Cycle has 6 installments
By Anna Taylor
Autumn. But at home, it is spring. Edie thinks of her days like this: evening here, but there it is dawn. It astonishes her, all the things she's never really thought about, not deeply: being perched on a globe suspended in black, a curve of light falling across it. The sun. In April she'd expect to see daffodils — the sharp green head of a bulb breaking through the soil. Instead there are leaves. Falling.
She takes her temperature two, three times a day. This is unnecessary, she knows, it is the morning resting temperature that matters, but the silent swell of warming mercury — its unalterable verdict — keeps her returning to that little glass wand, and shaking it back down again. She holds it tenderly in her mouth, watches the minute hand of the clock.
Outside drizzle blows in, a spattering of drops against the window. Her temperature shouldn't be so low. And there is no such thing as getting a little bit pregnant — not like having a touch of a cold or a tingly promise of neck pain. It is all or nothing, like winning or losing a prize package on an afternoon game-show.
Night comes, and she dreams of sperm, of all things: that she is one of them, swimming in her own fluid, through her own murky tubes, but she has lost her way. Would someone mind telling me if this way is up or down? she calls. But then she sees it, a slice of light, and she realises with a tremor of disappointment that she is falling out of her own body. In the morning she wakes to a flush of wet heat on the sheet underneath her. Puts her hand down to feel it. Finds blood.
George reverses down the driveway, swings the car out into the road. There are portents of winter all around them: this is what he thinks as he moves away from the house, their street. The morning light has a drabness to it, the red sheen of the car, as he'd come towards it down the path, seeming dulled by the grey expanse of sky, locked down over their heads like a hood.
Edie had her walk on again. The slump in her chest, curve of the lower spine, her pelvis pitched forward slightly, as if her hip bones were driving her forward. Not for the first time, he thought of her skeleton under its ephemeral flesh — the lumbar vertebrae compacted down on one another, ribs and sternum pressing down on her lungs and heart. He could imagine her as a specimen, arriving at work in a wooden crate.
He was working on assembling the Indian lion skeleton, which would be mounted next week. They were behind schedule with everything, and red-faced Ray — who was responsible for the life-sized Birds of the World diorama — had taken to hovering about outside the Museum back entrance at the end of each day, arms hanging by his sides. Word was that they would have to do seven days next week. There were mumblings about that: 1983, and they were expected to work like labour camp inmates. They took turns breaking for lunch — only ten, fifteen minutes each.
When they'd first moved here, Edie had driven across town in her Hillman Hunter — just to get to him — and they sat by the water in his lunch hour, eating sandwiches together that she'd brought from home. He was struck, seeing her in this different place, by things he'd never noticed about her before: the way she ate a sandwich like a squirrel eats a nut, both hands holding it up to her mouth. Bits of lettuce fell out of his one, but that didn't matter (a cowboy, he was, when it came to sandwich eating). They sat quietly and ate together, with him trying not to watch her.
Lights have begun to pepper the periphery of Isaac's vision. The flare of one right in front of him when he turns the lamp out to sleep — there, then gone — makes him slap his hand against his closed eyes, as if that dot of brightness is a mosquito he could catch in his palm. They flit around the corners of rooms, against cupboards, on the frame of a window: whatever he isn't looking at directly is adorned with dots of luminescence; their erratic little dance. It is the latest medication, or just his body, offering something new from its well-stocked shelf of surprises. When he told the specialist she had looked at him like he was far away, or perhaps something tiny, a bloom of microscopic bacteria in a petri dish. She said nothing. Her response to most things.
Isaac is just eighteen, has been out of school almost two years. In truth, he has been more out of school than in school most of his life. His mother tries to say this isn't the case, but he's sure of it — if he counted up all those absences, and set them against days spent with his knees tucked beneath a school desk, the scales would tip dramatically. Aged eight, and trapped, it seemed, under the blankets on his small, poorly sprung bed, he'd taken to drawing intricate models of bicycles — the star-shaped spokes of a wheel, a mudguard flecked with flames — and by the time he was twelve he was collecting bits and pieces — a green bicycle frame with one wheel, its metal laced with rust; an old-fashioned pedal with a leather strap; handlebar with a bell — and was taking them apart to put them together again, not necessarily as something that resembled a bicycle; not necessarily as something that could move. His parents let him take over the moss-dappled conservatory, though they worried — with its draughts — that it was too cold. On a summer's afternoon he was permitted to be out there, but only with a scarf doubled round his neck. He tried to reason with them. Wasn't getting too hot bad for his heart? Didn't overheating make the fainting spells worse?
‘It's a conservatory,‘ his father said, ‘but there's not a speck of sun.’
Isaac now has an assortment of bicycles – all home assembled. Sometimes he stands on the sidelines of cycle races or events, studying the way the racing bikes slice through the air like mako sharks through water. The cyclists themselves have calf muscles as big as a baby's head. Isaac notes the dewy sheen on their skin; rides home on his own wide-handled bike, stopping at the bottom of each small hill to get off and walk beside it, pushing it forwards with his hands. ‘You have the stature of an athlete,’ says his mother, smiling at him benignly.