Augustus Young       light verse, poetry and prose
a webzine of new and unpublished work


from Disappearances

After a weekend of storms I unlock the garage door and my bike isn’t there. An abyss opens. Losing a bike always pulls the ground from under me. Even in London where their lifespan averaged five years. The empty space is the chalked outline of a dead body, an absence that can never be filled. Of course a decent period of mourning won’t be observed, anymore than with bereaved dog-owners like Welsh. The bike like the dog will be replaced, soon enough. 

The garage is shared with Madame Partagé, a retired architect. There are two parking spaces with a wall between them and separate doors. However, the back entrances don’t have locks, and open on to a yard cut off by M. Pujol’s overhanging garden. This morsel of land is subject to contention. Qui terre a, guerre a. Last year it was weeds. The Black Widow, whose apartment overlooks the yard, insisted the ragworth was poisoning her life. Now, after Bras had its first spring snow in living memory, slate is falling from the crumbling cliff-face. Although it choked the noxious weeds, Madame Partagé complained to the Town Hall, and was told it’s the yard owners’ responsibility, not Pujol’s. Windfalls, like rain, benefit the soil. 

Though she is the obvious suspect, it’s doubtful that Madame Partagé would carry a heavy mountain bike across a slate tip with the risk of rocks raining on her. I must think again.  Could I have taken the bike out for a ride, and it was stolen then? Stormy weather affects the brain. The high winds whistle between the ears. So a long walk to jog the memory, and consider the possibilities, is in order. In London it was easy. Metal cutters in vans made regular raids on railings, and you stood there with other shocked cyclists, and didn’t have to blame yourself. As my head clears four distinct memories come to mind.

1. On Saturday afternoon the storm abates. I come out to stretch my legs, and see Madame Partagé disappearing down the road on her bike. Over the summer she has put on weight, and goes out every day on a junior bike (her grandchild is a regular guest). Maybe a cycle ride would be possible. The winds will have dried the road surface. I open the garage, wheel the bike out, and lean it against the wall between Madame’s space and mine. Then I remember the nids de poule, the potholes, and my fall on Rue de Paquebot. They will still be full of water. At that point the memory grows vague. Did I decide the risk wasn’t worth it? All I know is I locked the garage.   

2. I’m passing Bruno’s bar, and see Kevin, the Irish song and dance man, on the terrace. He is resting between shows (Chicken Flap Two and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers). Resting is an exaggeration. He is in a worse panic than usual.  His mobile isn’t working because of the storm, and he is waiting for his brother, whose flight should have landed in Perpignan. Bruno checks his laptop for arrivals, but Ryanair is being coy. ‘Try the car-hire firm on your fixed phone’, Kevin says. But all the lines are down. I remain talking to Kevin for a few minutes until he receives a text message from someone at a soccer match in Dublin. ‘Russia is ruining Ireland.’ I pat his rounded shoulder, and depart. Here the memory grows vague. Could the bike have been nicked when I was with Kevin? It would have only been locked if I was sitting down for a French lesson with Laura, or in Collioure. Eight crime-free years makes you blasé. Still there was nobody suspicious about. But the best thieves are innocent bystanders. Not seeing the bike parked on the elbow of the pavement, did I assume I was on foot and walk on?

3. My third memory is of standing at the Fanal lighthouse, looking at the swell on the sea, and the waves dashing against the jetty across the port. The spume is six metres at least. Since Le Journal next day featured a photograph on the front page, this memory, though vivid, could be false. But I would swear I had a cognac in Le France bistro on the way back. Toulon is playing Toulouse on the television, and Saturday afternoon means rugby matches. There again, it was in the newspaper. But I recall the game was spoiled with knock-ons, the ball slipping out of the players' hands like soap in the wet conditions. I definitely didn’t have a bike.   

4. The final memory is of arriving at my gate in a downpour. The winds have also returned. Madame Partagé struggles up the hill on a low gear. Despite her high cadence the bike wobbles, almost to a stop. I’m glad to be on foot, and run in home.    

I resolve to buy myself a new bike to forget what had happened. It would have to be from the Sports Supermarket since Aldo de Gross’s bike shop in Argeles is now closed. At his clearance sale I traded in my beloved Fondriest racer for the last decent VTT in stock. A replacement is never the same, but you get used to it. 

Madame Partagé was away visiting her daughter in Switzerland so I didn’t see her for several weeks. She was dismounting from a bike identical to the one I lost. I couldn’t swear about the colour. Green and yellow with a gold stripe. I don’t remember the gold stripe in mine. It was a sturdy model, fitting for her build. I admired it, and she nodded, and opened her garage door. The junior bike was inside. I didn’t expect her to make a remark about my new bike. Unlike the one she was riding it was undistinguished. Black and blue frame, lighter but more steel than titanium. I could only conclude that when I locked the garage on Saturday I must have left the bike outside against the wall.

My chance came to confront her. I was looking at the yard to see if any of Pujol’s trees were damaged by the storms. Madame Partagé popped her head out, and said, ‘We must complain to the Council. That olive is worrying. Rocks are an insult, but uprooted trees are a threat’. I said point blank, ‘Do your realise you’re bike is just like mine, the one I mislaid?’ And she smiled, all friendly, most unlike her, and said, ‘Yes, I admired it so much I got one just like it’. Madame Partagé wants me to sign the letter to the Town Hall tomorrow.