S#!t happens Biker fiction
A lesson properly learned is a lesson never forgotten...
“It’s like this, son,” I explained, barely managing to focus my eyes. I was fuelled up again and ready to launch, a dead bottle of whiskey in my left hand, my eyeballs swimming in a red mist. “There are some basic principles of life that (hic!) you’ve got to get into your head before you get much older, and I’d be failing in my duty as your old man if I didn’t set you straight. D’ya see where I’m coming from?”
I remember my kid nodding at me that day in his usual wide-eyed innocence, not understanding what the hell I was talking about as I teetered left and right in front of him like a huge uprooted tree preparing for a fall.
We were on the back patio standing just a few feet apart and long-shadowed in the last of the afternoon sunshine. I’d been growling and cursing at everyone and everything for hours, thumping the walls and yelling at the neighbours every time a door slammed or a dog barked. That was the ragged mood I was in. That was the kind of mood I was always in.
My kid had been assembling a plastic model aircraft kit. He’d bought it that same morning with his pocket money; not money I’d given him, you understand. I’d spent all my money on the whiskey. His pocket money was money earned from washing cars for neighbours and selling a few odds and ends on eBay. He was a smart, entrepreneurial sonofabitch, and he was going places.
But that afternoon he’d been relaxing on the patio sitting at a small hobbyist table that he’d cobbled together from a sheet of splintery plywood and a couple of wooden crates. For five or six years, ever since he was seven or eight years old, model kits had been his passion. At Christmas and at birthdays he’d get a few more kits from friends and relatives, and over the years his room slowly filled with them. There were model ships and model cars, and rockets and trucks, and he had a couple of plastic horror movie characters guarding his stack of Spiderman comics.
I remember those horror characters particularly well. One was the Wolfman, and the other was Frankenstein’s monster. He’d won them in a school magazine competition a year earlier, and when the letter arrived in the mail telling him of his prize, he’d forgotten all about it. So the monsters kinda came out of the blue. It was a big deal getting the kits that way. A real sense of achievement, I guess.
But his special interest was actually motorcycle kits, and given my background and suchlike, that didn’t exactly come as surprise to me. I reckon he had fifteen or twenty bikes on his shelf. Triumphs. Hondas. A BMW. A cool Ariel chopper. He built them carefully, always reading the instructions first and cleaning up the raw parts with a small modelling knife and some fine wet and dry paper. And only then, when he was satisfied, would he start the assembly.
While other kids were out with their friends playing football, exchanging video games or vandalising street furniture, my kid would usually be working quietly on his own in his room listening to radio talk shows or reading Spiderman comics whilst waiting for the paint or glue to dry. And when he finished a kit, he kept the boxes neatly stacked in the corner of his bedroom cupboard, all the parts used, the instruction sheet neatly folded, the model on display somewhere.
Like I said, he was that kind of kid.
The Christmas before that day on the patio he had presented me with an eighth-scale Harley-Davidson Wide Glide model. I remember that well because that was the bike I was riding at the time—when I could afford the fuel, that is. When the axe fell on my quality control job at a local factory, I’d been awarded a sizeable redundancy payment, and the Wide Glide was the first thing I bought. But in recent years I was always too drunk to ride, and the bike went nowhere.
My kid worked particularly hard on that model. It was beautifully detailed and painted to match the livery of my own machine. Wine Red. That was the colour, a colour as rich as a ripened midsummer sunset. I looked it over carefully, examining the tiny plastic control cables neatly attached to the handlebar levers, the decals on the tank, the grainy leather saddlebags slung over the pillion seat and the soft rubber tyres.
That model put me back ten years or more, back to those halcyon days of cruising with the gang, travelling long highways in search of something that I never really understood, and certainly never found. I was restless then. Headstrong. Dissatisfied. Jaded before my time. But there were good days too. Days of recklessness, and risk, and fraternity. Then things changed. I married, got a proper job, and then my kid was born. You know how it works.
My kid said, “It’s for you, dad.”
And guess what? I was a little drunk, as usual. So when he handed me the bike, I dropped it on the kitchen floor and snapped off the front fork. To make matters worse, as I bent to recover it—cursing myself for my clumsiness and drunkenness—I stepped on the piece that I was reaching for. I heard it crunch like matchwood, and it seemed that I felt each individual piece snap beneath my size tens.
“Ah shhhhhhhhhhhhhit!” I said. And I staggered away into the living room and flopped down in front of the TV and grabbed a fresh bottle.
Seconds later, I looked round through the open door. My kid was still in the kitchen. He was staring down at the broken pieces. Not angry. Not confused. Just resigned.
“I’ll fix it, dad,” he said.
“You do that,” I told him. "Send me the bill."
And he collected the fragments and carried them up to his room. I can’t remember if I ever saw that model again, and soon after I more or less forgot about it.
* * *
Later that evening my wife gave it to me in the neck. My kid didn’t tell her. At least, he didn’t volunteer the information. He wouldn’t. It wasn't his style. My wife simply took some fresh clothes upstairs and saw the broken model for herself. She’s got a nose like a Bassett Hound, and it never takes her long to sniff out the fox.
“You’re a bastard,” she hissed as she walked out.
In fact, that was pretty much the last thing she said to me; the last thing with any emotion in it, anyway. After that it was all unemotional letters from solicitors and the divorce courts. That was three years ago, and for complicated reasons she didn’t take the kid except for occasional weekends and a couple of weeks each summer.
And she was right. I was a bastard, and still am probably. But in mitigation, there were other things going on in my life. Work issues. A couple of health worries (mostly due to the drinking). Some ongoing stuff with my own dad. And the usual crap that life throws at you. No, I’m not making excuses. But there are reasons for things, and sometimes those reasons get the better of you. In short, I was on a long slippery slide to somewhere that no man ought to go.
But anyway, we were out on the back patio that summer’s afternoon, and I was saying to my kid, “… I’d be failing in my duty as a father if I didn’t set you straight.” And I gave him the old paternal lecture on those carved-in-stone principles that every father, at one time or another, feels obliged to pass on to his offspring, as if as some kind of penance for bringing them into the world.
He didn’t really understand much of what I said. I was mushing my words and slurring stuff and punctuating everything with another attempted swig from the bottle, which was empty.
But then, he didn’t understand a lot of things. Such as the relationship I was having, or not having, with his absent mother, or the problems with the debt collectors who were becoming more and more persistent, or the way I chased away his friends when they came to call. It was all just confusion, and I was about to add to it.
Finally I was done lecturing. I was done giving him the basic facts of life and all the rest of the parental crap. So I said, “But listen, kid. If you choose to (hic!) forget all the other stuff that I’ve told you, you’d better not forget what’s coming. Are you ready for it?”
He looked up, puzzled, indulgent, pensive.
“You’re sure?” I said.
So I clouted him around the ear. Hard, but not so hard as to put him in the emergency ward, but hard enough to send him reeling across the patio.
“S#!t happens,” I told him, now sounding strangely sober. “You got that? S#!t happens, and when it does, you’d better not start crying about it. Just take it while it’s going, and move on. Comprende?”
He was staggering a little, but still on his feet. I waited for him to reply, but he just nodded, and I left it right there and took my empty bottle back into the house feeling that my parental duty had been discharged. I could die a happy man now.
* * *
Well, soon after that the last of the debt collectors came and went. There wasn’t much more they could take except my bike, and that was hidden in a neighbour’s garage for safe keeping. It was the same Wide Glide I’d bought all those years ago, the one that was represented by my kid’s plastic model. I’d kept the bike all this time, my last link to the man I used to be before I became the man I am. The man who existed mostly outside of the bottle rather than in it.
And when the debt collectors gave up, I moved the bike back into my own garage for even safer keeping and promised myself that someday I’d clean up and get a new life and … well ...
But fate took another turn. I awoke one morning to find a letter on the doormat, this one from my ex-wife’s solicitor. Life had recently dealt her a few friendly cards, and she was now playing that hand and felt able to seek custody of our kid. I wasn’t too surprised or too troubled. I hardly saw him anymore anyway, and when we met in the hallway or on the patio there wasn’t much to be said. However, the letter also advised me that she was suing for half of the house unless I could come to an “amicable settlement”. That was the exact words.
That day I got really blitzed. I phoned her solicitor and told him the usual stuff; that he could have the effing house if he could drag my cold, dead body from it. I made a few personal threats, and I hurled a few more threats in my wife’s direction. And you wanna know what the bastard said?
He said, “Yes, Sir. I’ve got all that,” like he was writing it down, like he was keeping those words nice and sharp, like he was going to cut me with them sooner or later.
Then I wrecked the house. And I mean wrecked it. Every door, every panel, every stick of furniture, the fixtures and fittings, the crockery, and maybe half a dozen windows. I cut my arm doing that, and I used a dish towel to staunch the flow. Then I saw the TV and a put a table lamp in the screen. After that, I don’t remember much until my kid came home and woke me in the bath where I’d fallen asleep covered in puke.
“Why did you do it?” he said.
I pegged open an eyelid and smiled, like I’d got all the anger out of me for a while and could afford to look normal. Or nearly normal.
“Do what?” I said.
“My models,” he said. “And my comics.”
I started to reply, but I couldn’t remember doing anything. Not exactly. And then I suddenly remembered the Wolfman. And Frankenstein’s monster. And the wreckage of his small private navy and his small private air force. The memory was both real and unreal, a kaleidoscope of truth and imagination, like dreaming awake.
Then it all came back and I said, “That Wolfman. He put up one hell of a fight, son. You should be proud of him.”
My kid just gazed at me.
“S#!t happens,” I said. “Just like I told ya. Move on.”
Then I closed my eyes. Then I slept. Then it was tomorrow.
* * *
My kid was gone, of course. He should have done that years before. But where would he have gone? I got up and staggered around and saw where this human tornado had struck. And I was grimly impressed. Depressingly impressed. And I was in need of a drink. So I made myself more presentable and found my jacket and grabbed my keys, found some change and left the house. I didn’t even bother locking the door. Why would I? There was nothing anyone could do that hadn’t been done, and there was a nothing worth stealing. I think I had the vague notion of maybe sticking my head in the oven and setting the place on fire—once I’d had a final rendezvous with the bottle, that is.
It was as I was staggering down the front path that I saw it. The garage door. It was an up-and-over counterbalanced design, and it was half open. Or half closed if you prefer. I did a double take and remembered that it was definitely closed when I left it, whenever that was, and I remembered that the Wide Glide was inside.
As I staggered towards the garage door, I sobered up a little. I tripped on my boot laces, then recovered and crouched down to see under the leading edge. Then I saw what I saw, howled like the Wolfman and wrenched open the door. The bike was still there, but mostly in pieces. Someone had taken to it with a hammer, a chisel, a hacksaw and some other tools. I saw those tools scattered on the oily garage floor. My tools, looking both guilty and pleased.
Pieces of the Harley lay everywhere. Engine cooling fins were smashed. The carburettor was amputated. There were dozens of holes in the crankcase. Ditto for the transmission case. The frame was cut through in six or seven places. The tanks were pounded near flat. The clocks were broken. The exhausts and silencers were bent and fractured. The saddle was slashed to ribbons. The wheels were a long way from circular. The tyres were hacksawed through. There was oil still draining away like black blood. And there wasn’t a single part that appeared to be salvageable.
And there was a note.
It took a moment to register, and then the note seemed to grow. I was stone cold sober now. My hands were shaking with the adrenaline. I suddenly needed to piss.
The note was taped to the top fork yoke (the yoke had been almost chiselled clean through). I grabbed that note, and in doing so I fell over the bike and landed in a heap.
Then I read.
Just two words.
I read it twice, then almost cried, then started to laugh. Like a madman. My kid had learned his lesson well, and so had I. S#!t happens. Get over it. Move on.
For maybe an hour I sat there thinking. Ruminating. Staring at the bike. Finding more and more damage.
Then I pocketed the note and went back into the house.
* * *
My kid went to his mother’s, but where she went is a mystery. Her solicitor didn't know. At least, he wasn't telling. And he didn't sound like he was writing down anything. He just listened politely, and didn't mention anything about her suing for her half of the house. I got the feeling that that particular cloud had passed.
It was me who hung up first.
Soon after that call I stopped drinking, and I haven’t touched a drop since. A month later I got another job. A fresh start, you might say. Nothing special, but it's an income. I fixed up the house and bought a new TV.
I didn't tell the insurance people. There was no point. The policy had lapsed two months early. S#!t happens, you know. And I didn't call the police either. Some things have to be settled in very different ways.
Meanwhile, I’m still hunting for my kid. I’d like to speak to him one more time, man to man, if only to apologise.