Tom leans out the kitchen window, Hey, Hold up. But Mabel is already at the garage, pulling open the wooden door, looking for her bike that’s been stashed in the back for at least a year. She has to climb over the wheelbarrow, and move the rake. And finally, there it is, jammed behind the push mower. Amazingly, the pump is there too and the tires look flat but okay, salvageable. Mabel squats and pumps, and, yup, they’re holding air. Pushing off, she’s pretty wobbly. How did this happen? How did so much time pass from her last bike ride?
She follows her old route, through the alleyways that connect like streams. The back side of Long Beach, the place she’s most comfortable. Down Orizaba past Freeman and Obispo. She passes the rear sides of old houses, some ramshackle with paint peeling, others charmingly covered with ivy.
She’s wearing a denim skirt and black stockings, hair in a bandana, just the kind of thing that makes Tom frown nowadays. Just the kind of thing he loved at first. My Sabra, he’d called her, Israeli rebel. But now, not so much, and the creaking tires seems to echo the words: Not so much, not so much.
She turns on Colorado, takes it to 3rd. Her thigh muscles are burning but she’s pedaling pretty straight now, getting the feel of things. She rides past clusters of dented trash cans. She can see succulents spreading from cracks in the concrete.
She walked here with Tom when they first got together, showing him what she loved. A fire escape climbing a brick wall. A cat stretched across a railing, tail twitching in the sun. Did he like it, this backwards look at her town? Not so much.
She makes a right at the little corner grocery. She knows every building, remembering them moments before they appear. She peeks at yards through back fences, hibiscus shrubs with crepe paper flowers. This is where her friend Sharon lives. Sharon who drove her to work for a month straight during that rainy April. Sharon who once timed Mabel’s arrival down to the minute, sticking her hand between the hedges and holding a cup of coffee out for her.
Mabel’s seen Sharon less and less this last year. Tom liking her at first, was that even true? but later not so much.
Then she crosses the thick river of Broadway, and over to Ocean Ave. The sky always surprises her here, how it opens up wide above the bluffs. She rides parallel with the flat ocean, feeling its steady breeze against her side. She has plenty of time to turn back later. For now, she’ll just keep going.
Photo by Murillo de Paula on Unsplash