Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jinglebike

My child is home for Christmas from the far side of the world. It has been the best Christmas in memory and it has just begun.
I do not know Aldo James Ross well. We have occasionally exchanged emails concerning vintage French bicycle lights and fendered bicycles. I wish I knew him better.

by Aldo Ross

"T'was the night before Christmas..."
Always a difficult time for those among us who live alone -
the singles, the childless, those who have no close
relatives with whom to spend the holidays. Some will spend
Christmas Eve by themselves. This is the story of one of them.
He sits by the fire, sipping hot tea and watching the flames
chase and frolic among the logs. At his feet, a warm pile of
sleeping cats. Except for the occasional sputter from the
fire, it's a silent night. The winter sun is already
setting amid a few crimson clouds, leaving a starry indigo
sky to the east. His room grows dim, lit only by the
dancing orange flames.

It's still early - a few more hours must pass before he
makes his rounds.

Across the room, leaning serenely against the far wall, is a
bicycle. Normally it would be stored for the season,
waiting patiently for Spring rains to wash away the roadsalt,
but this evening it stands ready for one last ride
before it's winter slumber. Headlights are mounted, along
with a single red taillight. A thermos full of hot coffee
has replaced the water bottles. Tonight will be a special
ride - an honor reserved for this bicycle, which has been
favored for the past twelve months.

Curious and confusing changes have been made to the bike.
The toptube has been wrapped in cloth tape to protect the
paint, and over this a split piece of PVC tube has been
slipped into place. Twenty-four silver sleigh bells,arranged
in three rows of eight, are attached to a strap of
leather at each end of which is tied a length of wire. The
strap of bells lays over the top tube, hanging down on
either side of the frame, and the ends of the wires are
attached to the pedal spindles in such a way that, when the
crank is turned, the bells are pulled alternately up and
down over the PVC sleeve, so that each revolution creates a
"jingle-jingle" sound.

It's almost 9:30 - the man begins dressing for the ride
ahead. Wrapped in several layers of warm wool, he rolls his
bicycle out into the chilly night.

Lights turned on, leg over the bike, feet into the pedals,
and off he goes. First he rides a lap around his
neighborhood. His breath turns to frost in the chilly air,
but inside his woolen cocoon, smelling slightly of lanolin,
he remains cozy and warm. The bells work as planned,
jingling with each stroke of the pedals.

Most folks are already in for the night, so the roads are
silent and empty - there is only the sound of his sleigh
bells in the crystalline air.

He has lived in this town for many years, and knows it's
neighborhoods well. He knows where many of the children
live. Passing their homes, he bounces the bicycle up and
down a bit to make extra jingling noises, but only colored
lights and silence greet him.

First loop completed, he turns onto the main road and heads
downtown. He has only a few hours to cover all of the little
neighborhoods, his small white light guiding him along the
darkened streets.

During the ride he thinks about his childhood, and all those
early Christmas nights when he lay awake, too excited to
sleep. He remembers listening as his parents turned-off the
television and went to bed. He recalls the low rumbling from
the steel mill across town, where the machinery never slept,
and the lonely whistle from trains rolling through the
farmlands beyond. A sort of panic would build as sleep
continued to elude him. He'd toss and turn, wondering what
would happen - would he get in trouble if he couldn't sleep
all night? And then he'd suddenly awaken on Christmas
morning to a world full of magic.

Tonight he continues his ride, visiting one neighborhood
after another, covering the entire town, the bells jingling
all the way. But what if no one else can hear the bells
tonight? Perhaps the televisions are still turned on, the
kids are up late playing games on their computers, their
exhausted parents having surrendered to wishes to open
presents early.

But perhaps there is one house, one small room, where one
child stares wide-eyed into the darkness... one little
believer is wishing for sleep to come, wondering perhaps
what time Santa will visit, and how He gets down the
chimney, and how He manages to cover the entire world in
just one night. Perhaps one small soul will think about the
glass of milk and the little plate of cookies left on the
table by the Christmas tree. And then, perhaps, they'll
hear the gentle jingle of bells outside and rush to the
window to see a dot of red light disappearing into the
distance. And it won't matter if the light is at road level
rather than flying up over the rooftops - an amazing site,
otherwise unexplacable - not a car taillight or anything
like that, bobbing slightly from side to side as it crests
the hill and vanishes.

It's three hours later, and the rounds have been completed.
The bike rests once more against the far wall. The fire is
little more than deep red embers. He sits in his chair,
three happy cats napping in a pile amid the warm wool.

He thinks about this night's work, reflecting on all the
Christmas Eves he's spent alone, and probably will continue
to spend alone, and how life isn't always what we expect it
to be.

And he's only a little surprised to find that, on the table
beside him, someone has left a glass of milk and a small
plate of cookies.

3 comments:

Mimbres Man said...

Very nice story! Thanks!

Justine Valinotti said...

I love this story. Thanks! And I hope your holiday gets even better, Gunnar!

Debb said...

wonderful story, Gunnar, thanks for sharing... The best gift of all, the presence of our children, home... enjoy..