Fly and Fly

Creative Nonfiction by Miriam Gershow

I am six and don’t know how to ride a bike. I won’t know how for seven more years. Children will call out names as they pass my mother holding onto the back of my banana seat, me wobbly and long-limbed, hunched over handlebars on the sidewalk in front of our house, no trust in my balance, no trust in my mother. “Don’t listen to them,” she will say, and I will want to die, she breaking our household’s unspoken rule of everything remaining unspoken, each of us left to muck around in our shame in silence.

I am six and don’t know how to ride a bike. An intrepid neighbor throws me on the back of a tandem for a trip with his family and a gaggle of other kids to a nearby Detroit neighborhood. My family is not intrepid. We are classical music and crossword puzzles. I loop potholders that smell of burnt plastic when my mother pulls a wordless pan from the oven. We are a family like a circus is a family: weirdoes brought together for shared purpose but different acts. None of us are the lion tamer. My sister throws a ball for the seal to balance on its nose. My parents lie on a bed of nails. I am packed into the clown car. I don’t know how to swim. No one can read my handwriting. I don’t know left from right. My shirt is famously dirty, my curly hair too.

I am six and don’t know how to ride a bike. We all dismount at the bottom of an empty parking garage to push the bikes up and up, round and round, story after story. I don’t have to push the tandem. The intrepid neighbor is doing all the pushing. All I have to do is walk. Kids are slanted into their handlebars, panting and complaining but happily. At the top, the sky is gray, and everyone gets back on their bikes. I need help getting on the back of the tandem and keep disbelieving I’m balanced, my heart flopping into my throat over and over for no good reason. We—me and the intrepid neighbor—lead everyone down, starting slow but gaining speed around the first spiraling floor, me with a view to the collar of a polo shirt, brown hair curling at the back of a neck. Our fleet of bicycles flies faster and faster, everyone whooping and screaming, down and around and down, slanted again but differently. The only thing I am is terror: we cannot sustain this lawless speed; the skin of my knee will slough off against the pavement; we will skid out; we will crash through the concrete half wall and onto the street below.  

I am six and know how to ride a bike. This time down, I am balanced on my own banana seat, a flag at my back, colored ribbons streaming from the ends of the handlebars as I fly and fly. I am happy and screaming and free. But I can’t manage the velocity (something that will be true many years later down a San Francisco hill; ambulance trip, wound packed with gauze). The steering gets away from me, and I skid into the garage’s half wall and careen over, where for the briefest of moments I am suspended in the air like the coyote over his canyon. This, my last thought: the bright loneliness of Saturday morning.

It is my parents’ grief—they pray and plead and beg and pray and plead and beg—that spins the globe backward into this life, where I cannot ride a bike for longer than is credible, longer than any explanation can offer. My parents have brokered a deal—to god, the universe, Gaia, hashem, yahweh, whoever will listen, right?—to withhold as much knowledge from me as they can for as long as they can. It’s for my own good. In this life, I end up safely on the back of a tandem. In this life, every day since is a blessing. Every day since, I am beloved.

Miriam Gershow

Miriam Gershow is the author of The Local News (Spiegel & Grau). Her debut short story collection, Survival Tips, is forthcoming from Propeller Books in March 2024, and her novel, Closer, is forthcoming from Regal House in 2025. Her creative nonfiction is featured in Salon, Heavy Feather Review and Craft Literary. Her stories appear in The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast and Black Warrior Review, among other journals. Her flash fiction appears in anthologies from Alan Squire Books and Alternating Currents, as well as in Pithead Chapel, Had and Variant Lit, where she was the inaugural winner of the Pizza Prize. She can be found on Twitter, Bluesky and Instagram at @miriamgershow and on Facebook at @mgershow

One response to “Fly and Fly”

  1. I love this, Miriam! “I am suspended in the air like the coyote over his canyon.” Great, funny, heartbreaking and full of you.