Snakebite

I’m out of breath when I reach the top of my alone place, afternoon sun baking me and my mind and the bike under the thin, useless shadows of the power lines and the towers; I want one last run–like a cop on the day before retirement, thumbing my nose at fate–the starter gun or whistle or whatever (I’ve only seen races in the bike magazines I read at the library) goes off above the imaginary crowd and I’m off too, big gear, bigger gear, biggest gear, toes tied to pedals, bombing to the bottom, hard metal frame clanging with every skittering rock, every empty puddle, brake, pedal, brake, pedal, brake and don’t break the bike, speedometer reading 22, 23.5 (light-speed, almost), into the final straightaway with the little bumps that I love to bunny-hop so much, just like in the magazines, first one, beautiful air—can you all see me flying?—second one even higher, then slowing, 19.5, then—why not?—one more, and I’m landing but something is wrong, the wheel turns funny and I’m sideways, and I know, I know that my tires are too low, too soft, and the ground and the rim pinch and puncture the tube as OH SHI not even time to swear I slam into the ground and slide, slide, and this is going to hurt, and I stop, stop, clutch my elbow, wrap it in my shirt, too afraid to see the tattered flesh and the tiny rocks I’ll have to dig out of my skin; home, please, I need somebody real to take me home, because I can’t patch a snakebite flat out here, and it’s three miles to walk.

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