The Tandem Bike and a turn for the worst

Story as published in the Geelong Writers Anthology 2012 – ‘Splashes of Colour’

I run out to the drive and there it is. The glistening green bike with white handle bars stands proudly in our back yard. The paint is peeling in places and the silver mud guards have patches of rust but that doesn’t matter. The wheels are small and thin with worn tread but that doesn’t matter either. My dad is taking me on a bike ride; no brothers, no sisters, no mum. I rush to the garage to retrieve my bike helmet.

The laundry fills the wall to the left and the tools and workbench cover the back of the garage. Our old clothes, toys, bikes, mum and dads’ old books and artwork consume the floor space in a semi-logical order. I push past dad’s latest batch of home-brew and his swapper crate to get to my helmet. It’s hanging on the wall on one of our coat hooks which is also filled with raincoats, lab coats from Dads work that double as painting coats, old jerseys and helmets. My one is cream with a dark blue stripe down the front and with blue edging and a blue strap. It’s called a ‘kid lid’ and I’m getting a bit old for it now.

Helmet fastened, I grab dad’s highlighter yellow helmet and head inside to find him. He’s in front of the television asleep. Dad works hard during the week doing far more than nine to five and consequently his favourite pass-time on a Sunday afternoon is to watch terrible television shows like Doctor Who, thunderbirds, and western movies.

“Dad” I yell as I shake him awake.

“Mmm, what?” he says barely conscious, he can sleep through anything, a good skill when you have four kids.

“You said we could go on the tandem bike”


“No, now!”

“Ok, go get it ready and grab the helmets”

I irritatingly place his helmet on his sleepy head.

“Okay coming”

On go my red leather shoes with the fancy pattern and rubber soles, on goes my wet paint sweat shirt and I’m out the door to the tandem bike. The bike is on loan from the neighbour and it is a treasured, albeit temporary possession. Dad finally emerges from the back door and he straddles the front seat while I climb onto the back.

We’re off on our adventure around suburbia in the Sunday afternoon sunshine and the smile on my face is brimming from ear to ear. I pedal fast and hard and my little legs are moving at double pace compared to dad. I don’t have a chance against his large frame and his enduring stamina. He has biked from Hamilton to Whangamata several times already; a trip around the block will barely break a sweat for him. I, on the other hand, am puffing by the time we get into the next street.  By the third street, I cotton onto the fact that the wheels turn whether I pedal or not. I drop my effort down a gear and enjoy the ride. We go up the university hill; it’s a steep one and I don’t do much to help. The old bike strains under our weight as we push further up hill. By small miracle, we make it up to the top then sail down with the wind in our faces.

My chest tightens as we pass through a busy roundabout. Fear grips me but I know my father will keep me safe. This is not our first bike ride together; he used to take me on the back of his bike in a kiddi seat and drop me at day care when I was two, his track record was impeccable. As we head towards home the sunlight fades, tired, happy and ready for mum’s dinner when we get home. We pull into 79 Grey Street and in I rush with all my remaining energy towards mum.

“What’s for dinner mum?”

“Fish and chips love”; “Rob, will you take her to get the fish and chips?”

“Okay – come on Sarah”

“I’m coming, I’m coming, Dad”

We take the slightly more modern mode of transportation; the family van. Fish and chips are a family favourite. It’s the only form of takeaways we have.  Our regular fish and chip shop is Hsin Hsin, with a huge counter I can’t see over and old lino floors. There is a wooden bench seat for customers to wait for their orders and a few old magazines from the dairy next door with the front page missing, they do that so they don’t have to pay for the ones they cannot sell. Pulling up at Clyde street intersection; we come across a traffic jam. I am starving and will the traffic to clear so I can get my hot meal. We edge towards the fish and chip shop but as we do, we see the police cars with flashing lights.

“What is it dad?”

“I don’t know Sarah; it might be a car crash”

“Are they hurt?”

“I don’t know”

We creep a little further and the truth becomes clear. A Toyota corolla has a dent in its bonnet and it’s facing the wrong side of the road. People are gathered around something on the footpath on the left hand side.  A man gets up to talk to a policeman and reveals an elderly woman lying still. An ambulance rushes past us and a paramedic jumps out with a first aid kit in hand. He runs to the scene and busies himself with questions for onlookers while assessing the woman. She is very old, especially to my ten year old eyes. She is wearing a purple long sleeve dress and there is a cane at her side.  A police man is marking the road with bright pink spray paint. They do that for the crime scenes.

“That’s not nice, is it?” Dad asks, unsure what to say or how to make the shocking scene easier for my young brain to process.

“Will she die dad?”

“She might, darling.  The biggest worry for unconscious old people is that they swallow their tongue; if they do then they die”

“I hope she doesn’t” I say a silent prayer for the old lady.

Back at home I make a chip buttie. The mood is sombre, I don’t know if she’s alive or dead. I never will.



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