’s Treat,” corny and more suited for a racehorse, but agreed “Fresh Start” caught something in the spirit of what he was after.

Throwing his leg over the seat he situated his rump and gave his fingers a flashy wiggle before leaning low toward the handlebar. Just as he was about to plant the balls of his shoes and stabilize the bike, the frame began jerking back and forth.

“Whoa!  What’re you…”

His arm stiffened to keep from upending, but against his effort the bike suddenly lurched right and he was face down on the dewy grass, bicycle pressing heavily upon him.

“Oopsy,” she said. “Sorry.”

“You need to tell me what you’re going to do before you do it.”  He picked the bike up and ran his fingertips over the cables to make sure nothing had been damaged. “It’s okay. We had to have our first spill at some point.”  He gave his best confidence building, captain’s smile. “And now look at your right leg!  Chain grease. Those smeared ovals are a real badge of honor among enthusiasts. Shroud of Bontrager. Now you’re one of us.”

This time they threw their legs over in unison and when they were both ready, he took a step forward like a cross country skier, the two of them rising to meet their saddles like forward pistons. They got down to the edge of the driveway and he began a leeward maneuver onto the empty street. The bow of the bike took the turn with a pleasing, graceful glide, but suddenly the stern felt sluggish and weighty. He could feel her swinging wide and responded by bearing down on the handlebars, but he knew they were going down again. Being clipped in meant abandoning ship was out of the question, and bracing, they pitched on to the pavement before it even occurred to him to call out a warning.

“Damn it,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he told her. “We had to have our second spill at—”

“It’s starting to hurt now!”  She brushed gravel from her arms.

“I just made that up or possibly adapted if from the sort of thing written on inspirational posters. Either way, I believe it.”

“Do I have to stay clipped into the thing?” She slapped the side of her own helmet in frustration. “The spills wouldn’t be so bad if I could lift my feet off the pedals.”

He righted the bike and leaned it against his hip. The sun was completely up now and he felt they needed to get going. “The problem is you aren’t paying enough attention to me.

“If I lean left, you lean left. If I nudge right, you nudge right, no more or less than the way I do it. You have to be in synch with my every move. More really, you need to anticipate exactly what I’m going to do and do it with me, the better you get at it the better a tandem team we’ll be.”

“It’s not so easy when all I have to look at is your back.”

He had been refitting a fingerless glove but instead now de-veldcroed it entirely and flung it dramatically to the pavement. “Plenty of other couples manage it!”

“Don’t get so huffy, excuse the pun.”

“I didn’t hear one.”

“Think bike manufacturers.”

He retrieved the glove. “We’re being silly” he said. “Let’s just get going.”

This time they were ready for the battle of angles after she seated herself and hunkered into position. They gripped tightly to their handlebars, shoulders loose, and while the bike wobbled under their disparate efforts, the center of balance shifting left then right then left, they both doggedly kept pedaling. They managed thirty feet straight and then a ginger turn out of their cul-de-sac.

“He called back, “Are you pedaling?

“I’m pedaling.”

“What?”

“I’m pedaling.”

“I’m asking you if you’re pedaling.”

“Yes, I’m pedaling!  Yes yes!”

“It’s hard to hear you with the wind up here,” he tried twisting around as much as he dared. Didn’t want to take his eye off the road. “But you are pedaling, right?”

She wondered how this exactly was going to bring them closer if they couldn’t even talk. It was early and cold out, and even chillier on the bike, and she wanted to be at home with a cup of chamomile tea, a drink she’d recently discovered since learning from a magazine quiz that caffeine wasn’t right for her personality type.

“Don’t dead-weight me,” he said. “I just need you to do enough to cover your own mass.”

“I’m pedaling,” she said quietly. “I’m pedaling.”  She tried to sit still, scanning the back of his event jersey, reading the names of all the sponsors of the Ogle County Ride around the Court House. Rock River Savings and Loan. Gatorade. Market, featuring organic produce and locally raised, sustainable meats.

It wasn’t long before her back began to stiffen from the effort to not lean. It wasn’t like riding her old Schwinn at all, no feelings of serendipity, just the effort required to be the guts of a machine; going along, getting along. It was possible to get used to it, but why should she?  On one of their early dates they had gone on the paved trails through the northwest suburbs toward an arboretum. He had made sandwiches for them, alfalfa sprouts and American cheese with creamy mayonnaise which had all sort of melted and become distastefully warm and pale in his saddlebag during the ride. But it was sweet too and they talked about vacations and how her father’s ideal holiday was to pitch a tent in some back woods and remain stationary, she and her brothers exploring the area until by the end of the week the wilderness was as familiar as their own block in Skokie. His summers were spent in short, frenzied bursts of movement, being ferried from one sight to the next, looking at the Grand Canyon only from the north rim, the sand arches of Wyoming through the window of a Volaré station wagon, the pine needles of the redwood forest as a green blur. “We had blisters on our ass by the end,” he had laughed, “and anxiety dreams.”  She had laughed too and been under the impression that they were in agreement about her being luckier in terms of  childhoods. His parents had eventually divorced, although not until he was in his thirties.

He reached back and handed her a Payday bar, and she felt brave enough to take it and even nibble a portion from the top.

“Can we stop and eat?” she yelled.

He took a showy swig from one of his bottles, swirled the cherry red drink around in his  mouth, then tried to spit it through his front teeth like Bodie on the Wire, but it ended up spraying everywhere partly from the effort of pedaling, but mostly because he didn’t have any gaps between his teeth.

“No stopping to eat,” he said, brushing the splatter off his shirt. “Got to learn to do it all on the bike.”

“But I have trouble chewing when I’m gasping for air. Plus those energy snacks are so dry I’ll need lots of water. It even says on the package to drink a bottle of water with each BoHydrate Bar.

“It’s a challenge,” he agreed. “Are you pedaling as hard as you can?”

The going was slower than he expected, but he had to admit they were indeed riding in tandem. They were long past subdivisions and now the industrial parks off the expressway were safely in the distance, and they were just reaching the edge of the cornfields. The soil was dark and the corn was young and green. Farmhouses floated pleasantly in the distance, scenic vistas of farmland in decay, but as they pedaled on they reached areas where the corn was fuller and larger. Tops of silos stuck like archipelagos in corn oceans, and the corn yellowed and browned, and the houses dipped into the rising waves of ears and tassels, and soon the roofs and silos disappeared entirely. When the corn suddenly was gone they found themselves crops changed to low, scrubby soy beans crowning golden in the late afternoon and beyond that the land emptied, and they pedaled along grey guard rails through a landscape of red clay and scattered, brown shrubs. The air was heavy with cow shit and motor fumes.

“Pound it out,” he said supportively. “Go to your happy place. It’s going to start getting challenging soon.”

She thought about food. Real food. After a day spent working over carb bars like a docile ruminant, she was thinking of pot roast. A pot roast like her mother made. Hadn’t seen food like that in years and years. God if she could get another crack at her mother’s pot roast she would eat whatever portion her mother put out for her, she wouldn’t knife away the fat, wouldn’t even purge later.

“They call this the magic hour, he said over his shoulder.  “When the directors like to shoot scenes for movies. Pretty, in-it, the light just now?”

“Fork tender,” she called up.

His bike helmet bobbed approvingly. “I guess that captures something of the spirit.”

“Bastante,” she called. Then, “Finito. Whoa. Break time. Hon?  Maybe we can just pause for a bit. Have dinner in a restaurant?”

“We never agreed on a stopping signal, did we?” he said.

“But lets do stop anyway. Hon?”

“Hang in there for a little while.”

The sun went down in front of them and he turned on their headlamp and flickering reflectors. She thought to rest her eyes rest for a just a second and closed them, and when she jerked them open they were in a woody place of foggy lowlands and soupy marshes. It was dark and cold and headlights whooshed past her. It began to rain, enormous drops splattering off her arms and back.

“We need to stop,” she called out. “Take shelter. Find food. Get near a fire and warm up.”

“Hard to hear you up here. Clouds look pretty dark up ahead so we’ll probably lose the moonlight.”

They pedaled nearly blind into the ink but when cars approached she could see the reflected road ribboning out in front of her. Occasionally the weight of the bike felt like he was carrying it all, and he assumed then she was taking little breaks and that was fine. He resisted the urge to call back, check in on her, because he knew he had to trust that she would still be there, and then at times his patience was rewarded as he could feel her stirring and pedaling hard for awhile before tapering off again. When the sun rose again behind them, the rain stopped and vapor came up from their limbs, their bike helmets gave off steam like smokestacks.

“Maybe we can take a little breather this morning,” she said hopefully. “See some scenery. Take a picture. Use a bathroom. Give our legs a little break. Hon?”

He wiggled his fingers to keep the blood flowing. “In a little bit,” he said.

She became adept at rolling down her removable sleeves when it got cold, and then unzippering them once it began to warm up. She pulled down her leggings and hastily slapped sun screen against the accessible areas of her skin when the rotation of the pedal allowed her to reach. Now that they were in more mountainous terrain, when the sun disappeared behind a cloud or they found themselves in a particularly deep valley and it got cold again, she re-covered her skin with the leggings, only in an hour or so to find herself too warm and needing to re-remove the leggings and re-apply the sunscreen. She used lip balm on her face, and during one slightly dangerous moment, even came up off her seat and smeared a mentholated cream on as much of her bottom as she dared, savoring the sting when she took the greasy saddle again. Her shoes and socks remained soaked and her toes lost feeling and became heavy in her shoes.

“We’re very near now,” he said. “We’ll be at Monarch Pass very soon. Epiphany anyone?”

After just a few miles straight up, the switchbacks began, the tandem stoically taking each directional flip. After the first few he would turn back and flash a victorious grin, but as they came with more frequency, the tandem got slower, and the nose of the bike seemed several hands higher than the back. At first she gamely nodded when he turned, but each turn caused more effort, until finally after one brutal flip he turned around to find the silver carbon frame of the bike stretched back like a demented trombone, her end of the tandem still making its way around the previous curve. He called back words of encouragement hoping they would reach her, but he couldn’t slow down now, no matter how stretched and out of shape became the tandem. Sometimes he could feel the effort of her pumping and she would catch up and be right behind again. They made a game of it, with a burst of energy she would get along side, until it seemed like the stoker might pass the captain. In this way they barely noticed the hardest part of the climb, when the air thinned and became frigid, and no matter how hard they pedaled it seemed like the top of the mountain would not come any closer. Snow came and accumulated on their arms and back. “Use your oxygen wisely,” he said, knowing how funny that sounded.

The summit was just as he described, a painfully grand open space and their heads pounding from the strain of just being there. They slowed, listening to the thin air and the packed snow crunching softly under their wheels. She could hear her pulse throbbing inside the bike helmet against her temples.

“This is it,” he said. “The summit!  Where water changes direction. And now, are you ready to have the epiphany?”

“I need a break,” she said.

He shook his head. “I promise we’ll take a break over the edge, in Garfield. Or Poncha Springs or Salida. Or Kansas. Here we go. Honey?  Here we go!”

He leaned into the final press, until the earth tipped below and the tandem finally began moving all of its own momentum. In a rush of giddiness and fear and he shifted to compensate. This isn’t the time to lose your balance, he thought, unable now to speak.

But the descent was terrifying, his heart pounded and he wondered why he had bothered to take them on this journey in the first place. Think of all that could go wrong on a bike, he feathered the brakes, feathered hard, angling down and picking up speed. He wished he could tell her to lighten up if she could. Just be a little lighter. Then suddenly the familiar release of the fears just as he remembered it, like a veil being lifted he had said to himself last time and he had been right, that was exactly what it felt like. And now the feeling of freedom. They were really moving quickly, and now came that broomsticky feeling—he hoped she remembered his apt observation. They took a few turns and the bike was moving even faster, and there it was, the epiphany, as clear as the signs for the Runaway Truck Turnoffs, to savor each moment as it comes, let go of yesterday’s grudges and hurts, he wasn’t mad anymore. The epiphany, again. This time for real!  He feathered his brakes and rode down the mountain and his heart was full of glorious, cascading blue forgiveness. She would surely be feeling it too and though it was risky he wanted to see her expression, share just a second of epiphany with her, so he swiveled just slightly, took a quick look.

The stoker seat was empty.  He was alone on the tandem, just he and only he, something so obvious it felt more like confirmation than revelation. Tears in the corners of his eyes now and he forced himself to not weep, not at this speed. Lowering his head into the wind he rode the tandem down Monarch Pass all by himself.

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