The boy is twelve years old, a good kid, helpful around the house. He sits in the front seat of a station wagon holding a clipping from the classified section of the local newspaper. Hey, it’s Whit Shaw’s house, he announces to his mother. She slows down the car but doesn’t stop when she hears the name, Shaw, though this is their house. Not that she has ever been inside, but everyone knows the Shaw’s house, the largest in town and on the best street, a grand Victorian boasting a wrap-around front porch adorned with white wicker furniture and shaded by a giant elm.
Not the Shaw’s? She half asks, half asserts.
But they have come to get him a bigger, better bike, the boy thinks, and he knows the bike, has seen it at school, the way it towers over every other bike in the yard.
Be right back. He slides out of the car before his mother can object, takes the cement steps two at a time, crosses the front lawn, and drops to his knees in front of the bike with the sign taped to its handle bars: For Sale $20.
He slides his hands over the chrome as if it has a pulse, fingers the chain, the tires, the spokes, almost tenderly. He stands, tries the brakes by lunging the bike forward and stomping hard on one of its pedals. He smiles, at the working lamp protruding from the handle bars, at the silver metal basket for his newspapers. He runs back down the front lawn and leans into the car, slightly out of breath, face red from the October chill and the glow of metal and chrome, from being a boy about to get a new bike.
It’s almost new, he tells his mother.
You don’t have to ride this boy’s bike, she says.
But there’s hardly a scratch on it.
They want twenty dollars, the mother tries to argue.
Dad said offer fifteen. Remember?
He didn’t know whose bike it was.
The boy looks deep into his mother’s eyes. He sees something like fear and something like shame and something like resignation. He takes the three bills from his mother and bounds back up the stairs. On the front porch, he knocks and waits. A woman opens the door, Mrs. Shaw. She looks past the boy to the car still running, listens, nods, and waves to the woman sitting in the front seat, who lifts her hand and smiles back weakly, smiles like the mother of a boy about to buy a second hand bike from the richest kid in town. Smiles like the wife of a tool and die maker and not the wife of a bank president. Mrs. Shaw says something to the boy and then turns back into the house, leaving the front door open. In a moment, her son appears, Whitney Shaw III, who greets the boy politely. Both look toward the car; they speak. Whit shrugs, sinks his hands deep into his pockets, gazes up at the leaves on the giant elm in his front yard, then back at the boy he knows from school but who is not in his class, nods. Something has been settled.
The boy hands Whit the money; Whit takes the money. The boy grabs the handle bars and starts to roll the bike across the front yard. Whit calls after him. The boy toes the kick stand and leaves the bike gleaming like a trophy in the sun.
Whit asked me to stay and see his new bike.
He did? The mother bites her lower lip and stares at Mrs. Shaw still standing on the front porch. Be home for supper.
The boy climbs back up the hill as his mother slowly steers the car away from the large Victorian in the best part of town. Mrs. Shaw closes her front door. Something has been settled.