I. When I take out my father’s Swiss Peugeot road bike from the 1980s, black with gradient red and yellow stripes encircling the top tube like a grip print, I never think, This is my father’s bike. After he left, the bike sat for years in the basement of the home my mother called a mausoleum, and then in the crumbling garage of our new home on top of a hill, 44.2 miles, 59 minutes away from my father and his young Russian wife. My father could bike that distance, but I don’t think he does. The farthest I’ve ever biked is 20.3 miles, and that was after I replaced the Peugeot’s rear derailleur, its chain, brake pads and cable, bar tape, but before I added lights, white in front and red flashing for the rear, c-clamps on the seatstays to stabilize a rack over the rear wheel. When I take out this bike, I think, This is my bike. I fixed it for myself.
II. My father arrives in a red car with no roof, the kind of sexy thing my mother, during The Divorce, would have scoffed at, attributed to the influence of a then-mysterious “Her,” perhaps taken notes on to keep filed for a judge that existed maybe somewhere in real life, but mostly in my head, where he looked upon my family (read: not my father) and doled out sacred retribution to those in the wrong. But I didn’t ask questions then.
Now, as my father pulls the red car into the driveway of the home Andrew and I share, a Shaker Heights Tudor duplex with wooden floors which we rent for $855 a month from a man who used to be a competitive figure skater, I am only struck by what an odd choice of car it is to have driven 5 hours 43 minutes from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland, Ohio. And yet, here it is. Here he is, and here I am.
III. Before Andrew, there was a boy I thought I loved who kept a bike in pieces in a cardboard box on top of the medium-density fiberboard dresser in his dorm room. Door to door was 7 minutes, mine to his, or a bit longer when snow thickened the route. He had named the pieces of the bike Jenne, after a girl he knew back home in clean Vermont, where everyone bikes, and where there is no McDonald's within the capital city limits. One night, just as the snow was melting, he pulled the box down to the floor, where I sat, wool feet tucked under my jeans, and listened to him point and mark each part. The remnants of a bike are not complicated. The top tube is on top. The down tube goes down. The fork has two components, crown and blade. The cable housing butts against plastic stops, veining the cable to brakes, derailleur. The spokes whir solid like my whirligig heart whirred beneath my ribcage. He said things about ball bearings and grease, and I listened the way I knew how to listen. I listened to him the way I listened to my parents. Which is to say, the wide sky pressed down on me and the road shrank and the wind swallowed my voice.
IV. My father walks into our home. It is mid-morning, and light comes soft through the window in the dining room, where we each take a chair. Andrew hands my father a mug of coffee and then fixes one for himself.
“You’re not having any?” my father asks me. I don’t drink coffee. He means this as a gesture of community, I know, of offering, of making sure I am part of whatever is happening here. But I don’t drink coffee, and I am hyperaware now of the 12 years of silence between us—or rather, of the wary child on one side of those years and the woman on the other who has managed to initiate herself into all sorts of the expected rituals of young adulthood, but who still just doesn’t drink coffee, and nothing I can yet say to my father will be able to communicate all of this.
“I don’t drink coffee,” I say.
My father looks around. He puts on something like delight. He tells me our home looks beautiful. I say, “Most of the furniture came from Nantucket, Dad.” I am talking about a home where we spent our summers, a home my mother’s father bought in the '60s and which, some years after The Divorce, my mother sold so I could go to school. My father, said my mother, had refused to help. That final summer, we had loaded the contents of the house into a truck, ferried off the island and then driven 2 hours 55 minutes from Hyannis, Massachusetts to a storage unit in Orange, Connecticut, where the furniture languished for five years until Andrew and I loaded up another truck and traveled the 8 hour 5 minute road to this apartment, where we sit with my father as he looks around, clutching a mug from our cupboard. I say, “But you probably recognized it.”
“Oh! That’s right. Of course.”
And suddenly I feel wrong. Am I allowed to share this with him? My mother makes snide of the moments they spent together, in that house and others. Here she might mock his familiarity with the wicker, the wood, as though her claim to original and final ownership of these things denied him the right to memory. Can I be safe to invoke a time when my father slept late afternoons in summer on this couch, upholstered in hydrangeas, or when we spread out pieces of “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” in puzzle over this coffee table. Here is the wool rug that lay outside the bedroom my parents shared. Here is the table where my father sat at one end and my mother at the opposite, and I in the middle, staring at the nubby mat beneath my plate.
The table is nearly bare in this home. A white runner and a vase with yellow flowers. Now two coasters and mugs and my elbows. And in this moment, I wish there was no past, no backwards, nothing shared at all.
V. In the early morning, the sun warmed the carpet and lit up the dust that swirled in the air above my father, disturbing the particles of stillness with his stretching. Hand to toe and over again, heel to small of the back and up, and twist and stand. He hooked his hands over a wooden pole pressed over his shoulders like a farmer carrying two buckets from a well. I wanted to know everything he did, but I watched from the floor and did not talk.
He ran that day and most days. He ran in the street and felt the fit of his sneakers against asphalt between white lines and the light sharpened around him. My father listened to the rubber thud, one two one two, up the steps of the Capitol and then down. I wanted to come with him. I had just drunk my orange juice, which sloshed now in my small stomach, and my father said, Don’t eat before running, but too late. I wanted to walk with my hand in his. Nothing ever chose my side. My father, against the road against the air against the sun against me.
VI. The remnants of daughterhood are not complicated. Pictures I find at my grandparents’ house that I stuff into my bag—young man, smooth-faced, black-and-white stare. The wooden pull-toy on the carpet. My frown. My face. Etta James. Muscle Shoals. The parking spot in the alley behind our shotgun townhome in Washington, D.C. An ivory horn in the study, which I light up with sound throughout the house by buzzing my lips—like this. Clarinet reeds. A GO ARMY teddy bear bought for me, frozen shoes, on the Navy side of the stadium because he knew the Army things wouldn’t be sold out there. The old computer. A boat made from walnut shells. The White Apartment Building. New Wife. Old Mistress. Distance. Silence. Time.
VII. I still haven’t replaced the Peugeot’s seat, or the tires. In the front of my father’s red car, I shield my face from the rare sun, peer into the side mirror as I tell him about My Bike. He remarks that he remembers the seat being the most uncomfortable thing he’d ever sat on, that he covered it with a sheepskin fabric with elastic sewn around the edges to ease his rides. I don’t tell him that I remember that sheepskin seat cover vividly, its yellowing tufts, matted down where the seat was widest, the loop of elastic that protruded from a knot in the back. I don’t tell him it’s the first thing I removed when I decided the bike would be mine.
VIII. But then, I never think, These are my father’s eyes, my father’s cheekbones, his hands, his skin.
IX. At dinner, my father toasts Andrew and me on our engagement and wishes us a happy marriage. He met Andrew for the first time four months prior at my granddaddy’s funeral in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, a 9 hour 8 minute drive from our home, which we traveled in one day so Andrew wouldn’t have to miss work. This was 2 weeks and 6 days before we got engaged, and my father introduced Andrew to his extended family as my friend. Grandaddy lay white in his coffin at the front of the room, but I didn’t look.
When do I tell my father he will not invited to the wedding? How will I explain? Do I tell him my mother cried, hung up the phone? That before the click, she shouted if That Man were invited, she would not be able to drive the 14 minutes to attend her only daughter’s wedding? The waiter knocks over the bottle of wine, flooding our table with its tannic, sharp aroma. My father orders another.
X. After the funeral, my father drove the 1 hour 24 minute straight shot from Lawrenceburg to Nashville, where Andrew and I stayed with friends in my bewildered grief, so we could brunch before hitting the long road north. I did not know how to brunch with a man I hadn’t talked to in 12 years. Just do your best, Andrew said. What do I wear, I said. I’ll be right here, Andrew said. I ordered the Crab Cakes Benedict, two cakes on an English muffin with poached eggs and cayenne hollandaise sauce—hash browns or pepperjack grits?—hash browns. My father ordered the same. Exactly the same. I ordered the Hot Apple Pie, walnuts, butter, cinnamon ice cream. My father, the same. We could have shared. I would not have wanted to. Mom brought your bike up to Cleveland, I said. Well, it’s mine, now. After we ate, my father shook Andrew’s hand. Thank you for bring her down here for the funeral. Andrew boy-smiled, tossed his hands. She brought us down here, he said. She did the bringing.
XI. The tires, the thinnest I’ve ever seen, are completely bald. Just the week prior, I am finally made to understand what this means on wet pavement and a sharp turn, but still I haven’t made an effort to replace them. This becomes central to our piecemeal small talk.
“Leenie,” my father is suddenly reproachful. “Those tires are over 30 years old.”
It’s quiet, but I hear him. He says it like he cares. For a moment, I feel comfortable as a daughter. Like his concern is natural, normal. Like somewhere in the recesses of my unspoken thoughts, a memory of this kind of familial, burdensome warmth is stretching, shifting its weight, placing its foot on the pedal.
XII. It must have been this bike, or my mother’s. I remember a yellow plastic childseat fixed over the rear wheel, a round helmet that reminded me of turtles, sometimes my father’s back sloped forward over the handlebars. Sometimes my mother’s. Was it Baxter Road sweeping 1.4 miles along the bluff towards Sankaty Head? Was it the long and rounded streets we coasted down behind the Capitol building and into the Mall, where my mother claims squirrels of all colors would crawl up the frame to the saddle and eat peanuts from my tiny hands? The fine dirt path running sharp like an exhalation along the C & O Canal? Or was it pulling into the gravel at the foot of the lighthouse, one of them flipping out the kickstand with a sure foot, pulling me down from my yellow seat to watch, together, the sun crack from the sky and slip into the ocean?
Ellene Glenn Moore is a poet living in sunny South Florida. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, where she was the recipient of a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Salamander, Brevity, Jet Fuel Review, Caliban, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. Find her at elleneglennmoore.com.