The Little Girl Who Couldn't Ride

And the little girl believes in the warmth of the sun as she whispers and sings in a raspy and broken voice. The words, those she thinks to be correct, are all wrong. She sings anyway. Her notes rise against the wind, carried high up and away like a balloon she remembered from another summer. She had watched it with wonder until she’d realized what she’d lost, and then she cried until her father promised her a new one.

Colored ribbons made of plastic, a wind-blown rainbow, fly alongside her on white handlebars as she peddles to catch the glowing ball in the indigo sky. Her tiny legs, strong and powerful, will never be fast enough—yet this thought, a brief and fleeting one, doesn’t slow her down. Instead, she peddles with a fierce and determined effort. The sound of her mother’s voice follows as if carried along on the breeze, “Be careful,” the warning so common, so authoritarian also seems so unnatural in the bright and unencumbered day.

The trees pass blurred versions of their true selves. They remind the girl of paintings she has no names for so instead she makes them up—Swirly, Burly Trees or Furry, Blurry Forest. As she pushes forward, the trees enter a new season, the leaves morph changing from shades of emerald and jade to amber and crimson. Soon, the fall will bring winter—a cold and bitter time when her bike, with its torn and taped banana seat, will be put in the back of the garage. Her father will place it behind beach buckets battered from yet another year of play, the spotted frog she painted in preschool with primary colors, and the rest of the tools of a summer gone by as quickly as it had come. These will be traded for a red plastic sled to be placed atop wondrous mountains of white—larger to her than they actually are. She will cling tightly to the warm body in front of her praying her brother will protect her from the bitter and wicked spray of snow.

The sun beats down and the girl remembers her thirst. How could she have forgotten something so basic? Again, she hears the voice of her mother calling from a distance but now she is so far from home, she realizes, it’s impossible. She sets her body down on the side of a lake she’s never seen before, and feels the warm sand. She allows herself to sink into it. If she doesn’t move it will suck her in, stealing her breath as her friend once warned her cats did if you allowed them to sleep with you at night. The girl sits up and walks to the water; in it, a reflection. It is not her own though she realizes as she looks closer that there are a number of similarities to the face she washed and dried this morning. The lips that taste like watermelon are fuller, and her hair is a different and more definitive shade than her normal mousy brown. She turns away, frightened.

The sun changes to rain as she sees the house. It, like her reflection, is not her own but one she somehow recognizes. The yellow colonial bears striking similarities to another she is sure she’s seen somewhere. When she turns to pick up her bike it is gone, replaced with a backpack from second grade. The girl picks up the bag, throwing it over her shoulder. She is comforted in some way by the realization that she can’t ride a bike. This makes its sudden disappearance tolerable.

She once tried to learn to ride on another summer day somewhere in the past but became discouraged when she would push off against the concrete step and attempt to balance her body which would instead wiggle and jiggle to one side or another—never finding the exact spot that would allow her to remain upright. In frustration, she threw the bike down and never tried again. It made for difficult middle school years as she followed her friends, running behind them on short legs. Eventually, she learned to speed up, and her friends traded in bikes for cars. She felt fine about things either way because the inability to ride a bike was a learned trait passed down through generations of women in her family. Her grandmother and mother had never enjoyed the freedoms of wind-blown hair and speeding down city streets. Though the girl vowed, her own girls, if she ever had them, would learn to ride.

As she finally enters the house, she comes to a kitchen with pictures of children all wearing similar features and expressions. Sure they are connected to her in some way, she eases passed the living room and into the kitchen. The remains of a meal have been scrapped into the trash can and the smell of lemon surrounds her. The girl likes lemon and finds the bright yellow color both soothing and exhilarating.

She exits the kitchen and comes to the bathroom. It is here where she catches sight of the woman. Her face, an older version of the little girl’s, wears lined and loose skin. The little girl is gone, and in her place this person. Where had the time gone? How is it possible?

“Mama,” a little girl pokes her head in. They wear similar expressions and other analogous features—wide noses, cleft chins and olive complected skin.

“Yes,” she answers surprised at the way her own voice sounds, so adult—so old.

“Come see. Come see what I can do.” The girl runs down the hallway and out the front door.

The woman follows surprised to see the cloudy day has turned sunny and the blue sky is not filled with large puffy clouds.

“Look, Mama, look.” The girl rides past her on a small pink bike. Her long hair trailing behind, in curls— something she has gained from some other DNA.

The woman—who feels as though she was just a girl herself—watches her daughter ride down the driveway and turn. She chases after her as she once did, years ago, with her biking riding friends in middle school. This time she doesn’t feel as though she is being left behind—this time she feels pride because her daughter isn’t afraid in the way she had once been. Her little girl doesn’t seem to think of balance or falling or bodies that wiggle and jiggle. Instead, her girl smiles as she sings in a raspy and broken voice. And the woman remembers the song from her own childhood. She follows along humming and laughing—the name will come back to her soon.

***Image courtesy of kongsky at

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  1. Beautiful post. Sentiments are so true and real.

  2. I remember not wanting to give up my training wheels as a kid. I balled when my parents took them off and made me learn to ride a big girl bike! I always love your writing!

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