In which one-legged Agnes rides bicycles and two wheels ride little men!
The summer between seventh and eighth grade came on like a bang. That is, there was little snow in the winter, and no early signs of rain. March and April had been utterly dry, but served up dust carried on scorching winds. The hot, dry weather simply made it easier for Gilly and Oso to remain inside his mom’s outbuilding or at Gilly’s computer, working on the robot. Sometimes, they slept in the outbuilding.
For the record, it was called an outbuilding because it had been given no specific purpose. It was shed, garage, workshop, and barn all at once. It held chicken feed; that was why it was a barn. It smelled of dust, wood, and the vitamin-y corn of the feed. To Oso, it was a relief to sleep there rather than in a house full of siblings. His mom had just popped out a new one. She would squat, and then there would be another crying baby in the house.
When the spring winds finally calmed into the easy heat of summer, the robot took its act out of doors. They had finally gotten it programmed so that it could balance on the bicycle. But they didn’t know how to stop the damn thing. It had no brakes.
“We should have programmed it to ride instead of just balance,” Gilly said. “If it were a more complex robot, it would put its feet down and not fall over.”
“I like it,” Oso said.
Gilly glared at him. Gilly had an awful glare at times. He was so…judgmental. Not that Oso wasn’t judgmental. He rarely let people off the hook. No, it was more that Oso could see an achievement for what it was. He could see that if they could design a robot to remain upright on a bike, they could design a robot to do anything, anything at all. In fact, he had some future premonitions of the sort, much like the one occurring in the middle school library, but he could no longer separate what was planning and what was memory. Most of his future memories were as attractive as his plans—emphasis on most.
Along the dusty road, Oso let the robot move with the bicycle. It was, as Alex had said earlier before she’d disappeared back behind her book, adorable. She was still mad about her Barbie bike, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t admire the robot. Eventually, Bernadette meandered out of her house and across her backyard to see what they were doing, and her sentiments were much friendlier than they’d been regarding the life-sized bot that had shot at her and Oso.
The robot could speak a few phrases, too, including, “Nice day for a ride”; “Hey, there, babe, wanna ride with me?”; and “I’ll race you!” When Bernadette walked over, it whizzed by her feet and shouted the last phrase at her. Soon she was off running, while it chased her up the alleyway running by Agnes’ house, and then back again.
Oso’s heart popped as he watched her. She was so pretty—warm with clean skin and big dark eyes, long swinging brown hair. She had nice legs, too, just a slightly too large derrière and no boobs. Ah, well, no girl was perfect.
In an odd incongruity, as Oso used the remote to keep the girl running in circles as much to keep the bicycle moving, Agnes appeared from the back of her trailer wheeling her own bicycle. Full-sized, of course. Nobody had seen Agnes ride a bicycle, but a secondhand bicycle shop had opened up on the plaza, right next to the coffee shop. And as nobody had ever seen Agnes driving the beat-up Oldsmobile, either—it was assumed she was too crazy to drive—perhaps she had found freedom with two wheels.
The surprise caused Oso to stop propelling the bicycle forward, and it toppled over. Bernadette halted in her run and stood there, panting, as Agnes wobbled down the road on the two-wheeled vehicle. She wobbled and stopped and started again, the handlebars veering dangerously into the middle of the road.
“Where do you think she got a bike from?” Gilly asked.
“Some idiot who doesn’t know she can’t drive a wheelchair or walk a straight line.”
“Who wouldn’t know that, asshead?”
“Maybe it was an anonymous donation.”
“From the local retard club,” Gilly finished, but for some reason, Oso was compelled to smack him on the back of the head for it.
“Our robot rides better than she does,” Oso said.
“Correction. Our robot doesn’t ride. It’s not much better than Barbie,” Gilly said. “At least when she wobbles, she’s using her legs. And one of her leg’s fake, too. She has what our robot doesn’t. A brain.”
“You’re such a downer. You’re like a little girl. Watch this, you little beyotch.” He shouted at Bernadette to set the robot aright on the bicycle again. Then he put it back in motion, while its small tinny voice said on repeat, I’ll race you.
And race it did, though it couldn’t achieve great speeds. Oso ran behind the robot with the remote in his hands, as though that would make it ride faster. He hollered like a madman with a deadly toy. Agnes, who’d finally managed to balance on the bicycle, directed herself right into the mess of dust Oso had kicked up. Disconcerted, she ran her bike straight over the friendly robot on its bike, and then slammed into a parked car in order to avoid hitting a moving one.
She jumped right up and tried to ride off again, clicking her tongue and mumbling all the while, but the bicycle’s wheel was bent, causing it to scrape the rim. She picked it up and proceeded to accomplish a very uncanny task, given her usual stupor. Oso watched open-mouthed as the woman wheeled her bicycle, which now limped about as much as she did with her prosthetic leg, into Oso’s yard, through the pecking fowls, and leaned it against the fence.
That wasn’t the uncanny part; given her odd behavior in the past, it wouldn’t have surprised him if she confused the Beñat family house for hers, despite that it was a shotgun adobe and frame structure, while she lived in a trailer. They were shaped virtually the same. The Beñat house was simply a lot bigger.
But, no, she wasn’t finished with her task. She then examined a row of dinged-up and scraped-up bicycles, found the biggest and nicest of the bunch, and wheeled it from the yard.
“Dude, she’s stealing your bicycle!” Gilly shouted.
“What the…hey!” Oso shouted at her, but she either didn’t hear him or pretended she hadn’t. “I worked my ass off for that bike! You think we get anything nice at my house? We don’t!”
Her vague eyes looked in their direction, but they appeared to see right through the boys, as if they weren’t part of her universe. She wheeled the bicycle into her own small yard, foul free, and bumped it up the rickety trailer steps and in through the front door.
“Just go get it from her,” Gilly said. “She can’t be that strong.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she’s not strong, but I don’t want to mess with crazy.”
Gilly looked disgusted. Oso didn’t care. He felt…he wasn’t sure what he felt. Guilty? No—confusion, maybe. Guilt wasn’t his forte. He wasn’t guilty. For anything.
“What’re you going to do now? I thought we were riding into town today. I’m not walking. It’s too far,” Gilly said.
“I have to babysit my mom’s brats, anyway.”
“Wow, you’re the one turning into a little girl, now, aren’t you?”
The look Oso gave him was meant to melt steel. “I’ll get my bike back.”
“When I’m ready.”
Oso examined the downed robot, now lying in the dust along with its bicycle. The damage was minimal, but for some reason, he wasn’t so proud of it any longer. He kicked it once and walked off, just like that.