Christmas in the Mountains

by Sarah Einstein

Joshua rode his Christmas bike everywhere; he rode from breakfast to dinner for four whole days showing off the butted-aluminum frame with the pressure-formed down tube, zero-stack headset, disc brakes and twenty-seven gears. A fat kid hanging over the sides of the seat clumsily keeping and losing his balance by turns, he road it down three miles of dirt road to the hard road, down two miles of hard road to the highway, down the highway to his father's trailer and back again. He rode it back and forth in front of the house of the mean, pretty girl who called him "fatty fatty two-by-four" on the school bus, past the beauty parlor where his mother was having her hair done, to the mine where his step-father Frank worked. He rode it until the front tire popped and the front wheel bent on the curb outside the mean girl's house, and then he walked it home--two miles up the hard road, three up the dirt road. He showed it to his stepfather Frank, who tossed it in the back of his old pickup truck and said, "Don't worry, I'll take 'er down to the Exxon and get 'er fixed up good as new."

Frank drove down the dirt road, down the hard road, down the highway, and was gone.  Joshua sat out on the porch and waited... he went to bed waiting, woke up waiting.  He waited for two weeks until finally he came home one afternoon and found his step-father asleep on the couch under a pile of coats, filthy and stinking of old sweat and the cat-piss stench of crystal meth.  There was no truck.  There was no bike.  Joshua shook Frank awake, said, "It's okay, I know you're really trying," and walked over to the stove to fry them both up baloney sandwiches. 

"Where's your mother?" Frank asked, turning to his side with a grunt and digging a crushed pack of Marlboros out of the pocket of his Carhartts. 

"She's staying out at Dad's."  Joshua flipped the bologna and turned off the burner, letting the heat from the pan cook the other side.  "We're almost out of propane, and she said there weren't no money for any more."

"Why didn't you go with her?"

"Well, cause you know. There's all them people staying at the trailer, and..." his voice trailed off.  "Anyways, I was waiting for you to come home.  Didn't want you to get here and find we was all gone.  Samantha and the baby are with Meemaw."

Frank sank heavily into the couch and dragged on his cigarette.  "You're a good kid, Joshua."

"Thanks." Joshua wanted to ask about the bike, to know if it had been pawned and they could get it back once Frank started up again at the mine or if he'd just traded it outright.  But he knew better than to be a pest.  He handed Frank the sandwich and went out to get more wood for the fire.

Outside, a heavy snow fell over the trees.  Joshua stacked some wood on the porch to dry and walked over to the old shed and got the box the bike had come in from a stack of garbage waiting to be hauled to the dump.  With his pocket knife, he cut off the sides, punched holes in one end and strung a rope through them.  He carried the homemade toboggan to the top of the hill, took a running start, and shot out over the wet, deep snow. Three miles down the dirt road to the hard road; two miles down the hard road to the highway.  He sat for a long time by the on-ramp, watching the eighteen wheelers and coal trucks slide their way up the mountain.  He pumped his fist in the air and the truckers honked their horns; a deep, lonely sound.  Joshua wanted to put out his thumb, to crawl into the cab and go wherever the driver was headed.  When it was full dark, he curled the box into a wide, wet tube and made the long walk home.

BIO: Sarah Einstein is an MFA candidate at West Virginia University. Her work has previously appeared in Ninth Letter, Fringe, and Whitefish Review, and she is the winner of a Pushcart Prize.