From the Night Factory
32. The Circus Bike: A story for children
illustrated by Roger Long
In a time before now, in a place still called the Midwest, there once was a small circus that traveled the countryside entertaining children and adults alike, The Great Pasghetti Traveling Circus.
The circus had acrobats, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, magicians, jugglers, and of course clowns. There are always clowns. The circus had elephants, tigers, monkeys, chimps, and bears.
There was a bicycle, bright red with gold handlebars and gold pedals, and yellow wheels. The clown rode the bicycle around and under the elephant. The bear rode the bicycle around and across the circus ring. The funambulist rode the bicycle on a thin rope high overhead.
Then came a time between the wars when the country became poor. People did not have the spare money for frivolity and the circus suffered. The circus had difficulty paying the performers and fixing their equipment. Without money, the circus could not feed the elephants, tigers, monkeys, chimps, and bears.
In the end the circus people and animals disbanded, finding other jobs or, in the case of the animals, going into zoos. The circus equipment was sold. The circus bike was bought by a farmer for the child he dreamed of having some day. But the times were difficult. The farmer and his wife thought it was a bad time to bring a child into the world and they waited. While the farmer and his wife waited for the birth of their child, the bicycle lay abandoned in the barn, rusting, decaying, forgotten.
Eventually, the farm failed. Even the farmer could not make enough money to buy seed and fertilizer to grow plants and feed stock. So the farmer sold the farm and moved to a house at the edge of a city where there was a factory. The farmer, being skilled with tools and understanding machines, went to work for the factory and was now a mechanic. There was only a little bit of money, but the former farmer, now a mechanic, and his wife deemed it enough to bring a child into the world. Their child was born, a little girl they named Whitney.
Whitney wanted a horse, always wanted a horse, and loved the stories her mother and father told about the horses on the farm. Of course she could not have a horse. They could not afford a horse and there was no place to keep the horse on the edge of the city.
When Whitney was six, her parents took her to see the farm they once owned. It was now owned and farmed by somebody else, but they were nice people and happy to let Whitney and her parents stroll about the old barn. That is when Whitney’s father saw the old circus bike. “I can’t give you a horse,” said Whitney’s father, “but I can certainly give you a bicycle for a steed.”
Whitney didn’t like the bicycle. It was broken and rusty. The wheel had come off the frame. But her father insisted and put the pieces of bicycle into the trunk of the car they had borrowed from a neighbor. They brought the bicycle home.
Although Whitney did not like the bicycle at first, because it wasn’t a horse, she saw how hard her father worked in his spare time to fix it and clean it and give it a new coat of paint. When it was completed, she had to admit it was beautiful. The bicycle was again bright red and the handlebars and pedals were again gold, and the wheels were still yellow. Wherever Whitney rode her bicycle, children pointed and squealed with delight. Nobody had so dazzling a bike as Whitney.
Then the war came. One day, her father told Whitney that he would soon have to go to that war, so he wanted Whitney to know how to take care of the bicycle without him. He showed her how to clean, repair, and take proper care of the bicycle. Whitney came to treasure the bicycle even more.
There came a terrible day when Whitney was buying milk for her mother. A bad boy jumped on her bike and stole it. She saw him riding away as she came out of the store. He had yellow-hair. She cried all that day and into the next. Then on Monday, she had to go back to school.
In school, she saw the yellow-haired boy who stole her bicycle. After school she followed him home, but from a distance so he would not see her. This is how she learned where he lived. The problem was she couldn’t tell her father, because he was away fighting in the war. She couldn’t tell her mother, because her mother was now working hard in a factory making warplanes while her father was away. Her mother would come home, very tired and worried about Whitney’s father. Whitney did not want to make her mother worry more.
That night, Whitney sneaked out of the house while her mother was asleep. She went with a flashlight to the house of the boy with yellow-hair. She quietly opened the back door to the garage where the boy lived. There was her bicycle, chained to a pole with a big padlock. How was she going to get her bicycle back?
In the garage, Whitney found all kinds of tools. She understood tools. Her father taught her how to use them to maintain her bicycle. Whitney saw a big tool that looked like a giant clipper. It was meant for cutting chain. She took it off the wall and cut the chain in two places. Each time it made a loud crack. She listened carefully to see if anyone noticed the noise and was coming, but all was quiet. She rolled her bicycle out the back door of the garage and as soon as she was outside, she leaped on the bicycle and rode it home.
No one seemed to notice. No one said anything. Once, when she saw the yellow-haired boy at school, he scowled at her, but he was quiet. What could he say? That he had stolen her bicycle and now it was missing?
From that day on, Whitney decided she would ride her bicycle only in the woods where there weren’t many people. Whitney rode her bicycle along paths that went deeper and deeper into the woods. She preferred the company of trees and the birds to traffic and pedestrians.
One afternoon while riding in the woods, Whitney saw a gathering of young boys with their bikes. She rode her bicycle up to them and said hello. But these were bad boys, bullies. The bad boys wanted Whitney’s bike. They told her to get off. Instead, she pushed down on the pedal and raced away. The bad boys leaped on to their bikes and pursued her. Whitney was scared. The boys were bigger and stronger than she was. She was certain they would catch her. But Whitney’s bike leaped along the trail like a fast stallion requiring very little effort for her to pedal. She realized there was something special about her bike and that the bad boys would never catch her. From that day on, even though she knew bad boys played in the woods, she was not afraid to return to the woods. She knew if she saw them, she only had to turn around and race away. They could never catch her.
One day, the nasty boys decided to ambush Whitney. Whitney was riding along one of the forest trails when she saw them. She turned the bicycle around to race away, but other boys came out of the woods and blocked her escape. She was not scared. Instead of going back the way she came, she left the path and rode deeper into the forest. She heard the boys chasing her, laughing, calling out to each other, “We got her now!” Then she saw the wide creek that blocked her way and she realized she was trapped. Now she was scared. She had to stop.
Whitney could hear the nasty boys hooting and hollering. They were getting closer. Whitney noticed a tree that had fallen, its narrow trunk was like a bridge across the creek. She could abandon her beloved bicycle and carefully walk, maybe crawl across the tree. But she would not give up her bike. Just as the boys reached her, she rode her bicycle onto the fallen tree. She would try, even if it meant she might fall.
The bicycle felt like it came alive beneath her. As she crossed the fallen tree trunk, if she leaned too far the wrong way, the bicycle jolted and forced them upright. She crossed easily. The nasty boys all halted at the bank, their voices silent yet their mouths wide open in surprise. None of them had the courage to follow her.
Whitney now felt her bicycle was even more special. She took very good care of her bicycle, the way she learned from her father how to clean it, oil it, grease it, and repair it.
Then came a most amazing day. Whitney had again gone for a ride in the woods. She saw a deer. She had never seen a deer before. She parked her bicycle against a tree and ever so carefully tried to get closer to the deer to have a better look. When she was very close, the deer stopped eating and lifted its head to look in her direction. Whitney didn’t move. The deer didn’t move. Then the deer put its head back down and continued eating. Whitney waited. She was about to try and get closer still when there was a noise behind her. The deer heard it too, lifted its head, then leaped away disappearing into the woods. Whitney turn to see what caused the noise. It was the wicked boys. The yellow-haired boy was among them.
“Where is your bicycle?” asked one boy in a threatening voice. “You can’t get away from us now,” claimed another boy. Then the yellow-haired boy said, “We should search for her bicycle and when we find it, we should break it apart and throw it into the creek.”
“NO!” screamed Whitney. The wicked boys just laughed. They moved closer. The yellow-haired boy grabbed her arm tightly.
Just then, there was a rustling sound. Suddenly, most extraordinarily, the Circus Bike came shooting out from among the trees with no one riding it. It rushed right up to Whitney, slamming into the yellow-haired boy’s arm knocking loose his grip. All the boys stared aghast at the bicycle as Whitney jumped aboard. The bicycle sped away with Whitney holding on.
No one ever believed the story the horrid boys of the woods tried to tell. They were liars. From that day and ever on, Whitney could ride her bicycle anywhere and no one ever attempted to take it from her.
The day came when Whitney’s father returned from the war unharmed. Whitney’s mother left her job at the factory, but decided she would continue to work. She took a job at a big department store. Whitney’s father went to college, even though he was an adult and others thought he was too old. He became an agricultural scientist.
When Whitney was old enough, she went to college and studied engineering. Eventually she married and had a daughter of her own named Sofia.
A day came when Sofia visited her mother where she worked. Her father brought her. Whitney had an office where she designed automobiles. On the wall of Whitney’s office hung a bright red bicycle with gold handlebars and gold pedals, and yellow wheels.
“Mommy, why is there a bicycle hanging on you wall?” asked Sofia.
Whitney replied, “That used to be my bicycle when I was your age.”
Sofia then said, “That is the most beautiful bicycle I have ever seen.”
Whitney turned to her husband and said, “Maybe it’s time we took it off the wall and let Sofia ride it.
Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Selected Suburban Soliloquies, the best of Mr Bentzman's earlier series of Snakeskin essays, is available as a book or as an ebook, from Amazon and elsewhere.