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July 1994


Ten feet of child-powered machine stalls on the sidewalk. Helmets click.

We've pillaged the garage for things with wheels, mounts, and ramps. Brother rigs the machines while Sister and I discuss rules. She sits feet up on the Roller Racer®, a plastic seat with handlebars resting on wheels. The handlebars conveniently double as footrests. We've tied a piece of twine from the fork of the bar to the stem of the Cruiser bike. I straddle my banana seat. Brother says go.

Get to the Meerman's driveway in under twenty and we're golden. But Sister leans forward too far and the metal handlebars of the racer scrape cement. She panics, dives for the lawn. The sudden lack of steering and weight means I've got a six-pound piece of plastic on cheap wheels churning up grass. Earth and gravel fly everywhere. Sister's pulled herself up and joined Brother, who is doing a stumbling run with the kitchen timer in hand.

Yellow house. Accelerate. Drop weight to the left as right leg elongates, forming the outside of the curve into the street. FREEDOM. Me and my five-wheeler swoop past whole houses now. The steel handlebars of the roller-racer burr the road, cutting sparks.

Blue house up. I slope up the sidewalk across the street.

Slooooooow to line up my front tire with the steep white strip that runs between the grass and driveway. For five seconds the Cruiser must coast on this four-inch wide, twenty-foot long, three-foot tall ledge. Any slower and wheels wobble. Linearity breaks down. Then I must make the jump. Brother and Sister start yelling the countdown.

The air is sticky with cigarette smoke and ribs. Someone's grilling. For courage I think of Princess Buttercup crossing the lagoon of shrieking eels, and the song Sister danced to for her jazz recital, sassy and sharp. I will never be prepared for the role of star. I know they'd want things from me, and all I can offer is subtle and microscopic. It's alternately easy and difficult to be soft-spoken, to appear okay with not being popular. I squint my eyes to sharpen the smoke.

Five wheels coast the beam like nothing. Like that song, I'm walking on sunshine? Like, here I go, here I go, here I go again. Whoomp, there it is.

My front wheel breaks the precipice and smacks the street, rear wheel lifting up behind me. The whole block is silent as the steel Roller Racer® lashes through the air over my head.

First appeared in Litro Magazine, May 2019.