Drew and Jerry meet at a Salvation Army in Brooklyn. They reach for the same cool pair of white canvas loafers at the same time and bump heads. They laugh it off and later go to a Vivian Girls concert together in Williamsburg.
A week later they run into each other at a bicycle rack outside a divey café on Greenpoint Avenue. It turns out they both like sleek, angular racing bikes with only one speed and no brakes. Drew notices that Jerry has a tattoo of a big cartoon keyhole on his left forearm. He is wearing a dirty pink baseball cap that Drew knows he wears because it doesn’t make any sense on him, which is perfect, and right away it gives Drew his own giddy idea about trying to find his old football jersey in the basement of his mom’s apartment. Damn, he hopes it’s still there. He can’t stop smiling about it.
“What?” Jerry asks him.
“Nothing,” Drew says.
Jerry kneels to wrap his lock around the rack and his bike’s front wheel.
“How those cool loafers treating you?” Jerry asks.
“Ha ha! Cool,” says Drew.
Jerry has a mangy orange beard and sloppy hair that almost looks accidental. He wears a saggy, tattered tank top with a faded palm tree emblem on the front and dissolved press-on lettering beneath it. Drew thinks they could almost be twins. They even have the same stiff Velcro bag. Both of them know, without saying anything, that their bicycles, with the stripped parts, missing decals and basic colors, make the riders appear more neutral, which is sort of nice, but weird because in some ways it isn’t at all what they mean. Being a minimalist has become oxymoronic; it shaves meaning down to a single symbol, like a dangling exclamation point against a white backdrop. The bikes make them seem rugged and uninterested.
“Aren’t our bikes nonchalant as hell?” Jerry asks. “And raw. People think we only eat uncooked meat or only vegetables. Only. And nothing else. Rrrrrrrrrugged, man.”
“Where have you heard that before?” Drew asks. “I’ve heard something like that before.”
“No, definitely not. You’ve definitely never heard those words before. You would never want to talk about something like that.”
Drew watches Jerry snap the lock into place and sling his bag over his bare shoulder. Drew looks at Jerry’s arm again. He stares. He takes his index finger and absently, almost unconsciously traces a circle on his own forearm, round and round and round.
“You forgot a word,” Jerry says, pointing at Drew’s bike.
“Huh?” Drew says. He stops drawing the circles.
“You forgot to blackout those two letters.” Jerry leans over, makes his fingers into a V and presses them against Drew’s bike frame, up near the head tube. “M.O.” Jerry says. “You missed them.”
“Oh yeah,” Drew says. “Right.”
“Paint over them. You don’t want those showing.”
God forbid they communicate something.
“God forbid we communicate something,” Jerry says.
“Whoa!” Drew says.
Drew whips his head back and forth; he cocks it to the side, whacks his ear with his palm. “But we’re nihilists, right?” he says.
“Nihilists wouldn’t try so hard.”
“Maybe they would.”
Jerry straightens and arches his back. He looks up at the clouds, which are turning grey and ominous. A sharp breeze blows across their chests.
“Uh-oh, we’re gonna get wet,” Jerry says.
“Huh? Oh, what, you’re a weatherman now?” says Drew.
“No, asshole. Look.”
Drew follows Jerry’s eyes skyward. “Oooooooh,” he says.
“What else? Grey, ominous clouds… sharp breeze…” Jerry said.
“Just say rain,” Drew says, clamping his hands over his ears. “No, don’t say it, I guess. Don’t say anything. I’m getting interference from someplace, static… doublespeak.”
“Fine. Rain,” Jerry says. “The clouds are like an advertisement for rain, a coming attraction.”
“Wow, that’s a good one,” Drew says. He’s serious. “Did you come up with that on your own?”
“I think so,” Jerry says.
“What?” Drew yells, still covering his ears.
“I think so!” Jerry yells.
“I think so,” Drew says. I think so. And it keeps repeating in his head.
As they duck inside the café for cover, rain hammers the pavement, pushing old piles of garbage toward rusty drains, forcefully and carelessly, like a threat. A few blocks away: a movie theater marquee vandalized by someone who thinks it funny to flip all the letters upside down. Half of the time the joke is on them, letters like H, I, O and X refusing to lose their meaning no matter which way they’re turned. Further away: a billboard out in Soho has been painted over. Somebody has slopped white paint all over the thing and then outlined the white with a thick black border. The thing is stubborn though and if you look hard enough you can still see the message underneath: an advertisement for the same Dutch Boy paint the person used to cover it up with. The rain is merciless. The rain might wash it all away, slap the letters loose from the marquee too, before anyone notices. Back in the café Drew and Jerry are arguing. What are they saying? Jerry is saying:
“We’re arguing! Take your hands away from your ears!”
And Drew is saying:
“Stop that, please! Don’t be tricked. Just because I have my hands up like this doesn’t mean I can’t hear you!”
Simon A. Smith writes and teaches English in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and a murderous orange tabby named Cheever. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Quick Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Whiskey Island, PANK, Bound Off, Prick of the Spindle, and a few others. He likes it here.