2000 Cannondale SP500. Purple. Hybrid tires; perfect for streets and light off-road terrain. Climbing handles (worn), speedometer (needs new battery), pannier rack (no pannier bags) and shiny red bell (brand new, never used) included. Recently had full tune-up with no rides since.
Only one accident.
A small child.
The speedometer read 11.8 mph. I was flying. It was an emergency. I had forgotten the doohicky at home and rushed back to get it. I thought taking my bike would shave a few minutes off the return.
12.0 mph. NO BICYCLES ON SIDEWALKS was stenciled in reflective white block letters on the gray concrete-paved pathways. I considered it. Laughed. Surely that doesn’t apply to me. This was important. Necessary.The doohickey.
12.2 mph. My legs tingled with a lactic buzz. The park was nearly empty. A beautiful morning. Autumn sunshine filtering through turning leaves. I felt the cool October wind pep-smack my cheeks as I stood and pumped harder. I was nearly there.
12.4 mph. 12.6.
I saw her. Over by the fence. Playing with her nanny. Everything pink and cottony. Shiny tendrils. Her knees were spongy. Bouncy. She smelled, no doubt, of mushy Cheerios and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. She smiled.She had tiny pearl-button teeth. I smiled back. She darted.
The first tire knocked her down. Things began to move at 1000 frames per second. Endless slow-motion. I lifted up my body in a vain reversal of gravity, hoping to lessen the weight as the second tire scorched a black imprint across her perfect pink pants. Mid-air, for surely I had been able to hoist not only myself but my bicycle with the super-human strength I had acquired in this molasses-thick time-space aberration, I threw the bike into the stiff grass, far from the tiny pink ball that lay, stilled, on the cold gray pavement; the bright white stencils, nowhere in sight.
She didn’t make a sound. She just looked up at me; batted the long blonde lashes that curled away from her sapphire eyes and smiled her pearl-button smile. I counted six. The nanny, barely old enough to be without a babysitter herself, rushed across the sidewalk. She scooped the girl up. I knew the child should not be moved. Not without a paramedic. I, at least, knew that much. Before my own mother had let me baby-sit, she made me go through a Red Cross training course. I was certified.
“We should call 911,” I heard myself say, still swimming through my slo-mo water world. “Her mother should know. There could be internal injuries. I hit her with my bike.” The reality hadn’t set in. I was deep in crisis-solution mode.
“No,” said the nanny with an accent as thick as borscht. Her voice shifted into a minor key. “Not the mother.” Piano. “Not the mother.” The nanny quickly brightened and started bouncing the child up and down: a horsey ride. “She’s fine. You can forget about it. Finish your bike ride. Look! She’s not even crying!”
It was true. The child hadn’t shed a tear. But surely that was shock. There could be something internal. I stopped the nanny from her game and started to inspect the child. As I ran my hands across her limbs, checking for bruises, bumps, breaks, I noticed her tiny pants were pin-striped; ruffled at the ankle.
I gingerly touched her doughy thighs. I felt two firm, fat sausages underneath the soft fabric, now spoiled by thick, greasy track marks. As I gently applied pressure to her legs, her cherubic face turned fuchsia. She began to howl.
In the blink of her tear-soaked, blonde curling eyelash, I went from 1000 FPS to 6. Fast-forward.
“You have to get this child to the emergency room,” I ordered, “Right now.”
In a single step, I was on the curb of Central Park West – a taxi waiting at my side: trunk and passenger door open, ready to receive the bulky stroller, nanny and child.
“I’m coming with you.”
The nanny shook her head. Her eyes bore into mine. “No. Trust me. You don’t want to meet…” and her voice dropped again. Più piano. “…the mother.”
I hastily scribbled my information onto a piece of paper and pressed it into the nanny’s clammy hands. I watched as the cab sped southward; the screaming, broken child in the backseat.
I began to walk slowly back into the park. Numb. I think there was somewhere I had been going. Somewhere important. An emergency. I felt something pressing in my pocket. The doohickey. Oh. Right. The doohickey. There were people waiting for me.
The white stenciled letters started screaming: NO BICYCLES ON SIDEWALKS.
It was then the tears came. Slowly. Spontaneously. I wasn’t crying. It was worse.
These words began to implode within me, crush me, double me over with something beyond grief. I passed the spot. My bike lay quietly in the grass: still green, but crunchy. The end of its season. Of course no one had stolen it. How could they? After what it had done.
After what I had done.
“It was an accident,” they said. “Kids bounce,” they said. “Don’t worry,” they said.
I stared at my telephone for nine hours straight. I could not breathe.
Eventually he called. The father, not the mother. Pianissimo. Not the mother. No.
“Minor bruising. No concussion. Just a little shaken up is all.”
I asked for her name.
I’ve tried a few times since then to get back on the bike. I got a shiny new bell. A tune-up. New tires. I’ve made jokes about that nanny. About how she was probably fired. Possibly deported.
But every time I push the pedals, it’s impossible not to feel that first bump; to hear the smack of a soft skull meet the sidewalk. And then, that inevitable second, always feeling my weight sink down into her little fat sausage legs, wrapped in dough.
Only one accident.
A grown woman.