“The Puddle” by Grace Tierney
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week we consider the wars between cyclists versus motorists and men versus women.
We present our Feature Story: “The Puddle” by Grace Tierney
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” The old feminist slogan popped into Cathy’s head as she stowed her bike-lock in her backpack. She didn’t believe men were useless, but with Matt’s angry words still echoing in her ears, the slogan held a speck of truth.
Why couldn’t he see dirty socks on the bedroom floor were a turn-off? She’d ended up cooking dinner, washing up, and cleaning the bathroom last night after a long day at the travel agency where they both worked. Matt, on the other hand, had watched a rugby game on the TV.
She flung her backpack on, shoved her headphones into her ears, and cycled away from their new home. Adele’s songs about betrayal and lost loves filled her mind as she peddled into the bright morning. The storm clouds from last night had passed, leaving the streets wet. She tried to forget about their argument. Their first real argument since moving in together.
“I don’t want to, Matt.”
“But Cathy, come on. You don’t have to be at work for another half-hour. We have time.” He stretched in the bed. She guessed it would be unmade upon her return, just like the day before. It hardened her resolve.
“Don’t you want to?”
She sighed. Of course she did, and she hated confrontation. But her friend Linda had warned her to start as she meant to continue. She eyed the filthy socks on the floor at her feet.
“Yes, I do…”
He smiled and pulled back the duvet.
“…but I don’t have the energy after cleaning the house for you last night.”
A large truck zoomed past her at speed. Her face flushed from cycling fast. She clenched her fingers around the handlebars, waiting for the inevitable rush of wind to push her off course.
She steered into the wind, safe in the cycle lane which was on a footpath along this stretch. All her colleagues, except for Matt, thought she was insane for cycling to work, but she loved the early morning air. She arrived at work buzzing every day.
She pulled the headphones from her ears. She didn’t want love songs this morning. She needed to forget the words she already regretted.
Another vehicle ripped up behind her, racing to overtake the truck before the road narrowed to a single lane where the traffic would slow to its normal morning crawl. The small red car passed her with a swoosh, straight through a huge puddle on the road. She swerved to avoid the splash of murky rainwater, but she couldn’t react fast enough.
The cold water hit her like a body blow from an irate rhino. The wet slap left one side of her body drenched from shoulder to toes. She gasped, unable even to send a curse after the inconsiderate driver or to check the license plate. Some motorists simply didn’t see cyclists. But Cathy didn’t feel invisible this morning. Her anger flooded back.
She knew this road. Ahead lay six junctions, all of them with traffic lights where cars got stuck in traffic while she whizzed by on pedal-power. She could catch the red car and make her feelings known.
Head down, into the light breeze, she cycled for vengeance.
Junction one, the traffic had stopped. Directly ahead of her was the large truck. The red car had passed it. She’d reached the truck’s back wheels when the light turned green.
“Please don’t take the turn,” she muttered.
The red car drove straight on.
She knew a friend who’d keyed a car once, for a puddle swamping. He’d run his house key along the pristine paintwork and disappeared down a narrow alley before the driver reacted. Matt hadn’t liked that story. Neither had she. Her plan was a little more audible.
Junction two was coming up fast. The truck had pulled over to make a delivery so she had the red car in her sights. Like a fighter pilot she assessed distance to target. The car stopped. She cycled alongside, banging her fist against the doors and the window pane. The driver was male, dark-haired, suited.
His head turned. Face to face, they looked at each other in astonishment.
“What?” he mouthed through the glass.
The light turned green. She pointed at it. He drove on.
So much for voicing her feelings. By Junction three her rage boiled. He had the window wound down, as if he knew they had unfinished business.
“I am soaked thanks to you!” she yelled down at his face. “Just because you’re late for work doesn’t make it OK to splash puddles over cyclists. You pig!”
“Now hang on a minute,” he said. “My girlfriend is a cyclist and she says hitting cars isn’t right.”
“I don’t care what your girlfriend says. My clothes are ruined.”
The light turned green. He drove ahead. She followed. She saw his head bend over, as if rummaging for something. Typical male driver, wasn’t paying enough attention to the road. No wonder he’d splashed her.
At Junction four he smiled at her. “Forget my girlfriend. She’s mad at me anyhow, and she’s right. I’m an idiot who needs to be house-trained.”
She liked his smile. Despite his puddle antics, he seemed like a decent guy. She continued to scowl, just to be on the safe side. She wasn’t being won over by this man and his red car.
“Forgive me, please. These are for you.” He pushed a bouquet of yellow tulips into her arms.
The light turned green. Cathy didn’t move. How was she supposed to cycle with flowers in her hands?
It was Junction six by the time she caught up with him again. She’d have to turn off for the office here. The window was up. She knocked politely.
“Good morning,” he said, smiling again as if she was the most wonderful person on the earth and not an angry, red-faced cyclist with a bunch of flowers in her fist.
“Take these back,” she said, not returning his smile.
His eyes clouded.
“I can’t cycle with them.”
“Oh. Alright.” He took the tulips and placed them on the passenger seat.
Cathy allowed herself a smile, finally. “You can put them in water later. After you do the laundry and make dinner, Matt.”
He nodded and blew her a kiss.
The traffic lights turned green.
Grace Tierney writes and cycles in Ireland. She has written for everything from the local paper to anthologies, online media, coffee cans, and glossy magazines. She is currently submitting her first women’s fiction novel and completing her second. She has a website and she blogs about unusual words. She never splashes cyclists whilst driving.
Tags: grace tierney, metro fiction, short stories