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the stories we tell

Tell me a story, I say. Anything will do. He looks surprised and has to think about where to begin. There was this one day, he says. It was ten feet and glassy, I paddled out with my best friend.

I’m not sure where we are anymore. We’ve been riding up this hill so long it is starting to feel like my whole life has been spent here, just riding. I know I’ll dream of it later. I’ll awaken in a sweat, haunted by the vision of these endless corners, each one concealing then revealing another pitch upward. The road is inexorable, existential. There’s no exit and I feel like a cockroach.

There was a big set, I was caught inside, he’s saying. The story comes to me from a long way away, as if through a dixie cup connected by a long string across the span of our bedroom windows. The words skip and jump. Some of them are missing altogether.

I picture the boiling sea, imagine its push and tug, the way it toys with you, helpless. It’s like gravity, the sea, and just now, gravity is not exactly my favorite thing, riding up a road someone decided belonged here, absurdly high on a mountain. Gravity pulls at my legs, dragging me backward, pulling me under. I’m drowning with only my legs to save me.

There’s a place deep in your mind you go on the hard days. It’s a place that will not allow for any arguments. There’s only forward, only upward. The decisions have all been made and there’s no turning back.

I swam as hard as I could. I could see the bump up the wave rising, insurmountable. But I put my head down, and I just kept going, he tells me.

I stare at the white line. I learn its shape, the way the paint sinks into the texture of the pavement, the minute shifts of light and shadow. That line is so straight, all sharp edges and hard corners. My wheel tracks just to the right of the line and I watch it pass under my left hand. I’ve forgotten gloves and my hands are drenched from the effort of climbing. I keep following the line, following it wherever it leads.

We climb higher and the air cools. He’s telling a new story now and I’m not sure what I’ll do if he runs out. The words wash across my mind, the white line unrolls, the road climbs, unceasing.

You never want to look too far ahead when you’re climbing. You might see too much, might bite too deeply into the apple. It’s sometimes best not to know what’s coming, sometimes best to put yourself in the hands of fate. To surrender. I stare at the road three feet in front of me, watch the white paint pass under my hand and drop away behind me.

Finally, I sneak a look up the road. I imagine I see the summit, imagine that we’re close to the end. I pick a tree and ride to it. Then another tree, then a road sign, glinting yellow in the sun. He says something about a shark. I pick another tree.

The road turns. It’s not the summit I imagined. Instead, the road continues to climb, the cold slap of a lover’s rejection. A car passes close and for a moment, it drowns out the story. I flinch sideways away from the sound and the force of the air’s disturbance. The car disappears around the next corner. I never do learn what happens to the shark.

Another curve, another broken promise. Tracing the unrelenting contours of the road, we climb on. Follow the white line, keep your head above water, don’t ever stop. The only way out is forward, one foot in front of the other, an infernal rhythm.

The stories we tell, they keep us alive.

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