Wind, power, speed; we zoom up the mountain to the place that prints the papers, where you can get The Wall Street Journal early. I love the orange motorcycle the way other girls love ponies. At three, I have my own helmet and know to hold on tight, but I must not be holding tight enough because my father pulls off the road and hides me in a bush. “Rest here.”
Pointy green leaves close around me. My father’s boots step back and walk away stirring clouds of powdery dirt that dull the waxy leaves of my enclosure. Though dappled, the sun is bright, even inside the bush, but it’s going down and I’m cold without the heat from the engine and my father’s bearish leather-clad body.
A nap is impossible, so I scoop up pill bugs, round, hard, and also covered with dust. When they feel safe enough to open their shells and crawl across my finger, I stroke them – gently so as not to bend their myriad gossamer legs. The dust comes off and they grow shiny with love. Their names are Larry and Sallerina.
Sallerina is afraid of wolves; Larry and I promise to protect her. We wait and wait. We are still waiting when a heavy thudding shakes the ground, Larry rolls up and falls off my finger. I want to scream so my father will come, but if he isn’t back yet I’ll give myself away. I hug my knees tight, accidentally squishing Sallerina. I hope she is OK, but I can’t check because I have to concentrate on hoping that the man out there can’t see me. His shadow falls through the leaves like a nightmare. He pulls apart branches just inches from me. I hold my breath and squeeze myself as tiny as possible, but he lurches forward and plunges his giant hands straight through the bramble. My heart pounds and he… turns into my dad.
I’ve often wondered how long he left me in the bush. Fifteen minutes? Forty? Today, a father might land in jail for that, or taking a tot on the bike in the first place (in those days, we jumped into the backs of open pick-ups.) Maybe I was so tired that he thought I’d fall and went to get the car. Or did he think a nap while he got the paper would refresh me enough to hold tight again? I don’t remember the ride home and he’s dead now, so I can’t ask, but he probably wouldn’t remember either; Motorcycle Parents lived in a less anxious time. But, looking back, I recall it was also a more modest time.
Maybe he just stepped away to pee and smoke a cigar.