Oh, man, have I got scars. The scar on my middle finger? From a crash I had when I was a bike messenger and I plowed into the curb at Michigan and Monroe. In my defense, plowing into the curb was the best-case scenario at that moment. The one on my forehead? This is from when this woman ran into me from behind. Also when I was a bike messenger. And the one on my elbow—that was when my brakes went out. While I was flying down a hill. Towards a red light. You know, sometimes you can see a crash coming at you big as life and sometimes you can’t.

I met Brent at Rossi’s. Rossi’s—home of the seriously alcoholic. And bike messengers, which we both were, at the time.

Being a bike messenger was like winding yourself up like a top and spending the next ten hours twirling. My days went like this: Hit the Loop at eight a.m., pick up these airline tickets from this office, a box from that office, files from another office. Drop the box first, the airline tickets next, get a signature on the files and round trip ‘em back. Pick up the slack in work created by coworkers who were too hung over to come in or who suspiciously disappeared from the radio; dodge that bus, this cab, those pedestrians, that van full of tourists. I was that person. I was the one who knocked on the cab that you were in when he straddled the lane line on Ontario, I was the one who met you at the door of your building with your airline tickets. I was the one who delivered your legal papers to the city before their three p.m. deadline. I rarely ate lunch, but I always hit Rossi’s.

Rossi’s had year-round Christmas lights and faux slot machines, free hot dogs at lunch, $1.50 pints of PBR, Bill Withers, Queen, and Megadeth on the jukebox. Most nights when you walked in, you would see messenger bags piled in corners and under tables, you’d see smoke hovering near the ceiling; you’d hear the loud ebbs and flows of conversations, the clickety clack of clipless shoes on the floor, the too-loud boasts about this crash or that crash; you’d see a lot of exposed knees and elbows while messengers compared scabs and bruises. And this one night, when all I wanted was a beer, or ten, I saw Brent.

Brent had big brown eyes and a soft way of speaking. I wanted him to ask me out so bad, I finally said to him, “You should ask me for my phone number.” And he did. Our first date, he asked me to go see “Brazil” with him at the Music Box. We rode our bikes there. It was bike messenger foreplay. Sometime during the movie, I leaned over to him and said, “Can I have a sip of your pop?” He picked up the cup, handed it to me, and said, “It’s our pop.”

Suddenly and surprisingly, I was in love. He said “our.” Our pop. It sounded so beautiful I couldn’t stop repeating it to myself. Our our our. I wanted everything to be ours. Our pop, our bikes, our life.

And then it was an “our” life. It was watching cheesy TV at three a.m. and laughing until we couldn’t breathe, it was working on Sunday morning crossword puzzles together, it was not finishing a thought because the other person already knew it.

Then we moved in together. We were living together about a year when I started crashing. It was unlike me, really. I was usually pretty sharp picking my lines through traffic.

The scar on my elbow? This is how I got it: This one fall day, it was fucking gorgeous outside, unseasonably warm with bright sunshine and I was flying down Michigan and I could see that every light all the way down the road was green and there were hardly any cars around and I was loving life. I came up on Monroe and the light turned yellow but I decided to go for it and guess what, so did the guy in the car that was on Michigan turning left onto Monroe, or, more importantly, turning left into me. I saw his face for a split second because I was that close and I saw him but he didn’t see me so I knew I had to make a quick decision: 1) Speed up, 2) stop, or 3) get the fuck outta the way. I went with get the fuck outta the way and turned toward the curb and BAM! I crashed into the curb and I was over the bars and flying through the air and flat on my back in no time. The tourists freaked out. There were four of them. Possibly a family. The dad-looking one had a camera around his neck, which he pulled up to his face, but stopped when the mom-looking one said, “Sta-ahn.”

I ended up with a fractured bone in my forearm. Apparently, these bones are easily fractured when you try to use them to stop forward momentum at twenty miles an hour. So, you know, I would suggest not using your forearms for this purpose.

When I got home from the hospital, I was shaken up and trying to pretend I wasn’t, but I was doing a bad job of it, because I was alternately crying and then shrugging my shoulders. Brent spent a lot of time staring at me with his mouth open. He was pissing me off. Maybe I was having a delayed reaction and maybe I was really pissed at the driver or maybe I was thinking that, hello, boyfriend, now would be a good time to say something sweet and reassuring, even though the dried blood on my knees and the bruise on my shoulder didn’t look particularly healthy.

See, the thing is, six months ago, Brent wouldn’t have just stared at me like that. Six months ago, when I did something seemingly innocuous, like stub my toe, Brent would grab my hand and squeeze and make a scrunchy face like he was feeling what I was feeling. And then he would always do something that would melt my heart—kiss my fingertips or grab me around the waist and dance with me while he hummed Nina Simone in my ear. Dancing with Brent felt more natural than breathing.

But now, in our apartment, after this crash, Brent was staring at the floor. I launched into a glorious tirade about clueless drivers—those fuckers. Who doesn’t look before they turn? See, this is why the world is so fucked up, when people can’t make a left turn without clearing a biker first, well, obviously, we’re only a short step to complete anarchy and no, my running a yellow is not the same as a car running a yellow because I was on a bike so, yeah, I was on a bike. And then I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Brent really wasn’t looking at me. So I shut up.

Maybe now might be a good time to go through the anatomy of a crash with you. The first thing you need to know about crashing is—don’t do it. It’s only gonna slow you down and it’s usually gonna hurt. That being said, some crashes are unavoidable. So, do this: First, relax. You gotta let the momentum of the crash have its way. Second, tuck and roll. Try to hit the part of you that has the most padding—your hips for you hippy people, or your ass, which is always a safe bet for anyone. Third, after impact, check to make sure you can feel each limb, wiggle your fingers, same with your toes, tell yourself your name, tell yourself the date. All bets are off if you’re not wearing a helmet. If you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re a dumbass though you’re probably not paying attention right now anyway.

So this other crash—when I got this scar on my forehead—it happened outside the Freedom Center. You know the Freedom Center? It’s that monster Tribune building at Chicago and Halsted. I was waiting on the double yellow line for oncoming traffic to pass so I could turn left and I was watching the flag flip in the air and wondering if it was gonna rain soon and BAM! I was on my side, my left shoulder dragging through stones and gravel, moving along the street like I was being plowed, like snow. There was a car’s headlight over my right shoulder. I was deliriously happy that I was wearing a helmet.

When it all stopped, it was like the whole world took a deep breath. There was a guy with his mouth hanging open standing on the sidewalk. It seemed to me that every car along the entire distance of Chicago Avenue had disappeared. And then out of the fuzziness, I saw a woman waddling towards me with her arms outstretched as though if they had any say in it, they’d already be around me.

She was all, “Honey! Oh sweet Jesus. I didn’t even see you. I look down for one split second and then there you are!”

I got up as quickly as I could. I felt the slow motion fuzz of lightheadedness that made my head feel about 80 pounds. All I could focus on were her hands coming at me. I could tell she meant well, given the chorus of “sweet Jesus’s” and the panicked look that made her eyeballs pop out of her head, but I really, really didn’t want a stranger’s hands on me.

“I’m fine!” I said. I wasn’t, of course. I didn’t need to look down to know I was covered in blood. I could feel the creepy sting of the wind hitting my open wounds. It felt like the first layer of my skin was peeled off. As the woman got closer, I could see her starting to cry. I wanted to wipe the tear off her face, but I knew I’d end up smudging dirt or blood or both across her cheek. Over her shoulder I could see my bike, in one piece, on the ground. I was so happy to see it that I considered running to it and hugging it, but by that time there was a crowd of concerned citizens gathering and I didn’t want them to think I was suffering from head trauma. So I just walked over to it, as calmly as I could, picked it up, and walked down the street. I went back towards my office where I knew they’d make me go to the hospital even though all I really wanted to do was go home.

After I got home, after I cleaned up, I was standing in front of the fridge with the door open, thinking that I should eat but also thinking that I didn’t want to make anything and I was wondering how many bowls of cereal I would have to eat to not be hungry and was pouring that many bowls of cereal more work than just making something big in the first place and then I check the milk and see there’s not enough for a bowl of cereal and then Brent walked in. His Henry Rollins t-shirt was inside out.

He looked me over—at the band aids on my elbows and the gauze strips around my knees and the purple circle around my left eye. He raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. I walked over to him and leaned in. He closed his eyes as his lips came near mine, but I didn’t close mine. I took a good look at his face instead. If I was gonna draw a little boy whose mom just yelled at him to go kiss his wrinkly grandmother, a grandmother he didn’t know and thought smelled funny like moldy socks and a hint of lemon, I would draw the expression on that boy’s face exactly like the expression on Brent’s face as he kissed me that night.

That sucks, right? Anyway. So. Back to the scars. This scar on my middle finger? No offense. If you took Franklin north and came around the west side of the Merchandise Mart, you’d hit a slight downhill. It’s not much, but it’s something in the otherwise very flat Loop, and I used to take that descent with as much speed as I could get. It was kinda like a Superman fantasy thing—you know, take flight, grab some air because delivering the package that saves the world is The Most Important Thing Ever. The only thing is, you have to be ready because there’s a light at the bottom of the hill so if it’s red, like it was this one day, and you go to grab your brakes, like I did this one day, and you find yourself grabbing at brakes that aren’t working, like mine weren’t this one day, then you’re pretty much fucked. You’re one fucked Superman with a bunch of airline tickets in your bag and a bike that needed work on it yesterday.

This crash—I ended up seeing it in slow motion—the white station wagon moving slowly through the intersection, the inconsequential brake pads as my wheel ran right through them, the passenger side door of the car as it got bigger and bigger until it completely filled my field of vision. My front wheel touched the door, as if it was politely knocking in order to be let in, and then the world was suddenly upside down, the street was where the sky should’ve been, the sky was where the street should’ve been and then there was a hard whack on my back and I was staring at the sky with the wind knocked out of me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the stop sign. On one side of me was my bike, on the other, my front wheel. The two people in the station wagon were staring out the window at me like they were on a safari and I was the exotic animal. Then it was the same routine—walk my bike back to the office, hospital, home.

When I got home, I sat down on my couch and stared at the wall. I was trying to somehow figure out how to blame this crash on Brent. Then I started looking around the apartment and all I saw was me. Those were my books in the bookshelves, my shoes just inside the door, my journals lying on the coffee table. There was nothing there that said Brent. That’s a bad sign. I mean, Brent was a bass player, but his bass was at a friend’s. He was a painter, but I hadn’t seen him paint since we moved in together. He wrote music, fixed bikes, made killer mixed CDs. But I didn’t see any of that when I looked around me. I couldn’t remember the last time he smiled at me. I couldn’t remember the last time I talked to him without telling him what to do. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever seeing Brent’s stuff scattered around the apartment. Most of his stuff was still in boxes, which I had covered in tablecloths and used as end tables.

When Brent came home that night, I was still on the couch. It was dark. I hadn’t turned on the lights. He sat down next to me and I could smell outside on him. I could hear him breathe. He was looking straight ahead. “I think you should move out,” I said to him. Brent was quiet. I didn’t know what that quiet meant. I used to know what his quiet meant.

I asked him, “Do you feel us falling apart?”
He said, “We’ve already fallen apart.”

The next day, he was gone. He packed up his stuff in less than an hour. He had another place to stay. It was almost as though he had it planned out to the slightest detail and he just needed to do it. When he was gone, it was like the last two years never happened. It was like Brent was never there at all. This scar? Right here? This is the one I should’ve seen coming. But, I didn’t.

Read at 2nd Story Monthly, February 18, 2007. 2nd Story. Awesome.



This is the story I read for Serendipity Theatre Collective's 2nd Story on Sunday, October 29, at Webster's Wine Bar.

So I’m at work, in the kitchen, and Jamie walks in and she looks down at these heinous green pants she’s wearing and she says to me, “Do these look OK?” and I think to myself, “No, no those most certainly do not look OK.” But what I say to her is, “Um, you know, you can really pull those off.” And as I say it, I know I’m lying, but it’s out before I can stop it. And then I start wondering when I got this good at lying. And then I remember my first confession and how it’s all God’s fault.

See, I lied in my first confession. For those of you aren’t Catholic, you’re not supposed to do this.

Here’s what happened: It’s 1978, I’m eight-years old, I’m sitting in a tiny room painted brown or maybe orange, who can tell, it’s too dark to distinguish colors, there’s this odd half wall in the middle of the room. I’m sitting on one side of it. Father Novak is sitting on the other side. I’m wearing a collared shirt and a skirt and I hate wearing the collared shirt and the skirt. I’m picking the scabs on my knees. I’m nervous. I’d rather be climbing a tree.

Father Novak moves around in his chair. He’s old, probably about 100. He has a strip of gray hair running around his head and runny blue eyes. He says, “Are you ready?”

“Bless me father for I have sinned,” I say it quickly. I have been practicing this for weeks. He says his part, I don’t know what, those are his lines, not mine, and then I say, “This is my first confession.” I move from picking the scabs on my knees to picking at my fingernails. Father Novak says what he’s supposed to say at this point, again, his lines, not mine, so I have no idea what he’s actually saying. And then there’s quiet.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say my sin.

I close my eyes. I open them. I focus on a point on the blank wall in front of me. In my head the dramatic music that is the soundtrack of my life reaches a crescendo. It’s the Bee Gees. “Staying Alive.” And then, I say it. I say my sin: “I pushed Kelly Halter down the hill.”

And as I say it, I’m pretty sure I did it because I can see me doing it, I can see the tall dirt hill in the woods by my house, the group of kids from the neighborhood at the top of it, our bikes lined up like horses behind us, teetering on loose kickstands. I can see Kelly, with her exceptionally tan legs. She’s stick-like in that way that only an eight-year old can be, leaning over the top of the hill, looking down it, at the thin line of dirt that we made into our downhill track. I can see myself walk up behind her, put my hands on her back, and push. She tumbles like a cartoon, picking up dirt and grass and weeds as she somersaults down. I see her turn into a ball of brown dust until she hits the bottom. I hear an exaggerated plunk when she does.

Once I’ve finished telling my sin, I hear angels singing. They are very happy with my storytelling capabilities. I have just pulled off a world-class lie and I am damn proud of myself.

Father Novak gives me my penance: five prayers. Two Hail Marys. Three Our Fathers. I will whip through these prayers when I get home and then I’ll be back to my tree climbing.

I run out of the confessional, throwing my arms in the air. Now the soundtrack in my head is playing Queen, “We Are the Champions.” My mom is waiting in the last pew. She turns to watch me. When I meet her eyes, I do a last arm pump and then drop my arms to my sides. I run over to her.

OK, let me just tell you now, my mom is the most beautiful human being I’ve ever known. She has these amazingly bright blue eyes and when she smiles at you, well, probably not when she smiles at you, but when she smiles at me, I know I am the most special person that ever existed. And I don’t mean short-bus-to-school special.

So my mom is smiling at me. She gets up and takes my hand. “Not so bad?”

I smile. “Not so bad, Mommers.” We head down the aisle and out to the lobby. Pictures of saints line the walls that we walk by. “I made up a good one.”

She stops walking. “What?”

She’s looking out the doors that are mere feet away from us. Outside it’s sunny. There’s a parking lot filled with olive green station wagons, a subdivision beyond that where every third house is the same, the McDonald’s down the street doesn’t have a Playland.

“I made up a good one,” I say excitedly. “I said I pushed Kelly down a hill.” I smile up at her, expecting a pat on the back or her winning smile. She looks at me. No smile. Curious. I hear the loser’s song play in my head, “Wah, wah, wah.”

“You told Father Novak that you pushed Kelly down the hill?” She is annunciating, never a good sign.

“Yes.” I smile.

“In confession.”

“Yes.” I smile bigger.

My mom takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. When she opens them she bends her knees slightly so that she’s looking me straight in my eyes and says, “But you didn’t push Kelly down the hill, did you?”

“Well, no. But it’s a good sin. Right?”

My mom glances back into the church. To this day I wonder if maybe she gave some sign to Jesus that meant she’d take care of this, you know, kinda like that scene from “The Godfather” where the one brother really fucks up and the Godfather is so pissed that he’s gonna kill him and then the other brother steps in and tells the dad that he’ll take care of it and takes full responsibility for the brother’s fuck up and the father forgives the other brother, even though we all know he wants to kill him, and I don’t even know if this is really a scene in “The Godfather,” but I think my mom made the same kinda deal with Jesus that day.

She pulls me into the parking lot. We get in the car. I can smell the warm summer breeze and just-cut grass. My mom starts the engine and Kasey Kasem pops out of the radio. He’s counting down the top 20 songs of the week. “Honey,” my mom says, her hands perched on the steering wheel, the car still in park, “in confession, we’re supposed to confess a sin that we actually did.”

Let me just tell you now, no one ever said anything about being truthful in confession.

What they did say was that I needed to confess a sin because I’m a guilty screw up. I learned this in CCD, which is like Catholic school lite. CCD stands for . . . I don’t know what it stands for. But this is where we learned the rules, like: The Pope is always right, virgins have babies, drinking the blood of Christ is normal. And you learn about sinning. Now, according to my lessons, a sin was:
1. Murdering someone
2. Stealing from someone
3. Having sex with someone else’s spouse, or
4. Burning up someone else’s wheat field, barn, sheep, or other income-producing, farm-related items

Like I said, I was eight, so I hadn’t quite figured out how to murder, I didn’t know why farm items were so important, and having sex was just ewww.

Since I didn’t do any of the things on the list, I thought I was sinless. So I decided to make something up. Sure, it wasn’t on the list, but I took a lot of time working on the details. I chose Kelly because she was my best friend and so that would make it a really big sin. I said I pushed her down the hill because, secretly, I’d been dying to push her down the hill. Sometimes she bugged me.

But in the car, with my mom next to me, her voice gentle, I start to think maybe this sin I made up isn’t so good. “Mom,” I say, very adult, very knowing-of-the-world, “I didn’t do any of the things they said were sins.”

“Well, I guess . . . well.” She looks at me and then out the windshield. She pulls the gear shift down into drive and we start rolling towards the stop sign.

The parking lot is treacherous. Everyone loses their saintliness the second they leave church and get in their cars. My mom keeps her eyes focused forward. “Listen, honey, confession is your time to talk to God. Let Him know you made a mistake and you’re willing to fix it.”

“But God wasn’t there. It was just Father Novak.”

She laughs softly to herself. “Of course God is there. He’s always in church.”

“Well, he did a good job of hiding himself.” Now I’m mad. First, no one tells me I have to tell the truth in confession and now I find out that God was eavesdropping on my conversation with Father Novak? “You know,” I tell her, “if I had to talk to God, I coulda just stayed home and talked to him in my room where we have some privacy.” And then it occurs to me: Oh my God. I have just lied to God.

Mom. I just lied to God.”

She presses her foot to the brake and we come to a gentle stop. Someone behind us honks. Another car pulls around us and moves excitedly to the stop sign.

“Oh my God, Mom. Are they gonna kick me off softball? What if I can’t go on the field trip next week? Does this mean I’m gonna flunk all my classes?”

“Baby doll,” my mom says.

“You know, I made up a really good one. I took a lot of time making up all those details and it was a good story and that should count for something and . . . I don’t get it, Mom.”

My mom looks into my face for a long time. She says, “I don’t get it either, baby.”

I think about all the people in my family, all the ones who came before me and practiced this religion and had to tell sins when they were eight, too. I think about my grandma and how she does the rosary twice a day, and my aunt who goes to church on Fridays and Sundays, and the crucifix with the wilting palm leaves on the back of my bedroom door.

My mom takes a deep breath and slumps her shoulders—a move that over the years I will come to expect in our discussions about religion. These discussions will include logic that I never understand, reasoning that follows a maze-like path, theories that must be believed in order to get into Heaven. My mom will spend years patiently trying to explain to me why things are the way they are. She’s not gonna have much success.

My mom turns from me and looks at the road in front of her. We start to slowly roll forward. I look out the windshield too and as I do I feel her grab my hand and squeeze. Regardless of all that stuff that is coming in the future, in this one precious moment all I need is for my mom to tell me I’m OK. And she does. My mom says, “It was a good one, honey. You made up a good story.”

I turn to look at her. She’s smiling. She glances at me quickly and then looks back to the road in front of her. Suddenly, I don’t care that I just lied to God. I’m thinking he’ll get over it.



by Kim Morris

Sydney noticed her missing toe after the hilly race. She slipped on her flip flops, looked down, and saw that the small toe on her left foot was gone. A pale pink patch was there instead. She stared at it for quite some time, as though it really was there and the problem was with her eyes. When it didn’t appear, or miraculously regrow, she took a look around her to see if it had left—walked away on its own, perhaps in disgust, perhaps in anger. But no, there was no tiny toe trouncing across the gravel parking lot, no toe by the registration table, no toe standing at the start/finish waiting for the official to finish reciting the rules for the men’s race so it could cheer its little toe cheers.

She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car, her legs sticking out of the door, her right elbow against the bottom of the steering wheel. In the car next to her, she could see Keira, maneuvering expertly under a towel while changing out of her kit. Across the aisle from Keira’s car was Mandy’s car and Mandy, who had her head stuck in the trunk, Gatorade bottles flying out like jumping fish.

The question was: what did Sydney need with the small toe of her left foot anyway? Allegedly, she needed it for balance, but she figured she could make up for this with her right small toe and by implementing a training program with extended core work.

“Ready?’ Keira was walking over to her, pulling at her running shorts and shaking out her legs. Keira was stocky, wide hips, legs that looked thick and beefy. She had a perpetual smile and short hair with long bangs that she was constantly flipping out of her eyes.

Sydney immediately pulled her knee up to her chest and placed her hands over her left foot. She grabbed a sock from the floor of the car and threw it on.

Mandy sauntered over to them. Mandy was a curvaceous brunette, the kind of woman no one believed was an athlete since she looked like she should be splayed across an ad for lingerie. She had a long nose and full lips that were a lip-gloss pink all on their own. She had a laugh that carried across miles.

“Let’s go,” Mandy said. She was squinting over at the podium and then looked down at Sydney, who was staring at a neat pile of pale pink dust directly under where her foot had just been dangling out of the door frame. “Hey,” Mandy tapped Sydney on the shoulder, “buck up, winner. First place is a good thing.”

Sydney looked up at Mandy then over at Keira. She hoped they didn’t notice the pile of dust. She thought about next week, the intervals, the core work, how she would skip the recovery day and do some endurance work. She forced a smile and walked over to the podium with her teammates.

To Sydney, training took too long. Building up muscle and strength over weeks and weeks, month after month. Besides being completely unfun, it was also too slow, and she was too good to go too slow.

Sydney: long and thin, small ankles and wrists, high cheekbones, piercing brown eyes that are naturally set at squint, tiny ears, a permanent smirk. Tan in an outside all day every day kinda way. Easily annoyed and not one for conversation.

Underneath, she is: a toe tapper when she sees her mother at bike races, the space and emptiness of years of untalking filling up fields of distance between them; a frequent user of port-o-potties, where she can cry unabashedly, and walk out with red eyes that people assume come from the smell; a little girl in arrested development, stopped in time at the moment her dad walked out, smiling, waving as though he would see her in mere minutes, his cigarette flinging from his hand to the grass in the front yard, landing next to her toppled tricycle.

At 23, Sydney has a rigid set of rules by which she lives. It is all about being first. First place means attention. It means you get to stand on a podium in front of others, even if it is only a box at a local race. Then you get to smile and talk about how you did what you just did. And people listen. Afterward, people walk up to you and shake your hand and pat your back and they say things like, "Good job," and "Way to go." And they listen.

Woodburn Criterium. It’s two laps to go and Sydney realizes she can’t feel her fingers. She’s got Mandy’s wheel and she knows that she’s supposed to do something, she has the sense that she’s being set up to do something, but she can’t quite remember what it is. The jerseys around her are loud, bright colors and she recalls a moment when she could recite the sponsors of every team that is currently surrounding her, but now, she can’t. It’s just a sea of colors, the loud whir of bike tires spinning, and the occasional grunt from a racer.

The next thing Sydney knows, she is past the finish and people are clapping and yelling and Mandy is next to her smiling and they are cooling down and Sydney can’t for the life of her remember how she pulled off that sprint.

“Once again,” Mandy says and knocks her knuckles into Sydney’s arm. Sydney watches Mandy’s arm come at hers. It’s moving in slow motion, her own arm looks like it’s quivering like jelly. Sydney follows Mandy’s fist to her arm, then looks down her arm to her hands, which are shaking under her gloves. The pink patches where her little fingers used to be almost look normal and it takes Sydney a moment to realize that she should have four fingers and a thumb, not three fingers and a thumb. Sydney lets out a yelp.

“Yeah, I know,” Mandy says, sticking her water bottle back in its cage, “you are having a great season.”

Sydney looks at her like Mandy’s head is on fire and at this point, Sydney would not be surprised if Mandy’s head exploded. But it doesn’t. The only one losing body parts is Sydney and Sydney is starting to wonder if maybe she’s really losing her mind.

They are cleaning themselves up in the parking lot. Sydney’s medal swings from the rearview mirror of her car. She is looking down at her bike before putting it on the bike rack. Across the down tube and gathering along the chain stays she sees a fine dusting of pale pink dust. Bits and pieces of pink dust are also gathering on the bar ends and on her cranks.

“Mandy,” she calls over her shoulder. She is trying to keep her voice calm but she can hear the shaking in it.
“Yeah?” Mandy is buried under the front seat of her car, digging for something.
“Listen, um,” Sydney stops herself.
“What, Syd?” Mandy yells. She is still buried under the seat of her car.
“Syd,” Keira says, she is prancing over to Sydney’s car, looking flushed and happy, as always, “listen, that guy from Cycling Times is over there. You gotta go talk to him. He wants a quick interview. It’ll be good for the sponsors. And I’m trying to get that ass from Photo Express to sponsor us for next year and it’ll look really good if I can show him an interview with you.”

Sydney is holding her bike by the saddle and staring at Keira like she can’t remember who she is. Keira is bubbling. She is having fun. Fun is a hard concept for Sydney to understand.
“Syd,” Keira touches Sydney’s arm and looks into her face. “What’s up?”
“Listen,” Sydney starts, “I think that something’s not right.”
Keira looks down at Sydney’s bike. She crouches down and stares at the drivetrain. She plucks at the chain. She stands up. “I’ll take a look at it. You go talk to the reporter. Seriously. Go.”
“That’s not it, Keira,” Sydney says. Already Keira is walking over to her car where Sydney knows she is getting out the magic box, so called because of the magical tools that fix their bikes from what everyone usually assumes is complete destruction. Sydney wants to scream. She wants to cry. She wants to talk about what’s happening to her. But she can feel her throat tightening at the thought of actually forming the words that she wants to say. She considers that she may very well have a disappearing larynx. That would make giving an interview difficult.

Keira is popping open the trunk of her car. Mandy is still fishing around under the seat in her car, where Sydney knows that she is cleaning out empty plastic bags that used to hold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The Cycling Times guy is standing by the ClifBar tent. Sydney can hear the whir of tires swell up in her head. She rubs the space where her pinkies used to be. During the interview, Sydney notices only one thing: the reporter keeps asking her questions about herself and the race, but he never once makes eye contact with her. He never once looks into her face at all.

Criterium championship. Fast. Plan was set weeks ago. Practices executed perfectly. Everyone in top form. Sydney can feel the weight of expectation on her shoulders. She is not wearing gloves. No one notices her missing pinkies. She’s been wearing flip flops for the last week. No one’s noticed her missing toe, either.

Ten laps to go and Sydney starts moving up in the field. She is passing blurring colors, whirring chains, Cannondales, Bianchis, Cervelos. Keira is her lead out today. The lap counter says five to go and Sydney can’t find Keira. She can’t find Mandy either. She can feel her legs, hard and smooth, pushing the pedals of her bike easily, like she is her bike. Three to go. She is too close to the front, she knows that, but she can’t seem to slow down. The wind on her face feels refreshing. She can smell fresh cut grass. She can smell burgers grilling on someone’s grill. The sunlight makes a lace pattern through the tree leaves. A little girl on the sidewalk along the race course pedals her pink bike furiously whenever the field shushes by. Sydney gives up on the lead out. She gives up on tactics and strategy. It’s as though a switch has been flipped and her bike obeys.

She is a half lap ahead of the field. She takes the corners fast, leaning into them so that her pedals are only centimeters from scraping the street. Last corner is a 90-degree angle that she rips through. Sprint to the finish, the line passes under her like it’s moving towards her, she keeps going, faster, until she feels like she’s airborne, until she is airborne, until she is taking off from the runway that was once a quiet residential street turned race course. She is flying through the clouds, damp whiteness covering her face and legs, a cool mist tinged with the slightest bit of sunshine. Beyond the clouds she can see blue effortless sky. In her heart she can feel a blanket of relaxation.

In the interview with Cycling Times, Mandy and Keira will try to cover up their worry and their concern. They won’t discuss where Sydney went or how; they won’t discuss the frustration they felt when she jumped the gun on the lead out. They won’t discuss the sinking feeling they felt when they saw her speed down the road adjacent to the race course after she crossed the line. They definitely won’t discuss the pale pink dust that flew back at everyone in the field—the dust that covered their faces and their chain rings and continued to fall from their helmets days after the race where Sydney disappeared.