(The Story of the Pink Bicycle)
by James Heaton
It was an early morning in late August, the summer heat was still in the air. In a few days it would be September and before anyone knew it, Fall would be slipping in. Kids were already back in school, the quiet beach town had less and less visitors. The roads were empty, a peaceful time when the haze of early morning still lingered. An elderly man walked his dog down the sidewalk as Mike passed an old diner in his 1967 Cadillac Deville convertible. The blue car seemed to float down the street, bigger than the other cars on the road, it was the type of car that made people take notice. It was his father’s prized possession and now it was his. His father had passed away at the first of summer, leaving him the car. It was part of his childhood, more so that his father ever was. He hadn’t been to the island in years, it hadn’t changed at all. There were a few new houses and some of the stores had changed, but for the most part this place was the same it was twenty years ago.
It was the summer of 1984 that his father let him borrow the car for the summer, as he took a job at the old bike shop on Butler Avenue. Mikes best friend was spending the summer with his parents on the island, and he was allowed to have one friend join him. He chose Mike, and with it being the first summer out of high school he wanted to get a job and save up for college in the fall. The bike shop was an easy fit for him, he had grown up fixing his own bikes and his friends bikes as well. The bike shop was open from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. He only worked four days out of the week leaving him and his friend, Hugh three days a week to surf the break at the end of the island. He didn’t have to pay rent, he only had to pay for his food and his father had given him the Cadillac to use for the summer. It was going to be the greatest summer of his life.
Mike pulled into the sleepy town after driving all night. He left home a little after 11pm the night before to avoid the heat of the day. The Cadillac didn’t have the best air conditioning, but with the top down he really didn’t need it. This was a peaceful beach town, there were no tourist attractions, just a few hotels and miles of perfect beach. Some of the beach towns up the coast had amusement parks and water slides, but this was just a simple town where people had lived their entire lives just enjoying the ocean. He drove the Cadillac to the end of the island, where a few hotels stood. He found the old parking lot beside the walkway to the beach. It was a city owned parking lot, made for the tourist. In the peak of summer, it would have been full of people. Little kids with their parents carrying beach chairs and toys to the beach where they would spend an entire day basking in the sun and playing in the water. There were a few small family-owned restaurants that served burgers and other fast food across the street from the parking lot, they stayed busy during the summer. Wives would send their husbands to grab lunch for the family, men walking across the hot parking lot barefooted at the hottest part of the day. It was always entertaining seeing people do the hot asphalt dance across the parking lot. Mike and Hugh would eat lunch at Wilsons Dine and Dash every day. He sat in his car, an old familiar tune playing softly over the radio. He could see Wilsons was still in business, probably still owned by the same family. People would spend their entire lives on this island, their children never leaving. It was a perfect place, quiet and serene.
He turned off the engine and opened the door. He stepped out of the car onto the asphalt, it was like stepping back in time. The air was salty and the breeze coming from the ocean, over the dunes was cool. He closed his door and put the keys in his pocket. He walked over to Wilsons Dine and Dash, they always served a good breakfast. He walked up onto the sidewalk and opened the door to the restaurant, there were five people sitting in the booths and two people at the bar. It still smelled the same way as it did twenty years ago. It was a combination of grease and whatever they used to clean the floors at night. Pictures hung on the wall of locals who had been regular customers for over fifty years. There were pictures of the pier, and the fishermen who frequented it. The lady at the counter offered a friendly hello. He smiled and said hello back. He ordered a breakfast burrito and a large coffee with four sugars and one creamer. He leaned on the counter looking out the glass window. The name of the restaurant was painted in red letters on the window. It wasn’t the same paint from twenty years ago, but it was the same style. A big hurricane blew through a few years back damaging a few of the businesses and homes. This restaurant had been full of sand and debris after the storm. The owners just cleaned up and reopened, business as usual. He saw and old man sitting at a booth and recognized him as the owner of the bike shop. Time had been kind to him, his hair all but white now. Mike wasn’t compelled to say hello, but it was nice to see the old man was still alive. It was at that same booth where he had sat eating lunch with his friend, Hugh the first day he came to the island. They had ordered bacon double cheeseburgers and they laughed at how much grease was dripping from the bag. To them it was a sign that they were the best burgers ever made. The greasier the better is what they always said.
It was also the booth where he first saw her, riding her pink bike down the sidewalk. He could still see her now, long black hair flowing in the breeze with her wayfarer sunglasses on. She rode past the window, and he just knew he had to meet her. Hugh told him to take it easy, after all it was the first day of summer, there would be plenty of girls to meet. But not for Mike, he was taken by her. She was a dark-haired mystery on a pink Schwinn, and it was now his mission to meet her. He took the last bite of his burger and a sip of his Coke, and then ran out the door. He followed her around the corner, trying to keep up. She rode to the end of the street, stopped, and got off her bike. She opened the gate of a white picket fence and pushed her bike into the yard. Mike rushed down the street toward her.
“Excuse me! Hey, you with the pink bike!” He was waving his hand in the air, and she turned to see him. She looked around but realized it was her that he was waving at.
“Are you talking to me?” She said softly, with a beautiful smile. She was wearing pink lip gloss that sparkled in the sun.
“Hey, yeah I’m sorry, but I noticed your back tire was wobbling a little. I just started working at the bike shop and I could fix it for you.” A fabled excuse just to talk to
“That’s sweet, wait what is your name?”
“Sorry, I’m Mike. I’m here for the summer and I don’t mind adjusting the spokes, its not a big deal.” He was still out of breath from chasing her down. That was the first time they met; it was etched in his mind. He could still feel the elation of that first encounter.
She brought her bike over to the shop later that afternoon and he adjusted the spokes to balance the wheel. There was something magical about her. She smelled like cotton candy and had beautiful golden skin. If someone could fall in love at first sight, then he was guilty. That was the beginning of their summer relationship. It was like a movie that played in his mind, maybe it was the smell of the restaurant that brought it all back, maybe it was just being in this town.
“Here’s your breakfast burrito, and your coffee. That will be $4.50 dear.” The lady handed him his food, the bottom of the bag was wet with grease, same as it had always been. He paid for his food and headed out of the restaurant. He made his way across the parking lot, seeing his car sitting in the morning sun brought back memories of that summer. It was bizarre to see the same car sitting in that parking lot twenty years later, and it hadn’t changed. But he had, he had lived an entire life in that time. He had met many people over the years but none of them stood out in his life like Marcie. She had left an imprint in his mind, a permanent mark on his heart. Every time he looked at that car he remembered her, the pink lip gloss, the long black hair, and her beautiful blue eyes. They say smells can trigger memories, and nothing smelled quite like the ocean in the summer. Being in this place was like traveling back in time, everywhere he looked he saw places that they had been. Fragmented memories of a happier time. He was thirty-seven now, a far cry from a boy of seventeen. He had noticed a few grey hairs recently; time had taken its toll on him. But today he was back in 1984, just for a moment he felt at peace.
The sand was like snow, a fine powder under his feet. The dunes that began at the edge of the parking lot, with their sand fence blocking people from walking over the dunes, were bigger here on the island. The town had taken a lot of care to preserve the beauty of this beach, and after twenty years it still looked the same. Mike walked down the narrow board walk to the beach, the wood was new, probably built within the last five years. Had it been that long since he had been here? To his left the beach went on for over a mile where it met an inlet from the river. There was a lighthouse at that end of the island. On his right was the giant rock jetty, that seemed bigger twenty years ago. A large wall of rocks piled on top of each other, making their way out into the water. The jetty separated the beach, where most of the tourist would play in the water, from the end of the island that led back to the back side of the island. To the right of the jetty, it was always more popular with the surfers and fisherman. The jetty would jack up the size of the waves as they traveled to the shore. You could see the other island across the waterway, it was unpopulated and a popular place back in the day for teenagers to go at night and have bonfires on the beach and drink until the wee hours. He had been to several of those parties with Hugh and Marcie.
He found a nice spot to sit on the beach and eat his breakfast. Looking out at the ocean he felt so small, and so insignificant. It was such a big ocean, it seemed bigger now than when he was here in the past. The world was different then, everything was happening so fast, and time moved slower now. Gulls flew all around, picking up little bits of food that they found on the beach.
He didn’t understand what had happened to their love. How it all went south. His love was still as strong today as it was twenty years ago. But would he even recognize her today? It was only logical that she would have changed just as much as he had, but in his mind he only had those memories as a reference. No woman he had met since Marcie had ever made such an impression on his mind, maybe it was his age, or maybe it was the magic of summer love. Whatever it was, it had stayed in his heart for twenty years.
A couple walked down the beach, near the edge where the water rushed up, touched the sand, and then flowed back into the ocean. He sat watching the couple, feeling the air against his face. The salt touching his lips, he remembered her face. He closed his eyes and got lost in the past, the breeze off of the ocean blew his hair. It started as just a summer romance, but she was more than that. Twenty years later she was so much more. He hadn’t been the same since that summer, every moment consumed with her presence. He had been so young and stupid; times were different then. People had it easier now, they had computers and cell phones to keep up with their friends, but in the summer of ’84 all you had was a piece of paper with some one’s telephone number. That regret, it tore at his stomach and made its way to his chest. He could feel his heart breaking all over just like that day she left.
He drifted back to their first date, he could never forget that night, walking on the beach with her. They carried a bottle of wine from the quick mart and a blanket. They laughed at everything, just happy to be together. They climbed over the jetty, she slipped on the rocks and laughed so loud. He would have done anything to protect her, he rushed to her side, but she was just embarrassed from falling. He let her climb on his back and they made their way to the deserted beach beside the jetty, hidden from the lights of the parking lot and the view of the hotels and houses. They laid their blanket out on the soft sand, tucking the corners down to keep it from blowing away. They kicked off their shoes and fell down on the blanket, collapsing into each other. She opened the bottle of wine and took a sip. They took turns drinking from the bottle. She told him about her family, and what it was like spending every summer on the island. Her father owned the house with the picket fence out front. And just like Mike she had just graduated from high school. She had plans to go to college in California in the fall. He remembered how he felt when she told him this, he barely knew her but the thought of being away from her was devastating. They laid on the blanket looking up at the stars and off in the distance they could hear music coming from one of the ocean front houses. He recognized the song; it was Friend of the Devil by the Grateful Dead. The laughed and talked about the song, about how the character of the song had two wives. She told him she loved the name Anne Marie. They talked about the future and their dreams. They laid there for hours, her head on his chest. He could have stayed there forever.
He wondered if she ever thought of him. Did she ever speak his name? Did she spend the last twenty years dreaming of just one more moment with him? He watched the waves building, high tide was coming in. Out of the corner of his eye he saw two surfers walking down the beach, they made their way out into the water, and paddled around the jetty to the other side where the waves were starting to grow. He remembered surfing with Hugh, and Marcie sitting on the beach watching them. They spent everyday together over the summer months. Sharing stories and falling deeper in love by the day.
Mike finished his breakfast, took the last sip of the coffee. It had gotten cold, and the breeze was stronger now. It was getting hotter, he stood to his feet and walked toward the jetty. He threw his trash in the trashcan, and just stood watching the surfers. One of them caught a decent size wave and dropped in, turning quickly, and shooting to the top and up into the air. It had been years since Mike had pulled out his board. Watching the young surfers, he felt nostalgic, but that life was years ago. He walked closer to the jetty; the tide was coming in strong. He made his way over the smaller rocks that were closer up the beach, to the small beach that was hidden by the jetty. There was their spot, hidden from the lights and the porches of the beach house. He wondered if was all a dream? He just wanted one chance to say goodbye again. One final chance to tell her that twenty years ago he made a horrible mistake and lost her telephone number. He had wanted to just tell her he never stopped thinking about her.
He walked toward the edge of the water; the foam was blowing off the beach. It made its way to his feet, covering his shoes. He turned and looked at the little cove beside the dunes. It was a perfect spot for a young couple to get lost in each other. And that’s exactly what happened with Marcie. He got so lost in her, so much so that twenty years later he couldn’t forget her. That was the spot that they made love, just nights before she would be leaving the island, headed home and then off to California.
It was the end of summer, and he would be headed back home with his father’s car, and she was leaving before him with her parents to go back up north. She told him that she wanted him to be her first, that she wanted it to last forever. They met in the parking lot that night, she had a radio, a bottle of cheap wine and her blanket. They held hands as they walked over to their spot, spread out the blanket and laid out under the full moon. The wine didn’t last long, and they found a happiness in each other’s arms that would never be equaled. He held her into the night and then told her that he loved her. She looked into his eyes, and in a moment of passion she told him she would always love him. They ended that night swimming in the ocean. It was early in the morning when he walked her home. She wrote down her telephone number on a bubble gum wrapper and drew little hearts beside it. She placed it in his palm as she kissed him goodbye. Her father had been waiting at the door when she came home, Mike watched as she went inside, and her father cut off the lights. That was the last he ever saw her.
He remembered how he left the phone number in his shorts pocket, and the next day he went to work with Hugh. The shorts fell beside the bed, the phone number still in the pocket. It was another week before Mike returned home. When he arrived home he looked frantically for the phone number, but never found it. He spent the next year trying to find her, calling every person he could think of looking for her. If he had met her later on in a different time it would have been simple to find her but all he had was her name and the city she lived in. And years later when computers became available he tried searching for her, but he never found her. A little voice inside his head told him he would never be able to find her, that he should just let it go.
That was the end of the innocent years of his life. She was lost to him, but even now he still wondered whatever became of Marcie. It had been twenty years; it was time to let go. Somehow he knew this, and this trip had been all about closure. It was long past time to end this chapter on his life. He was going to leave the island and drive up the coast to visit some friends from college. He made his last walk up the boardwalk to the parking lot. He turned and took one last look at the ocean. He made his way to the car, opened the door, and started it up. He pulled out of the parking lot and drove past Wilsons Dine and Dash. He drove to the end of the block and turned left. He remembered this was the street where Marcie’s summer home was. One last look and then he would say goodbye forever. He approached her house; it was still the same. A little white picket fence out front and a car in the driveway. As he drove closer a girl came out the front door, she had to be in her early twenties. He slowed down to take a closer look; the girl was walking to the car. Was he dreaming? She was the spitting image of Marcie, long black hair, and the same face. He slowed to a stop, and then realized he was staring at the girl. She turned and waved, he all but fell out of the car.
The girl smiled and walked over to the fence.
“Hey, I don’t think I know you, are you looking for my mom? You said Marcie right?”
He was at a loss for words. He had a confused look on his face. Could this be Marcie’s daughter?
“I’m sorry, did you say your mom? Your mother is Marcie?” He had opened the car door and walked to the fence. She was almost exactly like Marcie, long black hair, blue eyes, and same golden skin. As he approached the fence, a lady opened the front door to the house and looked outside.
“Anne Marie, is everything alright?” The woman said to the young lady at the fence. As she made her way out of the house she met eyes with the man at the fence. That car, she recognized the car. Then she looked at the man. Their eyes met and both of them stopped and just stared at each other.
“Oh my god, Marcie? Is that you?”
Marcie screamed, and ran to the fence. Her daughter confused as to what was happening, looking at the man and her mother’s reaction.
“Mike is that you?! Of course, it’s you, you still have that car! I can’t believe it, what ever happened to you?”
“I lost your number, I… I tried so hard to find you. I’ve been going insane for the last twenty years. I tried so hard to find you. I never thought to look here. This is your daughter?!”
She opened the gate and ran out to him, she threw her arms around him and hugged him like that night twenty years ago when he walked her home for that last time.
“I tried to find you too. I never stopped thinking about you. Isn’t that crazy? It was a summer romance and I always wondered why you never called me.”
She held his face, looking into his eyes. She started to cry and embraced him again, harder this time.
She stopped and pulled back, wiping the tears from her eyes. She put her hand out to her daughter. Anne Marie walked closer looking at the man as she took her mother’s hand.
“Anne Marie, I want you to meet someone. This is Mike. Mike, this is Anne Marie. This is your daughter.”
The summer breeze blew through the trees, it would soon be Fall. All the kids were back at school and things were back to normal in this sleepy beach town. He thought he knew what love was, but now he knew. They had a lot of catching up to do. He wondered if she ever thought about him after that night twenty years ago, but little did he know, she never stopped for a minute.
The old man walked his dog down the sidewalk, looking down the street. He saw the old convertible and the happy family standing outside by the picket fence. It was a perfect little town that had been lost in time. The warm breeze blew through the trees and everything was as it should be.
Copyright 2021 © James Heaton – All Rights Reserved