Fishbowl and Five-speed

by Yves Jaques


He dressed like a businessman. He had a suit for each day of the week. These were not three-piece suits, they were rags, the raveled seams stitched with what lay at hand, floss or the pilfered thread of a spent sock. Mornings were murky. The day even more so. But there was this ritual of dress, and it gave him the structure to live an unstructured life.

He rode a bicycle for all distances, save the distance to his mother's house when he took the bus, out of a nod to her strange sense of propriety, which put bus travel a level above any human-powered transport. He would have happily ridden the he fifteen miles to mother’s upon his blistered five-speed Sears. A silver beauty, it had long since nodded to his rhythm and developed its own set of protests, clinking one day, clanking the next.

This bike he rode not to satisfy some Luddite longing for pre-industrial simplicity. He reveled in the holy joy of foot pressing pedal, that human-powered feel that makes twenty miles per hour one hundred. There was a certain way that the wind kissed ears and caressed arms that no other movement could match. Sure, he'd been conquered in a car, glorying upon a vinyl back seat. But behind the wheel he felt winded and old, had to fight the urge to hang his head out the window and suck great gulps of air.

And she? She had but one suit, Spades, that native trump, that inverted heart that knows no restraint. Her clothing had to be very worn, for she could not be bound. And this was no artless Bohemian longing. Her body could only bear cotton so distressed that it lay Lazarus-like between loom and boll. For her this afforded a luxury near obscenity.

She paraded herself at all times and in all places at the wheel of a story-book beast of gurgling Detroit steel. In her family from the cradle, its V-8 sang the ram and rut of the rust belt, of furious engineers beating with arm and hammer.

This car she drove not in imitation of some masculine will-to-power. It was for the rapturous singsong of the engine, and the windshield’s dreamy fishbowl horizon, for the queen-sized back seat and the pack-a-day ashtray. Yes, it was a thirsty machine - she was no stranger to the siphoning of gas tanks - and no, she was not a thoughtless person, it was just that to pit frugality versus the beast would be pointless. The beast outweighed such considerations.

She liked to cruise Water Street in an end-to-end romp, two feet on the pedals, her window hand tapping the steel roof. There were no hair-pin turns, no chicanes; the road sucked at the round mouth of the bay. And so she steered with her knees, yelling the words to AM radio hits as they welled up syrupy out of the dashboard.

He liked to cruise Water Street for its wide-angle view, one eye cocked on the road and the other floating lazily in its socket. For him, the road‘s slow slouch and zero grade meant laced fingers behind the neck; a no-hands ride all pedals and breath. He was a wheeling human gyroscope, perched erect and beaming on even the cruelest of days.

There was a point where Water Street intersected First Avenue on the smallest knuckle of the bay; a knotted confluence of arterial and rail, atop its walks pedestrians were rarely seen. When at First and Water, her steering knees failed to yield and his lazy eye neglected to look both ways; when he soared in a graceful arc over the hood of her car to land with snapped neck, and she, open mouthed and singing lost control of the beast to drink the waters of the bay, their ascending spirits were apprehended, and found miscible, made hybrid.

I wanna meet that angel.


Yves Jaques can be reached at