The Birthday Wish

He was right of course. It was Saturday, and at home it was only half past ten. Although they would be going round to their father’s house for their customary weekend visit later in the day, they would have been up late last night with their friends, and having a slovenly teenage lie-in this morning. They wouldn’t appreciate being disturbed, and the thought of the grumpy, monosyllabic grunts that would greet her cheery hello if she rang now, decided her. “Yeah…ok. I’ll leave it a while”

In the shop, Peter asked for a packet of tobacco in his almost perfect French, and from the tawdry display on the cracked counter, Emma picked a white lighter adorned with the name of the town in red, above a tiny gold-coloured representation of the river, spanned by a picturesque bridge. “Tacky…but, well… know?” she shrugged in response to Peter’s raised eyebrow. He shook his head slightly, and returned to sorting through his handful of foreign coins, intent on giving the shop-owner the exact amount.

They returned to the bike, and while Peter manoeuvred it out of the cambered dip that pulled the front wheel into the gutter, Emma took one long, last, wistful look at the blissful tableau surrounding her, before pulling on her helmet and closing her ears and mind to the buzzing hum of the bewitching refuge she was about to leave behind.

Riding pillion was a skill that Emma worked at. She took pride in her ability to anticipate the changing speeds and leanings of the bike, and to blend into Peter’s movements, so that he hardly noticed she was there. On her own bike, she was always wary of leaning too far, and her fear prevented her from ever really getting into the flow of the ride. But riding pillion was another matter altogether. Although she might sometimes doubt Peter’s choice of speed or road position, she knew that a tense and fearful pillion was a dangerous thing. Her safest option was to be as physically relaxed as possible, whilst maintaining a grounded position on the back seat, so that she did not slide into him when he braked hard, or slide scarily backwards when he accelerated.

Being on the bike together was the nearest she and Peter ever came to dancing. He led, and she followed simultaneously. They moved as one, rolling and gliding, changing pace and direction in concert. She maintained an intense level of alertness, anticipating the direction of the road ahead, and the way the bike would move over different surfaces. She thought Peter’s thoughts, and knew how he would move next. But although her brain was tense with effort, she made her body soft and pliant, yielding to the forces of physics, obedient to the laws of natural motion. This combination of rigid strength and apparent fluidity of movement reminded her of the ballet lessons of her childhood. She strove to cultivate the art of being hard and seeming soft.