Page 24 - Demo
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showcaseBreathlessbYy JACKIE TAYLORou’re pushing your stupid bikeup Pump Hill, and it’s getting dark. You’re dressed for winter easterlies and snow, and it’s cold right enough, but you’re hot withthe effort of pushing your bike and it’s really hard work, walking in wellies. Your back is wet with sweat trapped by your anorak and your rucksack of dead-weight school books. And there’s still more than two miles to go, and you could ring home for a lift when you get a signal at the top of the hill, but you won’t. Your dad says it’s good for you to cycle home.You stop at a gate to catch your breath. There are fields all the way to the watery horizon, and blacker-than-black velvet trees silhouetted against an orange sunsetting sky. It’s boring, boring, boring and dull. Field after field, same after same. The seasons change but nothing interesting ever happens. Nothing changing, nothing happening. Bloody hill, bloody bike, bloody school. Why can’t you be somewhere else? Why can’t you have someone else’s life?There’s a car coming, unusual on Pump Hill; its engine revs as it takes the steep corner by the track that leads to Dawson’s place. It will be someone you know, because no one comes down these lanes unless they live around here. Your split-second thought – have I got time to hide? But you know you won’t be able to get your bike behind the hedge in time. Whoever it is, they’ll stop and talk to you. Why does everyone always want to talk? Everyone gossiping, asking, noseying around.The car stops beside you, a black Mitsubishi 4WD pick-up. You know who thatis.‘Hello Emma, you OK?’‘Yes.’‘Want a lift?’‘I’ve got my bike.’‘That’s alright. Stick it in the back and hopin.’I can’t hop in, I’m not a bloody rabbit, youwant to say but you know how childish it sounds so you don’t say anything. You don’t want to get into the Mitsubishi, but it’s better than walking. He puts the bike in the back.‘Don’t worry about the mud,’ he says, and you say OK, and you smile inside because he’s obviously worried about the mud on your wellies or he wouldn’t have said it. There are long strands of grass caught in the wing mirrors and around the wheels, but the Mitsubishi is really clean inside and a traffic light pine air-freshener hangs from the mirror, so the car smells of school toilets24 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexiaand labrador all mixed up together. You breathe shallowly, barely moving your chest, trying not to taste the air molecules that are trapped with you and him in the cab of the pick-up.You wish you’d taken your wellies off and put them in the back with the bike, but it’s too late now. You don’t care about the car, but you don’t want him down the pub later saying: ‘I gave a lift to young Emma Davis this afternoon. Poor thing, you’ve got to feel sorry for her. Couldn’t let her push that old boneshaker all the way home, not with her being the size she is. Mind you, I had to cleanYour legs are starting to shake withthe effort of holding your feet up. A strong core, that’s what you need, that’s whatyour dad always says. He’s an Iron Man. Always training hard, in the most pointless, pointless, stupid and completely pointless way. Even if you’d rung for a lift when you got a signal at the top of the hill, he wouldn’t be there; he’d be at the pool, or cyclingsome ridiculous distance on his super-light super-expensive titanium-framed bike, or running up and down the hills at the back of the house in awful black Lycra that you try to ignore but you can’t because it’s totally grossthe truck out afterwards. Mud everywhere’. Because that is the level of conversation around here. And the sly looks, and the under-talk. ‘Oh, he gave Jenny’s daughter a lift, eh?’ Because everyone knows, they just pretend not to.So you decide to keep your feet off the floor, then there’ll be no mud. That’s the answer. You tighten your abdominals, squeeze your glutes, engage your core, just like your dad tried to make you do whenyou used to go training with him, before he gave up on you. You hover your feet just over the passenger mat so he won’t notice what you’re doing.If you just keep your feet off the floor, then everything will be OK.‘Flat tyre?’‘Yes.’‘No fun, pushing your bike.’‘No’‘How’s school?’You don’t answer. Who does he think heis, your dad or something?and humiliating. Most dads would be doing something normal like working in an estate agents and earning money to look after their families and stuff. No chance. He freelances at something, but you never see him actually doing anything. Your mum makes jam and cakes and sews and knits and pretends not to notice that he’s never around, never with you both in this dream cottage that they’ve bought in the middle of nowhere so thatyou can be brought up in the countryside and go to a small local school and do small local things and be so much happier. They’ve given up everything for you. And you’re so ungrateful.You slide your hand under your thighs, palms to the plush, knuckles pressed into your legs. Nearly there. Hold your feet up. No gain without pain, your dad’s favourite phrase. Tough it out, don’t be such a wimp.‘How’s your mum getting on? I haven’t seen her for a while.’Really? you want to say – but didn’t you see her at Zumba, Tuesday night inPHOTO: AFRICA STUDIO / SHUTTERSTOCK

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