Barrett always felt disheveled beside Wiley. She never got the knack for bike fashion. Whatever she wore she quickly destroyed. They'd race to the Botanical Gardens and back, Wiley glowing with sweat and vigor. Barrett looked like his ragamuffin tagalong -- socks streaked in axle grease, shorts pilling with friction, wind-whipped hair mocking dreadlocks.
Wiley knew Barrett ravaged everything, but it didn't phase him. Even after all these years he found it endearing, her missing buttons and peeling helmets, like she was some incorrigible, untamable child. In fact, he made a point of bringing her racing jerseys and gadgets from the shop. Sometimes she felt like his personal test-kitchen. He seemed to wonder, Let's see what Berry can do to this little number. The longer it took her to damage a product or snag a fabric, the better he felt about selling it at Khyber Pass. He'd tell Mark, "That's a great toe-clip. It logged 1600 Barrett-miles." Like she was a scale, a gauge, something fixed and discrete, something indisputable. An ANSI standard, not a wife.
Saturday was no different. Wiley gave Barrett a new set of gloves with gel-infused palms.
"They could change your life," he presented them with a flourish. "They'll cure carpal tunnel, massage your palms, get the chi flowing through your limbic system and catapult you into bike nirvana."
She velcroed the wrists tight and slid her butt onto her cushioned seat, tiny tears already working at the cover. Wiley tooled down the alley and she leaned after him. A breeze toyed with an empty box behind the Jensens' garage, and lifted Barrett's hair off her shoulders like mischievous hands. It was a golden morning.
Wiley took the long route. They coasted through Evanston, west down Oakton with its smattering of oddly expensive trailer slab homes, past the off-leash dog maze, and aimed north through the Skokie sculpture park. They wove between towering pink and blue circus horses, beyond chairs caught up in wire cyclones, colorful whirligigs and the beached hulls of faux ships. The fantastical pieces made Chicago's Picasso look literal. They veered first toward the purr of McCormick's four lanes of traffic, and then along the canal, its banks massed with milkweed and Queen Anne's lace. Here was the windmill, and there was the stretch with a hand-lettered sign reading, 'Ricky Birdsong Square' in honor of Northwestern's ex-basketball coach, gunned down by a white supremacist.