This is a regular column featuring original fiction by and for high school students, provided by Figment.com, an online community writing site for young people.
It seems to me now that, during some estranged summer of my childhood, my father, my sisters and I would ride our bicycles every afternoon. But this cannot be true. There must have been days when my sisters rolled around on the green carpet while I watched television and our parents read quietly on the porch. There must have been days when my eldest sister went to a friend’s house, and my parents to a dinner party, leaving the quarrelsome sister and I to be watched over by the looming babysitter. There must have been days when it rained for hours.
In fact, there is nothing to indicate that the rides were even unique to a single summer, and it is more likely that we rode our bicycles on occasion for a number of years. Nonetheless, my memories of those afternoon excursions have amalgamated into a singular blur of nostalgia, one that cannot be avoided or interpreted. For in those experiences now shaded by the incompetence of my memory, my parents, my sisters, and I are unchanging; we do not grow, we do not mature. We exist exactly as we do in the ever-distant photograph that hangs in the kitchen.
As I roll around the corner into the parking lot, I am able to make out my sister at the other end. Her bicycle darts towards the sidewalk, and she clings, frozen, to the handlebars. With a colossal crack, she bounces over the curb and snaps through a wooden barrier. My father, dismounting his bicycle and leaving it behind him, hurries over to her.
To my sisters and I, the bicycles are still unfamiliar and difficult. It is uncommon for us to endure an afternoon without crashing at least once. In fact, it seems that for each bicycle ride there is exactly one accident that toys with the idea of true disaster. This accident is inevitable, and we wait for it each afternoon. To a certain extent, our habit of crashing has become a sort of unspoken competition. None of us will admit to it, but we all hope to be involved in a wreck that comes so close to catastrophe that it will both win the prized jealousy of our classmates and shock our mother into speechlessness. It seems that my sister has just had this crash.
She now grins down at me. Her knee is skinned and it bleeds, but she is otherwise unscathed. My father stands by the splintered barrier, contemplating the deep gulley into which my sister nearly fell. “I could have died,” she declares with a goofy sort of urgency. My father glances over at us in terrified agreement. My eldest sister stands on the periphery, dejected and jealous, for she has mistaken our father’s honest fear for parental hyperbole. She climbs onto her bicycle and glides away.
We frequent the neighborhood Wawa. It is a bright place; the linoleum floors glow an offensive white. My father takes us here for lunch before our rides, telling us that it is crucial to obtain a proper amount of energy. This is true, but only partially. For, by taking us to the Wawa, my father is also able to satisfy his most aggressive vice: junk food. His underdeveloped palette is a touchy subject with my mother, and our afternoon excursions are his only chance to escape her household doctrine of healthy eating. It is one of my father’s best-kept secrets, and in order to deceive my mother (and perhaps himself), he refers to it as “The Wawa Market,” a feeble attempt at providing the place with culinary dignity.
My sisters and I do not object. We have developed a special relationship with the place, and we are still unable to form strong opinions about the food we eat. So we meander through the aisles as my father searches for the most exotic flavors of potato chips he can find. I have become partial to the chicken noodle soup. It is served in a paper container that often leaks, which is funny to me. I do not mind its taste.
My father kneels on the garage floor beside his red bicycle. It is an ancient artifact and requires his special treatment before each ride. To me, it seems as if it is dying. The material on the seat and handlebars is ripping, and the chain is rusted. Its body is emaciated. But there is a dignity to my father’s bicycle, a certain skeletal elegance. And he loves it.
“How old is that thing?” It is a question that the quarrelsome sister often asks.
“I’ve had it since I was in college.”
Normally, my sister is satisfied with the response, but this time, she contests it: “Haven’t you grown since then?”
My father smiles tragically at the floor. He looks up again.
“No, I haven’t. Most people stop growing before college.”
Such was the way of things. We would question, and he would answer. There was no shame in not knowing then; we were pioneers, and we roamed the planet. With every turn, an expanse of curiosities stared back at us, and we would reach for it, extending, the pavement singing beneath our bicycle wheels. Each day, we ventured a little farther, and saw things a little sharper, and learned about the laws of the earth. Our boundaries swelled. We devoured life, for the world was new then.
To read more original stories and poetry by teens go to Figment.com.