It’s a new found freedom, riding a bike through my cousins’ neighborhood, unattended by an adult, or an older sibling.
The streets are busier and much bigger than what our secluded, little subdivision has to offer and Gina, Mary and I are headed, unattended, to Nonnie and Papa’s apartment a few miles away.
The furthest I’ve ever ridden my bike is two blocks over.
Hopped up on sweets (following multiple raids of Nonnie’s unrivaled candy stash) and the even sweeter taste of pedal-powered independence, it’s little wonder why, when Nonnie tells me she has something to give me for my birthday and shows me a beautiful, porcelain doll, I want to take possession of it.
Nonnie refuses, at first, insisting that she bring it to Aunt Ar and Uncle John’s when she and Papa come later.
But as an obvious and well-chosen favorite, my sugar-induced swagger wins her over and she wraps the doll in an old towel, puts it in a thick, white plastic bag.
Hesitating before handing it over.
With a frown.
She follows me out the apartment door. Her tiny, slippered feet shuffling at my heels all the way to the elevator. As the automatic door glides shut, I hug the plastic bag and lower my eyes, avoiding Nonnie’s last pleading look.
Seeing her watching from her living room window three stories up, I carefully place the reluctantly released gift into the metal basket of the bike I borrowed from John, grab the handlebar and, with an air of overplayed nonchalance, attempt to kick my leg OVER the center bar that boy’s have on their bikes for no apparent reason.
I fall short.
Brutally kicking the bike to its side.
Launching the fragile contents out of the basket and onto the cement sidewalk.
Mary and Gina, both straddling their bar-less bikes, each with a foot on a pedal and a look of fleeing in their eyes, are slack-jawed. Stunned silent. Like they’ve seen a terrible accident at the side of the road.
Neither can look away from the body in the bag.
Even though the sight of it is truly dreadful.
Yet nothing compared to what my eyes are about to search out: Nonnie, three floors up, bearing witness to it all.
Witness to my fall.
Her eyes never once leaving me, refusing to budge from the window of her velvety world of gild and glass, of lacy figurines, candy-filled cabinets, and porcelain dolls.
Of obvious favorites and grave disappointments.
Of which I’m now the latter.
With my sugar-buzz busted and my confidence shattered like the small, doll’s head, the procession home is silent and somber.
Nonnie never utters a word about it to me that evening.
(Helped by the fact that I avoid her like a tiny, Italian Plague.)
But her silence is deafening.