Woman and Bicycle – an extract
This story came about during a visit to the Women’s Library in Aldgate. The curator was showing a group of us how to research electronically for resource material. She put ‘Women and Bicycles’ into the search engine and I asked why. She said that with the introduction of the bicycle at the end of the 19th Century, women had found a new freedom. For the first time they had the means to travel independently. It brought about a revolution for women, not only in an attitude towards independence, but in the clothes that they wore and the places they could go. Men found this liberation threatening and they sought ways to counter it, both publicly and privately through propaganda in the press and enforcing prohibition in the home. The issue of power and control in relationships is one which consumes me and I thought that the theme of women and bicycles would be an interesting way to illustrate the often invidious and sometimes violent interaction that occurs between partners.
‘A new development arose when she announced one warm Saturday afternoon in late spring that she felt like going for a nice long bike ride. It was such a lovely day for doing something like that. Blushing, his wife explained that riding the bicycle had made her feel as if she had undergone a metamorphosis. She felt lighter, more ephemeral, like a butterfly and produced a pair of bright red Lycra pants and donned them for the occasion. He thought there was too much bright red as she flew along the road and on her return three hours later, his head was whirring in a non-stop wheel of activity. He told his wife, after a difficult round of questioning, that he was a ‘still’ person. She was moving too much for him. It was all very distressing. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Thought it might involve some kind of letting go, but this made him feel panicky and upset. And if she could just bear with him until he had made this adjustment, he’d be grateful.Despite this, the Saturday afternoon bike rides became a regular feature of the summer. It was difficult to do the ‘following’ immediately, as he had set jobs to do on these afternoons and this meant gradually reworking his routine to create a spare hour or two. He thought that if he could follow at least part of the way he’d get a general picture of his wife’s activities. Enough to calm the mind.He took his opportunity as soon as he could and the ‘following’ was carried out in a state of sick anticipation. Leaving the outskirts of the town she headed, not for the coast as expected, but up towards the hills. Driving just close enough to catch an occasional quick glimpse, he saw that her legs had become more muscled; lithe. This prompted questioning. How had she discovered this route? They’d never come here together. It wasn’t a regular haunt of those townspeople in search of beauty spots. Why choose to come here? What was here that couldn’t be found with her husband in his car? What? What? What?Lost in the repetition of questions and answers, he realised she was no longer on the road in front of him. He turned the car around and drove back along the way he had come until he saw a small turning, a ‘no through road’. Gently motoring along what was no more than a lane he reached the edge of some woodland. He turned off the engine and freewheeled the car down into the trees, where he got out, quietly closing the door. Walking along a little path into the woods, taking care not to make a noise that might disturb birds or squirrels and thus attract attention, he came to a circular clearing in the trees, where the sun shone through the hole in the canopy. He was on the other side of the hill and there were a number of large boulders and a spring was bubbling up between them and running away as a small stream. He could see her bicycle resting against an old, old tree. He could see her. She was dancing. His wife was dancing! A red flash leaping, pirouetting and pointing. Oblivious. Free.
Trembling, he very gently walked back the way that he had come.’
Published in Writers 2006 anthology. London Metropolitan University. Winner of the Sandra Ashman Prize for Creative Writing, winner of the Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Creative Writing, London Metropolitan University, 2006.