Doug and the Yellow Unidentifiable Object on a BicycleThird Place: Spring 2020 Writing Contest
Five AM. I drag my ass out of bed every day at that time. I have to turn on a light six months of the year. It’s the price you pay to live in the pacific north-west; go to work in the dark, come home in the dark. You may not believe me, but nothing can lift your spirits like the grey-drizzle of an emerald rainforest.
For weeks now, I’ve been passed every day by a yellow unidentifiable object on a bicycle. I try to keep up, but I’m only riding to save money, not for competition. I sometimes catch the object at the next traffic light, where I have less than ten seconds to engage. It’s not enough; the object is moving when the light is orange the other way. One day, I rode like a champion, and the object wasn’t moving when I caught up. The chain came off. Her chain.
“Can I help?” I said as I rolled to a stop.
She looked fierce as she ripped away at the chain, which was probably jammed in the sprocket, so I added, “I mean if you need any, that is.”
I started to ease my way around her stalled bike, but she unbent herself from the chain-banging position and peered at me through the early morning gloom.
“Yes,” she said, “I could use some help. I’ve never had a chain come off.”
I suppose that was my cue for all sorts of cringingly masculine behavior, but I’ve sworn off that stuff and try my best not to flaunt my white male entitlement.
“Why don’t I talk you through it?” I said. “Best to start by turning the bike upside down. It’s easier to get at the chain that way.”
She didn’t hesitate in the least. The bike was up and over on its seat and handlebars in about three seconds. I shone my cellphone flashlight onto the chain so she could see where it was jammed.
“I got it now,” she said.
“Watch your knuckles when you pull it loose,” I said, showing her a thin white scar on the back of my right hand. “Just work it loose from a little behind where it’s stuck.”
“Found out the hard way, did you?” she said. “Damn, that’s greasy.”
The chain wiggled a bit, then pulled free to hang loose around the pedals.
“Do you need to be somewhere?” she asked. “I think I’ve got it now.”
“Yeah, I do,” I said, “but it’s a treat to see someone do something for the first time.”
She smiled at me and tried to place the chain onto the bottom of the sprocket.
“You have to loop it over the top. Then, pedal forward a touch until it slides on. If you catch just a bit of it, the rest will follow.”
“Good thing you stayed,” she said. “I might have been here until lunch.”
“Not to worry,” I said, “there’s a good sandwich shop across the street.”
The chain slipped on nicely. I had some paper towels in my backpack, so she wiped her hands before she proffered me one for a handshake.
“Stella,” she said.
“Doug,” I replied as I gave her hand a manly shake. “Nice to meet you.”
“Listen,” said Stella, “would it be forward of me to ask about your status?”
I pondered the request for a few seconds and then shrugged my shoulders.
“Do you mean landed immigrant with a permanent resident card, or wife and six kids, with number seven on the way?”
She staged a little frown.
“Well, number two would be more problematic than number one, but at least I’d know you were fertile.”
I’ve always wondered what it is that categorizes a vocal sound as a “guffaw,” but I’m pretty sure I nailed one at that moment. It was triggered by her comment, and made more explosive by what was unknown to her; I have no balls.
“If that’s a priority,” I said, still chuckling, “then I’m afraid I’m a poor candidate.”
“My bad,” she said, “I’m always putting my foot in my mouth.”
“You have no idea,” I said, “but I like your sense of humor.”
She was piqued. I could tell by the way she seemed to expand an inch or two.
“Don’t tell me I just insulted someone that actually has fertility issues?”
“No,” I said, deciding to come clean, “I had cancer issues. Both testicles were removed.”
I saw her shoulders slump, like a bike tire looks when it loses a few PSI. I grew worried when they began shaking, but when she raised her face to mine, she had laughter-induced tears in her eyes. The only thing louder than her laughter was my own.
“Oh, shit, that’s funny,” I said. “What are the chances, eh?”
We sat down on the curb, side-by-side, the two of us shaking with laughter.
“You seem like a nice guy,” she said. “The kind that’d be a good dad.”
“That was always my plan.”
“I know it’s weird,” she said, “but I feel sad about that.”
I just sat quietly. I liked this girl. There was something about her that intrigued me.
“I sense that this fertility thing is no joke to you.”
She stiffened, somewhat, and then tried to keep the jesting on a roll.
“So, does not having testicles make you more perceptive?”
“No,” I said, “suffering does.”
That gave her a pause.
“I’m sorry, it’s hard for me to put down my guard, sometimes.”
“And what is it you’re guarding, Stella? Or am I allowed to ask?”
“You know,” she said, with a burgeoning grin, “I’d say a guy that just told me he has no balls could ask me about anything.”
We laughed again, and it felt good. I hadn’t done a lot of it lately.
“You won’t believe me,” she said, “but I’m going to be serious.”
The only thing that implied this might be true was her furrowed brow.
“I’m happy and successful, and I want a child. I don’t want a partner, but I don’t want some anonymous donor.”
“I can understand that,” I said, “It’s good to know where you come from, more than medically, I mean.”
“I’ve spent nearly a year getting ready,” she continued, “and I’m ready. I just haven’t met
Mr. Right; sperm-wise, I mean.”
I couldn’t believe it. I never thought I’d get to say the words that then came out of my mouth.
“How would you like to help me stop feeling like the stupidest person on the planet?”
“Huh? How would I do that?”
“I’ve never told anyone before,” I said, “but when I was diagnosed ten years ago, all I could think about was leaving something of myself behind.”
“What’s so stupid about that?”
I didn’t try to stop the ragged wave of emotion that tore through my breast. I had to breach the dam.
“That’s when my wife bailed on me. I went through everything by myself; treatment, surgery, and recovery. For whatever reason, she was the one that suggested I store sperm for our future use. I felt stupid about it right from the day she left.”
I don’t think I’d ever seen a more wondrous face in my life.
“You have sperm in a bank?”
“Yup,” I replied, “Twenty-seven liters of it.”
Stella did a double-take and then chuckled when she saw the mischievous look on my face.
“Those sandwiches you were talking about, do you have time for one later?”
“Only if you’re buying,” I said, getting up and straddling my bike. “A late lunch, okay? Maybe 1:30?”
“You’re on,” she said, hopping on her bike and riding away. “Don’t be late!”
I laughed again and watched as she hit full speed before she crossed the intersection. She wasn’t a yellow unidentifiable object anymore; she was a friend. Who knew such strange things could happen on a dark morning in the rainforest?