Holy Liftoff – By Elaine Medline
Cynthia swung a screwdriver.
“What are you doing with that?” her mother asked her.
Gemini was the name that Cynthia had given to her new bicycle, a Stingray Deluxe. The girl was thrilled with the glitter banana seat and monkey bars, but had wanted the copper color. All they had in stock was violet.
“What’s wrong with Gemini?” Joan asked.
“It’s purple, first of all,” her daughter answered. “Plus I don’t like the fenders and chain guard. I ripped them off for liftoff.”
“Cynthia, it was your birthday present.”
Her son, Thomas, shuffled into the kitchen backward. He asked her what she was doing.
“Beating egg whites for a pie,” she said, proudly holding up her new kitchen tool, a wire whisk.
“Holy smell, what’s this? Clue me in.”
Holy this, holy that. Batman was taking over his little mind.
“With the crackers? Cheese.”
“Cheese didn’t smell before,” he said, exiting backward. “And it used to be orange.”
Joan could hear the serious voice of a newsman on their television in the next room. She didn’t want Thomas or Cynthia to hear it, so she turned it off. The news started getting bad around 1961, and that was five years ago.
While Joan was trussing the chicken, Thomas returned to the kitchen, this time in a forward direction, upset and talking fast. “Cynthia says she’s gonna ride her bike straight up the garage,” he said. “All the kids are coming to watch.”
“What do you mean, ride her bike up the garage?”
“Straight up the garage door,” he answered. “All the way to the roof.”
Joan panicked inside. It wasn’t physically possible to ride right up a garage door. But she could understand why a person would try. She continued working on the chicken, tying knots, thinking.
“Well, aren’t you going to stop her?” Thomas demanded. “She says she’s going to do a wheelie, then pedal like crazy to the top.”
Of course I’ll have to stop her, Joan thought. Even if her daughter managed to gain the momentum to accomplish her ridiculous goal, she’d still have to fall. In fact, the more successful her launch, the harder her fall.
“When is she going to do it?” she asked her son.
“Soon, maybe now. Hurry, or she’ll die.”
Joan rinsed the grease off her hands and rushed to the living room, which had a view to the front. She lifted the windowpane. True enough, half the neighbourhood youngsters had gathered on the street in a semi-circle. The children were clapping in unison and rhythmically shouting her daughter’s name.
Opening her mouth to stop the spectacle, Joan changed her mind. She said nothing. She reasoned it out. If Cynthia didn’t try riding her bike up the garage, the next escapade could be more ambitious. Cynthia had a wild air about her, as if she would one day take up the guitar, or dance naked at Berkeley. Children had to learn their lessons, painful as they were. Joan wondered how her husband John would handle this.
John’s not here, he’s away at war, he’s not coming home anytime soon. Handle it yourself, she disciplined herself. She fetched the first aid kit. There would likely be blood, so she readied the bandages and iodine.
The children had stopped shouting. The air smelled like crab apples. A wind shook the tree in their front yard, and chestnuts lightly thudded the pavement. The chestnuts, they reminded Joan of the B-52 bombs. Cynthia walked her bike out to the middle of the street, and the kids parted to make way for her. Now facing the garage, she edged herself backward to get a better run of it.
She closed her eyes and pursed her lips. Her hands revved the grips like she was on a motorcycle. She lifted her left foot from the asphalt and set it on the pedal. Then she picked up her right foot and pedalled like the devil. Her body ascended from the bike seat. Her legs reeled. Her hair rose. Just before she hit the garage, she pulled up her front wheel.
And her mother watched, fascinated.