Saturday, April 17, 2021

Race ya by James Northern

 My two magic words. The cure to all life’s ills.

“Justin’s doing well, isn’t he?” Ma tells me one morning. “You seen his grades? He’s on track to make it to university.”

“He’s not your son, Ma,” I say, pushing sodden corn flakes around my bowl.

“John and Lucinda must be so proud.” Something crosses her face, but I can’t tell what it is.

“Race ya,” I shout at Justin in the street that evening. The sky is turning amber, but the air is still warm. I start to jog along the pavement.

“Give over, Rob,” says Justin, maintaining his slow walk.

“C’mon. Don’t be lazy.”

He needs a bit of coaxing, but he always relents. He’s skinnier than me but shorter too and not the sporty type. I run beside him at first, watching his round face redden beneath his bouncing  black fringe. One lap of the estate is enough. I pass him on the final straight. The animal thrill of it, seeing him slowly recover.

*

Two years later, I track him down in the crowded school refectory. I have to hear the worst.

“One B and two Cs,” he tells me. “Where should I go, Rob? Oxford Brookes or Leeds Met?”

“Wherever’s further from here,” I say.

“Ah, don’t be like that. How have you done, anyway?”

“Not bad.” But I’ve said it too fast. I stuff the slip of paper into my pocket. “Race ya,” I say as we’re mounting our bikes in the thin summer drizzle. He must have known it was coming. 

It’s five miles to our estate, and his face is pink by the time we’ve passed the playing fields. The rain has matted his hair to his scalp. Neither of us are in helmets. Why would we be? We can cycle well enough. I play my usual trick, hanging behind, making him think he has a chance. Soon we’re on the final leg, a straight run all the way home, and the traffic lights are green. Perfect. I surge past him, stealing a look behind. He’s going for it this time, pumping his little legs, puffing his cheeks. He really wants to beat me, just once. But the lights are changing. My tyres squall as I hit the breaks. Fuck. We’re going to draw. But he’s not stopping, is he? He hasn’t seen, or maybe he doesn’t care. He flashes past me, straight across the junction.

In comes the car — God knows what it’s doing. Forty? Fifty? He somersaults in the air, his legs separating from the bike, his arms spread wide. He lands on the far side of the road. Cars stop at strange angles. A crowd gathers. My view is blocked, but my body doesn’t want to move. I can tell it’s bad; people are turning away, covering their eyes, shaking their heads. Not just bad. The worst.

Some of them will probably be at his funeral. They’ll hear all the speeches. Such a talented boy. So good-natured too. He’ll go down in village folklore. Remembered forever. And me? What about me? What will I ever be?

© James Northern

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