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The Bikes of New York
A novella from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12
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The Bikes of New York, a science-fiction novella by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 2

On Saturday afternoons Luc Drapeau and his family take a stroll through Mount Royal park, Luc's legs quaking from his morning on the bikes. The road is strewn with blossoms, in places mashed green patties thick enough to advertise the brand names of shoes, logos stamped in the pulp. Birds sing, because nothing can stop the birds. It's spring so they sing extra loud.

"What is it, Celise?" he asks again.

"Nothing," she says again. She's waiting for the right moment.

They carry parasols, just like you and I do. Even though they're poor there are some things that are indisputable necessities these days, like shea butter and almond oil for sunblock; like sunglasses; like multivitamins and condoms. You find money for those things, sometimes even before you find money for food. I do, too.

The hillside watermongers can fuck right off. Luc Drapeau ignores them pointedly. They prey on the thirsty, profiteer rather than ride or work. They sell trick bottles that magnify the content, and the content could be somebody's piss. They look for suckers. They look for people who don't know better -- class tourists. Me, maybe. Maybe you. Luc they leave alone.

At the crest beneath the great crucifix a six piece brass band has adapted Berlioz. The baby squeals and cranes his head, threatening to spill free. A ring of listeners sit in the grass. An old man pretends to conduct. Celise stops the pram and drops her shoulders, grinning.

Luc wanders close and fishes a brown dime from his pocket. His wife catches his eye, questioning.

"Music, Celise," he says quietly but firmly. "Music."

She hesitates before nodding. He closes his eyes and drops the coin in the brass band's hat. The trombone player salutes during a two measure rest, and the tuba player winks behind his mouthpiece.

Luc gives them a tight little smile.

Montreal is spread out beneath them, wavering under a scintillating blanket of ochre haze. A brace of flycycle gliders are out, white dots sailing between the skyscrapers. Probably the cops. The tallest towers pierce the haze in their thirst for the sun, the fans at their pinnacles beating silently. Between the buildings glisten the new canals.

"Luc," says his wife, touching his shoulder. He turns around. She says, "Something wonderful has happened."

He raises his brow. "Celise?"

"Our prayers have been answered," she says. "I have a message from Cousin Philip. He says he has arranged a job."

Luc blinks. "A job?" he echoes dumbly. "...A task?" he adds, letting a note of cynicism enter his voice.

"A job," says his wife, her cheeks colouring. "A salary," she says.

Luc is on top of the world. He picks up his wife and swings her around. He scoops his son out of the pram and kisses him until the boy gasps for breath between giggles. The brass band's number winds to a close and everyone applauds.

"There is only one thing," says his wife, biting the inside of her cheek.

Luc gently lays the baby in the pram, looks up, his lids heavy. "What is this one thing?" he asks quietly.

"The job is not in Montreal," says Celise.

"Where is it?"

"It's in New York City."

"New York City?"

"Yes."

"Tabernac."

"Luc!"

He paces in a small circle, chin in his palm. "I don't see how it's possible, Celise. How could we do this? How would we get there? Even if we did, we would be immigrants. We might as well try to get into Canada."

"Philip will help us. He's arranged everything. He knows how smart you are, Luc. He wants you there."

Luc sighs. He pinches the bridge of his nose, eyes closed. Is this salvation or damnation? At first blush they both smell the same, both starting from a knot of fear deep down in his stomach.

Celise takes his hand. "We can't stay here, Luc. You know it. The Republic is suffocating. Every day there are more turning to the bikes. It can't go on forever."

He nods. He tracks birds as they wheel across the sky, gliding from wind wave to wind wave. "I know," he says hollowly.

A blue and white flag snaps in the breeze, its line jingling against the flagpole. The baby fusses.

"It's time to go home," says Luc. "We should start packing," he adds.

Celise drops her head against the base of his neck, snuggling against a film of rasping stubble. "I love you," she breathes. Luc puts his arms around her, rocks her gently side to side.

"I dream of never having to ride again," he says.

"Your dream is coming true," she tells him tenderly. "Just you wait and see: in New York, everything will be different."

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