I Talk the Talk, He Rides the Bike

A Midsummer Tale ~ Honorable Mention
Ellia Bisker


An Excerpt from “I Talk the Talk, He Rides the Bike”

The next morning the sky threatened rain and we were anxious—rain was dangerous on a bike, not to mention penetrating and unpleasant. If it rained we might have to wait it out and then head back to Nimes. But after breakfast the skies cleared and we hit the road, all optimism and pleasantly aching legs.

When we hit the Pyrenees it suddenly occurred to me to be afraid. There the road began to climb up and wind around the mountains, suddenly becoming a series of swooping blind curves around a cliff face, which offered us the most magnificent view yet, of the heart-stopping drop to the rocky sea where we could, quite conceivably, fall to our deaths.

If we crash, I thought, if some car flies around a curve and knocks us down the side of this mountain, no one will even know we were here. It was a sobering thought: our broken bodies tumbling down the mountainside like rag dolls, punctured by the lovely grapevines, crushed by the bike.

I gritted my teeth and white-knuckled it the whole time Seth was negotiating the bike through the turns, my mouth as dry as paper. At the Spanish border we flashed our passports and were waved across without a fuss, and, in spite of my apprehension, we reached Portbou without incident.

Portbou was a bright, quiet fishing town on a serene blue harbor that seemed to be populated entirely by old men and their dogs. After buying a postcard depicting the Benjamin memorial, I approached one of the old men and said, “Scusi” (this, Seth later pointed out, was Italian), “donde està—” and pointed to the card.

“Ah,” the old man said, nodding. Did we speak Catalan, he asked.

We shook our heads.

Spanish?

No Spanish.

He shook his head in bemusement or pity at our ignorance and motioned for us to follow.

Faced with the old man’s gruff silence, I racked my brain’s store of Spanish and came up with a sentence to offer him: “Bueno perro,” I said. Good dog.

The old man nodded, unsurprised. Of course it was a good dog.

Exhausted of vocabulary, I followed.

The monument was lonely and ineffable, a mute object. It was in the form of an angular metal tunnel leading down from a clifftop toward the sea, where it dead-ended at a wall of glass inscribed with a quote from Walter Benjamin about the forgotten of history and pocked with a couple of what looked like recent bullet holes, the noise from which must have been deafening to whatever vandalizing teens had shot them.

We paid our respects, took some photographs, and then, just a couple of hours after reaching the town we had worked so hard to get to, we eagerly got back on the bike.

This time as we made our way around the series of treacherous curves, fear didn’t twist my gut up in knots—maybe because we had already survived it once, or maybe because we had achieved our halfway mark and everything was going to be downhill from here on out. Or maybe it was just clear that Portbou had become our pretext, not our destination.

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Ellia Bisker has worked at a children’s publishing house, an independent bookstore, a New York City art museum, and a small circus; currently she is pursuing a degree in Arts Administration. Her writing has been published in Pif magazine, Brooklyn Inside Out, ReadyMade, the Utne Reader, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She also writes and performs country songs, much to the surprise of her Yankee parents. E-mail: ellia.bisker[at]gmail.com.

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