The Girl Going WHEEEEEEE Downhill
Gosh, this was hard work. A drop of sweat fell from her nose to hiss on the hot metal of the bike frame. She should have thought to grab a hat when she’d rushed out of the house, but it was too late now. Dotty grimaced with the effort but forced her muscles on, and was rewarded by a cool breeze that lifted her skirt slightly as she entered the shade beneath an old stone railway bridge. The rusted lines above had once had carried rural railway passengers to Kelso – farmers, workers, market day whores – but the tiny country line had long since been abandoned.
In front of her the narrow lane continued to clamber, shimmering between scrubby fields, hemmed with rosebay willow-herb and tall cow parsley. The summer air vibrated with heat, the only sounds those of a nearby warbler and her own laboured breathing. She concentrated on pushing the pedals, forcing the bike to defy gravity and heave her up and away from the town.
It struck her that cycling up this bloody hill was a perfect metaphor for life. You kept on forcing your gutties against the pedals, struggling against all desire to stop, borne on by a fiery hope that this time you might just lift yourself out of the midden of your life. The trouble was that around each curve of the lane, through every dark railway bridge, the reveal was always of more steep climbing to sap your strength and erode your fading will. It was not a perfect metaphor – it was far easier to divert a cycle route than to change the course of a life.
It occurred to her for the first time how apt was her husband’s name. Both physically and metaphorically, Ben was a mountain of a man. Each day with him was a challenge, a hard struggle to climb the hill of his demands only to discover that ahead lay only the raw pain of his disapproving fists and feet.
An easing of pressure on her thigh muscles caused her to lift her eyes from the dusty front tyre. She was almost at the top. So much for metaphor. Her feet rested on the burning tarmac as she came to a halt. She lifted her shirt to wipe the sweat from her eyes and sipping from her water bottle. She turned to adjust the sweat-drenched straps of her back pack, and allowed her eyes to sweep the Tweed Valley behind.
Ahead the road tumbled down the other side of the high hill, a long sweeping descent towards the National Park, and beyond that, eventually, Newcastle. Her normal daily route turned to the left here, along the ridge of the hill, a rough track that meandered to Easter Softlaw before curving back down to the Tweed and the way home.
Dotty sighed then pushed on the pedals, setting her face and the wheels straight ahead. A wide grin brightened her face, and she allowed the bike to gather whatever speed it wanted, accelerating rapidly, freewheeling at breakneck pace towards her future. It could be hours before they found Ben’s body, possibly days. In that time a life might be reshaped. The scream that she let out was one born of release, of freedom, of relief and of utter, boundless joy.