Photo by Laura Kiselevach
‘Pennies’ by Josh Rank
The new grips on Ryan’s handlebars were soft. Almost too soft. He was biking down Main Street and the potholes lining the curb were forcing him further into the lane than he would like. It hadn’t even been two weeks since the last time he was hit, bringing his grand total up to six.
The last accident came as he was biking along a row of parked cars. A car passed him on the left and apparently couldn’t wait to pull into an open parking spot. It swung right, directly in front of Ryan. He didn’t even have time to shout a curse word before he bounced off the passenger-side door and flew over his handlebars. He stood up and glared at the driver.
“Pay attention!” he yelled.
“Are you okay?” The driver popped out of the car. “Do you need an ambulance?”
Ryan looked at a slight scrape on his knee and then to his bike. The chain had fallen off and the handlebar tape was scraped along the right side.
“No, no I’m fine.” He said. “Just, y’know, watch what you’re doing man.”
Thinking back on it, he felt like he would have been justified not only in telling the driver off, but also asking for the guy to pay for the bike repairs. Possibly a tire realignment and definitely new yellow handlebar tape. And since this was the sixth time something like this happened, the more he thought about it the more angry he became. He was tired of feeling like he had a target painted across his back. He was tired of worrying about car doors slamming into his knuckles every time he had to ride home from work. And this is why he went to the bank and got a few rolls of pennies.
“What are you going to do? Shoot them out of your fingers and hope you chip the other guy’s tooth?” a coworker asked him.
“No, man. I’m sick of this shit. The next time somebody cuts me off, I’m going to chuck it through their back window.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, man. They hit me and all they get is a tiny dent in their door while I could break my neck. Does that seem fair?”
That was two weeks ago. There have been many cars that he felt deserved the penny attack but he underestimated the amount of time it would take to dig in his backpack, grab the roll of pennies, and throw them at a passing car. He usually had four seconds, tops. This simply wasn’t enough. These failed attempts only solidified the necessity of such an act. Someone had to fight back.
And now as he rode down Main Street, thinking about his new, yellow handlebar tape, he could feel the pennies weighing down his backpack. His headphones didn’t block out the street noise so he could easily hear an engine revving behind him. He glanced back for a moment and saw the black SUV as it passed him on the left. Before he had time to reach for his brakes, the SUV dipped to the right. Ryan turned to avoid bouncing off yet another passenger side door and slammed into the curb. He flew over his handlebars and landed in a heap on the sidewalk.
“God damn it!” he yelled. The adrenaline going through his body didn’t allow him to assess his injuries. All he could think about was the roll of pennies in his backpack and the asshole that didn’t have any regard for his well-being. In Ryan’s mind, this was no different from someone throwing a punch, except this punch was thrown with a two-ton vehicle. He glanced ahead to where the SUV turned down the side street. A woman with a stroller happened to be jaywalking and the SUV was waiting for them to get out of the way. Ryan swung his backpack around and dug out the pennies.
He stepped over his bike and dropped the backpack on the sidewalk. Pennies in hand, he walked to the curb of the side street. He pulled back his arm but hesitated. Smashing their window? he thought. Do I really want to vandalize such a nice car?
But the lady and her stroller were out of the way now. The car would start driving any second. No more time to think.
He threw the pennies and closed his eyes. Maybe he’ll miss. He knew he had overreacted as soon as the roll of pennies left his hand. He knew he went too far. The inevitable smash rang in his ears and he finally opened his eyes.
The back window of the SUV was shattered. He saw the driver glance in their rearview mirror and reacted by reflex; he grabbed his backpack and ran back to his bike. After checking that the bike was still mobile, he hopped on and rode in the opposite direction. His shaking hands were having trouble keeping the bike steady. His heart raced and instead of the invigoration he had always pictured after throwing the pennies, he felt a sickening remorse.
Becky opened the front door to her one-bedroom apartment and saw her dog sitting on the couch. Legs out front, belly up, arms at his side like a human. But what took her off guard was his full erection.
“Whoa Chico!” she said as she set her purse on the table. “I didn’t interrupt anything did I?” She laughed and walked over to the couch. With a flick of her wrist, she pushed the dog to the side and it flopped on the cushion. Limp. “Oh my god! Chico!”
The dog was breathing, but not moving. She quickly glanced around the room and saw the bottle of tea tree oil lying next to the coffee table. She had finished it last night and hadn’t thought about it, but she was sure he had licked the bottle completely dry. There couldn’t have been more than a few drops but the dog was only eight pounds. It wouldn’t take much to make him sick.
The dog was breathing. She told herself to just focus on that. What do you do when your dog is poisoned? She grabbed her phone, did a quick Google search, and called poison control.
“Hello! Yes, my, um, roommate is sick.”
“What did they ingest?”
“Tea tree oil.”
“Okay. And what is wrong with your roommate?”
“He won’t move. He’s breathing but he won’t move.”
“How much did he take?”
Becky tried to adjust the ratio in accordance with Chico’s size but couldn’t begin to comprehend numbers let alone math equations. “I don’t know, some?”
“Okay ma’am, that’s not really a help. Your roommate needs to go to a hospital.”
Becky nodded even though the woman on the phone couldn’t see her. Then she hung up without saying another word and scooped Chico in her arms.
“Don’t worry, Chico. Mamma’s got you.”
She ran outside and gingerly set the dog on the floor behind the passenger seat. She could have put him in the back of the SUV but she didn’t want him to roll around. “Hang on!”
Becky has never prided herself on her driving, but at least she usually stopped for red lights. Today, however, nothing could slow her down. If a car wasn’t moving fast enough, she’d pass him. If a light was red, she treated it like a stop sign. It was the middle of the afternoon and traffic was starting to pick up but she couldn’t think beyond the front door of the emergency vet.
“I’m so sorry, Chico. I should’ve thrown that damn bottle away last night,” she said over her shoulder.
Finally, she came upon the turn for the vet. She swung her SUV around the corner and had to slam on her brakes when she saw a woman crossing the road with a baby stroller. She was in a hurry, but not so much that she could justify killing a child directly in front of its mother. She tapped her hands on the steering wheel and tried not to scream out of the window as the woman took forever to cross the road. The parking lot was so close.
And then her back window exploded. She ducked her head and tried to scream but nothing came out. Was it a gunshot? An asteroid? Windows don’t just spontaneously explode. She lifted her head and looked through the rear-view mirror. There was nothing back there besides a shocked looking man in a bicycle helmet. Before she could piece any of it together, the man turned and ran to his bike. She watched the yellow handlebars as the man rode away. But she didn’t have time to get angry with him. She had to save Chico.
A week passed. Chico made a full recovery after a few messy days and Becky’s window was fixed. The only remnant of the trip to the pet hospital was the searing memory of the yellow handlebars and the biker that seemingly attacked her for no reason. He had to live in the neighborhood. It’s not unfathomable that he took the same route every day. And she would definitely recognize the bike if she were to see it again.
This is why her heart started racing as she drove along the street in her newly fixed SUV: The yellow handlebars were waiting for the red light alongside her. It was him. She was sure of it. Chico seemed to know it to. He barked from the backseat. And even though she had thought of this moment all week long, she didn’t know what to do now that the situation had arrived. The only thing she could think of was to follow him.
This might seem impossible, but traffic was heavy enough that the biker kept himself in front of her for most of the next mile until he turned into the driveway of a grocery store. She followed his lead and took the first parking spot she saw.
She grabbed Chico from the back, walked up to the front doors of the grocery store, and noticed the bike rack to her right. The biker had already headed inside and his bike was locked through the front wheel. Now that she was here she had a decision to make: What should she do?
Yell at him?
Dish out a flying attack?
Call the police?
None of these things felt right. First of all, there’s no way she could assault him physically. And yelling at him was also out of the question. He had proven himself to be a violent person so provoking him could only lead to trouble. Plus, he didn’t exactly attack her personally so that would be an escalation. No, he attacked her truck. She would have to attack him on the same level to get even.
Becky didn’t know too much about bikes but she had one in college. So she knew exactly what she was doing when she bent down and loosened the front wheel of his bike. She figured he would unlock it, spin the bike around, and watch his wheel as it rolled into the parking lot. He shattered her back window so ruining his front tire seemed an appropriate response.
Eventually, he walked out with a bag in his right hand and she held her breath. She watched from the opposite side of the entrance as he set the bag down and unlocked his bike. He slid the bike from the rack, grabbed his bag, hopped on the seat, and began riding away from the store and back to the road.
Becky couldn’t figure out why the wheel hadn’t fallen off. She had loosened it all the way, hadn’t she? It wasn’t until he lifted the front of his bike to hop off the curb that the wheel came rolling off of the frame.
“Oh shit!” she heard him yell. His weight shifted forward as he moved into the street and he rolled off the front of his bike. The wheel continued rolling into traffic until it was hit by a passing car on the other side of the street. Before the biker could get up, a car horn blared and the brakes locked up sending a squeal to match his screams. The car crunched the bike which luckily sat between the biker and the car. Becky couldn’t catch her breath. She saw the car coming and had started running towards the street before it stopped. She thought she had killed the biker. Chico barked out of excitement. Cars continued to pass in the opposite lane and before she had time to think about it, she dragged the biker off of the street.
“Holy shit!” he said. “Thank you I…I don’t know what happened there.”
“Fuck you.” Becky released his arm and stood above him on the sidewalk.
“What?” He stood up.
“I, I said fuck you.” Her hands were shaking. She didn’t want to talk to him.
“Do you have a problem with the way I almost died just now?”
“No, it’s not that. My window.”
His eyes opened wide for a moment. She expected him to ask what she was talking about, but he remained silent.
“You broke my window last week.”
He looked behind himself at his broken bike lying underneath the car. “Did you do that to my bike?”
“I, well I just—”
“You tried to kill me? Because of your window? You just tried to kill for now the second time.”
“First you run me off the road and almost make me break my neck, and now you sabotage my bike and almost make me get hit by a car? What is wrong with you?”
A voice came up behind them. “Alright, I would like to offer an official what the fuck?”
Becky turned to her left and saw a middle-aged man with his shirt tucked in standing beside the car. “What?”
“My car. What the fuck happened here? You’re just throwing bikes into the street or what?”
“Listen, man,” said the biker. “My wheel fell off. I didn’t do this to you. Do you think I wanted to be lying on the street in front of traffic?”
“Fact is, your bike is sitting beneath my car through no fault of my own. So I don’t care what happened or whose fault it is.” He turned to Becky. “Sounds like you were up to some shady shit. Can I expect my repair bill to be covered by you?”
“Listen man, I don’t know how you can boss everybody around like we work for you or something,” said the biker.
Becky took a step forward. “Maybe if you weren’t driving 80 miles an hour you would have been able to stop before hitting his bike.” She quickly glanced at the biker who nodded back at her. Chico barked as if agreeing.
“And who’s this?” said the young professional. He took a step towards the dog.
“You leave him alone,” Becky said in the sturdiest voice she could find.
“Oh really? So you might say you care for your dog like other people might, oh I don’t know, care for their cars?” He took another step towards the dog and then made a grab for the leash hanging from her hand.
Becky shoved him backwards and the biker dropped his backpack on the ground.
“Don’t you put your hands on me you little bitch,” he yelled. He looked as if he were going to take another step towards her but stopped when his front window smashed behind him.
Becky looked to her right and saw the biker with another roll of pennies in his hand and a series of spider web cracks on the windshield of the car on the bike.
“Go away or I’ll smash another window,” said the biker.
“Oh fuck you,” said the young professional, but he didn’t make a move.
Becky gripped the leash with both hands and watched as the two men stared at each other.
“Go away, now,” repeated the biker.
The young professional looked back to his car and then again at the biker. He seemed like he wanted to hug his car and tell it everything would be okay. There was a fear in his eyes that he tried to cover with a rigid back. But after another few moments, the young professional got back into his car, reversed until the bike was out from under it, and drove away.
The biker grabbed his frame and dragged it onto the sidewalk. His wheel was in the middle of the road, bent and forsaken.
“We should get outta here,” she said.
“Yeah.” He looked down at his bike.
“It’ll fit in my truck. I’ll give you a ride.”
“But, you just tried to kill me.”
“Oh give it up, I didn’t try to kill you. We gotta move.”
He followed her to the SUV and tossed the broken bike frame into the back. He hopped in the front seat. They drove out of the parking lot in silence.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said. “About the window.”
“You should be. I was already having a bad enough day.”
“And you don’t think my day was bad? You almost ran me over.”
“Well I didn’t try to! My Chico was dying and I had to get him to the hospital as fast as I could!”
The biker turned his head and looked at the dog in the backseat. “Really?”
She nodded. “He ate something he shouldn’t have.”
He returned her nod. “My dog did that too. I can’t stand it when people mess with dogs.”
“I thought I was going to cry when that guy was going for Chico.”
“I would have killed him,” said the biker. He looked at Becky. “I’m Ryan.”
She glanced over but kept quickly returned her eyes to the road. “Becky,” she said.
Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below
Josh Rank grew up in Wisconsin but now lives in Los Angeles and will probably live somewhere else pretty soon. Occasional scribblings can be found at www.joshrank.blogspot.com. He likes burritos and his dog.
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