The Bicycle Tree
By Catie Damon
The couple leaned forward against the cold metal railing and smiled, lips cracked open from the salty air. Below them read, “Issaquah Ferry” in thick, forest green cursive letters. High-pitched notes pierced the wind above the engine’s drone and the girl turned around to find an old man sitting cross-legged, guitar in lap. A small white rabbit was perched atop his head, eyes tightly closed and ears swept back. Its neck was tucked into its body to bolster itself from the wind. In front of the pair, a guitar case lay open with a few crumpled bills scattered across maroon crushed velvet. The man’s smoker’s voice seeped through his yellowed teeth under a horsehair mustache. The girl watched the red, paunchy fingertips press deeply into the strings.
“Did you train him to stay with you?” The girl asked when the singing stopped.
“He likes it up there, it’s the warmest spot, where all the heat escapes. Didn’t have to do a thing, he found it himself.”
“No trick, just us.”
The girl walked over and reached out to touch the rabbit’s soft white fur. She smoothed out the short hair on the haunches and felt its hot, shaking body. It smelled of sawdust and baked earth. The small creature sniffed her knuckles and inched its way until it had a foot on her forearm.
“See, he goes where he likes. Rabbit foot, for luck,” the man jostled the back paw. “Just got’a let a animal do what it want to do, no fuss. It lives for this stuff.”
The girl’s face grew flush and she retracted her arm. The rabbit’s red almond-eyes darted around as it scurried behind the guitar case.
“Eden, we’re almost to Vashon,” the boy’s voice came from behind. She quickly straightened up and returned to the railing.
“It’s not trained,” Eden bit her lower lip and cocked her head to one side. “My grandma used to keep a bunny out in the backyard when I was little. I set up a whole obstacle course for him, gave him treats every time he remembered a jump. Learned it in about a week, a bunny has a memory span of three weeks, you know. Anyway, we should go inside Caleb, be ready to leave.”
The ferry cabin was filled with warm, stuffy air and sunlight streamed through the windows into plastic booths. As the couple sat down, Caleb took out a long, rectangular box wrapped in butcher paper from his backpack. Eden ran her finger over the creases and unwrapped the package. Inside lay two ebony chopsticks; one end rounded and wrapped in a blue and green crepe cloth, the other end whittled to needle points. Eden focused her eyes on the shock of blue, his scent of peanut butter and aloe, the growl of the ferry engine. Each detail was magnified, polished and stamped.
“They’re for your hair.”
“Yes I know.”
“I’ll get you the real thing in Japan.”
“Don’t want anything from there Caleb.”
“Then I’ll have to surprise you. Here, let me.”
Eden turned her head as Caleb fumbled with her hair. He awkwardly gathered the mass together and started twisting, folding the rope onto itself. He guided the sticks into the strands with one hand on her shoulder, thumb pressed into the nape of her neck.
The couple unloaded their bikes and took the trail that forked from Vashon Highway southwest from the ferry terminal. The moist wooded area was full of spotted fungi and fallen trunks. When they reached a clearing in the forest Caleb suddenly stopped. “That’s the bicycle tree,” he pointed to a rusted red bike frame embedded in the trunk above them. Thick bark had grown over the body, burying it, with the wheels and handlebars flailing out on either side. “Heard someone left it leaning against there a long time ago and now it’s seven feet high off the ground.”
“No one ever moved it?” Eden looked up at the bent spokes, picked up a long thin stick, and prodded the front tire, “Still spins.” Caught mid-motion, the bicycle twisted to get out of the trunk.
“It must be an old bike too, maybe turn of the century? Everyone says something different. I read one story that a soldier left it behind before he was shipped off to World War I.” Caleb scratched his short beard.
“I’m sure his love visited it every day until his return,” Eden smiled wryly, stared out into the surrounding still thicket, and breathed in the clean scent of cedar. “You know I had a dream about the Dalai Lama last night. I was in an auditorium, seated way in the back. I asked where His Holiness was and he appeared sitting in the middle of a long line of chairs on stage. His chair was elevated and he wore a thick wooly hat. He rose and began to walk away and I saw that he was wearing a baby pink wind breaker jacket with an image of a big white tear drop on the back.”
Caleb cracked up laughing and the sound hit the silence of the forest in rapid fire.
Eden turned around and touched the wiry hairs sprouting from Caleb’s chin, heart pounding. “Will you shave it there?”
“I don’t know Eden.”
White mist encapsulated the couple as they walked their own bicycles back to the main road that spiraled down towards the shoreline. They rode until they approached a sign that read, “Quartermaster Harbor” alongside a line of upside-down, neon-colored kayaks. As they parked their bikes a tawny man walked up, dark hair hung loose around his shoulders. A sandwich flopped from his mouth with bits of salami and cheese sticking out. “You looking to rent?”
“Just for a few hours,” Caleb hiked up his plaid sleeves and kicked down his bike stand.
“Where’re you from?” The man wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
“Seattle, we’re staying on island for the day.”
“You like Audrey Hepburn?” Eden pointed.
The man turned around, stuck his left leg back, and flexed his tattooed calf. The actress’ portrait rose and her smile expanded. Twisting his head over his shoulder he grinned, “Love Audrey, she could pass for hapa, half Japanese you know.” He spun back around, “Let me fix you guys up. Life vests are in here, sign the waiver, and I’ll haul them out to you. You a Buddhist?” The man popped the rest of the bread into his mouth and looked down at the beaded bracelet around Caleb’s wrist.
“Oh, no,” Caleb touched the mala. “Not yet at least. I’m actually going to Japan soon to live in a Zen monastery.”
“I’d convert to Shinto myself,” the man mimed drawing back a sword, elbows akimbo. “Good luck man,” he rubbed his palms together and led them to the open garage full of supplies. “Ever done this before? Well, try it on land first, push up down, up down on the foot braces and that moves the stern. If the water makes you rock hard, sometimes motor boats will splice right on through and make big waves, just let the thing sway all it wants, counter-intuitive I know, but just ride that surge and you won’t tip.”
The couple cautiously climbed into their separate plastic barges before being shoved into the harbor. Eden gripped her paddle as the boat teetered onto the jade slab of water. “This is my first time,” she called ahead.
Caleb turned around, “I know.”
Eden’s eyes darted and she tried to find her balance.
“Just follow me.”
“But I can’t.”
The two figures paddled single file along the perimeter of the harbor, past sailboats and mallards. A school of jellyfish engulfed Eden’s kayak and she carefully floated through their translucent bodies. She rhythmically dipped the oar on either side of the kayak. “You know, I don’t have to like it,” she turned, face profile.
“No one says you have to.”
“I want to be the kind of person who’s okay with it.”
“You don’t need to be.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“Be careful, this guy’s going fast.” Caleb lifted his paddle and set it across the cockpit. Eden watched as a wave rose in front of her, and felt her kayak roll. She kicked and clawed as water shot up her nostrils. The plastic kayak scraped against her knees as she tried to slip out. She closed her eyes and felt the rush of immense coldness. They opened in the crystalline water and she saw Caleb’s orange hull above her. She thrashed around. Straining her arms, she pushed down and forced her body up.
Caleb grabbed her wrist as she broke the surface and together they pushed her kayak to a nearby dock. They hauled the big plastic boats over the edge, and lay across the warm wood planks. She closed her eyes and the electric tie-dye pattern under her lids fired away. It hit her now, all the memories that left her body suspended, unclear which direction to take. She felt her many selves scattered around, pinned to the dock. The very husk of her body flew off. Colors swarmed as she watched the landscape of trees peel back into the dark water until there was no Caleb, no dock, no I, no water, no memory.
Published on page 43 of the Winter 2011 issue of Leviathan.