This post is a bit of a departure for me. For three years I have posted my opinions and experiences and I have always stayed firmly within the bounds of reality (or my reality at least).
Encouraged by the positive feedback about my writing, for the past year I have been dabbling in writing fiction.
Below is my first attempt at a short story. It came out of nowhere and rather surprised me with where it went. Obviously, there is a bike in it. I would love to know what you think of it…but be kind – posting this is rather nerve wracking for me!
The Ghost Bike
I wait at the junction. I watch the changing traffic lights. I watch the traffic, searching for him. With a corner of my attention I watch the ghost bike; a bike painted white and chained to the black railings as a reminder. A slowly rusting accusation.
The ghost bike looks nothing like my bike. It’s too big and has a top tube running from handlebars to seat. My bike was a step-through style – perfect for riding in the floral skirts and dresses I favour. I don’t have a garden so I outfit myself with flowers. The ghost bike has no gears where my bike had eight; the hills of Edinburgh are hard without gears. My bike was a beautiful soft powder blue with swirled pink writing and outlines of flowers and vines. The wicker basket nestled on the front rack had the rich sheen of molten chocolate and felt soothing to the touch.
My bike was a Dutch Bike: a Gazelle, and I loved it. Gazelle – the make of the bike and a name which conjures images of elegance and grace. I watched a David Attenborough programme about Gazelles once. A herd of them was being hunted by a solitary cheetah. Eventually one was brought down by the cheetah – elegance and grace crushed by power and speed.
Every day, on my way to and from work, I cycled through the junction where I now wait. My journey wasn’t long, just under thirty minutes at a sedate, touristy speed. Through the park, along the quiet streets, onto the canal path. After that the traffic got busier and this junction was always my least favourite part of the ride. Then it was a clear run of traffic-free paths through the Meadows. Edinburgh at its finest.
My journey was quickest by bike. The bus was a slow plodding dinosaur filled with the coughed germs and grim countenances of those on their way to jobs they wish they could avoid. Driving was an unthinkable nightmare of clogged streets and extortionate parking. Friends told me that driving is bearable for Edinburgh natives. For me – an incomer – it was a tangle of angry drivers who knew their lanes where I did not. Driving scared me. Besides, I loved the fresh air, the exertion, the freedom of cycling. The challenge was to arrive at work clutching my bike helmet but presentable.
Arriving presentable on wet days was harder. My long, auburn (not ginger) hair would get tangled tucked into my waterproof with the hood up and my helmet crammed on top; squashing everything into place. My shoes got wet in the rain, even with waterproof trousers covering my tights; they acted as a funnel towards my feet. We didn’t have lockers or showers at work so I kept my emergency supplies in a drawer of my desk – make-up, hair brush and flat black shoes which go with anything. On the wet days, the radiator behind my desk was my personal drying rack. My colleagues were used to my damp clothes steaming gently; fogging the office windows. I rode sedately on the way in; not too fast, not too much effort, not too sweaty. On the way home I could race all I wanted; a hot shower was my reward.
That was when the railings were empty. Before the ghost bike.
That day I cycled the same route as ever. It was exhilarating to be riding in daylight this early in the morning after the long winter of ice-skimmed paths and tight-wrapped scarves. The day was promising to shine on the brave daffodils which nodded their heads in timid welcome. The park was busy already with early morning dogs and their walkers enjoying the spring sunshine; released for now from the dark and the cold. The dogs bounded with joy at the multifarious smells lurking in hidden corners. Their walkers lumbered like bears slowly emerging from hibernation.
I swerved to avoid an extendable lead across the path; small dog snuffling on one side; oblivious human on the other, head down and lost in his own private world of sound. A white headphone cable trailed into his padded coat. He didn’t hear my bell but he saw my gesticulation as I veered onto the grass to avoid him. I didn’t wait for his reply.
Passing the primary school, the roads were clear. It was too early yet for the school run – a nightmare of parents trying to park close to the school gates. Protecting their children by endangering others.
I waited for the lights to change at the dreaded junction. A kind of offset crossroads where courtesy died in a battle for rights. Bright posters outside the theatre shouted adverts for the next show.
I watched the oncoming road and the traffic lights intently. With no cars waiting opposite, a determined burst of speed would see me around the corner, turning left off the main road and heading for the safety and peace of the cycle path once more. Any hesitation could leave me with oncoming cars ahead and impatient horn hooters behind.
The left filter turned green – the signal that my right turn was next. A car was waiting behind me, his slow creep forward indicating his irritation. I ignored him, trying not to imagine him clipping my back wheel. Any minute now. Red, amber, green – go. I pushed hard on the pedals. The impatient driver revved behind me, pursuing me into the turn.
So focused was I on the turn and the car behind that I did not see the taxi. The taxi did not come from nowhere, it came from the road where the light had just turned red. No amber gambler; this was a red light runner.
The driver of the taxi did not see me.
He did not see me until the moment of impact. At that moment he saw my face turn towards him, he saw me meet his eye, saw my fear, saw the inevitable. He heard the bang and the crunch and the scrape and the screech of brakes. The bang was me hitting his windscreen – it shattered instantly. The crunch was the sound of my body as it arced down and slammed onto the road. The scrape was my bike twisting and tangling itself beneath his taxi. He heard the screams of the bystanders, the ‘Oh my God’ and the ‘Holy shit’. He watched the man on the pavement with the phone and heard his anxious voice ‘Ambulance please,’ He heard the sirens.
With all those sights and sounds surrounding him, the taxi driver sat. He sat in his scratched and dented taxi and he watched through the cracked windscreen. He watched and he listened and he did not move. The police and the ambulance arrived and he watched the paramedics crouch by my side; they knelt in spreading pools of my blood. He watched them work, he saw them frown and shake their heads solemnly.
I watched it all too. I watched my mangled bike tangled under his taxi: a gazelle brought down by a cheetah. I watched my body lying in the road. I watched the taxi driver. I watched him and I memorised his every feature: the round, red face; the slicked-back black hair; the shocked, dark eyes; the tufts of hair on knuckles turned white with their tight grip on the steering wheel. I watched the man who had just ended my life.
I watched the court case. I watched the taxi driver plead an innocence he did not own. I heard him take off his blame and lay it over my broken form.
‘She came out of nowhere… None of them stop at red lights… She wasn’t wearing high vis…’
I heard the verdict, ‘Not guilty,’ and I saw my family add new tears to the floods already behind them. I watched my brother break down all over again.
I wait now at this junction with the ghost bike. I wait and I watch. The ghost bike which marks my untimely passing couldn’t be made from my bike; my bike was twisted and bent, the powder blue paint and pink flowers scraped away, the wicker basket ground to twigs. Each day people pass this ghost bike which is not my bike and to most it is invisible. It is a ghost, like me. We are unseen and unheard. Our story is unfinished.
It was my brother who, grief-stricken, bought a second-hand bike, painted it white and chained it to the railings. Yet it was not my brother who chained me here; a ghost for a ghost bike.
Suddenly, the waiting and watching is over, I see my taxi driver. The round, red face; the slicked-back black hair; the dark eyes; the tufts of hair on his knuckles. This is the man who ended my life.
He has stopped at the red light; the picture of a perfect citizen. I watch the lights. Red, amber, green – go.
This is what I have been waiting for. As my taxi driver’s foot pushes down on the accelerator I unleash my rage. As he pulls forward I charge at him. I am fury given form; a banshee flying through the space between the living and the dead. My face forward, my eyes locked onto his. My long, auburn hair streams wildly around my face and my teeth are bared as I scream with a sound like nails down a blackboard. I am a spectre unseen by any but him.
I see his face. I see the horror. I see the fear. I see the disbelief as he sees me on a collision course for his windscreen. This time I do not crumple. I crush.
I feel what he feels as I reach for his heart; the vice-like squeeze is my fist closing around it, crushing the life out of it. The foot pressing down on his, forcing the accelerator down harder, is my foot.
For a moment I see through his eyes. I see the wife and the son he leaves behind. I do not care.
I see the taxi smash into the railings, crushing the ghost bike. I hear the taxi driver’s frantic gasps as he tries to drag unwilling air into his collapsing lungs. I hear the screams of insignificant others and the terrified cry of the man in the back seat. Then I see blackness. Nothingness.
It is over this time. I see a light through the darkness; my light. The crumpled taxi and crushed ghost bike are dazzled out of my sight. I leave behind the screams and the curses, the sirens wailing and the brakes screeching. My ties to this place are cut. My journey has ended.