Editor’s Note: This was written a long time ago, for a very dear friend. She hadn’t heard it in a very long time . . . so, for her, and in memory of Mary Alice, peace on earth.
Like a puppy snuffling into a pile of week old laundry, her nose was burrowed in between the beaver fur collar and the musty worn leather of his jacket. Her green eyes were shut against the wind and cold as she huddled closer to the tawny frame bundled against the winter night. The smells of burning fireplaces and freshly snowed evergreens, melded with the deep stew of the old worn leather, years of saddle-soap, mink-oil, and sun baked oil and road fumes. If she moved her nose a couple inches higher to his neck and hair, she knew that she would still breath deep the scents that went with his motorcycle.
He had ridden motorcycles since he was 12 years old. Perching on the back of his older brothers’ for rides bummed to school or just to go riding in the summer. At the earliest age allowed by his parents he had secured his very own. Through the years he had owned one kind of bike or another, always moving up and getting larger. Now after much hard work, and saving, it was a six years old 1965 Harley Davidson, salvaged from a police auction.
Over the many months of their dating he had patiently, while washing or polishing the machine in her parent’s driveway, explained to her the many features of the motorcycle. Why it was called a “74-inch”, what cubic displacement really meant, and what made a “Pan-Head” different from the neighbors Honda; other than sounding sooo different.
Removing the top of the motor, he had carefully cleaned all of the now exposed parts. Then guided her slim young fingers over the little moving pieces as he slowly turned the motor over by pushing the kick-starter by hand. With his other hand, gentle as a baby sparrow’s breath, flowing over the moving tappets, her fingers sandwiched between his, he identified each felt piece of machinery as it moved, and explaining its part in the success of the workings. She put the “Pan” on top of his head and crowned him Charlie Chaplin for the day; they wrestled and tickled all over the grass of the front yard. Then she carefully polished chrome as he quietly reassembled the engine so he could go home, across the valley.
The motor thumped gently in the night as they sat stopped at a light. Her hands pushed deeper into the pockets of his leather jacket. Reaching the bottom of the pockets she pulled back into his stomach and hugged him, flattening her body across his back. His shoulder blades flexed and slid, acknowledging the hug and its communication. The light winked green and the Harley chuffed and barked as the tableau slid away from the intersection, sinking into the inky night of the street; a warm bubble of humanity.
The bike had always sat, cold, in the driveway of her parent’s house. His tawny hair only blown about from the open window of her mother’s borrowed Rambler. It was fine with her parents that they dated, he had become like one of the family, but she was not allowed to ride on the motorcycle. So they had always taken the car.
The seat had been shockingly cold when she had first sat down, and the throbbing of the motor was not what she had expected. It had never been so . . . intense, before when it had been only her hand, resting on the gas tank. Placing her feet safely on the buddy-pegs was a job first done by him grabbing her ankles and planting her feet. The excitement tingled inside her as she exchanged “be careful” and ‘we will’ with her parents standing in the front doorway. The unsteady wobble, as he backed out of the driveway, clamped her hands tighter in his pockets. Nerves, warring to call off the ride she had bargained for, and the fear of the unknown.
“A”’s and “B”’s were the price she had paid, for the ticket of tonight. Her 16th birthday, one month before had come and gone without so much as a candle on a cake at dinner; all given up without a whimper, for this one ride; a short mile and a half each way. A lifetime away from anything she had ever done. The cold December night rasped against her one exposed cheek, an experience never felt in her sheltered world, so she turned her head straight to expose both cheeks. The lone street light flashed off the chrome as the trio crossed Teller Road at quarter till midnight.
The parking lot was packed with people. With hushed greetings to friends, they all quietly moved toward the building. The lone motorcycle rumbled slowly across to a corner and stopped. Sliding the kickstand down, he turned the key to off. Motor and headlight burbled to silence as the night wrapped around the couple sitting on the bike.
As he moved to dismount, she squeezed him softly in restraint. “Shhh,” she whispered. In understanding, he relaxed as they both snuggled into the after-roar of silence; each bump of the ride being remembered. Each sound cataloged and preciously wrapped-up and stored away in the treasure throve of her memory; knowing, that the chance to savor the ride, would not be given on the ride home. For now the two sat silently, as the organ in the church started the Midnight Mass for the blind.