RoadsideTales.com - biker fiction - read to live, live to read - handcrafted and custom built motorcycle fictionIn October 2005 I heard that my mother was ill.

I was (and still am), living in France and, to be honest, didn’t have the money for a trip home.

I suppose that this must have been playing on my mind. I spent a lot of time that Autumn and Winter writing. This is one fot he stories I wrote.

The story came easily enough and I think that it was because I emphasised with the main character.

When I was finished I realised that it was really just the first chapter of a three or four chapter novella. Although complete in itself, the story seemed to deserve more.

My mother got better, I went back to England for a visit the following year.

I live in Brittany and not the Vendee.

I have never ridden a BMW motorbike.

 

I parked the bike in the drive and walked slowly up the path to the front door. I knocked and waited. Eventually the door opened and I was silently ushered through the hall and into the kitchen.

My parents’ house hadn’t changed in all the time I’d been away. This is where I’d grown up. This is where, as a child, I’d played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ in the garden and where, alone in my room, I’d dreamed of bikes I’d one day own and the places I would one day go.

I’d come home. As usual, I was late. But this time, instead of my parents waiting up for me to return from some all-night party, there had been no party and my father was all alone.

He looked tired, tired and old. And, although I hadn’t seen him for almost two years, he seemed to have aged at least ten years in that time. And most of it, I knew, had happened in the last few months.

“Father,” I began.

I had started calling him ‘Father’ during my late teens. At the time it had been some kind of reproach but, over the years, it had come to symbolise the growing distance between us.

“How are you?” I continued.

He looked at me with his tired old eyes and sighed.

“Bearing up, old chap. Bearing up” he said. “Things have quietened down a bit now that the funeral is over. Your sisters all came, you know; you’ve only just missed Sally, she went home yesterday. And your brother flew in from the States.”

The implication was there, but unsaid. Of all her five children, I was the only one not to have attended my mother’s funeral.

I sat down at the kitchen table. My father, who had towered over me when I was younger, now seemed shrunken – a shadow of his former self.

“I would have come, you know I would,” I said, desperate to explain.

“I didn’t even know she was ill, she never said,” I stuttered, almost accusingly.

My father smiled, that old wise smile that always used to annoy me so much.

“Well, you know what your mother was like,” he said. “I expect that she didn’t want to worry you.”

“Besides,” he continued. “At the end it happened very fast, and then we didn’t know how to get hold of you. And then, it was too late.”

My father put his hand on mine. Years ago, I would have flinched at his touch but not now.

“Don’t worry too much, old chap,” he said. “I know you would have come if you’d known. You were always her favourite, you know. Her little rebel, she used to call you.”

I looked at him. He looked back at me, deeply, as if searching for something and then, maybe finding it. He looked away.

He coughed. “So, old chap,” he asked. “What are you up to these days?”

“Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that,” I replied, grateful for the chance to talk about something other than my dead mother.

“I spend quite a bit of time at Sam and Tracey’s, down in the Vendee, helping them on their farm. I spent the summer in Spain, working in a bar and, after that, a short trip to Turkey – sight seeing.” I told him.

This was nearly the truth. I couldn’t tell my father that the most valuable crop on Sam and Tracey’s farm was designed to be smoked in small quantities. Or that the bar job had really been arranging muscle for an American friend who had blown his inheritance on a beach bar and was getting hassled by the local heavies. And, as for the Turkey trip, well, I’d rather not talk about that, just at the moment.

My father seemed satisfied anyway.

“Listen, old chap,” he said. “I’ll start dinner. Why don’t you take a wander, if you want to – see if the old pub is still standing. What was it you used to call it – ‘your home from home’?”

I got the feeling that my father needed some time alone, so I played along.

“Yes. I could do with a decent pint after all that foreign muck.”

He smiled. “Dinner will be in one hour – don’t drink too much.”

I almost bit at that, but that would have been like the old days.

Then, I would have told him that I’d seen things and done things that he wouldn’t believe and that I was thirty eight years old and had learned how to handle my drink.

But, with my mother’s death, things had changed between us and so I just nodded and, as my father busied himself in the kitchen, I let myself out.

The pub was the same as it had been the last time I’d been there. Perhaps the staff were different but that was all. I ordered a pint and looked around.

There, sat in the corner, where I’d almost expected him to be, was Monk.

I’d gone to school with Monk. He’d always been Monk to me although I think we started calling him that when he was about thirteen, after a particularly disastrous home haircut.

Anyway, the nickname stuck and none of us were really surprised when, at the age of twenty one, he had changed his name by deed poll to Monk. Monk Monk, that is – both forename and surname.

It still makes me laugh to think of that night, about eight years ago, just before I went to France, when he announced to all of us that he was changing his surname again – this time to ‘Key’.

“Monk-Key, don’t you see,” he had explained.

It had taken all of us, an awful lot of effort and an awful lot of beer that night, to convince him that his money would be better spent on other things, like paying the rent, or food, or beer even.

I walked over and sat down beside him. “Hi Monk.”

“Oh, hi mate. Haven’t seen you for a while – how’s it hanging?”

I hadn’t seen him for more than two years and he acts as though it were yesterday.

“To the left, my man,” I replied. “To the left.”

“To the left. I like it,” he chuckled. He always seemed to find this funny.

“So, what’s going on mate,” I asked. Monk started talking. I sort of listened but I had heard much of it before.

“And how’s the book?” I interrupted.

Monk was writing a book – had been for the last twenty years or so. It was something to do with aliens from another planet – the planet Zog, I believe. A sort of social satire, set in a pub.

“Oh fine – I’ve almost finished the beginning,” Monk replied.

When we were younger – before I moved to France, Monk used to like to talk books with me. He preferred this to actually reading books. His favourite author, probably because for a while he had been my favourite author, was Albert Camus.

Monk was specially impressed that Camus had also been a footballer, playing in goal for the Algerian national team.

“I could have been a great footballer, you know,” Monk always used to say. “If only I hadn’t been so crap at it.”

And with this, he would give one of his high pitched laughs – almost falling off the bar stool in the process.

I snapped back to the present. Monk’s words washed over me. He was talking to himself as much as to me. I was aware that someone else was look at me – staring, even. It took a moment and then I recognised him – Ivor.

We had been friends once, but I had messed things up by laughing at a bike that he’d built. Well, I was never into purple metalflake, girder forks and coffin tanks. Ivor obviously had been and my laughter had insulted his pride.

A waste of a good Honda seven-fifty, I’d called it then. Looking back on it, it probably wasn’t any more silly than the cafe-racered Triumph that I had been riding at the time. Probably more likely to make it to the end of the road without something falling off, at least.

Still, over this small disagreement, we had fallen out and now, sixteen years later, we were still wary of each other.

He nodded to me and then turned away. I tried to return to Monk’s world but it was difficult to keep up with his line of thought. I finished my pint, tapped him on his shoulder, interrupting him in full flow and said that I was off.

“Oh, see you around then.” He said. “Don’t do anything that I wouldn’t do.” And with this, the same old high, pitched laugh.

“Same to you.” I said and left the pub.

Dinner was ready when I got home. It smelt good. It was good.

Whilst we were eating, my father and I spoke. Like we should have spoken twenty years before. I tried to explain my lifestyle. Working when I had to, living cheaply, often staying with friends – helping out to pay my way. Taking pleasure from the simple things in life.

I explained about Sam and Tracey. About their farm, their dream of living off the land. of their occasional need for an additional pair of hands. Of the little flat they’d built for me, above the barn.

Of working all day in the sun and then spending the evenings eating, drinking and talking – only to fall into bed, aching and tired, but fulfilled – ready for another day.

I explained that all I needed was my bike, a tent, some maps, a compass and the freedom of the open road.

I explained that it was a good life for me, an honest life, one that made me happy. A life that made a lot of sense.

At the end, I think that he almost understood.

I washed the dishes, he was quiet as he dried.

When it was done he said “You know, if you ever wanted to come back here, start something up on your own – perhaps a motorbike repair shop – you’d be more than welcome. There’s plenty of room here, I could help you out with some money.”

I suddenly realised that he was lonely. My mum had been his whole life. He’d never had any other friends, he’d never needed them.

“Thanks Dad,” I said. “I’ll think about that. But, right now, I’m shattered – I need my bed.”

He looked at me again with that enquiring smile.

“Well, you know where your old room is.”

I nodded, I did.

“Sleep well.” He said.

“You too” I replied.

My old room was pretty much as I remembered it. Posters of motorbikes on the walls. Yards of old motorbike magazines filling the bookcases that my father had once built for me, hoping that they would hold the classics of science and literature. Or, whatever I needed to help me make my way in the world.

I lay down on the bed. God, I really was tired. I remembered telling my father during dinner about one of the jobs I’d had. Working in a chicken processing plant just before Christmas a couple of years ago – I’d need the cash.

After they were killed and plucked, the chickens were transported round the factory, hanging from their feet from an overhead chain. There was something wrong with the system and it was running at double speed.

My job, for a week, had been to catch and re-hang, any chickens that were flung off. “Just like being a goalkeeper,” I had said.

My dad had laughed at this image of his son being paid to catch flying dead chickens.

I closed my eyes. I remembered Monk telling me that he would have been a great footballer, if only he hadn’t been so crap at it. When had that been? I remembered too that Camus had been a goalkeeper. And then I was asleep.

I woke in the morning to the smell of bacon frying. I dressed quickly and made my way downstairs.

Dad was in the kitchen. He was wearing an apron. It was one I’d given Mum for her birthday years ago.

“Your mum’s favourite,” Dad explained.

“Your sisters hated it, they thought it was tacky. But your mother liked it. She said it reminded her of you.”

We ate. We talked. About Mum. About other things.

And then, when breakfast was over, I went and got my bag.

“So, you’re leaving then,” Dad asked me. I nodded.

“Sunnier climes Dad, Sunnier climes.”

“Perhaps I’ll come and visit you one day,” he offered.

“I’d like that Dad, do.” I said. And I meant it.

I went out of the front door, started the bike and let her warm up gently.

Dad followed me and looked at Bessie, my old black BMW R80.

“Still got the same one then,” he said. I hadn’t realised that he’d ever noticed.

“She’s a good bike,” I replied. “Faster than I’ll ever need, reliable, cheap to run and besides, we’ve got used to each other. I couldn’t change.”

“I won’t leave it so long, next time, Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry about Mum. I’m sorry about everything.”

My dad looked sad. “I’m sorry too, son. But life goes on – don’t worry about it any more.”

I nodded. Dad looked away. We were still strangers but, somehow closer than we had been – almost like father and son.

I pulled out into the road and slowly drove away.

I looked back only once. Dad was still standing there. I waved.

At the dual carriageway, I turned South – towards Dover.

“On our way, Bessie,” I said to the bike. I can’t remember when I started talking to the bike, or how she’d ended up being called Bessie. But I did and she was.

It had started raining. Cold and bitter. But we were going South, to where it was warm. We were going home and Bessie seemed to know the way.

To be continued….