SOLD - One Mulberry Bike

It was the prettiest new thing in town. Mr. Kemble owned it for a while yet, and he was good at showing it off, putting it right there in his store's front window. I could walk @bodytext-noindent = right up to it whenever I wanted to and look at the sold tag with my name on it. And even though it was going to be mine when I finished paying for it, Mr. Kemble kept it there because the color, a lot like a mulberry, was a new color for bikes. The whitewalls on the tires were more like a buttermilk cream than a white, too.

A lot of people who stopped at his store to put gasoline in their automobiles got out and walked up to the window instead of sitting and waiting. They all talked about what the bike companies could do nowadays and how their own bikes had always been black or blue unless they painted them themselves.

I got a nickel a week for my allowance and could usually come up with another one. Saturday mornings I'd always trade them for a dime and walk on down to Mr. Kemble's store, knowing every eye in town was on me. Mr. Kemble himself would take the dime and pull the green book out from under the counter. Using his short nubby pencil and pretending he was doing a highfalutin financial operation, he'd cross out the old number, write down the date and the 10 cents, and subtract that from the starting price of $15.

You see, it had been my turn to get $5 on my birthday from my grandmother who lived in the city. She had delivered it herself, coming down in her black car and wearing her black clothes since it was October and getting cold. I'd known ahead of time that it was my turn, so I'd taken Mom and Dad down to talk to Mr. Kemble about me buying the mulberry bike with the $5 and my nickel a week.

Mr. Kemble said he didn't want to take less than a dime every Saturday. Mom and Dad both nodded their heads and said they figured the town, even though it was small and had its share of kids wanting work, would be able to help me get another nickel. So, on my birthday, we signed some papers and I handed over the $5. I figured that by sometime next summer I'd be riding that bike down the big hill that started at the cemetery and ended up right there at the store.

I was counting on getting some money on Halloween from folks who ran out of candy before the late kids came. I waited on the front porch until almost everyone had been around and then set off to collect the pennies, telling the folks that it was all right that they'd run out of candy. It was a small town, as I said, and everybody knew I was buying the bike and needed the money. I got more than $2 that night, so just in October I owned almost half of it. I expected some more money at Christmas.

Most Saturdays, I stood in front of the window and imagined making the long scary ride down the cemetery hill, feeling the wind make my eyes water, my hair blowing until I looked like a witch out to scare everybody. I imagined it so many times that it seemed real.

No other kid in town had whitewalls that were cream instead of white, and no other kid had a color that was anything like mulberry. My sister and I went to the town library and looked up all the different shades of red. Carol was sure that my bike was really heliotrope, but as far as I was concerned, it was mulberry.

I got a bucket ready and a brush to keep the whitewalls clean. Then the Saturday morning before Easter, at the time I'd usually get my two nickels, Mom reached into a cookie jar and brought out a $1 bill. She said, ``I think you ought to get your bike,'' and handed me the dollar along with the two nickels. I couldn't get my mouth to work right. My hands shook so badly that I couldn't hold on to the dollar. Finally, Carol had to take it and the nickels; she said she'd go with me to Mr. Kemble's.

Mom said she was going, too. And I guess because of the way we walked out of the front door, other people in town figured out what was going on, and they walked along behind us to the store.

As it turns out, Mom had told Mr. Kemble what she was going to do, so he had taken the bike out of the front window and placed it right in the middle of the aisle where the bread and cakes were. He'd polished all the mulberry, the chrome, and the tires. A man was there from the newspaper with a camera, and he made me stand next to the bike holding the handlebars and saying ``cheese.''

Carol handed the dollar and the two nickels to Mr. Kemble. He made a big show of pulling the green book out and doing his figuring and drawing a long line under all the figures. Under the line he put two zeros to show me that it was all paid for.

I guess it would be a great story to say that I took the bike up the cemetery hill and rode down, yelling all the way, with the wind in my eyes and my hair. But the truth is, all I could do was walk the bike back up the hill in front of our porch. I put the chrome kickstand down and sat on the porch floorboards and just looked at it.

Everybody who went to the post office across the street came over and shook my hand. They said it was good I'd bought it with my own money and it sure was a pretty bike. But why wasn't I out riding it?, they asked.

They didn't understand I'd been waiting just about forever to have it, forgoing jaw busters each week while watching the rest of the kids' tongues turn purple. Many times I had thought about asking for a grape or red hot, instead of nothing but one more line in the book.

I needed just to look at it for a while and reach out and touch the mulberry fenders, the tires that were black and shiny like licorice and the whitewalls that were really a buttermilk cream.

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