Training Wheels ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Gee was allowed to ride four blocks on the sidewalk toward the school to the stone fence and back. He didn’t want to go any farther than that, anyway, because the Hedgepeth brothers were just beyond that. They threw rocks at him and called him names and he was afraid of them.
He didn’t have a full-sized bike yet because he was only seven and small for his age. He had a half-sized bike. It was really a girl’s bike but he didn’t mind because it was comfortable and easy to ride. The bike had been equipped with training wheels up until a few days ago, but a bigger kid in the neighborhood took them off for him. He was proud of being able to ride without them.
He had just reached the stone fence and was about to turn around and go back when he noticed a man leaning against the fence looking at him. He was in the shade under an overhang of leaves, so Gee couldn’t see his face very well.
“Hello,” the man said, as Gee was making the turn-around maneuver on the narrow sidewalk.
“Hi,” Gee said, looking quickly at the man and then looking away.
“How are you today?”
“I’m all right,” Gee said.
“I bet you don’t know who I am.”
“Would it surprise you very much if I told you I’m you, fifty years from now?”
Gee laughed a little bit because he didn’t know what else to do. “That’s silly,” he said.
“Why is it silly?”
“How could you be me when I’m right here?”
“I don’t know,” the man said. “Except to say that time is a river.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Gee said.
“I know you don’t. I don’t know what it means, either. It’s just what I’ve been told.”
“Do you live in that house?” Gee asked, pointing to the house with the stone fence around the yard.
“No,” the man said. “I don’t live anywhere around here anymore.”
“So you’re just visiting?”
“Yes, I’m visiting you.”
“Does my mother know you?”
“Yes, she knows me. About as well as anybody could.”
“I’d better get going. If I don’t come back right away, she’ll come looking for me.”
“Tell her hello for me.”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is the same as yours.”
Gee looked at the man’s face but still couldn’t see it very well. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Are you a friend of the family?”
The man laughed. “In a way,” he said. “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
“I think I’ve heard that one before,” Gee said.
“Before you go, I want to tell you something that won’t mean anything to you now but will when you’re older.”
“What is it?” Gee asked.
“You’ll be married three times. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you skip the first one.”
“I’m not ever getting married.”
“Don’t go into business with a partner named Alonso. He’s a crook. The business fails and you lose all your money.”
“I don’t know anybody named Alonso.”
“After your father dies, your mother will want to marry a man named Bartlett. Whatever you do, don’t let that marriage take place. He wants to marry her for all the wrong reasons.”
“Would you like to come home with me and tell her yourself?”
“No, I can’t do that.”
“I’m here to see you. Not her.”
“Okay. I’m going now.”
“Try to remember the things I told you, even though they don’t mean anything to you now. Write them down when you get home and put them away someplace safe where you’ll be able to see them in twenty or thirty years.”
“Twenty or thirty years?” Gee said. It seemed to him like all the time in the world. His young mind couldn’t grasp that much time.
That evening when they were having dinner, mother said, “Millie called me and told me she saw you talking to an old man on the sidewalk today.”
“Yes,” Gee said. “He was just standing there on the sidewalk when I rode past on my bike.”
“What did he say to you?”
“Nothing much. He just asked me how I was and he told me he used to live here a long time ago.”
“He wasn’t trying to mess with you, was he?” daddy asked.
“Did he say anything dirty to you?” mother asked.
“No! He was just a nice old man.”
“You’ll be sure and tell me if anybody bothers you, won’t you?”
“He didn’t bother me.”
“I’m going to call the sheriff and tell him there’s an old man hanging around the neighborhood bothering kids,” daddy said. “They can at least keep an eye out for anybody that looks suspicious.”
“I don’t think he’ll be back,” Gee said.
He watched his father chewing and he knew he wasn’t paying any attention; he was already in some other place. His mother sipped her iced tea daintily with a cigarette in her fingertips as a fly buzzed around the table and lighted on the plate of sliced tomatoes.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp