We have lived on Tull Drive since I was seven years old. My siblings and I were rough-and-tumble; we ran around all day and night until a grandmother’s neighborhood-wide shrieks dragged us back to reluctant safety. These were halcyon hours, alternating hot and cold (the highs high, the lows low), yet blanketed with a young mind’s peace and weightless shoulders.
Now, I am a gaseous cloud of wants held tight within a skin. I take a sip of whiskey to weigh me back down.
Further down Tull Drive, a small man with a dark, unkempt beard lives in a house similarly dark and unkempt. As kids, my mother told us about “the bicycle men,” a notion she got from an old documentary with hazy details. Remembering it now, I almost feel like we made it up, all of us. The bicycle men rode around with their big dark beards and snatched away children from their warm safe homes and familiar streets, and indoctrinated them into a variety of strange and terrible cults.
In retrospect, Brian probably seemed a little dangerous to a young mother of three, used to pursuing the wooden scratches just above the middle on the plank of normality. He was the one to be avoided, not the uncle that routinely tickled my upper thighs. We called him the Bicycle Man, and sporadically reported sightings to each other in hushed tones full of fear, reverence, mystery. I saw the Bicycle Man today, walking down the street, we whispered in hushed tones, warning each other of his malevolence. He was carrying a bag of groceries.
Then I moved away, and then I came back. I took to haunting Tull Drive at night again, walking my way from a honeyed late summer to an October so crisp it snapped between my fingers. Sirius, the family’s enormous black lab, was my constant companion. He would drag me, and then tire until the roles were reversed. We watched leaves swirl on concrete tinged streetlight yellow; he marked a pole once and it lit up.
One August evening enveloped us with air so moist it was like crawling through the womb. I saw a small figure standing by the intersection of Tull and Grace; eclipsed by a giant pine, the halo above his head swirled with tiny dark winged things. His face was a new moon, completely shuttered within the tree’s shadow, yet a pair of small bright eyes shone dimly through. I remember thinking, …and here lies a wolf.
His name was Brian. He once had a black lab just like Sirius, but he died the previous year. He had been watching every night, missing his own dog, and so he decided to come out and greet me. That’s how he put it: he decided to greet me.
From up close, the shaggy beard was actually immaculately groomed and shaped; the clothes that seemed better suited to an under-the-bridge dweller were clean and pressed, he even wore a hat, slanted at a jaunty angle. His house was similarly well-kept, just devoid enough of fussy decorations to make it seem plain, nestled as it was between the jewels of suburbia. I swatted at the mosquitoes and Sirius whined with impatience, but we lingered.
From then on we spoke almost every night. He was more interested in talking about me than himself, and took keen interest in certain subjects: the dogs, the closeness of my family, my creative pursuits du jour. His passions were more or less left to my imagination (a quiet chess game against himself, a chili recipe he was constantly improving, an unrequited love), and I never saw anyone else through the lit windows. I think he mentioned a wife once; I might have plucked that out of thin air. He remembered everything, and had a particular non-manufactured politeness borne out of a genuine code of living. He had his ways, and he did what he thought was right, and to hell with everyone else.
Those meetings were a series of bright paper lanterns, strung across a span of many blue blurry months.
But conversations are finite, and I moved yet again, flying the coop of my parents’ house. The Bicycle Man had been fleshed out, but my mind maintained this mystery. Drifting onto new adventures and nightly activities, the small dark figure lingered and loomed in my psyche.
Why? I don’t know. We never talked about anything too personal, or even riveting; yet here I am, writing this. When I was young, I created him in my head, and I am still doing so even now. Hungrily consuming this closed book, filing the bits and pieces in my tattered box of small interactions, life-spicers—the underbed of any future writing.
There’s a scene in Biloxi Blues: Matthew Broderick’s character is a writer, and he loses the notebook he uses to scribble down observations. Anybody seen my notebook? Which notebook? The one I’m always writing in. It’s bad news, because some of his boot camp bunkmates find it and read unflattering things about themselves. His defense is that…he’s a writer. He looks at things and transcribes them in the way that would make a better story. Usually that makes life a little more interesting and beautiful. And sometimes, it is an incredibly cruel thing to do.
Eugene Morris Jerome: Why is it that we come from the same place but I can’t understand you?
Arnold Epstein: You’re a witness. You’re always standing around watching what’s happening, scribbling in your book what other people do. You have to get in the middle of it. You have to take sides. Make a contribution to the fight.
Eugene Morris Jerome: What fight?
Arnold Epstein: Any fight. One you believe in. Until you do you’ll never be a writer Eugene.
I saw Brian the other day, three years to the month since our first greeting. He was walking, carrying his groceries. The only thing different was the presence of daylight. He wore his hat, a plaid shirt, and suspenders. Nothing was new, but all of it was clean. His eyes scanned me up and down slowly, as if for the first time. A new dimension was introduced; our relationship was no longer contained on a street corner, a simple swift, scheduled connection between someone on the fringe and someone that sought those on the fringe. It finally occurred to me that he was a man, and not just a man, but human. That’s not even important—it could even be imagined, or over thought. His story, a part of it at least, had surfaced; slow ripples after the rock hits the water.