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A Novel By Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett--a cyclist, novelist, and Baylor University professor--shares with The Bicycle Exchange the first two chapters of his exciting new book. Below is Chapter Two. Follow link to visit Chapter One. (Book Facts: Cycling, by Greg Garrett, 256 pages, published September 2003, Kensington Publishing, available on Amazon via this link.) 

Two

(Chapter One)

I do not live in Waco proper. Neither did David Koresh, for that matter, but who would ever have read the headline "Tragedy in Elk"? Waco, is--for better or worse--the logical setting for some stories, and as I know better than most, you cannot escape it just by leaving it.

It is a city of contradictions: once known as "the Athens of Texas" because of its many institutions of higher learning, it has also been a place chock-full of prejudice, ignorance, and idiocy; the westernmost bastion of the cultured and literate society of Southern cotton planters, it became a lawless cattle town renowned far and wide as "Six-Gun Alley," and people to this very day and hour still get shot down in the streets; a city of churches, the "Jerusalem on the Brazos" (according to Southern Baptists, for whom Baylor University is a Mecca worthy of pilgrimage), Waco often--even now, in 1993-- demonstrates neither love nor charity, the races and classes are largely segregated from each other, and the last public lynching of a black man in America took place downtown on the town square.

Is it so remarkable that I'm a touch addled when for all my thirty years I've been an inmate of this asylum?

In late August, about the time school starts up again, the annual ant migration begins. For a day or so, the shimmering hot air is thick with just-hatched ant-queens, off to explore new worlds, settle new colonies, perpetuate the species. I ride alert for the glistening wings in the sun that are my only warning. On the day when they are thickest, I try to ride in the center of the road to maximize my reaction time, but still they manage to land on my shirt, in my hair, in my mouth. They stick to my skin, slick with sweat and sunblock. As quickly as I can without upending myself in a ditch, I flick them off with thumb and middle finger; Texas fire ants are not to be trifled with. Still others glance off my sunglasses with a plink, and pinwheel, stunned, to earth.

I know that most of these new colonizers will not survive; one of my love interests, biologist Sandra Fuentes, has told me that reproduction in prodigious numbers is nature's way of trying to even the odds somewhat for a species. And yet, for this one day, it's almost impossible to believe that next spring the entire world will not be carpeted by the fine black dirt of anthills.

Just before I arrive back at my house, I pass the ramshackle farm house which is the home of my elderly neighbors the Fabers and their coven of cats, and ride beneath the low-hanging branches of an ancient pear tree next to the culvert. I slow down enough to reach up and snap off one of the dangling green-golden pears. When I bite into the sun-warmed fruit it is crunchy and the juice fills my mouth with a sweetness like the purest honey.

Although the fruit will not last long--perhaps into mid-September--it at least is something I can look forward to, and that is important. Except for my daily rides, my calendar for August and most of September is disturbingly empty. Toward the end of September, I will go into Dr. Robert Forest's Civil War class and give my short prepared speech on Sibley's Brigade and the invasion of New Mexico. October is already stacked high, though, a book signing at the campus bookstore for Homecoming and a talk for creative writers in the English Department.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the only reason people keep inviting me back to campus is that they want to talk about ways the Cannon family could help out the university financially, although I hope that's not true for both our sakes: nothing they say to me could possibly help them for a long time to come. Jackson holds the checkbook for the Cannon Foundation, and while he indulges Evelyn's philanthropic inclinations to make Waco a better place to live for all its citizens, he gives to Bayor only when he feels guilty about something and wants to get right with God.

Twice a week I also have lunch at a local landmark, a roadhouse called George's, with the motley gang of men who seem to be my only friends, and as sparse a life as it is, I feel strangely content about it. Things seem to be going well, which is to say that they are going nowhere at all. I have written two pieces for Texas Monthly, one of which will run in the next issue, one three issues from now. And the three women are all back in town, which is worrisome, but with the advent of school, they soon will be involved with activities to take their minds off me, which is a comfort.
Whenever women have the liberty to concentrate on me they begin to notice things they can't abide. I tend to last longer with women who are preoccupied. In small doses, I can pass for exotic, even fascinating; too much exposure to me eventually reveals the truth, that I am essentially null and void, a lost cause, too big a challenge to take on. When women finally recognize this, they leave, disappointed in me for not being what they thought I was, disappointed in themselves for not being able to change me into what they wanted me to be.

I guess I fool a lot of people, although I've always been motivated by good intentions. I have no desire to hurt anyone, although I usually seem to do just that.

But enough of this junior Freud hoo-ha. What about important things, like the weather? There is little change there, either. Every year I forget that in Texas the coming of fall does not mean the coming of fall, and this year it seems particularly true. Although we have had one good rain recently, the land is still parched, the tap water has a strange, brackish taste, and I am into my third month without even touching the Hot knob on the faucets; the ground temperature is high enough to heat the water as it comes into the house.

Despite a run on bottled water at the H.E.B. grocery store where I shop, I've managed to buy enough to get by, and I'll drink distilled water if they buy out all the so-called spring water. Why people pay for something that normally falls free from the heavens I do not understand, but since I myself have joined the bottled-water-quaffing mob, perhaps I have no right to be cynical about them.

Nonetheless, I am cynical, about bottled water, about people who drink bottled water, and about lots of other things besides.

On August 30, as I am just about to leave for my grandparents' to have dinner, Elaine Rosenbaum calls from New York City. Elaine is my literary agent as well as my second ex-wife, and she still calls once or twice a month to check on me. She became my agent and later my wife because she thought I had a passion, a gift; she eventually became my second ex-wife because she realized that I did not intend to write anything else of substance, that I was not in fact the purposeful artist with whom she though she fell in love.

"Are you writing anything?" Elaine asks, as she always does, in that broad and slightly nasal tone of hers. "Besides your food pieces, I mean." Although she has remarried, she still takes a personal and financial interest in my life, and for my part, I still like her very much, so I am never ashamed to tell the truth.

"Not a lick. Not a drip. Not a tittle. Not even a jot." I pick up my car keys from the hall table and jingle them just a little, trying out the sound as a distraction.

"I heard from Eddie Todd today." She pauses. Ideally, I'm supposed to express some sort of interest in my editor here--an actual writer would--but I don't bite and she has to noodge ahead. "He asks me, 'Honestly, Elaine, just between the two of us--'"

"So you're snitching on Eddie Todd. Betraying his confidence. Honestly, you are lowlife scum, Elaine Littman Cannon Rosenbaum."

She ignores me and returns to her discourse. "'Elaine, just between the two of us, is Brad really working?' So I tell him, 'Yes. In his own way.' You are still carrying those notebooks around, aren't you?"

"Wouldn't leave home without them." I jingle a little louder.

"I don't suppose there's a word in them."

"Empty as Ronald Reagan's head," I say.

She snickers a little before she catches herself. "You're bad."

"I know," I say. Jingling hasn't worked so I try the straightforward approach. "Listen, I was just on my way over to Jackson and Evelyn's for dinner. Want to come?"

"Give me a rain check," she says. "The tollway to Newark is so crowded this time of day. By the time I caught a flight, dinner would be over."

"I'll give them your regrets," I say.

"I've got a lot of them," she says.

"Uh huh," I say. I begin to eye the door, as though I could escape what's coming.

"You know, Brad, you were a fine writer. A damn fine writer." Her voice quivers when she says this. Passion? Anger? Regret? Probably D: All of the above.

"Yes," I say solemnly. "I was." We speak as we would speak of someone tragically dead and gone, some promising stranger who was cut down in the prime of art and life.

Her sigh is audible all the way from New York. It always is. "Good-bye, Brad," she says. "Be careful on that bicycle. Look both directions at stop signs."

"I will be careful," I say. "I'll talk to you soon."

I replace the phone gently on the cradle, lock up the house, and creep out to my little Austin-Healey 3000, parked beneath the gnarled branches of a century-old live oak. One of the Faber cats is sitting on the hood again, and although the paint is old and there's not much damage it can do, I help this one off into free flight with my open hand.

The Healey starts up on the second try--not bad for a thirty-year-old English sports car--and I back into the road. After five miles or so, I reach the Waco city limits. I drive past cemeteries and housing projects and under I-35, which runs from Mexico, on my left, to distant Minnesota, somewhere on my right. I continue down 17th Street past small frame houses with Hispanic families sitting on their porch steps and beautiful brown children playing in the spray of a sprinkler, and as I cross over the railroad tracks on the overpass, I spy Mrs. Baird's bakery beneath me and inhale the stomach-tightening scent of fresh bread.

After I cross the bridge I turn left onto Franklin, pull into the parking lot of Lolita's Tortilleria, and climb from the car, which I leave running in the No Parking area. Inside, I pull half a dozen Coca-Colas in battered glass bottles from the glass-doored cooler and haul them up to the front counter where Hector Portillo stands smiling. He is a wide and somewhat doughy middle-aged man with a head like a jack o' lantern and a crooked smile to match.

"'Ey, Brad," he says when he sees me, "que pasa," his smile threatening to circumnavigate his crew-cutted head, and he calls back through the window into the kitchen. "Aqui, Mama. Es Brad." Lolita waves, her hands white with tortilla flour, and smiles a gap-toothed smile before returning to her work. A few of the customers--mostly Hispanic, with a cowboy-hatted Anglo here and there--look up from their booths, but I know none of them, and I turn back to Hector.
I think of Hector Portillo as my friend. I have known him since I was a kid. Once a week or so, usually on my way to Jackson and Evelyn's, I stop in here to pick up some of these Cokes, which are imported from Mexico and thus are made with pure cane sugar instead of cheap corn syrup like almost all the other soft drinks in America. Whenever I come in, I ask Hector about his family and he inquires about mine, although I am forced to admit that neither one of us really knows the other at all. His life is edged with dark corners--Sunday mass, Cinco de Mayo, Tejano music--that I will never be able to penetrate.

So I suppose that while we bear each other genuine good will--if I miss a week, the next time I pop in he asks after me with what seems to be real concern--we are not actually friends, not in the classic sense of the word. While I could throw myself into Franklin Avenue to pull him from the path of an oncoming truck, I could not share any of my darkest thoughts or deepest feelings with him if my very life depended on it.

This is not his fault, although he is a typically macho specimen of the Hispanic male. It is mine, and I couldn't say even this to him for fear that it would change things between us.
And if there's one thing I cannot abide, it's change.

These thoughts sadden me for some reason, and after he has opened one of the Cokes for me--the bottle cap clatters onto the white speckled formica counter, the red cursive "Coca-Cola" and the slogan "Refresco" facing up--and put the other bottles in a white paper bag, I nod and make my exit silently.

In the car I tilt back the cold green glass bottle and let the harsh sweet bubbling liquid course down my throat. This is what Coke is supposed to taste like, the way it used to taste before everything went to hell.

I wish life could taste like this.

In the Healey I jog west one block and leave behind the restaurants and used car dealerships of Franklin as I turn left onto Austin Avenue and then travel under spreading oaks past ever-larger houses to my grandparent's red-brick, white-columned Colonial. I pull up in the driveway and glance back behind the house at the garage apartment into which my grandparents continually invite me to move. No thanks. I vault from the car like Speed Racer and head for the front stairs.
Since I'm late and Jackson insists on eating punctually at six, they are already in the dining room when I arrive, so I buss my grandmother's cheek and sit down between them on one side of the table, shake out my napkin, and use it to swab my forehead, which is wet with sweat from my open-air drive.

"Bradford," my grandmother scolds, but she is too happy to see me to let social niceties interfere, so she goes back to her salad.

"What's for dinner?" I ask. "I'm starved." Billie brings in a platter of chicken-fried steak almost as if I had called her, and she sets it down in the middle of the table, waggles her finger at me a few times for being late, and makes her ponderous way back into the kitchen for more food. She is a large black woman in her sixties, as well as the repository of most of my warmest feelings about growing up in this house.

"You young people should learn to be punctual," Jackson says, offering a wobbly plate. I put a good-sized piece of steak on it and then one on mine. "Then you'd already be eating."
"Papa," Grandma says, but I can handle him.

"Elaine called. Sends her love." They both nod approvingly, as does Billie, who catches this news as she brings in mashed potatoes and cream gravy. Elaine has been their favorite wife to date, and they wouldn't mind hearing that Owen Rosenbaum had shuffled off this mortal coil and left Elaine to turn back to me for solace. If such a thing were to happen, I would do my best to comfort her, but my grandparents both think too highly of me; they don't recognize that Elaine and I split up for good reasons, most of them having to do with me.

That's what grandparents are for, though; they are the familial equivalent of dogs, never questioning, always faithful.

"Tell her hello," my grandmother says. "Has she sold any blockbusters lately?"

"We didn't talk long. I was on my way out the door."

"How did the writing go today?" my grandfather asks, and he fixes me with a steady appraising gaze.

"I got in a little after my ride," I tell him. "I'm in a difficult section on Johnston's battle plan. Very technical stuff." I seem to recall that they believe I'm working on the Shiloh book, and while I am reluctant to spin a tale for them, Jackson's growing skepticism must be answered head on, so as I dish out potatoes I keep a surreptitious eye on him.

"You could get more done if you put in some concentrated work at the computer instead of riding all over the country," he says, but I think I've pushed the stone back over that grave for the time being.

"Writing is hard work," I tell him. "And writing history for people like you is the toughest of all. I have to use very small words."

He smiles; Jackson loves for me to give it back to him, and I oblige him whenever I have the spirit for it, which is not as often as he would like. "You must have had a good day."

"Just fine," I said. "The wind wasn't too bad, my legs held up pretty well, and I didn't get chased by any dogs. Pretty much the best you can expect out of life." And I smile and take a heaping bite of mashed potatoes to convince them that I am being playful, rather than stating my current philosophy of life. Buster the cat wanders through the dining room on the way from nowhere to nowhere, and he doesn't even acknowledge my presence, which is fine with me; I have inherited my grandfather's antipathy toward cats in general and Buster in particular.

After dessert, one of Billie's chocolate cakes with the creamy icing I used to lick out of her mixing bowl and off the spoon, Jackson releases a satisfied burp toward the ceiling, and he is again free to devote his full attention to me.

"Your grandmother thinks that your days could be better occupied if you had a few more responsibilities," he says, rubbing his stomach absently.

"Like what?" I ask. My voice sounds calm to me, although I feel my insides constrict at the word "responsibilities."

Evelyn leans forward. "We know you're not interested in taking over the construction business--"
"Have to sell it off to some damn Yankee, I suppose," Jackson mutters.

"Maybe you could do a little more work with the Cannon Foundation," Evelyn says. "We're not going to be around forever, you know. Papa is slowing down." She raises a finger to silence him when he opens his mouth to protest, turns to him. "It's true. You forget things. People take advantage of you."

"I don't forget things," he says, and crosses his arms like a willful two-year-old.

"Someone at the Community Band called up last week and said Papa had promised them ten thousand dollars for a new sound system. He couldn't remember what he had decided to do. If he'd decided to do anything."

I shake my head in exasperation. "Doesn't Carly write down on the grant applications whether they're approved for funding or not?" I think that is the name of the pale secretary in front of my grandfather's office; I have never seen her do anything, including make eye contact.

"Sure," Jackson says. "But this fellow said he and I had talked about it. So I gave him the money."

"Write things down," I say.

"That's fine," he says. "I forget to."

I roll my eyes, an action which does not go unobserved. My grandfather chuckles and pushes his chair back from the table. "What do you say, son? Do you want to help out an old man?"

"Responsibility" is still caroming around inside my cranium, and probably this is what causes me to shake my head. "This is not a good time," I say. "I need to leave things open for the writing."
He shrugs--he has expected as much (or as little)--and we adjourn to the den, where they sink into their matching leather recliners and Evelyn flicks on the television. A Chevy truck commercial booms out of the speakers, and I reach across for the remote and make to turn it down, but Jackson stops me.

"I need it loud," he says. "I've got my hearing aids turned up and I'm still deaf as a post. My God, what a life." He leans back and puts his feet up. "If I get much worse you have my permission to put me out of my misery."

As soon as Evelyn sighs he realizes what he's said, his eyebrows come together to crease his face with an expression of physical pain, and he seems to collapse inward upon himself. "Ah, Jackson," he says. "I'm so sorry, son. Damn it!"

The reason the "put me out of my misery" remark echoes in the room long after it's been uttered is that it was my grandfather who gave the permission to shut off the machines. For a moment I can again hear the harsh guttural breathing of the artificial respirator that kept my father alive for over a month in the Hillcrest Hospital ICU. My mother and brother died in the crash, but he was a strong man, and he clung to life long past the point I would have given up. I haven't set foot inside a hospital since, and that's just one of the many places irradiated by my past.

I know it must have been hard for my grandfather to sign those papers; I would never have had the strength to do it. All the same, then and for a long time after I hated Jackson for letting my father die. I know now that it was the best of the bad options available, but still, after almost fifteen years, it is a snag in our family's history so close to the surface that we can sometimes discern the ripples.

My grandfather closes his eyes and shakes his head, and when I see his lower lip tremble a little, I turn my head away and get to my feet. He is getting old after all; he never used to let his emotions show like this.

"It's all right, Jackson," I say. "Don't think a thing of it." I pat his shoulder, then lean over to kiss my grandmother good-bye.

"Thanks for dinner," I say. "I'll call you."

And before something else can emerge from the waters, I am gone.

The car won't start--just growls a little, like a domesticated tiger--so I let it roll backwards into the street and pop the clutch when I hit the bottom of the driveway.

That works. I speed along under the cool of the tall trees on Austin Avenue toward downtown, trying to concentrate only on the pressure of my foot on the clutch, the rounded smoothness of the gearshift beneath my palm. It doesn't work; even the throaty roar from the muffler as I accelerate and the torrent of noise from the radio can't distract me. I still see my father on his back, so full of tubes he looked like a science project run amuck, still see my grandfather sinking in on himself like a Macy's Parade balloon leaking air, and I know that I can't go back to my dark and empty home where the memories ricochet around the rafters. Not yet.

I need to see one of the women, feel arms around me, know that--for a moment at least--I'm not alone. I check the possibilities. I haven't heard from Madelyn Clark since her husband Colby came back from his summer studying John Milton's studies at Cambridge, and her silence suggests that he is enjoying his return too much to leave home yet, damn him. Infidelity seems too complicated a thing for me to manage when the husband is on this continent, and so I ruefully mark her off my mental list.

I drive by Becky Sue Bradenton's apartment on Bagby Avenue. Becky has called me twice this summer: I have taken her to a movie once and begged off a second time on account of my writing. I'm sure she has had plenty of fraternity boys anxious to fill her time, so I don't feel guilty about this at all. Becky Sue will always have a full dance card.

I slow down as I pass her parking lot, see that her blue Honda hatchback isn't in its usual spot, shrug, and continue down the street toward the Baylor campus. Sometimes Sandra Fuentes stays at school and works in her lab or her office, but when I stop to use the phone at 7-11 there's no answer at either number.

She picks up her home phone on the first ring.

"Sandra Fuentes," she says in a voice as starched and white as her lab coats.
"It's me," I say, holding the receiver closer to my ear as a Dr. Pepper truck lumbers past. "Brad. Can I see you?"

I can imagine the expression on her face currently--blank--as she goes internal to ponder the options, examine contingencies, weigh pros and cons.

After what seems an unreasonable period of silence where I start to wonder if we've been cut off, she says, "I suppose that would be all right, for a little while. I have an eight o'clock class tomorrow."

I feel a smile twisting my lips upward ever so slightly. Although she is the least comforting of the women, her matter-of-factness, her straightforwardness, can be dry and refreshing, a martini with only the slightest hint of vermouth.

Sandra Fuentes lives just outside Robinson, a small town through which I occasionally ride. The citizens there have been voting down bond issues to repair the streets since Hector was a pup--and what does that mean, anyway? My whole life I don't know what that means--so even the main streets of the town are awkwardly patched or blatantly unpatched, a surface suited to my mountain bike, maybe, but not to my little Healey. I slow down to twenty and still hit the outside edge of a pothole that could swallow my little car whole, and when I reach the dirt road and get off the pavement, I breathe a paradoxical sigh of relief.

She lives in an all-American house that looks like Ward Cleaver's, as unlike the house she grew up in El Paso as I can imagine; it's almost as though she has invoked the starched-white ghost of Hugh Beaumont to defend her from her memories of single-room shacks and wind whistling through cracks and Anglo kids who made fun of short squinting brainy Tex-Mex girls. Whatever works, I say. I respect people who can bury the past.

The porch light is on when I pull up out front despite the fact that the sun won't set for another hour or so; it is always on. I knock on the storm door and a heartbeat later the front door is pulled open and I am looking down on Dr. Sandra Fuentes, who is all of five two. She's let her hair grow out while she was doing her fieldwork in Tanzania, and the tropical sun has bleached it several shades lighter. When she lets me come inside, she gives me a Mona Lisa smile and pushes a long strand of hair over her left ear.

Her home is cool and dark, a haven for cats, of which she has somewhere between five and fifteen, depending on the status of her various rescue missions. Books and papers cover practically every flat surface, including the dining table, the television, and the sofa, where she clears a spot for us by transferring debris to the floor.

"I'm afraid I don't have much to offer you," she said. "Milk or water?"

"Water would be nice," I say. "I'm still a little dehydrated."

"You look tanned. Very fit." She says this over her shoulder as she walks into the kitchen. I hear the clatter of ice cubes and the tap running, and then she returns with a tall glass which is beautiful beyond all utilitarianism, blue and seemingly hand-blown.

"New glasses?"

Her face closes down like a garage door descending. "I thought I deserved something nice. My family's taste ran to jelly glasses."

Yikes. I take a sip, swallow, and change the subject. "Did you learn lots in Africa?" It is an obvious diversion, but I am still anxious for the touch of her hand, of her flesh on mine, and the path to Sandra Fuentes' heart does not pass through summer evenings colored by strumming Latin guitars and canciones de amor but through steaming East African jungles and gleaming laboratories. The Mona Lisa smile broadens then, momentarily revealing tiny white even teeth, and her hazel eyes behind her scientist glasses actually sparkle.

"Oh, where should I start," she says. "So many things happened. I live among them, you know. The chimpanzees. At first even the older ones didn't remember me, but I won back a few of my old friends, and they convinced others, and after a while they accepted me as if I'd never left. My two graduate students couldn't get close until just before we left. They had to stay away. They took pictures, video. But I was right there among them. I saw everything. Birth, death, and everything in between."

Her eyes are wide and almost gleaming; her leg against mine seems to be trembling a bit. "It sounds wonderful," I say. "I'm sure you're writing up your results now."

"Of course," she says, but then she smiles slightly to defuse the touch of petulance. Of course she is writing up her results now; she is a scientist. "Every year I am more and more surprised by how few differences there are between primates and us. Genetically, you know, chimps and humans have a ninety-five percent congruence."

I know. This is one of her favorite topics. Cats ruffle papers at our feet, my ice clinks a little as it settles in my glass, and I take her hand and put it to my lips.

"I've missed you," I say, and it's true; there is no one in my life quite like her. She accepts the pressure of my lips on her hand, even squeezes my hand in return, but when I lean over to try and kiss her, she gets up and walks into the kitchen. She does not recognize, apparently, that we have been involved in foreplay.

I follow her. Unlike the rest of the house, the kitchen cabinets are free of books, magazines, and papers; she apparently needs someplace clean to prepare the cats' meals. I know it's not to prepare her own, because I once--and only once--made the mistake of asking if she ever cooked Mexican food. Honest mistake, you would think. Besides, I love a good chicken tamale so much that my interest in her would have soared skyward if she'd admitted she'd been making them since birth, that nothing gave her more pleasure than whipping up a batch of chicken tamales for some lucky man.

She did not make such an admission.

"Do I look like some Mexican seņora who spends her life bent over a stove?"

I backed away from that question like a man scrambling back from the crumbling edge of an arroyo.

"No," I said, shaking my head violently. "Not a bit."

"There's sandwich stuff in the fridge," she growled. "I don't cook. I'm a scientist."
"Okay," I said. "I'm sorry."

"I'm a scientist. A professional. Other people cook for me." She stopped glaring at me. "Do you want a sandwich?"

"I'll fix it myself," I said, and she nodded with approval. I did not ask her about tamales again.
Sandra is angry at the whole world--generally including me-- because she has had to work twice as hard as an Anglo male to be taken seriously; she is a rotten housekeeper in a home lousy with cats; she would sacrifice my life to save a monkey's any day; I don't have the slightest idea what she looks like under her jeans and "I'm Primed for Primates" T-shirt. All the same, I want to make wild monkey love to her there on the cabinet, to pursue sexual pleasure like a good primate, and I tell her exactly that.

She doesn't slap me and her jaw doesn't drop; neither does she pull me close and run her tongue across my face. "You watch too much television," she says, and she hoists herself up to sit on the cabinet, placing herself roughly at eye level with me now. I'm pleased to see that she is not offended; she seems instead to regard me as a wonderful specimen.

"I don't watch any television," I complain, which is mostly true except for the occasional sporting event and late night eye candy. "I'm just telling you the truth. I thought scientists were looking for the truth."

"We're looking for a truth," she says, and she involuntarily lets slip a yawn before she swallows it again. It is not encouraging. "Or truths, even."

"Well, couldn't this be a truth?"

"It could be," she admits. She turns that over in her mind for a moment, and then, as if she wants to test a hypothesis, she puts her hands in my hair, tugs me close, and kisses me, her tiny teeth clicking against mine. Her mouth tastes of coffee with cream and sugar, bitter but beautiful, something worth waking up to.

I moan a little from the sheer sensory pleasure of it, and she pulls her head back and a little to one side to observe me.

Then she pushes me away. "You're a very strange man," she says. "I haven't figured you out at all."

"I'm remarkably complex," I say. "Really a fit subject. You should observe me more closely."
"It would take too much time," she sighs, "and that's one thing I don't have enough of." She slides down off the cabinet, takes my hand, and leads me through the obstacle course. Going down the hall, I have a momentary thought that she will turn left and walk me back to her bedroom, but she continues straight and deposits me in the foyer.

"Go home," she says. "It was pleasant talking to you, and kissing you, for that matter, but there is no room for you in my life. None whatsoever."

"Kiss me again," I say.

"Once," she says, "and only once." She tilts her head up, I bend over, and our lips meet. She doesn't kiss like you would expect a scientist to kiss, although actually I do notice a bit of exploration there before she draws back.

"Now go home," she says.

"You've aroused the primate in me," I say, for she has.

"Not my problem," she says, ushering me out. "Take a cold shower. Drive around the block. Ride your bike."

Which, of course, is what I wind up doing the next day, after a sleepless night spent watching quasi-sports on ESPN. Thank God for cheerleading competitions and Australian-rules football, or my nights would be unbearable.

Chapter One

Crank On Home

 

 

 

Cycling: Chapter One

Crank On Home