“No-Wheelers” by Jay Eisenberg
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Jay Eisenberg presents us with a boy who just learned how to ride a bike.
Alex is only seven years old, but he has already seen
The Worst Thing In The World, which is:
an abandoned tandem bicycle.
Alex learned how to ride a bicycle last Tuesday.
His Uncle Charlie, who isn’t really his uncle, taught Alex how to ride a bicycle.
On the subject of learning to ride a bicycle, Alex says:
Riding a bicycle makes Alex acutely aware of the inadequacies of the human body.
“I wish I had wheels instead of legs and then I could be a bicycle,” says Alex.
“Two wheels does not a bicycle make,” I say.
“Oh, I know that,” says Alex. “I would need streamers and a basket too.”
“You know, Alex, the nice thing about having legs is that you can ride a bicycle sometimes and walk sometimes,” I say. “So really, you have more options.”
“I still wish I were a bicycle,” says Alex.
“All right,” I say.
“Do we have any glue?” Alex asks.
“No,” I say.
Since learning how to ride a bicycle, Alex has become a bit of an activist.
We are eating popsicles and walking up Eighth Avenue when we spot a cluster of people idling in the bike lane.
On the subject of people idling in the bike lane, Alex says:
“That part of the street isn’t for you, No-Wheelers,” and he sticks his tongue out.
Alex refers to non-cyclists as “No-Wheelers.”
“How can you tell if someone is a No-Wheeler?” I ask. “How do you know that they don’t bike sometimes, too?”
“I just know,” he says, and he nods gravely, like adults do when they want to look serious.
“But how can you tell?” I ask.
“People who ride bikes always look sad when they’re walking,” he says,
“because they wish that they were riding bikes.”
Alex is the first of his friends to learn how to ride a bike.
He does not make fun of his friends for not knowing how to ride bikes yet,
but he wishes that they would hurry up, because he looks forward to riding with them.
He wants to be the one to teach his friends how to ride their bicycles.
He plans to charge a small fee for lessons.
“It’ll be for a good cause,” he says.
“Like what?” I ask.
“A bell,” he says.
This whole city is a museum of abandoned bicycles.
Alex forces himself look at them.
On the subject of the abandoned tandem bicycle on Fourteenth Street, Alex says:
“This is The Worst Thing In The World that anybody can do.”
“Maybe the two people riding it got into a fight,” I suggest.
“Maybe,” says Alex. “But it probably wasn’t the bike’s fault.”
Alex’s parents are divorced, but he’d prefer I not tell you that.
“I’m sorry,” he says to the abandoned tandem bicycle.
And he rings the rusty bell on the handlebar.
I start to reach for hand sanitizer in my backpack, but I know he wouldn’t accept it right now. I remind myself to make him wash his hands before we cook dinner later.
I should make him wash his hands every time, really, but I don’t.
It’s all right, though.
It’s not The Worst Thing In The World.
Alex is not allowed to ride his bicycle unsupervised.
I walk next to him as he circles the block.
“Do you know how to ride a bike?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Do you have your own bike?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Why aren’t you riding it right now?” he asks.
“Because I was in an accident a few weeks back,” I tell him. “And I’m a little bit scared to ride it again.”
Alex backpedals to brake.
“That’s silly,” he says, unbuckling the strap on his helmet.
“I don’t think it’s silly,” I say.
“How many times have you ridden a bike?” Alex asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Hundreds. Thousands, maybe.”
“How many times have you gotten hurt on a bike?” Alex asks.
“How many times have you gotten hurt not on a bike?” Alex asks.
“A lot,” I say.
“Do you always stop doing something if you once got hurt doing it?” Alex asks.
“That was a rhetorical question,” he interrupts.
He buckles his helmet strap.
“There’s lots of ways to get hurt,” he says, “but you gotta live your life.”
And he starts pedaling again.
JAY EISENBERG is a New York-based actor, writer, and illustrator. His work has been published by Scholastic Press, UC Press (Gastronomica: The Journal of Food & Culture), Used Furniture Review, and others. He is also the person behind Here Is A Man and Nice Looking Doorstep. Jay is currently working on his first novel, about a transgender teenager and his rogue weatherman father. To learn more: www.jay-eisenberg.com
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jun 10, 2014
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