My mother is sitting in her mechanized wheelchair. Tucked securely into a variety of arms and pads to keep her paralyzed body upright, she reminds me of a beetle snugged into the petals of a flower.

She’s an unhappy beetle, though. The flower’s steel-and-foam petals are a matte black. Most days she cries and moans almost constantly, plagued by terrifying hallucinations and the uncertainty of where the border between delusion and reality lies.

She is moaning right now, shifting uncomfortably, on the verge of tears. She is near the end of her life, and has been refusing her pain medications for days now because she “doesn’t recognize them”. My heart hurts as I think of spending the next eight hours here as her caregiver, able and willing to give help – but unable to convince her that anything will help.

I start to daydream about riding. My bicycle makes me happy. It is a simple machine with many meanings.

Sometimes it is an escape; it enables me to put physical distance between me and my problems. I can take any road out of town and away from my dying mother, and my own doctors that I am avoiding, and the fact that I haven’t cleaned the cat box in three days… All those things fall behind me when I ride, and it’s just me, my bike, and the road. After a few miles, in the endless up-down-up-down circle of the pedals, I can examine my worries from a calm distance.

I click into Craigslist to see if any interesting bikes have been posted for sale. If I had endless amounts of time and money, I’d spend a considerable portion of my life restoring, riding, and loaning out vintage bicycles. Since I do not have this option, I ogle bikes on Craigslist instead.

My mother moans again, and my thoughts return to her living room. It suddenly occurs to me to ask a question:

“What kind of bike did you have?” I vaguely recall my parents’ pair of bicycles in our garage growing up, but all I remember is that they were almost as tall as me and got in the way of the mop hanging on the wall.

“A Motobecane,” she says.

Given that it is a French word (my weakest language) and I have never spoken to anyone in person about the brand, only read things about it online, I’m not surprised that she pronounces it differently than I say it in my head. I say “MOE-toe-bee-cane”, but she said “moto-bee-KHAN” (the spelling of “Khan” here is a nod to my mother’s lifelong fondness for Star Trek).

“What color?” I ask.

She has to think for a moment. “Blue?” she says hesitantly, “A turqu- no, not turquoise. Just blue. And Renee had a…” she trails off into a worried repetition of no’s, and when I ask her what she was going to say about her cousin’s bike, she gets scared and says she can’t tell me. The question or response triggered something in her hallucination that she doesn’t want to get into.

I look up “Motobecane” on the bike page of Craigslist. The third listing is a beautiful, diamond-frame, fully restored blue Motobecane. The decals are in vivid red and gold. It’s also my size, 50”, and for an astonishingly cheap price. I play with the idea of buying it. I consider offering to trade my racing bike (which I already have on Craigslist), despite the $700 difference in prices. I wonder where I would hide from my boyfriend if I bought it (I don’t really need to add to my pre-existing bike fleet). Unable to come up with an idea and considering how much of an impulse buy it would be, I mentally file the Craigslist Motobecane away and return my mind to the conversation. Distracting my mother from her pain with words and memories seems to be helping a little. Just a little.

“Did your bike have a name?” She shakes her head no. I have always named my bikes.

“When did you get your first bike?” Her expression doesn’t change, and I’m not sure she heard me. “Just that, my generation at least, most kids I knew had bikes,” I say, “I was just wondering if it was the same when you were growing up. Did you always have a bike?”

“No,” she says, so quietly I wonder if she is responding to me, or something else she might be hearing. “I was…six.” I ask if it was my Aba, her mother, who gave it to her. She says yes, but as though she is not sure that it is the correct answer.

“What was the longest ride you ever went on?” I ask next. She suddenly looks nervous. “Why are you asking these questions?” she says, fearfully.

She doesn’t like people asking her too many questions. She things that people who ask too many questions (doctors, social workers, caregivers) are reporting on her to “Them” – an organization of constantly shifting identity, but always constant threat.

Oops. I want to continue this conversation and distract her, how do I ask these questions without upsetting her?

Thinking quickly, I say with a smile (she is blind, but you can hear a smile in someone’s voice when they speak), “I am trying to figure out where I got the love-of-cycling gene.” The shadow of a smile, more like a lightning-fast relaxation of facial muscles rather than a smile, ghosts the implication of amusement across her face. She nods, and then thinks for a while before responding. There are long pauses between each sentence when she finally does speak.

“I don’t really know. I could ride for hours. Stopping for breaks of course. I’d just ride.”

That pleases me. It sounds a lot like what I like to do: just ride, for hours.

“Where did you like to ride?” I ask next. “I can’t imagine this was when you were living in San Francisco… All those hills!” She opens her mouth like she is going to respond, then closes it and shakes her head no.

I wait a little while, then continue; “did you just ride around the city?” I wonder if my mom ever commuted by bike. I like biking to work. She says no. “Country roads, then?” Maybe she was more into cycling when she and my dad were together, living in the suburbs.

But now I have asked too many questions too quickly. She starts to panic, because she “can’t talk about these things”. She asks me why I’m asking, and I repeat my reason of just wanting to know about how she rode bikes, since I like riding mine so much. She tells me I don’t need to know that, and asks me to stop questioning her again. The tearful moaning returns. The moment is gone.

I look at the blue Motobecane on Craigslist and picture it and my mom, with her sight and mobility, alone on a California road bordered by golden summer grasses. The natural red highlights she used to have in her black-brown hair are gleaming in the summer sun. She is happy. It’s just her, her bike, and the road.

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