Riding Deep Night

by Alpheus Williams

I am a quadruped and a septuagenarian and I ride at night. Deep night when the sun’s been down for hours and the moon is traveling west, when old men rise from cots like creeping corpses to purge aching bladders, when regrets haunt and torment sleep like wailing spectres of Celtic myth.

Those close say an old man riding empty streets alone in deep night is chasing death. I say bullshit. I don’t need to chase death. He will catch me soon enough. As he does everyone.

I have four legs. Two of flesh and blood that ache of tired bones and post-polio syndrome, two of metal and plastic that torture shoulders, arms and wrists. I can cycle without crutches. The breeze on my face. The hum of tires on the street. Wondrous motion. It must be like running.

Moon, stars and planets, gems on black velvet. The fuzzy glow of street lamps in the mist. Curlews and night herons call from the marsh bordering the village. The crystal song of flycatchers swooping tall grass in moonlight. The mournful moon-song of canines and barking dogs at my passing.

I see Mars, god of war, arrogant prick, shining brightly, rubbing distant shoulders with the gibbous moon.

At my age it’s not permissible to take issue with gods. It’s compulsory. I don’t need black robes and tent-show hucksters to tell me what’s what. I decide what’s sacred and what isn’t. They can go fuck themselves.

Warm blood pulses through cold, atrophied legs, oil on rusty hinges. The mind is a pillion passenger and goes where it chooses. I think of Hemingway putting the cold barrel of a shotgun between his teeth and blowing his head apart.

I wonder. Had he lived. Would he have recanted in his dotage, regretted the trophies, magnificently maned lions and other wondrous things he stopped with long-distance lead? Would he have reflected on a philosophy that celebrated a life that worshipped killing? Those magnificent beasts, beautiful and distant that most will only see in pictures, or dead and mounted on living room walls of the gormless and wealthy. Would he have done those things had he seen their eyes, felt their hot breaths, the rhythms of their hearts?

He had such an active life—drinking, womanizing, travelling, killing things. Ironic to celebrate destructive masculinity in the aftermath of that war. Waves of young men senselessly slaughtered, charging machine guns that spat death so thoroughly and efficiently you could grill steak on their smoking barrels, toxic gas that left them wide-eyed and open-mouthed screaming silently for breath. For what? Freedom?

I don’t think so.

A world war. A war to end all wars. A pandemic of stupid leading the way for more stupid to follow.

Would he have regretted the romance he created behind the bleeding flanks and shoulders of the tortured beasts in the bull ring, the wanton cruelty of picadors piercing and tormenting that noble flesh with spikes until the sand soaked red with blood and pain and anger? Would he come to be repulsed by the memory of spectators in the holy circle shrieking for more blood and applauding the execution and sacrament of the blameless?

He inspired generations with his clean, sparse prose and blood-soaked ideology. It’s a sad thing. It is cold to me now. Had he seen things out to the end, would he have reflected on how silly some of that stuff was?

Maybe he would have killed his old gods as I’ve killed mine. Just a thought.

I have been that beast. Tormented. Tortured. My heart pierced, savaged a hundred times over as a child. Prometheus with a limp. My tormentors, children who were not taught better and hadn’t lived long enough to learn better. I grew strong and willful under their torment until they felt my contempt and cunning. I won their respect.

I embrace new gods now. I like them better.

But why heed an old pagan on a bicycle riding through deep night waiting for death to catch up and the earth to reclaim his bones?

The name is his parents’ fault but he’s responsible for everything else. He fights for trees and seas and honeybees.  Alpheus Williams is an American Ex-pat. He lives and writes in Australia
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