Skimmington Riding

by D.E. Lee

Bokassa jumped on his fixie and raced under the rusty cockshut sky in search of Yoyo. Head on fire down to the chops. Overgrip on the bullhorns, he pulled up hands-free. Gliding against a nervous eastern wind on King. Not a jealous bone in his body. Her roommate said she was on the streets. She handled herself well enough. Not worried about that. Ripping through a car-infested cross street searching as much for her as for Skimmington, the fucking shithole-sucking bastard.

He curved onto Herschel, the long straightaway, down the slope, and spotted her standing on pedals and crossing Osceola. Blowback hair and press-released skirt. He squeezed alongside a Beetle and avoided the brushoff from a silver Sedona in highbeam mode. Passed it with a raised middle, turning in the saddle, a panoramic gesture. She was out of sight. Then Skimmington riding through the cross after her. The pud. Only thing to do was book to Copeland, save time avoiding stop signs. He hammered his steed, houses blurring creamy blue in his peripherals. He pictured them a block over poking along, Skimmington raised up like a squirrel on hind legs, yanking her ear off. Yoyo being too sweet to bust him would get on that American Idol smile, the slender sex and candy lipwork, and dig his vocabulary no matter how rancid it smelled. Tear them apart, he thought, carving the corner onto Copeland, something subtle and subversive to send Skimmington pedaling off to Kansas.

They were coming in sight as he diagonaled like a hungry hawk across the street. What jammed him about Skimmington wasn’t that he was carping his girl but that he was spandexing the roadways like some Tom Jones expecting hotel keys. He wouldn’t kill him. Not exactly. But something so permanent rehab might last years. Thinking about the sort of humiliation Skimmington deserved made him feel full rip. Under oak and sycamore he pedaled after them through inkblack shade and coral sun. “Yo!” he shouted, then worked between them, slowing the pace.

“Bokassa!” Skimmington said it with some sort of Spanish accent, something that made it like he was glad to see him.

“Ya ya jabroni.” He was looking at Yoyo, talking to Skimmington.

She giggled. His chest powderpuffed, Buttercup strength in the sinews. He had her back. Hell yes. Skimmington could go hang out with Rosie Palmer and her five sisters for all he cared.

“Where to?” He backed off the bullhorns.

“Coffeebutts,” Yoyo said, her shiny knees alternately exposed beneath her skirt, setting sun, rising moon. “Have a taste for Tazo Chai. How’d you find me?”

He admired the cornflower tattoo climbing her ankle. “You didn’t tell me you were out.”

“I owe you money or something?” Her dress flowed back over her body in the crepuscular light. She flipped a smile that prickled his skin.

“I could’ve just been going out anyway,” he said. “Why not?”

Skimmington edged ahead. “My case, too, Bokassa, except Yoyo kept pedaling by my porch.”

He cut him with ninja stars. “Your porch? Kept doing that?”

Skimmington mashed down, circled across the street, came back around, and eased between them. “Can’t help what happened. Only true as it is false.”

“Oh snap!” Yoyo laughed, not as cruel as it sounded, but more like he imagined, a treetop echo of mockingbirds. He pimped the pencil sketch ends of her hair. She must have noticed his ocularization and said, “Better get off your Rambo look, dude. Could be a long night.”

Skimmington reared back laughing. He pushed up his skull temple glasses and went into a crossarm swami position, his bike straight as an iron rail. Not to be outdone Bokassa leaned back and dangled his arms, his front wheel spinning true north.

They were gliding into a stiff wind, three abreast, the Sunday traffic nonexistent. Faint petroleum fumes rising from the asphalt. A milky splinter of light remaining. Skimmington high on his ride looked like a cool shadow. He yammered about prime BMX trails on the beach. “Threw down on it last weekend,” he said, his hands hovering over the drops. Bokassa took it as a challenge. His body angled slightly over the aluminum butted frame, giving him a peepshow of Skimmington’s bladed carbon forks and rapid shifting speed group. Fuck him. But he had to admit his grid was dialed-in, right down to the Shimano Areo wheels.

He pictured how to pull it off, some sort of PIT maneuver, drift over, touch his wheel, ideally into a passing car, and flatten him. But there was no traffic. Still had the hope of forcing him into a pothole and a spectacular asphalt face plant. He could see Skimmington staggering up with bacon strips on his nose and Yoyo screaming with delight, the two of them going on, leaving him to dust off the crashsite. The image left him chuckling inside and what did he blurt out? Something lame like, “Let’s see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Saturday.”

He peered beyond Skimmington, who seemed to be blocking his view on purpose, at Yoyo, expecting to see her impish smile of gratitude, but she acted as if she hadn’t heard him. The way she scanned the passing porches and balconies, like she was looking for an apartment to rent. She turned on her headlight, reached behind her saddle, and got the redeye flickering. Skimmington did the same. Bokassa had meant to stock a lamp, but never got around to it, so he was in the dark, relying on pole light. The moon hadn’t punched the clock, the eastern sky looking asshole black. It didn’t matter. They were veering onto the red brick sidewalk, sailing past the nail salon, past the patio where shrimp tempura adorned the air, rounded the black steel ornamental fencing between the sushi shop and Starbucks. Two girls in skinnies pushing out the door. A bearded man shambled by with a shopping cart filled with torn plastic.

Skimmington dismounted first, saying, “Shit, forgot my lock.”

“No prob,” Yoyo said, flinging her leg over the top tube, her bare thigh smooth and shiny as the flank of a dolphin breaking the ocean’s surface. “Give me what you want”—she wiggled her fingers—“and some go along fundage.”

Gusts from the river whipped between the buildings. Bokassa clutched the stem and went around the wheel, digging for dollars, realizing his bank was empty. Skimmington, his head inclined toward him, figured out his predicament. He passed a few extra bills into Yoyo’s hand. “He’s on me,” then looking at Bokassa, “That time you boned out for drinks at Starlite. You probably forgot.”

“That’s right,” he said. “Never forget it. We were amped that night.”

In fact he couldn’t remember ever buying Skimmington a drink or anything else, and he shot him a look questioning his sanity. Skimmington shrugged and they leaned against the Sushi Cafe and watched Yoyo walk away, hand crimping her fluttering skirt against a windy surge. Bokassa felt them move against the brick, riding airborne waves, in rhythm with her rising skirt, the fabric cresting, in spite of her efforts, exposing a pearly gracilis, both of them, he was certain, spying the lemon-lime double-stitched binding of Jersey tap panties, or imagining they were seeing a copious apple harvest.

Skimmington spoke first, beginning with an obligatory whoo. “God make me her bicycle seat.”

“We’re in left-nut territory now,” Bokassa said, feeling a warm hair skin erection on his arm.

The line inside was long. She stood small behind an Incredible Hulk dude in a yellow polo. A man on the patio seemed to be watching them behind tortoise shells and white Acer top. Skimmington shouldered him. “That thing back there? We saw dragon girl last night. Why she got all silent. Trying to save you a shame stake through the heart.”

“Fuck me.”

“It’s alright.”

She was bright inside, all else falling away in shades of amber. A woman texting with one hand pushed through the door. The river breeze nudged a crumpled bag along the brick.

“You crushing on her,” Bokassa said, feeling his feet sliding, afraid he’d hear something that might turn his chest into a mining disaster.

“She does what she wants, man,” Skimmington said, taking off his skull temples and polishing the lenses with the hem of his shirt. “What I know about her? She takes you on a long puppy dog walk and before you know it you’re making the bald man cry dreaming about her and you feel like you’re the boomtown of her life. A shit bonanza, I don’t need.”

“That’s my feel for it, too,” said Bokassa, though he was thinking the opposite. Seemed better to side with him for the moment to see where he was taking it.

Behind them, beyond the patio wall, the drone intensified with the arrival of plates of sushi, the sound of patrons snapping apart chopsticks. A server dressed in black came outside and met a man coming around the corner. The man handed the girl something and she spun on her heels, waving as she turned, and rushed by without a glance, though they were crowding her entryway. Skimmington’s head, he noticed, rotated like a lawn sprinkler counting beans filing through the breezeway. Skimmington sucked his teeth, turned, shouldering the brick, and said, “It’s like going down with the ship, man, like cheese grating the asphalt, and you’re lying there a few seconds in disbelief. And what can you do? Get the wimpies or jump back on and ride it out. Feeling good. Letting the vultures stare at the V8 rolling down your shin.”

Yoyo was at the counter. She pointed at the menu board. A man in green turning this way and that and then slouching after the potations. Bokassa leaned to see around a man in a long sleeve wicking shirt. Her foot rode up the back of her calf, leaving a flip-flop abandoned on the floor. The patrons inside shifted about like buoys. Next to him Skimmington was ogling a slender girl leashed to an Atlas Terrier picking a clear path through aimless pedestrians. He pulled his columnella between thumb and index finger, brushed at the stubble on his cheeks. He didn’t hate Skimmington, exactly. Had to admit it. Liked his swag, the way he seemed ready to accept or abandon opportunity with equal indifference. It felt funny, this emerging fascination. So where did it come from, the craziness playing widescreen in his head?

He stepped into the scene with MAC-10s in each hand. Thick sound suppressors with fierce dark eyes. Skimmington wore a black and white ringed target on his back, a tiny x dead center. Bokassa’s body shook with the violence of firing the weapons, no aim possible, such was his rage. Glass imploded, shattering like waterfall spray. Screams took the shape of lightning bolts crossing the sky. People scattered, diving for cover beneath wrought iron tables. Brickwork exploded in red clouds, the fragments leaping over the courtyard, across the patio, mounding the sushi trays. Bullets ripped open the chests of a group of adolescent girls who a moment before were kee-keeing over vanilla lattes. Spindrift blood sloshed the sushi window. Men in aprons shouted as they came out in bunches through service doors. He swung his submachine guns in a line and watched their legs splinter beneath their tearing trousers. A rising cloud of dust swarmed at knee level, a reddish yellow cloud smelling of black powder and coffee and jasmine and rusty pipes. A superhero in jogging shorts and sunshield visor came at him from behind, but Bokassa’s ninja vision saw him, and he turned the barrels on him. He stopped firing just long enough to watch him stagger and grab at his splattering tomato head. Then he blew a tunnel through his chest. At times the only thing he could hear was the bolts cycling in the MAC. Other times the tic tic tic of the shellcasings flying out randomly like fireflies on a summer’s evening. He stepped over bodies gushing melted red crayon. A woman rushed away, a stroller leaping across the brick sidewalk, loved the sexy way her hair flew behind her, the way her body shred into crimson fragments, the way the bullets jigsawed the stroller, one wheel still rolling on across the street. Skimmington—where was the coward? He went to the center of the courtyard. The river breeze hustled the smoke along, the patrons yelling and racing blindly through it, some still clutching chopsticks. He paused, seeing Yoyo leaning against an antique-bronze lamp post. Her legs cambered open. Eyes closed, a sheen of sweat on her face, matted hair dripping with moisture. She fingered herself beneath her skirt. In his corners he caught Skimmington crawling away. He strode toward him, throwing away the MAC-10s and reaching behind and producing a Walther P99. Skimmington was already squirming. Bokassa stood over him and shot him in the right eye. Half his cranium broke away, a firework display of blood and brain chunkies. Then he pumped a few rounds into the left eye. He stood looking down on him, figuring his Rorschach pattern in the widening fluids. And behind him Yoyo moaned and called his name, called it uncontrollably, “Bokassa, Bokassa, Bokassa.”

“Never mind him,” he heard Skimmington say next to him. “He’s in zonklands.”

A moment later he realized Yoyo was standing in front of them. She clutched two cups and lighted on Skimmington, which told him his cup was offline. She handed Skimmington a tall tangerine frap. “Yours is on the counter,” she said, glancing at him. She shrugged. “Only two hands. Do you mind?”

He bounced from the brick and ambled into the shop—what choice did he have?—and shouldered past a man leaning on a cane. Grabbed him by the bicep to steady him, issued a quick “’scuse me,” and went for the cup resting on the counter. Through the window he could see Skimmington leaning into Yoyo, hips bumping as she gestured toward the townhouses across the street. Then they looked into the plate glass in his direction. Skimmington was shaking his head, smiling. She rubbed her neck, spoke while looking through the window. He moved past a woman in a summer dress and wondered what they were saying about him. A sense of urgency sent him bustling by a table that wobbled when he bumped it and some “watch it jerk” cry from the patron and out the door.

“We were talking about you,” Yoyo said, when he came up, sipping his lemonade tea.

“About?”

“Weren’t you bustin nuts at Five Guys?”

“I wore a placard awhile,” he said.

“Skim’s looking for some work,” she said. “Thought you might say something.”

“Sure,” he said. “Not a problem.”

They spread out idle as pigeons on an iron slat bench. A soy sauce sweetness whirled past on the breeze. Pedestrians meandered by and contributed comment and report, rumor and scandal, in a low vibratory din. Skimmington crushed his cup and swayed forward, saying with his face, “Let’s do it,” and he and Yoyo wasted their succulents.

They mounted their bikes, wheeled carefully through the courtyard, toward Riverside. The view across the street was formless, a hazy darkness, and beyond the walls the river flowed ever northward and silent. They rolled over the crosswalk in single file. Light vanished completely when they entered the park between the stone columns, beneath the swallowing oaks. The wheels made kissing sounds on the pavement. Then they were in the open again on the wide stone sidewalk. Palms swayed on one side and lamp posts illuminated the way. They continued single file quietly round the sidewalk. At the end of the park a statue stood bronze and naked, silhouetted by a rising moon over the eastern bank of the St. Johns River.

“What’s this guy’s story?” Yoyo said, debiking and resting it against the stony wall of the fountain.

Skimmington hefted himself onto the wall. “And the kids gettin swallowed up by the ball of yarn.”

“That ain’t yarn, dingbutt.” She skirred her fingers along the top of the wall, dipped them in the fountain water, flung droplets at Skimmington.

“It’s the world,” Bokassa said, but he was watching the moon rise over the water.

“The world?”

She said, “That’s right, cheese nug.”

“Don’t look a bit like the world,” he said, his head twisted around. “Where’s Florida, for example? And what’s with the people roped in it?”

He pulled up next to Skimmington. Yoyo spun in a circle, her dress rising and falling, and he and Skimmington stared at her and until she stopped and laughed at them and said, “Whatcha lookin at, goonpies?”

“It’s called ‘Winged Victory,’” Bokassa said. “The full monty dude on top is Youth.”

“With wings?”

“Spirit of Youth. Something like that.”

Yoyo perched on her elbows next to him on the fountain ledge. The breeze licked her blunt cut bangs.

He kept going. “What he’s doing up there is rising.”

“Why he needs wings,” Yoyo said across him to Skimmington.

“Rising,” he said, “above the madness of earthly passions.”

“Sick,” Skimmington said. “I dig earthly passions.”

Yoyo bounced away from the wall. The oyster smell of the river wafting over them. How’d she look at them, glancing, resting an elbow on a hand, the other hand, a few fingers, sliding beneath her johnny collar. “I feel like a pixie,” she said.

She couldn’t keep her feet still.

“Like a fairy,” she said.

She was light, lifted by gusts off the river.

“Like a brownie,” she said.

She spun in the wind.

“Like a silkie,” she said.

They laughed at her antics, urging her on, urging a beastie rage, her clothes gliding over her lacteal frame like a clear liquid. Then she seemed to collapse, folding within herself, then unfolding, flower petals sweeping outward, and she skipped to them, her left hand alighting on Skimmington’s left knee, her right hand alighting on Bokassa’s right. “I got it,” she said, sharing a smile with them. “You two wanna race?”

He also heard “for me.” But she didn’t say those words. They floated in the river air, ethereal, left there to grab. He glanced at Skimmington. He heard them too. His smile, not even a smile, more like a closing eyelid, gave it away.

“Let’s say five,” Skimmington said, saddling his steed.

“Five,” he said, and they were pedaling easy around the track.

He scanned the edges. The bearded man with the shopping cart finding a place for the night on the far side of the park and a marshmallow couple jiggling along in red and blue walking shorts looking fuzzy in the lamp light. The wind at their backs, they paced head to head at first, each, he supposed, figuring out whether this was for real or whether they were swapping blow jobs. Skimmington’s breath was short and hoarse. He was seething. A sweat pill rolled down his forearm. He already knew the outcome—if they mashed it. As they made the halfway mark he glanced at Skimmington and followed his gaze to the monument where Yoyo was lying on her back on the fountain’s edge. She wasn’t even watching.

Then Skimmington mashed his pedals and Bokassa knew it was for real. The burst sent him yards ahead. He approached and then went around the doughboy couple sidestepping into the grass. Bokassa buzzed them just as close, rising up in his cages to increase jet speed, the surge making him grovel slightly over the concrete. The glare of white globe lamps illuminated the sidewalk in white patches followed by patches of darkness, making the scenery blur past in zebra stripes. Skimmington’s voice as he passed the monument had a visual form, a long crepe paper streamer flying at him: “One!”

Skimmington slid to his hooks, tucked into the wind, then hammered past the monument. Bokassa chased but not too close on the circuit. Wind gusts waved the oak limbs and palm fronds like spectators cheering in dark robes. The bearded man, apparently in search of a softer bench, pushed his cart to the middle of the sidewalk, and Skimmington had to slink around the obstacle. The lounge piano pause allowed Bokassa to hit the railing on the fly and scoot into the front. An oil spill of sweat spread over his back, nice in the way it refrigerated his skin, bad in the way it clung and restricted movement.

As they completed the second lap he stoked his lungs with air logs and glanced back at Skimmington gaining on him, invisible eyes behind the skull temple frames glaring with white sparks. Halfway round he heard the whir of Skimmington’s wheels. He was coming up his ass like a silver dildo. He jammed the pedals toward the third lap finish. Skimmington roosted past him. Yoyo in a Cleopatra pose, a parade hand waving, a little show of teeth. He called the lap, the Doppler sound whooshing in his ears.

Bokassa rounded an area of low black hedges split up by flat stone benches. The soft sky dome above. Skimmington dumped him like a bag of dirt. No chance of catching him now unless he somehow dropped his chain, the chance of which seemed Lilliputian. His face felt hot, a seashell thrum filling his ears. A side stitch distracted him and he thought about defeat. How it was inevitable at this point. How he could salvage something from the ownage papers Skimmington was serving him. The moon wobbled in the sky, a cheesy sneer reflected on the water.

Skimmington called “Four!” and sat up in the saddle playing tour guide for him by the monument where Yoyo had pulled up to cross-legs. He didn’t know what hurt worse: Skimmington’s rodomontade, Yoyo’s indifference, or his tight, burning quads. When he passed her she was gazing beyond him at Skimmington, who was halfway round again going by the concrete stanchions abutting Riverside Avenue. He grimaced as if his determination would not suffer a loss, though it was clear to everyone but the bearded man on the bench the outcome of the race and it was clear to no one but him that his pained face was a reaction to aching sides. Looking good was now more important than winning the race, and he needed actions that would reveal, in spite everything, the swag he possessed. No excuses, first thing. People hate that. Congratulations, next thing, show the good sport can take it. Last thing, of course, pretend it never happened, act as if the challenge was still awaiting, a future event, yet to be taken up.

Half a circuit to go. His legs feeling like noodles. Skimmington had already dismounted, bent a little at the knees, then walking in circles, hands on hips, a maple leaf of sweat graying his shirt. He was a quarter length away, still jumping the pedals, as if it mattered, and feeling like a chocolate mess inside. When he reached them and took a good look at Skimmington he could tell he was ready to throw up, it had been that bad for him, and Bokassa felt good, really good for a moment.

Yoyo took Skimmington’s hand, pulled him, and he was laughing like you can’t be serious, but she was, and pulled him around the fountain over the cobblestones toward clusters of shrouded oak. She called back to Bokassa, “Look after the bikes, OK?” and he waved, as if he really needed instruction on the matter. He watched them disappear in the green darkness. He stood alone beneath the shadow of “Winged Victory” wondering what he should do with himself, whether he could rise above what had happened. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of something shiny in the gloom, Skimmington’s skull temples reflecting moonlight, no doubt. Other times, but maybe it was his imagination, he thought he saw pale green flesh pressed close together like layers of compression foam.

Apart from an illness pang he felt something else. He felt something deep. Something doing a fish filet on him. And that’s why he turned toward the river, leaned a little over the columned wall, stared over the jumpy black water, watched the reflection of the moon on its surface. It wasn’t a sneer, he realized. Looking up into the face of the moon confirmed it. And he laughed hard a few minutes. The moon looked smug as an asshole. “Fuck ’em,” he said out loud.

What he did next? There’s no rational explanation for it. All it took was a momentary thought, a panoramic vision, a nanosecond inspiration rooting into nerves and branching down forearms and hands to spanghew the bikes. First, he carried Yoyo’s bike in his arms, carried it like an infant, with love and care, and heaved it into the river. He was astonished. Not with his action but with the way the river accepted the bike without a sound, complaint, or splashy whine. He expected resistance, a plop or push against the unnatural object, some river cry of anguish, but none of that happened. The river went on without blinking, swallowing whole what was offered. Next, he hefted Skimmington’s ride to the edge of the river. No way not to admire the carbon snake stays or the bottom bracket sram rivals, and he did, longer than was necessary, before pitching the aluminum frame into the river, which accepted it with the same nonchalance.

He pedaled on the concrete walk away from where Skimmington was playing leprechaun in the forest glen with his Lucky Charms. He rode shaking numbness from his limbs. When something pent up’s been pitched, the expanding freedom is a cosmic releaser. That was him. No getting around it. Skimmington was right. He realized it as he rode through the gate diagonal at the Margaret and Riverside intersection: jump back on and ride it out. He wouldn’t borrow tomorrow’s hell today. Nothing but riding tonight. He spread his arms out, his hands clutching the wind, and raced the moon down Riverside.

*

D. E. Lee’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Emerald Coast Review, Alligator Juniper, Conclave: A Journal of Character, and Broad River Review. He was a recent finalist or honorable mention in contests held by Redivider, Palooka, and Nimrod.

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