Authors: Cat Porter
I NEEDED MY BIKE
I’d gotten used to getting on my hog and letting it lead me, leaving the question marks and shadows behind. Without the drugs or the booze to pull me up and do the tap-dancing for me, my bike was my lifeline.
Like going running every morning, if I didn’t get a long ride in on my own, I would feel out of sync with myself, off my full capabilities, clarity diminished, all systems down. I couldn’t fill that hole any other way. Well, of course, I could, but I didn’t want to think about that now. That was what had gotten me into this mess to begin with, for fuck’s sake.
I left Ohio behind, and opened the throttle. My bike surged underneath me, and a rush of sex and potency took over my body from the base of my skull, down my spine, to right between my legs.
I was going to stretch out the twelve-hour ride to Meager. I was excited to get home, but I wanted to savor these moments of freedom now that all my deals had been made and were ready to be put in play. My national president had told me I could go home. I’d earned it. The rush of adrenaline in my veins as I sped over the empty freeway made my lips curl.
The country here was bland to me, and I ignored it. Instead, I thought of home. What I truly considered my home. Meager, South Dakota. I couldn’t wait to see it again, to breathe it in again. So many other brothers whom I’d hung with this past year had shaken their heads at me, knowing I came from the Dakotas. To them, it was only a wilderness where riding your bike was limited for a good chunk of the year. But I loved that hard, sometimes brutal country. Unforgiving, perhaps, but that land had taught me much and made me the man I was today.
I rode on.
I finally spotted the huge sign up ahead.
South Dakota. Great Faces, Great Places
along with a sketch of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. The sign flashed by me, and a grin split my face. I’d really been looking forward to this part of my trip. This was like fucking vitamins flooding my bloodstream. The Badlands were up ahead, the Grasslands, and then finally, rising above Meager was the glory that was the Black Hills.
The rolling hills of granite and spruce. Weathered ancient earth and stone and towering evergreens. The lakes and the reservoirs.
That beautiful, horrible stretch of road where I haven’t been since Caitlyn died.
I adjusted myself in my saddle as I tore over the smooth asphalt, the wind whipping over me. Like today, it had been a gorgeous day then. Just the two of us swimming, being lazy, picnicking. We’d made the time for a whole day together; it had been a long while since we’d done it. And, on the way home, a car had bumped into us, and the driver, spooked by my rage, had taken off, leaving us alone.
We’d only been bumped into—a jarring nudge, really—yet that was all it’d taken.
She’d seized up against me and screamed.
A scream that stretched across the sky, echoed against the spires of eroded stone, shredding my soul.
Her body had slumped against mine. I’d stopped the bike, cursing a blue streak, and almost lost my guts right there at the sight of her mangled leg.
I’d held her.
Nothing else to do.
No one was on the road.
No one came.
I’d called 911.
She was in shock.
The blood. An ocean.
Too late. So fucking late.
I’d shaken her, calling her name, but she’d slipped away from me, her head knocking back over my straining arm.
I tensed at the memory, hitting the throttle and bracing as the bike flew harder over the highway.
Road, road, road.
She’d been laughing one minute, her body pressed up against me as we flew down that road. My old lady had been holding me tight for dear life.
My ma used to say that about the first time she’d ridden with my dad on his bike.
“I held on for dear life!”
Made no difference—Caitlyn holding on to me.
My sore heart thudded dully in my chest; my gloved hands flexed around my handlebars.
There was no ghost to speak to me or touch right through me and make me shiver. No graze of warmth over my thin soul. That was okay though; I expected none.
Would the same tree-filled mountains whisper back to me as they had then? Would the same sun lay its shimmering sparkle over the surface of the blue water of that lake just as it had five years ago?
I was on a different bike now. I had destroyed that one. Ripped it apart. Scrapped it to bits. Stomped on it, mangled it, hammered it. I’d removed most of my piercings after I’d quit using, piercings I’d gotten for her.
I wasn’t high or drunk now. And my heart beat differently. Death was in my sight line, wasn’t it? I’d finally admitted my vulnerability to mortality, my humility in its sneering face; that was finally real. I hadn’t felt it then and certainly not all the years since. Then, all I’d felt was screaming shock, raw anger.
A mad thirst.
And I’d let that darkness suck me into its black pit of nothing. An aching cesspool of nothing.
There were no more illusions. No more grand gestures to make. I was going back to Meager to start a new life.
To show them that I could be an important part of the brotherhood once again.
To prove to my brothers that they could trust me, that I was worthy of that sacred trust.
To bring something of worth to our table.
Jump, my president, would know—they would all know—that I was serious, that I wasn’t a has-been fuck-up.
I had one shot at this, and nothing and no one would stand in my way.
Not painful memories, not smoldering guilt.
I took in a deep breath at the road sign for Sioux Falls.
Yes, the air was sweeter, crisper here in South Dakota.
I COULDN’T IGNORE IT
I took out the thin gray envelope with the embossed return address for the Alden Merrick Art Gallery in Chicago from my messenger bag. Carefully. Quietly. I didn’t want him to hear. The letter had arrived yesterday, but I’d shoved it in my bag and let it simmer there.
If I got this job, it would be a game changer.
My husband, Kyle, had just heard that he’d gotten his dream job in Chicago, and last night, we’d gone out to dinner with his friends to celebrate. He was thrilled, but I wasn’t. I didn’t want to move to Chicago. I wasn’t so sure I wanted
fresh start. A fresh start with him.
Last night, as usual, I’d learned new things about Kyle by listening to him talk to his friends, telling them all about his series of interviews for this new company. Once again, he hadn’t shared details with me. Once again, I’d learned new information about him through hearing him enthusiastically tell other people. And there, at the table, with a full glass of Argentinian cabernet in my hand and eggplant rollatini on my fork, it had struck me. No, not like a bolt of lightning. More like a shallow flood of dirty cold water from old pipes bursting suddenly in your house. The flooding water had a sulfur-like, mildewy smell to it as it swelled up over my ankles, past my knees, rising up my belly to my chest.
He keeps things from me.
Not lies or secrets per se, but he simply didn’t share with me, didn’t feel the need to do so. Simple daily things, little occurrences, that, if he did share, maybe we’d be more connected. In sync. In my opinion, at least. Instead, we treaded the waters of indifference and disinterest and pleasantness for years now.
I’d brought it up later when we were alone in the car.
He’d shrugged and said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you.”
But that didn’t fly with me. Not anymore. I was so tired of it, beyond saddened by it. Numb.
He’d been waiting to hear if I’d gotten this job in Chicago because that would make our fresh start complete.
Applying for the director position at the gallery had been a fluke. I’d had my own freelance art dealer business going for years now, but even though I had made plenty of contacts with artists and collectors, a steady flow of income had proven elusive and required an enormous amount of legwork. Things were either going along nicely or dipping way down.
My specialty ranged from contemporary young artists to almost any kind of collectible from antique American pottery to vintage furniture and thingamabobs. I wasn’t choosy. Good finds were good finds to me, and I was constantly learning. I loved that. My insides buzzed the same, be it over a rusty gas station sign from the fifties or a Mapplethorpe photograph of Patti Smith or a Gustav Klimt painting.
The Alden Merrick Gallery was breaking into the contemporary art business. My good friend Neil had set up the interview. Neil had risen high in the ranks of the Chicago art world where we had both started out as lowly assistants at the same gallery, fresh out of college, learning from one of the best eyes in the business.
Ever the restless Bohemian, I had eventually dropped out to do my own thing, but Neil had stayed the course, moved up the ranks, and become an assistant director as well as a sought-after freelance curator. Now, he had his own gallery. Over the years, he had directed work my way, invited me to all the right parties and events, and I had recommended artists and unusual finds his way.
I knew this job was an opportunity. A step in The Game. Consistent, good income. A stab at some sort of prestige.
Someone else would pay my cell phone bill and my health insurance. I would have regular mani-pedi appointments, and I would be able to afford a whole new wardrobe from Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus even—and not only one or two pieces a year—and more than the occasional new lipstick or eye shadow from my favorite designer makeup brands. That would be a kick for a change. I would be polished all the time and comfortable in that polish, like the women at Kyle’s dinner party last night.
Kyle had certainly been excited about this job and had encouraged me to go for it. The plan was to leave Racine and move back to Chicago, back to where we had begun, the big city. According to Kyle, my getting a job there as well—a solid permanent job—would only make it perfect. Kyle hated my gypsy-picking ways. My on-the-fly/off-the-cuff way of thinking and doing business, taking off on my little field trips all over the country to hunt down finds or check out artists’ studios and go through their works in progress.
“It’s called inspiration! Passion!” I had argued once.
When things melded together—the business aspect and the art—it was magic. If they didn’t, you would ride it out, riding it over every road you knew available. Kyle had never understood that, and he considered the lengths I went to—not to mention, the eccentric people I mixed with—ludicrous. He’d get irritated with the whole scene and avoid it. But I loved it, and I couldn’t give it up.
Over two months ago, on my way to South Dakota to visit my mother, Rae, after she’d fallen down in her house and broken her hip, I’d stopped in Chicago for the interview. It had gone smoothly, and I’d promptly put it out of my head. Later, Neil had told me that they had hired someone else. But, now, since I’d returned to Racine, it seemed that had fallen through.