I turn on 11th like I turn on friends: too much stop-and-go traffic, too many sordid relationships. The light clips to red, staring down like the eye of Sauron: “Go no further.”
And though I am on a bike, whipping past the rubber march of tires, a bike is the same as a car.
Bobbing up and down, a zealot clown on a pogo stick, I cock my head east, then west, then east.
On the corner above the sewer, smeared with tar, is a homeless woman belching in the wind. She has a hat on the ground and she beats a drum.
The drum beats curdle in Sauron’s ears and he relents, dropping to the green of resurrected Narnia: “Go.”
I see her turn with three fractured teeth, her drum beats shed for the seconds it takes to cycle by.
Her ear is gnarled, and her face reminds me of a disfigured cat. She wears the scraps of a ’70s polka dot blouse.
I lean in to see the shoes: made of tape and flip-flop soles.
My stares take me away; I careen into a Ford like a boulder into a ravine, flipping and scratching across metal to cement.
Dusted with blood, contorted, black-blue, I hack with a cough and stand myself upright. My bike I leave twisted in grass.
There we stand, face to face: that beautiful homeless eyesore, and a boy with a scratch on his knee.
Bikes, trucks, and cars march, their obese rubber shoes barking at potholes. And I stare at the sulfury abscess aboard her teeth.
A minute tapers down, and I turn to retrieve my bike. She watches, mouth agape, scratching her cleavage with two-inch brown nails.
Before I can saddle and ride, I give her one sorrowful glance—for me and for her—and grin with an eighth of my mouth.
She doesn’t smile, but as I ride on, past the cars, past the corners, toward home, I hear the cacophonous beat of a drum in the wind behind me.