I. Until fairly recently, I had a respectable monthly allowance of expendable income. The target of said expendable income had become, for better or worse, ritzy clothing retailers. Silk, modal, lace, one-hundred-dollar pairs of pants, elaborate bras, uncomfortable shoes: over the years, my wardrobe blossomed like an Anthropologie flower brooch.
These days I make just enough to get by, but I still wear my former life’s clothing. The other evening I found myself sailing on a bicycle down Spring Hill with green-black oil smudging my ankle bones, sweat dripping down my neck: wearing a dry-clean-only blouse. I had loved it five months ago for its color, just slightly off-white, like the inside of a Creamsicle.
II. When we were first outfitting our bicycles with the necessary accessories, I had gotten the mid-range kinda-okay lights, vowing that since bicycling after dark was dangerous and frightening I would only do it when circumstances absolutely required — but it was after midnight when we decided to go on our first bike adventure. We had ridden the mile or so to our friends’ apartment earlier in the evening, and as the night wore on someone suggested we hop on the Minuteman.
It was a cool summer evening, perfect for bike rides, and for back porches and home-brewed cider and surprise-we-own-a-canoe-now-honey anecdotes.
“You guys have never ridden at night?” Angie cried. “We should remedy that. Soon. Right now.”
We’d have to ride on Mass Ave to access the Minuteman’s entrance — an infinite, four to six-lane road that connects everything I know of Boston — and which I had also vowed I would never set bike upon. Mass Ave is terror and frustration, no u-turns allowed. Mass Ave is too important for your tiny legs. Mass Ave would kill you deliberately, slowly and painfully, if it meant getting there five minutes earlier. But I trusted Angie and Aaron’s biking sensibilities. Both of them are the kinds of bikers I’d like to be — which is to say, commuters, builders, repairers, and unrelenting law-abiders.
Aaron donned a blinking vest and showed me how to adjust my helmet for ultimate brains protection. We slung our frames over our shoulders and carried the bicycles down to the streets.
III. Surprisingly, the world was empty: and so we owned it. A wind sent dry leaves skittering toward the unoccupied gutters of Mass Ave: stoplights changed for phantom cars, chirped for invisible pedestrians. We soared in a single-file line through the deserted city.
“There are two ways that you can signal,” Angie called over her shoulder. “You can hold up the opposite arm of the direction you want to turn in a right angle, or, you can just point to the direction you intend on heading.”
The entrance to the Minuteman was approaching. Aaron, in the lead, signaled first, then Angie, then Jurvis — a wave of polite notification into the darkness. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light and the red balloon. I summoned my left arm and pointed authoritatively, the fabric of the blouse ballooning and fluttering in the wind like soft ghosts. Goodnight nobody.
My infatuation with signaling was immediate. I never wanted to stop. It was like my limbs had finally discovered their life’s purpose. As the night wore on, I began to wish that every time I was about to change course in life — even just slightly — I had to announce it well in advance, send an arm into the ether, say where.
IV. We sped into the night illuminated by white darts of LED, abruptly rebounding from potholes, dodging overhanging branches laden with lime sherbet leaves, skidding in sand and clicking into new gears. The Minuteman was empty but for a few romantic pedestrians and drunk teenagers. I rang my bell self-consciously: barrrrrriiing!
“Out for a midnight stroll?” someone called, causing laughter.
My headlight was pathetically dim, and so I decided it might be best to base my movement upon the light of the person in front of me. The headlights would dart, jump with the bumps, suddenly turn with the path, disappear. It was like trailing a meteor shower.
Halfway to Spy Pond, we came to a massive subway stop underneath a highway bridge where everything echoed. In the middle, a single trash can lay solemnly on its side like a wounded soldier, hemorrhaging half-empty cola cans, cigarette butts, and generic brown mush. “Wooo!” cried Aaron. “Wooo!” cried Angie. “Woooo!” cried Jurvis. “Ooo, ooo, ooo” cried the emptiness.
I held my signaling arm out as a half-wing, gliding on swirling currents, and we descended upon the station.