All the way to Flatbush

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May 25, 2010

Vic said the pool was too far of a walk. We’d take his bike. “Hop on,” he said, gesturing to the handlebars.

He was standing on the sidewalk, straddling his bike—lime green with a zigzag of yellow lightning on the crossbar. I was taller than him and, skinny as I was, I was heavier than him, too. I was sure I couldn’t balance. It would be a disaster of skinned elbows and knees. And I’d just cut my jeans. I’d have to walk around, scabby legs on full display.

“Let’s take the train,” I said.

“It’s a waste,” he said. We’d have to walk to the stop, get on the train, change lines, and then walk to the pool. The bike would be much easier.

I wondered if one of his brothers had a bike I could borrow. I looked towards the building as though one might magically appear. It didn’t.

“Come on. It’s no big deal,” Vic said. He patted the handlebars.

I stepped forward, hesitated. “What if I fall?”

“Then you get back up.”

I shook my head.

“Have it your way,” Vic said, poising a foot over a pedal. “But if you’re going to be all Burger King, I am, too.” He pushed his foot down, looking at me as he inched ahead. I was sure he was bluffing. I held my ground.

He pedaled off.

“Wait,” I shouted.

Vic stopped and backed up. He held the bike steady as I eased myself onto the handlebars.

“Look, you’re sitting,” he said, his voice tinged with a teacher’s enthusiasm. “Now just lean back a little and stick your legs out.”

I did, stiffly.

Vic leaned forward, his chin near my ear, as he pedaled. We breezed by Brooklyn—trees, bus stops, chain-link fences wrapped around bicycle courts, parked cars, corner stores, brownstones—brick by brick.

We wobbled over a crack in the pavement. I gasped. Vic pushed on. “You see?” he said. “It’s not so scary.”


The pool wasn’t like the train and it wasn’t like Nana’s building. The black kids were clumped in one corner, Hispanics in another, and Asians in small, huddled clusters here and there. There was some mingling, more than in my school cafeteria, but it wasn’t the chlorinated melting pot I expected.

Oh well, I thought. At least everyone’s peeing in the same water.

Vic and I sat down and dangled our feet over the edge. I pointed at a scar on his knee. The edges were thick and wrinkled. It was like a patch of skin had been sewed on, over the wound.

“From the bike?” I asked.

He nodded.

“You see?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But now I got a story.”

His brother, Dom, had taught him how to ride. Dom held the bike seat straight as Vic pedaled. If he let go for even a second, Vic would shout.

“One day, I was moving real fast,” Vic said. He noticed he didn’t feel Dom’s hand under him. He was alone. He panicked and called his brother again and again. He turned around. “Dom was way back there, talking to some red-headed girl.”

Vic realized he’d gone the whole block by himself. That’s when the bike started wobbling, back and forth, back and forth. He fell. He was so angry that the next day, when Dom tried to make up for it, Vic refused. He went out and rode alone, he said, “all the way to Flatbush.”

Vic tapped his knee. “So that’s the lesson here.”

“Which is?”

“You don’t need your stupid ass brother to go to Flatbush.”

The water rippled around Vic’s legs as he kicked his feet. He rubbed the scar. “But, seriously? Sometimes I look at it during math tests, when I get nervous. Teach thought I was cheating once. But I told her, ‘Nans wouldn’t let me do that.’”

Vic stopped talking and I felt the air gather between us. It was his mom was sitting there, a ghost, dipping her feet in the water, too.

I looked at the kids splashing around, their heads popping up out of the pool. “Have you ever been baptized?” I asked Vic.

“Yeah, when I was a baby,” he said.

“What about a primera comunion? Did you have one?”

Vic laughed. “What do you know about those?”

I told him about Gisella and the time I snuck out of the house to go to church with her and take communion. I told him how I made an invitation asking my father to come to the “Green Ghetto” to celebrate.

“Green Ghetto,” Vic repeated. “I like that.”

“So I got home and mom was pissed,” I said. “She’d called the cops and everything.”

“And what about your Pops? Did he come?”

“My father? No. He lives in Israel.”

I wiped the sweat off my nose. Vic swished his feet back and forth, back and forth.

“Do you know how to do back flips?” he asked.

I told him I didn’t.

He slid into the water, ducked down, and shot back up. “You wanna learn?”

I looked at all the bobbing heads and flailing arms. The pool was crowded. “Are you sure there’s enough room?” I asked.

“We’ll make some,” Vic said.

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