Davis

The English Bike
THE ENGLISH BIKE
By Jewel Beth Davis
Published in The Sylvan Echo, !!"
Pete# wasn$t at ou# house that %a#ticula# day, but he&d le't his bi(e) * shiny,
blac(, En+lish th#ee,s%eed bi(e leaned u% a+ainst the bac( wall o' ou# +#ay, shin+led
+a#a+e at -! Ha.ilton *ve) in /uincy) That was .y deus ex machina in #eve#se) Pete#
Ke#stein, .y b#othe# Bu00y$s best '#iend, had le't it the#e) No one (nows why)
Pete# lived in S1uantu., a chic section o' /uincy that was a beauti'ul and blea(
island cove#ed with a c#a++y sho#eline and inlets and salt,soa(ed old New En+land
ho.es, lin(ed to the .ainland by a sho#t b#id+e) He o'ten #ode his bi(e the 'ou# o# so
.iles bac( and 'o#th '#o. S1uantu. to ou# house in 2ontclai#) That day, his bi(e sat
the#e, leanin+ seductively a+ainst the +#ay te3tu#ed shin+les) 4hat nine,yea# old would
be able to #esist that5
6n that Sunday in ea#ly autu.n, I was in the bac(ya#d %layin+ unde# the
.a..oth %ine t#ees that se#ved as .y %layhouse with .y best '#iend, Ka#en) 2y
b#othe#s we#e out so.ewhe#e) 2y %a#ents, 7#an and Be#nie, we#e in the (itchen and the
bath#oo. #es%ectively)
Hidden unde# the +iant eve#+#eens, I lu3u#iated a+ainst the natu#al cushion)
82..n,9 I si+hed, 8:an you s.ell the %ines59
86' cou#se I can, dodo) 4e&#e only lyin+ on about ei+hty 0illion needles,9 Ka#en
teased)
8I .eant, don&t you love that s.ell5 :ouldn&t you ;ust stay he#e 'o#eve#59
8It&s o(ay, but I&. bo#ed)9
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Ka#en, .y best '#iend, was the swa#thy, co.%lected child o' a Scots<I#ish
'athe# and Italian .othe# with coa#se, b#own wavy hai#) She had un#e.a#(able, al.ost
boyish 'acial 'eatu#es and a +ood lau+h) She lau+hed at eve#ythin+ I said, which I
thou+ht a +ood 1uality in a '#iend) 4e&d beco.e '#iends because we we#e both devotees
o' 8The Swa.% 7o39 on Disney and a ce#tain tall c#aba%%le t#ee we cli.bed daily in the
'ield ac#oss '#o. .y house) 4e&d sit u% in the hi+hest b#anches o' the t#ee that at
ce#tain ti.es o' the yea# showe#ed c#aba%%les onto anyone who %assed beneath,
loo(in+ down at a wo#ld that was both vaste# and s.alle# than it had been when we
we#e on the +#ound) 4e&d call to each othe# ac#oss the dan+e#ous s%aces o' ai# and
so.eti.es sit silent, 'eelin+ as thou+h we #uled the wo#ld) *t those ti.es, we we#e
ha%%y)
I didn&t have .any '#iends in 2ontclai#) 4e we#e one o' th#ee Jewish 'a.ilies)
Ka#en ca.e '#o. a st#ictly #eli+ious :atholic 'a.ily and attended %a#ochial school) I
could sense he# %a#ents didn&t li(e .e) Both always eyed .e disa%%#ovin+ly as thou+h
;ust waitin+ 'o# .e to do so.ethin+ so ina%%#o%#iate that they could +uiltlessly end ou#
'#iendshi%) It see.ed as thou+h I didn&t belon+ to any +#ou% in .y nei+hbo#hood) I 'elt
le't out, unwanted, isolated, ;ust li(e .y .othe# see.ed to be)
Ka#en and I e.e#+ed '#o. unde# the %e#'u.e sweet %ines) 8Hey, Ka#,9 I said
ho%e'ully, 8=ou wanna& see .y +a#den5 2o. bou+ht seeds and I %lanted the.)9 I had
a two,'oot by one,'oot +a#den o' st#a++ly %ansies and %etunias) I led he# ove# to the tiny
%atch o' unyieldin+ soil di#ectly behind the bac( wall o' the +a#a+e) This was %#ecisely
the s%ot whe#e Pete#$s th#ee,s%eed >alei+h, a beacon o' li+ht and cu#ves, leaned
enticin+ly a+ainst the wall) ?nloc(ed, o' cou#se) Nobody loc(ed in those days@ not
bi(es, not doo#s, not ca#s)
4hat is it about a bi(e that&s so seductive5 They a#e sli., slee( and shiny, o# at
least they sta#t out that way) They a#e co.%le3 %ieces o' both a#t and 'unction, thei#
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.echanis.s sh#ouded in .yste#y) They a#e the best .ode o' t#ans%o#tation a child has
access to and because o' that, they t#anslate into %owe# and cont#ol, two thin+s that
child#en have ve#y little o') Best o' all, when you&#e 'lyin+ down a hill on a bi(e, you#
hai# loose in the wind, you# 'ace 'la.in+, the#e is no +#eate# sense o' '#eedo. 'o# we
who a#e ea#thbound) That .ust be what I sensed that day when I loo(ed at Pete#&s bi(e)
Ka#en loo(ed down at the listless 'lowe#s in the s.all %lot o' ea#th) 8They&#e
o(ay,9 she said) She loo(ed a#ound ou# bi+ bac(ya#d) 84hat do you 'eel li(e doin+
now5 =ou want to %lay Swa.% 7o359
I had to co.e u% with so.ethin+) I was a'#aid Ka#en would leave) AHeyBA I c#ied
enthusiastically, AI$ve +ot a scathin+ly b#illiant ideaBA I&d ;ust watched a Hayley 2ills
.ovie, AThe T#ouble 4ith *n+els,A in which the two .ain cha#acte#s, Hayley and he#
buddy, #e%eat that %h#ase ad nauseu. wheneve# they&#e about to te##o#i0e the nuns
and students in thei# %a#ochial school) *'te# seein+ the 'il., I&d 'ind any e3cuse to .a(e
that co..ent)
ALet$s %eddle bac(wa#dsBA I su++ested, +estu#in+ towa#ds Pete#&s bi(e) Eve#yone
(new that %eddlin+ bac(wa#ds on a stationa#y bi(e was one o' the best thin+s about an
En+lish bi(e that wasn&t %ossible on an *.e#ican bi(e) =ou couldn&t %eddle bac(wa#ds
on an *.e#ican bi(e because that was the way you b#a(ed) T#y that once and as you
sail ove# the handleba#s, you (now you$ll neve# do that a+ain)
A4hose bi(e is it5A Ka#en as(ed)
AIt$s Pete#&s, Bu00y$s '#iend)9
ADon$t you thin( you# b#othe#$s '#iend will .ind59 In those days, owne#shi% and
8as(in+9 was a bi+ deal)
ANah, he$s .y #eally +ood '#iend)A
A=ou wishBA Ka#en snee#ed) But she a+#eed to +o alon+ with .y %lan anyway)
Ka#en was #i+ht, o' cou#se) I did wish he we#e .y '#iend) Pete# was handso.e
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and talented but at 'ou# yea#s .y senio#, he was out o' .y lea+ue)
*s I %eddled bac(wa#ds on Pete#$s bi(e, I could hea# the lovely whi##in+ sound
and +entle 'eel o' the vib#ations) I dis.ounted and +ave Ka#en a chance) She cli.bed on
athletically and was soon %eddlin+ .adly, +oin+ nowhe#e)
Now, in o#de# to e3%lain .y subse1uent actions, you .ust %lace you#sel' in a
ce#tain state o' .ind) =ou (now the satis'yin+ 'eelin+ you +et when you #un you# hand
ove# a %ic(et 'ence, '#o. one %ic(et to anothe#5 Thu.%, thu.%, thu.%) 7o# no +ood
#eason I can co.e u% with, it&s 'un) Pe#ha%s it ties in with the #e+ula#ity o' the beat o'
ou# hea#ts) That was what I wanted to 'eel when I (nelt down in '#ont o' the #ea# wheel)
I %ut the inde3 'in+e# o' .y le't hand on the bi(e chain that s%un wildly as Ka#en
%eddled) 7o# seve#al seconds, it was e3actly as I$d i.a+ined, satis'yin+) Then, li'e 'lew
into cyclonic action, ve#y 'ast and slow .otion at the sa.e ti.e) I see the next moments as
still photographs. There’s me, squatting on the ground with my finger on the chain, smiling and
humming. The ne3t thin+ I (new, the cent#i'u+al 'o#ce %ulled .y 'in+e# into that vo#te3
whe#e the chain .eets the .etal and .y s.all sa'e wo#ld went helte#,s(elte#) There’s
me, my left hand flying around and around the shiny sprocket. 2y 'in+e# e.e#+ed '#o. the
s%#oc(et #ese.blin+ a %a#tially eaten %o.e+#anate) There’s me again, staring horrified at
the profusion of blood pouring from my finger, soaking my pants and the ground. Such red
blood, scarlet. I 'elt li+htheaded) There the stills end and the action picks back up.
I 'lew in a%%alled %anic a#ound the side o' the +a#a+e beside 2#s) Pu#dy&s white
%ic(et 'ence and into the side doo# o' .y house, sc#ea.in+ and con'used)
A2o..yB9 I sh#ie(ed as I ca#eened, bleedin+ co%iously, into the (itchen whe#e
.y .othe# stood at the sin()
4hen she saw .e, bloody 'in+e# d#i%%in+ all ove# he# clean 'loo#, 2a,7#an$s 'ace
tu#ned +#een) But .y .othe# was a t#oo%e#@ she would have been +#eat in battle o#
anywhe#e else one needs to (ee% a cool head) She +#abbed a dishtowel and w#a%%ed
.y 'in+e# ti+htly, %#essin+ ha#d to slow the 'low o' blood) *t the sa.e ti.e, she
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bellowed 'o# .y 'athe#, A6h .y GodB Be#nieB Be#nieB Get in he#e N64BA
I #e.e.be# the sound o' the toilet 'lushin+ and the #ustle o' news%a%e#s as the
bath#oo. doo# sla..ed o%en)
ABe#nieBA 2a,7#an bleated a+ain)
A4hat5 4hat is it, 'o# God$s sa(es5A
2y 'athe#, nea#ly boundin+ the last 'ew ste%s '#o. livin+ #oo. into (itchen,
suddenly ca.e to a dead sto%) Now, .y 'athe# was a bi+ .an, C$ -<A and all o' two
hund#ed and 'i'ty %ounds, .ainly in what ou# 'a.ily called the bay window a#ea, his
sto.ach) He too( one loo( at .e and all colo# d#ained '#o. his 'ace) * sheen o' sweat
b#o(e out on his ashen 'ace leavin+ it a +#easy +#ay) Eve#ythin+ see.ed to slow way
down as this +iant o' a .an be+an to .elt to the +#ound, his bones a%%ea#in+ to tu#n to
Jell,6)
2y .othe# wasn$t havin+ any o' that) ABe#nieB9 She #ushed to hi.) ABe#nie, you
can$t 'aint,A she c#ied, vi+o#ously sla%%in+ his bee'y 'ace) A=ou$#e the only one who can
d#iveBA
Slowly, he sat u% and lu.be#ed to his 'eet) 2y .othe# assisted hi. as best she could)
8The bi(eB9 I sobbed) 8Ka#en was on Pete#&s bi(e and)))B9
B#acin+ .y Dad u%, 2a,7#an bellowed, 8Be#nie, +et the ca# (eys and +et Julie
into the ca#) I&. +oin+ out bac( to sea#ch 'o#D9 She sto%%ed and loo(ed at .e be'o#e
continuin+, 8ItB9
8Daddy,9 I sobbed) 2y bi+ 'athe# +athe#ed .e u% and ca##ied .e into the ca#,
%lacin+ .e into the bac( seat) He had the en+ine #acin+ when 2a,7#an #etu#ned to
;u.% 1uic(ly into the bac(seat) She .u.bled so.ethin+ to Be#nie as the bi+ blue boat
o' an 6lds.obile s1uealed bac(wa#ds out o' the d#iveway and shi'ted into D#ive with
+ea#s +#indin+ but I didn&t hea# what she said)
The #ide to the hos%ital was a blu#) I hea#d late# that the#e was nothin+ 'o# .y
.othe# to 'ind, no 'in+e#, no nail, no s(in, and no Ka#en) Just a little blood on the chain)
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Believe it o# not, I couldn$t 'eel the 'in+e# at all) =ou would thin( the %ain would have
been a+oni0in+ but I 'elt nothin+) I didn&t 'eel anythin+ until I #eached the hos%ital)
Then the shoc( wo#e o'' and the %ain hit li(e a hu##icane, a #olle# coaste# o'' the #ails)
2y su#+eon, D#) Schwa#t0, late# told .e that the ti% o' the 'in+e# has .o#e ne#ve
endin+s than al.ost anywhe#e else on the body)
6(ay, %uttin+ .y 'in+e# on a #otatin+ bicycle chain was unbelievably stu%id but
the #eality is, i' you$#e honest with you#sel', that you have done thin+s that du.b and
it$s only by the +#ace o' God that you haven$t .et with a si.ila#ly ho##i'ic outco.e)
*nd we#e that not t#ue, a chainsaw would not have the 'ollowin+ wa#nin+ on itE ADo
not t#y to sto% with you# hands)A It$s in the .anual)
Soon, I lay on a +u#ney in a hallway nea# su#+e#y 'o# two hou#s wailin+ in a+ony
while hos%ital %e#sonnel sea#ched 'o# the %lastic su#+eon, D#) Schwa#t0, and then
waited 'o# hi. to a##ive) It tu#ns out he was out on his .oto#boat in /uincy Bay with
his son) The inte#ns #e'used to +ive .e any %ain(ille#) Then, D#) Schwa#t0 a##ived and I
was o'' to su#+e#y, sc#ea.in+ bac(wa#ds to .y .othe# and 'athe#, .y a#.s
outst#etched, as o#de#lies wheeled .e away)
I awo(e te##i'ied in the .iddle o' the ni+ht to a %itch,blac(, un(nown hos%ital
wa#d, be++in+ 'o# .y %a#ents) It was co.%letely da#(, cave#nous and un'a.ilia# and I
was in %ain) The nu#se #e'used to call .y %a#ents) 8I' you don&t sto% c#yin+, I&ll st#a%
you down to the bed,9 this 'aceless 'i+u#e with a white ca% hove#in+ ove# .e
th#eatened) I was %a#aly0ed with 'ea# and c#ied even ha#de#) So the nu#se #est#ained
.e, tyin+ .e with leathe# st#a%s to the bed, which only %ushed .e dee%e# into hyste#ia)
8Please, %lease,9 I be++ed ceaselessly, 8:all .y .o..y and daddy) I want to
see the.B Please,9 I said, 'eelin+ waves o' %anic c#ash in .y chest) She %unched a
needle o' so.ethin+ unce#e.oniously into .y a#.)
She was %#obably ;ust t#yin+ to (ee% .e '#o. #e,in;u#in+ .y 'in+e# a'te# su#+e#y
but why didn&t she unde#stand how '#i+htened I was, a nine yea# old that hadn&t seen
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anyone 'a.ilia# since bein+ wheeled into su#+e#y hou#s be'o#e) The da#(ness was
viscous on that bi+ wa#d and I 'elt i.%#isoned by it) Eventually, I c#ied .ysel' into an
e3hausted slee%)
2y %a#ents we#e at .y bedside ve#y ea#ly the ne3t .o#nin+, conce#n #e'lected in
the lines and shadows on thei# 'aces)
82o..y,9 I c#ied out when I saw he#, 8=ou ca.e) I thou+ht I&d neve# see you
a+ain) I was so a'#aid last ni+ht in the da#() I be++ed the. to call you)9 I was sobbin+
now) 8They tied .e down)9
8How da#e you do that to a little +i#lB 4hy didn&t you call us59 7#an, .y .othe#,
#a+ed at the nu#se) 8That&s ;ust c#uelB =ou&#e no 7lo#ence Ni+htin+ale, that&s 'o# su#e)9
8I did what I thou+ht was #i+ht,9 the nu#se said b#us1uely)
87ine but don&t let it ha%%en a+ain o# I&ll st#a% you down and see how you li(e
it,9 .y 'athe# said) The nu#se +ave a sho#t +as%) Then, Be#n added, 8I' she wants us,
you call, ya& hea#59
8*l#i+ht,9 the nu#se said, 8but ;ust to let you (now, it&s not hos%ital %olicy)9
8I don&t +ive aD9 .y 'athe# suddenly #oa#ed) 4e all sna%%ed ou# heads to Be#n
and waited) 8Phony two dolla# bill about hos%ital %olicyB9 he 'inished the sentence
.o#e 1uietly) 8=ou call us)9
The nu#se let out he# b#eath in a whoosh and hu''ed o'' to assist the #easonable
%a#ents o' #easonable child#en)
*s it tu#ned out, D#) Schwa#t0 was wo#th waitin+ 'o# as he was a .i#acle .an)
No one can e3%lain how he saved .y nail when .y 'in+e# had been a.%utated below
the nail) He told .y %a#ents that his son had lost two 'in+e#s in a wate# s(iin+ accident
o'' the bac( o' thei# boat) This (nowled+e see.ed to co.'o#t the.)
Late#, .y b#othe#s ca.e to visit .e in the hos%ital, loo(in+ sad and wo##ied) But
no Ka#en) 4he#e was she5
8G#eat way to +et out o' doin+ you# cho#es,9 .y b#othe# 2i(e ;o(ed la.ely)
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8Jee0B9 said Bu00) 8Shut u%, you ;e#()9
8I was only (iddin+,9 2i(e said, and they went o'' to sea#ch out the vendin+
.achines)
I waited 'o# Ka#en eve#y day but she neve# ca.e) I loo(ed 'o# he# 'o# th#ee
wee(s) No dice)
Then I #etu#ned ho.e '#o. the hos%ital) *'te# that, the#e we#e .onths o' ho.e
visits '#o. a %#ivate nu#se who soa(ed .y 'in+e# 'o# lon+ sessions in a b#iny solution
and #e,banda+ed it) I watched 'ascinated and was su#%#isin+ly uns1uea.ish as the old
s(in tu#ned +#een and 'ell o'')
86ooooh,9 I said to Nu#se Judy, th#illed, as I watched deb#ie'ed %ieces o' 'in+e#
'loat in the .u#(y salt wate#, 84ic(ed coolB9 Nu#se Judy lau+hed) The banda+e was
'ou# ti.es the si0e o' .y 'in+e#)
I was 1uite a celeb#ity when I #etu#ned to school) I had a uni1ue loo(in+ 'in+e#
since the accident but I #athe# li(ed it) I had a sto#y to tell and a banda+e the si0e o' a
s.all .u..y$ s head) Eve#yone (new about the accidental a.%utation and was 1uite
i.%#essed) 2y status +#ew as I 'ielded 1uestions 'o# .onths) 84hen it ha%%ened, did it
'eel li(e you we#e +#indin+ ha.bu#+e#59 >ichie :olo#usso as(ed)
Sha#i Kiley ste%%ed in, 8Shut u%, >ichie) That&s +#oss) How would she (now5
How o'ten do you thin( she +#inds ha.bu#+e#59
8I was ;ust as(in+, 'o# c#y,eye)9
2y 'i'th +#ade teache# at 2ontclai# Ele.enta#y, 2#) Kelly, his oily scal% shinin+
between his #e.ainin+ s%a#se b#own st#ands, t#ied to 'o#ce .e to w#ite with .y #i+ht
hand instead o' .y le't) T#ue to .y natu#e, I ada.antly #e'used) Bein+ a le'tie 'elt li(e
an essential %a#t o' .e so I %e#seve#ed w#itin+ with .y le't hand with .y .e+a, blob
banda+e and all) I did 'ine, which see.ed to #eally annoy 2#) Kelly)
I thou+ht about Ka#en o'ten and wonde#ed why she neve# ca.e to visit .e in the
hos%ital o# called when I ca.e ho.e but I was a'#aid to o%en that conve#sation with .y
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.othe#) 4ithout 2a,7#an&s sayin+ a wo#d about it, I had the st#on+ sense that she
didn&t want to tal( about it) She neve# b#ou+ht the sub;ect u%, so I didn&t eithe#) I
always 'elt I had to %#otect .y .othe# '#o. s%ea(in+ about thin+s that .i+ht u%set he#)
I was ;ust +#ate'ul she hadn&t yelled at .e 'o# cuttin+ o'' .y 'in+e# as I e3%ected she
would)
4hy hadn&t I hea#d '#o. Ka#en5 Didn&t she li(e .e any.o#e5 4as she .ad at
.e5 Did she thin( I thou+ht it was he# 'ault5 I thou+ht and thou+ht about it, wo##yin+
the 1uestions ove# and ove# in .y .ind) 2aybe he# %a#ents we#e a'#aid .y .othe# and
'athe# held Ka#en #es%onsible 'o# the accident) I' .y %a#ents did, I neve# hea#d the. say
so and believe .e, they would have)
7inally, I couldn&t stand it any.o#e and I blu#ted, 82a, why didn&t Ka#en co.e
visit .e in the hos%ital5 Didn&t she want to59
2a,7#an #es%onded, 8She wanted to but she&s been #eally busy at school)9
8But 2a, I was in the hos%ital and she&s .y best '#iend,9 I %#otested)
8I (now, Julie, I (now) 4hat do you want .e to do59 she said)
The#e was so.ethin+ she wasn&t tellin+ .e@ that was clea#) I wonde#ed i' .y
%a#ents had (e%t Ka#en '#o. visitin+) Still, I acce%ted .y .othe#&s bo+us e3%lanation,
which was unusual 'o# .e) 4hy didn&t I insist on a bette# answe#5 Because I was a'#aid
I would hea# that Ka#en didn&t li(e .e any.o#e o# that he# %a#ents we#e (ee%in+ he#
away) Since she hadn&t co.e o# called, I (new she didn&t want to be .y '#iend any.o#e,
I ;ust didn&t (now why) I 'elt sadde# that I&d lost Ka#en&s '#iendshi% than losin+ %a#t o'
.y 'in+e# but I neve# said so to anyone) I t#ied to %#etend it wasn&t i.%o#tant to .e but
it was) I %#etended about it 'o# yea#s) ?ntil now) Now, that I tell you this sto#y, this
sto#y that is about losin+ .y 'in+e# and isn&t) It&s about losin+) *nd neve# bein+ able to
say +oodbye)
I thin( about Ka#en now and #eali0e how '#i+htenin+ that e3%e#ience .ust have
been 'o# he# then) 4hethe# o# not ou# %a#ents caused the de.ise o' ou# '#iendshi%, she
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.ust have 'elt that she was to bla.e in so.e way) 4hat a c#ushin+ bu#den that was to
ca##y) It neve# occu##ed to .e until now but she .ay have 'elt I hated he# 'o# causin+
the accident and that I didn&t want to see he# a+ain) 6' cou#se, she didn&t cause it) I
(now that now and I (new it then) I only bla.ed .ysel' 'o# lac(in+ in co..on sense)
But how could she (now5
4hen the banda+es ca.e o'', .y .othe# ins%ected .y 'in+e# and said, 8Julie, i'
you want, when you&#e olde#, you can have %lastic su#+e#y to .a(e it loo( bette#)9
I sta#ed at .y le't inde3 'in+e#) It was about th#ee,1ua#te#s o' an inch sho#te#
than the one on .y #i+ht hand) The ti% o' it slo%ed down at a sha#% an+le '#o. le't to
#i+ht) It had a nail that +#ew cu#ved ove#, not 'lat, and neve# %ast a ce#tain len+th) It
neve# se%a#ated '#o. the s(in and so the#e was no white at the end li(e .y othe# nails)
It by no .eans loo(ed li(e an o#dina#y 'in+e#) 8Than(s, 2a,9 I said, 8But no, I don&t
thin( so) It loo(s 'ine to .e)9 *nd I .eant it)
So I .oved 'o#wa#d into the 'utu#e and neve# once, since that day, have I
wished 'o# the #etu#n o' the to% o' .y 'in+e#, not once 'eelin+ di.inished because o' a
dis'i+u#in+ accident but #athe# that, in ce#tain ways, I was .o#e than I had been)
*nd Pete#&s bi(e5 Pete#$s bi(e was +one when I +ot ho.e '#o. the hos%ital) *s i'
I&d i.a+ined the whole thin+) *n e.%ty s%ace whe#e once had stood the shiny
inst#u.ent o' .y di+it$s se%a#ation)
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