Tuesday, 17 July 2012

78: Trick Cyclist

When Great Aunt Eunice died, she left Malcolm a unicycle.

He hadn’t expected anything in her will and in fact barely even remembered her.  His hazy memories of her all included an Astrakhan coat smelling of mothballs and coral lipstick smudges on her teeth, bared as she loomed in for a kiss.

A battered, dusty box almost big enough for a fridge-freezer was delivered to Malcolm’s flat.  The edges were reinforced with ancient sellotape, stickiness long gone.  Malcolm opened the box and it fell apart in his hands.  Inside was a unicycle, wrapped in oiled rags.

In the bottom of packaging was a black and white photo.  It showed a unicycle – this very unicycle? – and a young woman, wearing a leotard and tights, with a feathered headdress.  She was outside a circus tent, smiling shyly into the camera.  Malcolm looked at the photo, wondering who the woman was. 

There was a knock at his door, and his mother arrived carrying a second box.  “This is for you too,” she said.  He opened it and inside was the feathered headdress.

“Eunice always wanted you to have the bike but I thought she’d really want the feathers to go with it,” said his mother.  “She loved it so much and when you used to climb on it as a boy, she decided then one day it would be yours.”

“This woman is Great Aunt Eunice?” he asked, pointing to the photo.

“Oh yes,” she said.  “She was a bit of a star in her day.  She travelled the world with that cycle, performing in front of royalty more than once.  Broke her heart when she had to stop riding after an accident.  She was never the same again, poor lamb.”

“And did I really used to ride it?  I can’t remember it.”

“Well you wobbled a bit but you could go a few pedals.  She loved seeing you on it.  Try it?” she suggested.

Malcolm took the cycle and held one arm steadying against the wall.  He tucked the seat into his groin, making him look like a human wheelbarrow, and put first one then two feet on the pedals.  Maybe he had done it before after all.  They say you don’t forget.

“Well done, love,” said his mother.  “Don’t forget this.”

She threw him the feathered headdress.  “Go on.  For Eunice.”

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