by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
The flight from JFK to LAX had arrived early. She was waiting for me. "What a surprise!" I exclaimed.
With dark, laser-guided eyes and incongruous freckles, Valerie was a close friend of my sister, the matriarch of our family, who thinks of her older brother as a mad but harmless eccentric. She had introduced me to Valerie, describing her as a thoroughly modern woman, adding a warning. "She is not likely to share your passion for old bicycles." Nevertheless, business trips to California became curiously more frequent at about that time.
"Let's go directly to my place," Valerie whispered in my ear. "The car is double-parked in front of Baggage Claim."
"Aren't you hungry?" asked I.
"Oh, I've whipped up a little something," she shrugged. "About time for you to sample my cooking."
In previous visits, Valerie would drop both children off at her mother's house and meet me for dinner at a favorite restaurant, which afforded the two of us an opportunity to catch up on current events or, as some say, "to build a meaningful relationship." Tonight would be different. A jewel-box bulged in my suit pocket.
Duck under glass ŗ l'orange -- a little something indeed! Saint-SaŽns on the stereo.
"Whoa there Val, fresh candles? Don't you have some old stubs?" I joked uneasily.
Valerie smiled and related pleasant stories about her friends, her children, her administrative work at the hospital. She studied my features from across the table, hands folded. I think she could tell something important was much on my mind.
Over peach cobbler, I tugged at my collar and prattled about my recent adventure -- an interview by Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw on The Today Show. The topic was the "Centennial of the Bicycle in America" and concluded with my demonstration of the 64-inch Columbia in Rockefeller Plaza. Valerie listened attentively, pursing her lips and nodding at all the appropriate moments.
"Did I tell you about the Viles?" I asked.
Valerie viewed the
coffee in her cup, then
slowly raised her eyes to meet mine. "Tell me
about the Viles," she
With my story ended, I chuckled to myself and took a last bite of peach cobbler. For a long moment, I beamed at Valerie in the candlelight. I slipped my hand into my suit pocket and grasped the jewel-box. She did not smile back. "Is that it?" she asked.
"For the next 25 minutes," I said, "June Viles and her daughter told and retold every detail of that scene. Remember, it had been more than a year since --"
"For 25 minutes," Valerie confirmed.
"By my watch."
Valerie, the thoroughly modern woman, grimaced. My sister's warning echoed in my mind. The smile ached on my face. I withdrew my hand, leaving the little box deep in my pocket.
"Don't you see," spoke I, mouth dry. "Here was a jaded woman, June Viles, who goes on shopping sprees to Europe, probably meets famous people all the time, and..."
Valerie shook her head slowly. "You're really into that old bicycle shit, aren't you."