It Was Andrew’s Bike
Gavin rides a bike to work every day. It’s not the fastest or the fanciest bike, and the seat squeaks whenever it hits a bump in the road. There are faded children’s stickers on its silver frame, and there are beads that click against the spokes each time the wheel rotates.
It was his son’s bike. They went to the store together to pick it out. Andrew was about to turn fifteen, and he told his parents that it couldn’t be a surprise. It was 2010, he said, and he wasn’t a little kid anymore. So, Gavin agreed that Andrew could pick out a bike for himself on the condition that he couldn’t ride it until his birthday.
Andrew had had a keen sense of what he wanted and what he liked. The bike he settled on wasn’t the most expensive in the store, but it was the one that he kept circling back to. Afterward, they went for ice cream. They sipped root beer in giant cups and added so many syrups and sprinkles to the frozen chocolate mounds in their bowls that they felt sick.
Andrew went out with friends that afternoon. Gavin and Judy decided to wrap the bicycle together. Judy picked out a few items from the dollar store: Power Ranger stickers and glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs to press onto the frame. It was a joke — one they both found hilarious.
They stuck a bow to the area where the seat pressed against the underside of the paper and added a helium balloon to the mudguard, which floated on the end of its string. That night, they switched off the lights and went to bed, leaving the bike standing against Gary’s old woodworking station.
True to his word, Andrew didn’t touch the bike. He didn’t so much as unwrap a corner or beg to ride it outside with his friends. With all his heart, though, Gavin wished Andrew would’ve because the bike sat against his station for the next nine years. One birthday after another, it remained unopened, unwanted. A reminder of something that nobody wanted to think about, something none of them could forget.
Andrew died three days before his birthday, with the bike still wrapped and waiting. When it happened, his parents were sitting at the dining table discussing which birthday cake they should buy at the store.
They’d warned him endlessly to wear a helmet when he was riding, and that he must watch for cars. “Be careful on uneven roads,” they’d told him, “and check your tires and look twice in each direction at crossings.” None of the warnings made a difference, though. He wasn’t even on a bike when it happened. He was walking home from school, and a distracted driver ran a red light, smashed into another car, which crashed into him.
Gavin thought that maybe if Andrew was allowed to ride his new bike earlier, then he might’ve been riding it that day. He’d have arrived home faster. He’d have been more careful. He’d have seen that the car wasn’t slowing down, and wasn’t going to stop in time. He’d have been wearing his helmet. He died because nobody ever told him that, sometimes, you had to be careful while walking on the sidewalk, too.
Gavin and Judy separated a few years later. Maybe it was Andrew’s death. Probably, it was a hundred-thousand other things. Whatever it was, the bike just sat there. Gavin didn’t need reminding. He thought about it every day. He couldn’t forget the look on Andrew’s face in the store: the grip of his son’s fingers around the handlebars and his feet pressed into the pedals. The feeling of triumph as they lifted it down from the back of the truck. Judy watched, wiping her hand on a towel as she walked out onto the driveway from the kitchen onto the driveway, patiently listening to him race through its specifications. Gavin waved her away when she raised an eyebrow at its price.
He knew he’d have to sell the house. He helped Judy put her things into boxes, label small bits for Goodwill, and toss what wasn’t needed into the trash. All the while, nobody touched the bike. It wasn’t his, and it wasn’t hers; it was Andrew’s. Judy suggested they give it to someone else’s child, but the style was old-fashioned now, and Gavin couldn’t bear the thought of another kid riding it in their neighborhood.
He didn’t want to unwrap it either. He wanted to tell his son how much he laughed with his mother when they’d added the stickers, the bow, and a balloon. How they joked about adding a wicker basket, a bell, and some of his sister’s little girl streamers. About how they laughed about it until tears streamed down Judy’s face and she snorted like a seal, which set them off again. After that, they didn’t laugh for a long time.
On Andrew’s birthday, they released balloons at the local park and wrote messages in the hopes they would reach him in heaven. They also went to the police station to talk to the cops who caught the woman who hit him. The bike hadn’t even had a chance to gather dust at that point and remained frozen in time after all these years.
Until Judy left. Until the house was empty, and he packed everything away. Until he cried on the sofa sitting in the dark with a twelve-pack of beer and a weekend to kill. And he walked into the garage for another bottle and noticed the way the bike’s wrapping paper had dulled. The balloon they’d tied to the handlebar was still tethered but long deflated; its pale skin split into dried pieces. He was so mad. Mad as hell when he saw it. He tore off the paper in a rage that didn’t feel like his own. He threw piece after piece over his shoulder and onto the floor until nothing remained but the bike.
He vividly remembered buying it, but the man he saw reflected in the frame was older; a stranger. Gavin swept his fingers over the paint, and flicked the pedal with his hand and watched it spin. The stickers were still there but faded at the edges. The tires were flat. He pressed his head to the handlebars that his son had once so tightly gripped. He cried and laughed a lot, too.
He couldn’t get rid of the bike. The next morning, he aired up the tires, oiled the chain, clicked through the gears, turned the pedals, and wheeled it onto the driveway. He felt unsteady and unbalanced sitting on the seat, so he pushed away slowly at first, and once he gained momentum, he pedaled faster.
He hadn’t ridden a bike for years. The front wheel wobbled, causing his heart to pound and for a minute, he had to pull over and dry heave some of his hangover into the grass. He’d got back on, though, and eventually rode in a straight line for a bit. Goosebumps ran down both of his arms. He was smiling — really smiling.
It wasn’t the fastest or the fanciest bike, and he could certainly afford to buy a much better model, but it was his bike. He could peel off the stickers and remove the beads from the wheels, but he won’t. He and Judy bought the bike for Andrew, but it was Gavin who finally unwrapped its gift.