Flight:1990- LA Lantz

Bio: LA Lantz is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  Her fiction has appeared in literary magazines including Gargoyle, the QPB Literary Review, Thrice Fiction, and Sandbox. She has also been published in the Mondo Marilyn (St. Martin's Press) and Kiss the Sky anthologies (Paycock Press).


            Once Kevin had learned to fly—trampolining off his mother's mattress when she left the apartment for her fix—he wanted nothing more. Who would? By age seven he knew that pleasure was temporary: the short-lived bounce from bed toward ceiling, the number of jumps before he smacked the floor. The bed frame itself was fleeting, sold by one of his mother's enterprising boyfriend/dealers. Kevin didn’t find another way to fly until, during high school, the Job Corps people sent him from D.C. to a training center in rural Oklahoma.
            The fat man who taught them advanced data processing said he'd never seen a black boy go for horses in such a big way. But the health instructor, whose soft voice made sexually transmitted diseases sound better than he intended, countered. "You never heard of buffalo soldiers?" Kevin didn't listen to their argument any more than he listened to lessons on keyboarding, drug abuse, and prophylactics. He didn't have to understand why he loved horses.
            Kevin aged out of the training at 21. Back in D.C., he didn’t find a job. He didn’t know where his mother was and found himself in many strange beds until, deep in Rock Creek Park, he found a surprising forest in the city and the Park Police Horse Stables. He slept in a corner, grooming horses for his keep, until someone decided his presence didn't look right. At night, yes, Kevin had ridden horses through the park, but he'd stayed off the traveled roads and the golf course. He'd startled only deer.

            Next, sitting the lip of the dry fountain at Dupont Circle, Kevin watched the bicycle couriers resting their bicycles in the shade between jobs. He didn't try to talk to them, but watched how they waited, how they cursed each other, how
 they wiped clean and abused their bikes. He felt a familiar ache and anticipation.
            Eventually, next to a dumpster, Kevin found his own scratched black bike with 10 speeds. It was a Schwinn. Kevin got a job. He was not a good courier. The bicycle, although sturdy, wasn't intended for such work. The heavy frame wasn't suited to darting in and out of traffic, or avoiding opening car doors.
            By this time too, he was sick, although he was just realizing it. He'd always been thin. Now he was thinner. When he hit thinnest, he would have to find out what was wrong. In the Metro train entrance where he slept, a few guys had gotten thin until they died. He didn't want to think, only ride.
            The couriers laughed at his bicycle. It took money to strip a bike's heavy, clunky pedals or handlebars and outfit it with bare, lightweight parts. Their bikes must fly, but Kevin couldn’t ask to borrow one. The best he could do was sand off the scratched black paint, the decal, until he hit the shiny metal frame. It was, of course, scratched, but Kevin felt better.
            He was as daring as any courier. Daring was no challenge when you were fed lack of self-regard with baby formula. The couriers still laughed. His daring was stupid because his bike wasn't equal to the challenge. Common sense said that physical boldness should be balanced by equal advantage in your steed.
            The bike was to Kevin like his mother had been. They served him as best they could. He loved the bike more: she was kinder, let him fly more. He'd loved his mother most when she’d fallen back on the bed, directing him to release the tie around her arm. She'd said, "Up here it's beautiful." When he'd once climbed up with her, she'd smacked him for rocking her too much. She meant up in the sky, wherever she was floating.

            One day the bike carried him to a healthcare clinic for homeless people. Kevin was thinnest. He had difficulty making runs, had to stop to catch his breath, might forget where he was going although he usually had a good memory for streets. He asked for a test.
            Sometime later, he and the bike were skimming the sidewalk perimeter of Dupont Circle, watching the chess players. A van rolled beside him, as if following him, and a woman called his name.
            At the red light, she jumped out and let a man slide into the driver's seat. She ran to Kevin; he didn't go to her. Her nose ring was familiar.
            "I'm Barbara. The PA from the clinic."
            Kevin nodded. Couriers, watching, leaned on bikes. Other bikes rested on the grass. Kevin didn't have to look to know this.
            "You didn't come for your test results."
            Kevin had forgotten. Without a calendar or clock, he often forgot.
            Barbara said, "It's important. Come see me at the clinic tomorrow." She touched his arm in a way that was comforting, but her eyes were not reassuring.
            When he pedaled back to the couriers, he felt the bike's padded seat cut into his butt.
            "That your girl?" asked Roscoe, removing his courier bag, drinking from a Coke.
            Kevin blinked, sensing a trap. "Nah. She wanted some, but I had to cut her loose."
            Roscoe snorted, "Yeah?” He raised his eyebrows. “Why’s’at, man?"  Roscoe was mean, but Kevin couldn't hate anyone who rode a bike.
            This was a conversation Kevin'd overheard the other night. He took it for his own:
            "I told her to meet me at the Space, but she never showed. She said she came by but hadn't seen my bike.
            "My bike? I told her, of course it was there. I said, what's it look like? She said, don't be stupid, it's blue."
            Roscoe laughed without looking at Kevin's bike, as did the other couriers.
            He agreed. "You had no choice." In the wash their laughter, Kevin granted the bicycle a victory lap around the sidewalk encircling the park, raising his arms to the ceiling of sky above his head. Up here, for now, life was beautiful.

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