The motorcycle is ugly. The tailpipe is crusted in iron and the headlight looks like a cloudy Minnesota morning. The leather seat is so splintered that, when bumped, the stuffing rains down onto the cracked cement floor. This machine had a hard life, carrying a hard man. If any cries of joy were found between its handlebars, those songs had long faded to the chug of oil that spurts through its engine.
Diana spins a large ring on her pointer finger, studying her inheritance, then kicks the back tire with enough force to rocket a sharp pain up her shin. The bike clangs but is otherwise unmoved. Beast that it is.
The door behind her opens and Pete’s voice breaks her silent watch. “What do you think of it?”
“It’s a heap of shit.”
Her uncle laughs. “Nah, we can clean it up so you can ride it out of here.”
Pete stands on the carpeted steps that connect his garage and kitchen door. He steps down and reaches for the handle of the humming refrigerator, brimming with only Busch Light and Pepsi. The beer hisses and hums as it opens like a dormant viper. She doesn’t bother reminding Pete it’s not even eleven.
“Come on,” her father’s brother says, shuffling in his holey tube socks across the cement to the threadbare lawn chairs. “Have a drink with me.”
“Not a fan of Busch.”
“I’ve got Bud in the house. Maureen can bring it out.”
Diana waves the offer away. “I’m fine. Just needed some air.”
Pete doubles back and hits the glowing orange button next to the fridge, igniting the garage door. Clean winter air swirls into the old carport. The day is glum—frosted with a hint of sleet—but everything the light filters over is beautiful somehow. The silver haze brightens Pete’s workbench, an ancient tub of shoe polish, a NASCAR calendar still stuck on July, a stack of paint cans, one dripping a color of peach that Diana recognizes from Maureen’s dining room. Through winter’s gaze, Pete’s life looks softer, loved. Even Mick’s bike looks younger.
Pete looks smug as he waddles back to his lawn chair, creaking as he sits. He doesn’t ask, he doesn’t have to. Diana crosses the garage to sit next to him in the pina-colada-yellow chair. The cold seeps into her core through the weaved seat, and she pulls her thin jacket tighter around herself. Pete wears only a long-sleeved shirt, but he sighs, so disgustingly content.
She sits with him, taking in the quiet like armor. Pete’s smart like that. He can’t write worth shit, but his math test scores were always off the charts. When asked about it, Pete said he thought everyone could do large sums in their minds, like trigonometry was as simple as doubling the sugar for two cakes instead of one. Diana always thought he would have been a great math teacher, able to see right through the kids’ games with his keen eyes, but he had followed her dad into construction. When Diana chose to pursue art, Pete was the only adult in her life who encouraged her. Mick told Diana that she would never make money, but he was one to talk, broke as he was. Every week, his salary disappeared into cigarettes and poker chips. At fifteen, Diana used her Dairy Queen earnings for milk and laundry detergent. Before giving her this metal monstrosity, Mick hoarded enough pennies now and then to surprise her over the years. A stuffed bear when she was six. A pair of Doc Martens for her sweet sixteen. She wore those shoes out until the toes were scuffed white.
“Why did he leave it to me?”
Pete gulps his beer. “Men are not that complicated. Even your dad.”
“I hate it.”
“I know, but it’s yours now. All the same.”
“Do you want it?”
“Maureen would skin me alive.”
“Please? I don’t have the space for it. My life exists in a compact studio apartment. There’s barely enough room for my easel.”
“Maybe it’s time to move out of the Cities.”
“And come back here? Joy.” Pete ignores that jab and shame trickles down the back of Diana’s neck. She clears her throat. “I don’t even know how to ride it.”
“Lessons when I was fourteen don’t count.”
“He loved that bike more than he loved me.”
The sleet begins, hitting the blacktop of Pete’s driveway like a cascade of pearls, trilling in frequency before crashing to their end.
“He should have told me he was sick. I could have helped.”
“Girlie, he didn’t want to be a burden to anybody. Especially you, off in the Cities, teaching your art classes.”
“I should've had a choice. Now, I have to live with his.”
He takes another sip. “That’s fair.”
Cold wraps around her fingers; her ring is ice against her flesh. “Does it even run?”
“Of course, it runs. You think that little of my big brother?”
“The seat is literally falling apart.”
“So? We’ll get you some duct tape.” Pete sighs. “Look, if you really don’t want it, we can donate it to the local high school. Teachers are always looking for stuff that their mechanics students can chop up and learn from. It would break my heart, but it’s up to you.”
Diana spins her signet ring. Before she was born, her dad gifted it to her mom. It wasn’t important enough for her to take when her mom took everything else, but when Diana looked at it, she saw their love in its circular band. A love no longer alive but still tangible, preserved in this small object like a moment sealed in time.
A ring and a motorcycle. Silver and steel. Around and around they go.
“Fine,” she says, still spinning her ring. “I’ll take it.”
KALEIGH WALTER is a poet, prose writer, and nonprofit fundraiser living in Minneapolis. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Concordia University, St. Paul, and she's working on her first novel. Her work is featured in West Trestle Review. Twitter/X: @KaleighWalter, Instagram: @kaleigh_walter.