Biker gangs are scary.
The bikers rattle up the hill in a cloud of dust, baring their remaining teeth, hunkering their heads between their shoulders and whooping savagely at the indifferent sun.
The livestock whine, roadside saplings quake at the thundering chains and whirring spokes. Blue-bellied lizards scatter before the bikers’ crunching tires.
I can see them from here:
Six bikers, four of them caused by me. Two of them donated by neighbors.
A bicycle for each.
12 sneakers, shoelaces flapping.
Average speed: also 12.
Average age: 9.
Wrecks today: three.
Lemonade stands held at gunpoint: none so far, but there’s NERF ammo in the house.
As I check the cupboard to make sure I’ve got enough Gatorade to slake their furious thirst, I cram the last of the peanut butter into my mouth so they can’t steal it.
“Mom!” yells a biker gang member, “We’ve got a hunger!”
I set out six cups of trail mix, smile nervously and hide behind the bar – er, the counter.
The bikers slam the trail mix like a fluid.
“Golly,” curses their second-in-command, red with exertion and heat, “I am one roasted marshmallow.”
“YOU might be,” bellows the kingpin, also red-hot, “but I’M a baked potato.”
They waddle bow-legged back out to their trusty old hogs, nod at one another and peel out of my driveway, their skinny legs plastered with dried blood and Pikachu band-aids.
Window curtains snap shut throughout the neighborhood.
Will the reign of terror never end?
The longer the gang rambles down the road, the more members it snags. And you can’t just join a gang with no questions asked. You’ve got to prove yourself.
“OK. You gotta sing ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno,’” says Kingpin.
“Nah,” counters a biker. “Make him do a headstand.”
Then the dreadful chanting begins: those with 24-inch wheels bellowing “BRU-NO! BRU-NO!” and those with 20-inch wheels barking “HEAD-STAND! HEAD-STAND!” Finally, they let the initiate join their gang after one “Bruno” chorus, then they careen down the canal road.
If they sing out in one continuous monotone, the bikers realize, the ruts on the road will translate their droning into operatic vibrato:
Once they’re out of sight, I try to work off the trauma by gardening, even though I never manage to grow anything in this atmosphere of terror.
Still, I plant raspberry roots. They remind me of the warm evenings of my childhood, when I would ease ripe berries from the vine with a gentle tug while the light around me dampened and brimmed with pollen.
A car rushes up my driveway.
“Hey we found your little guy,” says a neighbor in a panic, “and he’s just about in tears down the road. Something happened to his bike.”
Different scenarios crash through my brain at once, and they’re all scary.
Was he hit by a car? Did the bikers get into a rumble?
The neighbor and her husband gesture for me to get into their car, and we trundle over the bridge to where a stranded biker – the little, feisty twin – mourns his useless set of wheels, his poor judgment and whatever foolish impulse drove him to be in this gang in the first place.
Thanking the neighbor, I run to my biker and cradle his soft brown face in my hands. He tries not to cry.
The moments just before a child weeps are sacred. His trembling composure lasts only until he realizes he’s safe and loved; then he loses it. His roguish independence crumbles in the arms of the person eager to absorb his tears and shoulder his woes.
“He wrecked,” explains the kingpin, his eyes still wide with shock and awe. “He tried to go BETWEEN the dumpsters.”
Little-Feisty’s brakes are so cinched up, the bike will neither ride nor coast, and I have to carry it up the dirt road. Little-Feisty trudges along next to me, vowing never to join a biker gang again.
But later that evening, The Husband fixes the brakes and offers the cruiser back to the boy.
Little-Feisty straddles his bike and sets off, timidly at first. He hovers above the seat and presses the pedals down in slow syncopated arcs, until the momentum sweeps his legs back into the circular whirl of fearless bikers everywhere.
The other boys join him, easing gently down the road as the light around them dampens and brims with pollen.