Amanda was depending on Max for a ride this afternoon. She needed to be at the university by 1:30pm for a job interview and was already running late when her brother told her he couldn’t drive; he’d forgotten his promise to pick up his girlfriend at the airport. Shampoo still in her hair, Amanda had to move double-time. While the car would only have taken about ten minutes, a bike ride could have taken up to half an hour, and Amanda was a slow, inexperienced biker. And she would arrive to her interview glistening with sweat. And she didn’t have a lock for her bike. And without a job she wouldn’t be able to cover tuition.
And here she is now, speeding down Fullerton Avenue: sweating, breathing, trying to focus. She’s already starting to glimpse students, backpacks slung over their shoulders, strolling comfortably in the October sun. She’s almost there.
She gets that second wind her friend Shelby keeps telling her about; a strange, invigorating chill runs down her spine, and she suddenly becomes aware of every bead of sweat covering her tense body, every strand of black hair clinging to the back of her soaked shirt. Her lungs inhale the sweet, cold air. In this heightened awareness she feels a sensation approaching ecstasy. She wants to scream and twist in her seat, but she has no time for that. Her life has one purpose right now, one goal: to keep moving. Move or die. She has heard that somewhere. She understands it now.
Move or die, Amanda.
She slows slightly as she turns a corner, pumping the brake. Three more blocks. Easy.
Everything is moving so quickly that when a student runs across the street, no more than ten feet in front of her, and she instinctively, thoughtlessly jerks the handlebars to her right, she is shocked by how slowly the crash unfolds. The front tire knocks the curb, and her body is thrown forward with a tremendous force. The handlebars glide out of her field of vision as her entire body passes the now-still bike. The blue sky smothers her vision, is replaced by the black road, and is finally covered by the pale, freckled skin of her arms as she pulls them forward to cover her head. She flips over entirely and sees a merry-go-round of images through the slit between her crossed arms: black road, upside-down street, blue sky, right-side-up street.
And then light: pure, blinding, white-hot light. The world materializes within this white void, like a spreading ink-blot
She realizes she just landed on her back. Actually, she mostly landed on her butt. She feels her head, half expecting to scoop up a gnarled pile of her brains, and is surprised to feel nothing out of the ordinary. She sits up. Even though she moves her legs without trouble, she still pinches her left thigh to see if she feels anything.
“Are you okay?”
A student is kneeling beside her, his hand on her shoulder. Not the guy who ran in front of her; he either didn’t notice the accident or bolted.
Amanda looks up into his gentle, brown eyes.
“Actually, I am,” she says, not quite believing it herself.
“Let me help you,” he says, trying to lift her.
Amanda pushes him away and stands up with surprising ease.
“I’m okay,” she says, freeing a laugh from her body that confuses her as much as it confuses the student, who is still kneeling at her feet like some pious worshiper.
She lifts her bike, which is also somehow okay, off the ground and takes a seat.
“You sure I shouldn’t call…someone?” offers the student.
Amanda rides off. Over her shoulder, not even bothering to watch the road ahead, she repeats her mantra: “I’m okay.”
She bikes to the North Avenue Beach without bothering to consider why. The bike just takes her there. Her butt still hurts, and the rest of her body is now descending into a dull ache, but the ride is easy, smooth; she’s in no hurry. The bike does most of the work.
Now she’s sitting on the beach, staring at the grey water. She leans back and closes her eyes, listening to the waves smack against the beach and retreat, smack against the beach and retreat.
Her eyes still closed, Amanda answers her ringing phone; she knows who it is. She tells the secretary about her accident, asks for a rescheduled interview. Don’t be sorry, the secretary assures her. Just get yourself to the hospital and call us as soon as you can to reschedule.
Amanda may have exaggerated her injuries over the phone, just a bit.
She opens her eyes. A little girl, no older than seven, is sitting by the water’s edge, smiling at her toes wriggling in the sand. Besides her little, undulating toes, the girl is absolutely still. Even her front-toothless smile seems fixed. The waves keep smacking the beach and retreating, always not quite reaching the girl’s toes. Over and over. Move or die. The girl’s toes keep wriggling.
Amanda leans back down and closes her eyes again. “I’m okay,” she whispers.
The heat and the beach noises and the sound of the waves lull her into a deep, satisfying sleep. When she awakens hours later, in the near-dark, the sand is nearly empty of people. She mounts her bike and begins her slow, calming ride back. She can’t really put the feeling into words, but while riding home, she could swear she is not moving through space at all, but is absolutely still.