Posted by: Corri van de Stege | September 29, 2007

A story

Below is a story that I wrote this week, in a hotel room, working on an assignment.  It is of course twice the length it should be, but I like it this way.  It will become part of my larger piece of writing in some form or other and I just wonder what you think of this.   It is of course about a childhood in Holland, cannot be anything else, given the bike and the understanding that kids go to school on bikes! 

The scar

     The wind blows her hair across her face and then swipes it back again, she goes faster and faster, her legs barely able to keep up with the speed of the pedals, standing position, cannot reach the saddle to sit, the wheels whirring.  Her skirt blows tight against her legs, then blows up and she tries to push it down again with one hand, holding the handle bar tight with the other.  The country lane is quite empty, it’s a warm afternoon and the few farms dotted along the lane appear deserted except for the farmer’s wife, the clanking of the milk buckets and her calling out something to her husband, who is invisible, behind one of the barns. 
      Anna is queen of the road, the thrill of the bike, her sister’s brand new bike, far too large for her, the saddle too high, she is in charge, knows that she should not use it.  Her sister will go to the secondary school in town, needs a good bike, but then she always gets the new things, always needs things well before she, Anna does, and they will be passed on to her when the newness has worn off.  Her clothes, her shoes, her broken toys, everything second hand. 
 Suddenly, somehow, the bike stood there, leaning against the house, gleaming, unlocked and challenging her, taunting her.
      Here I am, not yours, you’ll never have one like me, I’m far too good for you, you’ll get me when I’m old, have lost my shine, when my light is broken and my brakes don’t work so well.  Also, and more importantly, my gears, yes I have gears, will be lousy by the time you get me, they’ll tick over, unwilling to go up or down smoothly.  And then, your sister will move on to a better bike, or maybe, even a moped.  That’s when you get me!
      Anna moves forward, takes a beeline for the bike, and looks around.  It’s so very quiet, where is everyone?  She touches the bike, strokes it and still there is no one, no one visible through the large front windows in the room behind.  What if someone took it?  Thieves might come along, jump on it and disappear with it, and then her sister would not have a bike anymore.  And what if she took it? 
      Anna stands there, carefully places her hands on the handlebars, the brakes fit perfectly, she can pull them, her right thumb reaches the lever of the gear switch.  What if she just tries it, just here, and she hops up and down a few times, puts her left foot on the paddle and slowly glides away, lifts her right leg to the right hand paddle, moves around, turns the corner of the house and still no one is there, no one ticks on the window panes, calling her back.  She carries on, disappears from the view of the window, one quick glance back and then she is off, along the village main road, houses on each side, a few people walking at the side with shopping bags, but no one takes much notice of the seven year old on a large lady’s bike.
      She’s jealous of her sister, let’s admit it, she feels neglected, wants revenge, but never set out to take the bike, not like this!  But she does, and rides away, heart beating, thrilled that she’s in control of a grown-up brand new bike, hers for the moment.
      Anna turns right and then takes another turn and finds herself outside the village, gathering speed in the quiet country lane.  The farmer’s wife is still in conversation with her invisible husband when she hears a loud wail, looks up and sees the child, a girl, crumpled in the middle of the road, a bike on top of her.  The girl scrambles up, sits, holding her elbow, peers at her knees that are covered in blood and dirt.  The woman, in her forties, walks up the drive and then along the road and picks up the bike.  A few cows are moaning in the distance providing the chorus to the drama unfolding. 
      Tears of pain and guilt flow over Anna’s cheeks, she sobs, bites her lips.
      ‘The bike, is the bike alright?’  They will know, they will find out, she will be punished. 
      ‘Oh forget the bike’, the woman says, ‘let’s have a look at you first, you’re going to need some bandaging, duck, you’d better come with me.  I’ll wash your knees and arms and then we can see what the damage is.  What happened?’
      ‘I fell’, she cries out loud now, big sobbing wails.  Disaster has struck.
      ‘Does it hurt much luv?’ the woman asks, looking at her full of sympathy.
      ’We’ll get you a drink, and a biscuit.  You’ll be alright, no broken bones by the looks of it.’
      Anna hobbles along with the woman, who pushes the bike.
      ‘What’s you name now luv?’
      ‘Anna’, she sobs ‘Anna Dent.’
      ‘Ah, you’re one of Dent’s daughters.  I know your sister, Margaret, she used to come and play with my daughter, Tina.’ the woman nods at the same time as she chats on.  ‘I haven’t seen her for a while though.’   She puts the bike against the wall of the farmhouse, next to the kitchen door.  She points for Anna to sit down on the bench placed outside under the kitchen window, a pot of geraniums at each side with a watering can, half full of water. 
      ‘The front wheel’s a bit bent, luv’, she says, examining the bike.  ‘And he bell is dented.  Will need a new one.’
      Anna wails again, louder now, as much with the stinging pain of the gashes in her knees and elbows as with the realisation that she will be really, really punished.  The bike was not hers to take, why did she do it, how can she get out of this one?
      The woman has gone inside and comes out with a large glass of orange lemonade and two biscuits.  From a pocket of her striped blue and yellow apron, which she wears over a flowery summer dress with short sleeves, she pulls a little jar of ointment.
      Half an hour later Anna’s knees are washed, one is covered with a big bandage, whilst her elbow has a large squared plaster, blood seeping through already.  Meanwhile the farmer has ambled over, sucks on a pipe and looks at her full of pity.  He puts her bike on his tractor and says he’ll give her a ride.  Anna does not much enjoy the majestic view from the top of the vehicle, as the farmer chats to her, in his broad accent.
      Punishment is severe, she’s grounded for four weeks, is not allowed any library books, bed immediately after dinner and her savings pot is plundered to pay for the damage to the bicycle.  Her sister does not speak to her for a full week and only then to tell her how angry she is, her new bike now scarred for life.  She does not seem too concerned about Anna’s hurt.  She’s made to feel how wrong she was to do what she did, how unforgivably bad.  Enviousness is a Sin that should be purged, taking the bike without asking just as bad, comes close to stealing.
      The scar on Anna’s knee, first angry and purplish red fades over the years to a barely visible line but never disappears altogether. 


Responses

  1. Read with a cup of coffee this Sunday morning. Love this story – there is a tenderness in the voice. Your sentence structures alter to give pace in a very clever way. I must admit that I wanted the farmer’s wife to have a spare bell, to make the bike as good as new and for Anna to go unpunished. But that wouldn’t be real. The scar is a reminder of things lost and punishments that cover a young girl’s sense of neglect and injustice. Very moving.

    x

  2. My view coincides with Caroline’s, but you’ll permit me to say that I miss something before the last but one paragraph. I don’t know what but reactions catch too soon the line of the story.

    But of course I am nothing but a moron!

  3. Caroline: love you for your encouraging comments. As we all know, life is cruel to children, but you got my intention! No no, the farmer’s wife cannot have a bell…. Thanks very much x

    Jose: oh no, no morons here as you are quite right, there is a whole story missing (Sin with capital L!) which I tried to do away with in two sentences…. All part of the bigger plot so you will have to wait 🙂

    Many thanks to both for taking time to read it – notebook will go with me again tomorrow… x

  4. Give me an old cool bicycle, and I’ll ride around the city for days.


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