On Sunday as the neighborhood trees stood as gaunt naked sentries leaning against their staffs unaware that the scout reconnoiters of sunset were about to stage an understated coup on the day Jack asked if I could take him for a bike ride. Out the front window the silhouette of a person bundled against the cold was being pulled hurriedly up the sidewalk by the silhouette of dog, the windows of warm honey pooled in squares on the faces of the houses across the street and in puddles on the road under street lamps while the headlights of cars rolling through the stop sign at the corner were the glaring eyes of snorting beasts tearing through the fragile skin of dusk and exposing the dark muscle of night.
We stood in the shadows on the basement stairs, empty pairs of sneakers and boots piled around our feet, a box of winter hats and gloves tucked under the railing, his jacket on the floor in the kitchen just steps away, and I wanted to tell him it was too late, too dark, too cold, too dangerous to ride his bike but instead I told him that I would get his bike out of the garage while he got ready.
So that’s what we did.
While he readied himself for battle I forged a path through strollers, big wheels, recyclables, our old electric stove, shovels, rakes, sleds and scooters then lifted, yanked and ultimately wrenched his bike from the depths of the garage then wheeled it up the driveway to the side door where Jack awaited my arrival. Our breath fogged the air around us, dissipating clouds of sudden purpose and impulse clung to the arms of the wool sweater I wore as he pressed his feet onto the pedals and lurched towards the sidewalk.
With my hand gripping the back of his jacket he reached the end of the driveway, turned right and rolled onto the sidewalk. The withered guards had fully surrendered at this point, their brittle limbs stretching towards the constellations, unnecessary reinforcements arriving late to the overthrow that was nearly complete. They watched the silhouette of a boy riding the silhouette of a bike weaving towards the stop sign on the corner, the silhouette of his father running next to him with a hand on his back.
We turned right at the corner then another right and slipped under what was left of the day’s flimsy hide into complete darkness. Ahead there was a succession of streetlights stretching into the murkiness, each buzzing a golden hive on the pavement below it and I told Jack to take his time and to pedal towards them; which only inspired him to pedal faster, which demanded I run faster.
For only a second as we passed under the first streetlight could I see him as more than a outline; his eyes were wild with defiance, his usual grin more like a sneer he pushed on harder and plunged willingly back into the shadows. I struggled to keep up with him as it seemed his speed, his courage and his spirit accelerated with each pedal.
Had someone looked out their front window they’d have seen a father chasing his son into the dark night; a step too slow his outstretched hand continuously falls short of holding onto the boy’s jacket, like a snorting beast the boy bears down and tears into the flesh of the unknown.
By the time we made it around the block night was fully upon us. We stood panting at the end of the driveway for a moment, our breath fogging the air around us, before we then walked his bike down to the garage. I asked him if he got scared while he was riding in the dark and I thought I could hear him grin as he asked me what there was to be scared of.
As he was looking up at me the headlight of a car passing in front of the house lit up his face and tore through the fragile skin of reckless abandon, exposing the 5-year old child he really is and a glimpse of the man he’s destined to be.