So Much Space

By Marc Elias Keller

She had never lived in this apartment building with him, and yet her bike was still in the basement. “I’ll pick it up when I’m back in the city,” she had insisted. That was a year ago, when it seemed possible that she might come and get the bike. When she was not merely a disembodied voice. That was a year ago.

He had not forgotten her. She drifted into his thoughts every day, in some way or another. He could still barely look at certain pictures. But a year had passed. He had new things in his life now: new thoughts and plans, new work. A new relationship. And there is only so much space.

Not long ago, despite mutual agreements to stop contacting each other, she had phoned him: “Just to say hello.” He did not have to answer, but he did. They spoke about her classes, his job – cordially at first, but then more cautiously, as though some emotional outburst could occur at any moment.

“My bike is still in your basement,” she mentioned, with a strained laugh.

“Oh. Right. I almost forgot.” He bit the inside of his cheek to counter the sudden pain in his throat. “You’re not coming to get it, are you?” The words came out in a lilting, guarded tone.

When she finally answered, her voice sounded old and trailing. “No… Not right now. I don’t know when I’ll be back in the city.” – Because there is only so much space in a life, and driving 300 miles to retrieve a rickety old bike rarely fits in.

The day she left the city and the day he moved into his own apartment, they had tried to fit the bike into her car, a small red coupe. It did not work. Not even close. And every time a driver whizzed by them on the narrow street, nearly taking the mirror off her door, they grew more frustrated. “Just leave it on the curb,” he finally blurted, exasperated by her irrational attachment to this beat-up street bike. “Someone will take it.”

“I’m not leaving it on the curb,” she answered angrily. “I might still want it.”

It was her idea to store the bike in the basement of his new apartment building. He had balked, and they argued on the sidewalk, long and loud, both of them sweaty from the August heat. Eventually, though, he helped her lug the thing down the steps, yielding to her pained expressions despite his better judgment, like so many times before.

“You should have just sold it,” he muttered. “It would have been some gas money.”

“I don’t want to sell it,” she said complainingly. “It’s mine.”

“You don’t even it ride anymore.” – But in the cool, comfortable basement, away from the thick heat of the sidewalk, away from the whizzing cars, and with the final goodbye seeping closer, their tempers subsided and their tones softened.

She wove the bike through the clutter and propped it against the far corner. As she bent over to straighten the front wheel, the small of her back and quite a bit more was exposed. Suddenly he felt a catch in his throat, and he quickly turned away, feigning interest in a carton of old law books. This might be the last time: the last time he ever saw that. The first time he had seen it was the first time he had seen her, three years ago. She was sitting on the floor of the professor’s office, filing papers, and he had peeped down at her with a wondering smile.

But they simply could not fit under the same roof. They had tried. But it did not work. Not even close. It had taken two years to accept this incompatibility and what it meant for their future. And over those two years there had been too many fights, too many wounding insults, too many horrible nights, too much mutual exasperation, until there was nothing to do but cut their losses and part ways.

“Do you think someone will take it?”

He sniffed and cleared his throat against the dust of the basement. “What?” he asked, distractedly.

“Someone might take my bike,” she repeated, keeping her gaze fixed on the cracked wall.

“I’ll keep an eye on it,” he said, the corners of his mouth aching.

He had not done so, really, but the next time he did his laundry, he recalled their recent conversation and drifted toward the far corner of the basement. It took a moment, but then between the cracked wall and corroded bricks he spotted the rusty front wheel. That was all he could see, though. The rest of the bike was now buried underneath the forgotten overflow of other peoples’ lives. A pile of orange-cushioned bar stools, a wadded-up Oriental rug, stacks of plastic tubs and cardboard file boxes. A sleeping bag. Frayed wires. One ski pole. That same carton of old law books.

He swayed underneath the naked light bulb, smelling the cool, close air, listening to the melancholic rain tap at the small windows. He had not realized the basement had gotten so full. There was no longer space for her to weave through. He could not even imagine how the bike could be retrieved without moving literally every single item in the room.

Of course, eventually something would happen – the building sold, perhaps – and everything would have to be cleared. Most likely he would not be here at that time, and someone else would take the bike. But they would not know anything. They would not know of the day she and he had argued about keeping the bike in the basement – their last argument in person. They would not know how he had watched her prop the bike against the cracked wall and felt his throat catch. They would not know of the painful goodbye as she drove away without wanting to drive away.

He swayed amidst the cool air, surprised by the sudden closeness in his throat – a closeness he had not expected to survive the year. Perhaps the bike would never belong to someone else. Perhaps it would always remain as it was now, buried underneath the clutter, merging with the cracked wall and corroded bricks. Perhaps everything would remain as it was now, until there was no more basement, no more building, no more city at all. But it was impossible to know and futile to try to know.

“It’s not my personal storage area, you know. Other people use it.”

“So what?”

“Well – there’s only so much space in the basement.” He wiped the sweat from his forehead and slammed the trunk door closed. “You’ll never pick it up, anyway.”

“Yes I will,” she retorted defiantly. “I want that bike.”

But a year had passed. She had new things in her life now: new thoughts and plans, new work. A new relationship. And there is only so much space.

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Marc Elias Keller received his undergraduate degree in Anthropology and a graduate degree in Urban Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.  In addition to his journalistic work in Philadelphia and San Diego, his short fiction has been published in the Bucks County Writer, Spork, The Philadelphia Independent, Enigma, Pindeldyboz, Antipodean SF, and Taikonetic.  He lives in Philadelphia.


One Response to “So Much Space”

  1. ekonikova says:

    Your imperfect heroine rocks. Love her, I truly do…