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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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* One exception: short stories.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Nietzsche on two wheels

The Unloved
Short story 985 words

Brands Hatch has a light-controlled grid where engines are kept running and riders sit astride. Doing away with push-starts which eight-stone Beryl found wearisome; struggling to fire up the Suzuki as male racers roared by on either side. Here she would pick up places before even changing gear.

Beryl fanned the throttle, eyeing the official at the trackside, waiting to cross over, to alert the starter.  Familiar in his blazer, shooting his cuffs, nodding, calm amid the noise. Off he strode.

Down came Beryl’s visor, up went the revs. First gear selected, feet on tip-toe. Sensing not seeing the rev-counter, two kay short of red-line. On the pylon – the first of five lights.

Now! The clutch lever sprung, the bike jagging forward. From behind something hard and massy punched her shoulder but quickly she was away, among the faster starters. Eeee-uh, second gear. Eeee-uh, third. The front wheel felt light from too much power. Roll back? A joke! She braked and heeled right for Paddock.

Beryl hung precisely off the bike, the world aslant, following a file of six, drifting – like her – to the left, into the dip and up towards Druids. Nearing the hairpin a blur of orange, behind on the inside,  coming up fast. Fast, past her and… too fast. A last-year Repsol hard ridden which would – there it went! – run wide at Druids. As she, hugging the line, slipped inside and hurried down to the left-hander.

Graham Hill’s Bend. Quite different now, the marshalls’ station in revetted turf dismantled and cleared away. Protection for track officials but at a price. Gone now.

▌▌Her race was minutes away but she left the Suzuki and watched over the fence. Dennis was worth it. She saw him glide through the others at Paddock, a crowded and scary sight. At the apex he edged forward, testing another rider, making him bottle, drop back. Second now, Dennis had only the Swede to beat. Nip and tuck, the racing he relished. Chances were he’d win.

Eric in filthy overalls stood beside Beryl, smoking, shaking his head. “Not this time,” Eric said.

She was outraged. “Dennis’ll play with him. Show him a wheel most corners. Take him at Stirling with five laps left.”

“Not this time.”

“Thorsson’s grown wings?”

“See his front wheel.”

It took her a couple of laps.

“The brake disc,” she said. “It’s huge.”

“Composites too. The disc costs a grand. But worth it.”

Two more laps and Beryl understood. Normally Dennis would have outbraked Thorsson, moving up, teasing. Today he wasn’t close. Paddock was the key. Beryl saw Dennis’s right hand squeeze the brake lever fifty yards before Thorsson did. Saw the gap widen.

“What can Dennis do?”

Eric shrugged. “Start saving.”

“Dennis won’t give up.”

“That’s what frightens me.”

Dennis, a distant, blurred figure in dark green leathers, seemed to radiate frustration. The smoothness had gone, his helmet rose jerkily, the bike wriggled out of corners. Beryl tested herself: said, risk it through Clearways, carry speed into the main straight, take advantage of her lightweight body.

But Dennis was three stones heavier.

Druids did for Dennis. Raggedly he made up five yards on the approach, kept it tight with his boot scraping the tarmac, then redlined the engine into Thorsson’s slipstream. Beryl knew immediately – he’d stay off the brake on the descent.

But physics is physics. Tyres squealed, the bike jacknifed left and right tossing Dennis aside. Arms and legs outstretched, turning like a propeller, he hit the  marshalls’ station and slid down to bury his helmeted head in the long grass.

Eric said to Beryl, “I’ll start your engine. You’ll have to hurry.”

On the formation lap it had started to rain. During the race the usual leaders diced too hard and slid off. Others too. Beryl finished fourth, her best ever at that time. Riding cautiously.

They had Dennis strapped to a stretcher, waiting for the helicopter, his head between two orange cubes of styrofoam. His eyes were open, his mouth angry. As Beryl bent over he mouthed two words. Soundlessly, but Beryl read his lips: “Fuck off.”

When Thorsson came calling three weeks later at Snetterton it was a natural succession. Dennis, facing a year of physiotherapy, had refused to see Beryl. Poor English had rendered Thorsson socially timid and he was considerate in bed. They shared his motor-home until he returned to trial a rally car in Sweden and kill himself against an obdurate pine tree. In Britain sponsors trucked away the racing bike with its composites disc but nobody claimed the motor-home and Beryl took it over by default. Eric hovered but it was a class thing; Eric was only a mechanic.

▌▌On the fourth lap, now in fifth place, Beryl approached Druids, aware that her hair had loosened and was flapping in the wind. In close racing the sight encouraged some men to try intimidation.

Certain she would catch the fourth place Yamaha she had time to identify the point where Dennis had been forced to brake - vainly - for the left-hander. A good racer, Dennis. But too impatient. A month or two of overtime and he could well have saved up the thousand pounds. Beaten Thorsson the logical way.

Beryl had a composites disc of her own and knew the Yamaha rider didn’t. Overtaking, perhaps at Clearways, would feel like good sex, not least because he was a bloke. Lollopy, too tall for bike racing. Out of the corner she tucked behind the fairing, her shoulder throbbing from the blow at the start, but tasting what lay ahead.

Bike racing was worth risking her life. She’d known that from the start, the hell with what they said about women. But you had to think things out. Dennis didn’t understand. Would he ever race again? He’d been faster than her but would he still be? She rather thought not. It would be good to beat him.


  1. Good story Eric. How long will you keep her alive?

  2. MikeM: A terrific response, M. Thanks. I didn't think you'd got it in you - the cynicism, I mean. Soon all that golden US optimism will be gone and you'll be an uninspired Brit like me. Time for you to get back to that bar where the blue-collar guys meet (I'm talking virtually, you realise) and give me a slab of dialogue. Can't remember if the bar-help was female or not but it adds to the conversational possibilities if she is.

  3. I felt you got the feel of the race start and those flicks through the gears just about right RR.

  4. Favourite quote, "Beryl hung precisely of the bike, her world aslant ..." I envy her this control and certainty.

  5. Beryl...we've seen that name before. Oddly similar to Cheryl, a cyclist I knew for a while who was as keenly competitive as Beryl seems here. She traded up boyfriends at least a couple times, moving to someone faster on wheels. Beryl has herself convinced she's calculating enough to stay alive, but she thinks "...risk it through clearways." She is clueless about Dennis' disadvantage in his duel until Eric gives her a hint. I'm crediting her with a mote of kindness for the last line. She cannot beat him, after all, unless he can race again. Not as exhilarating as the road bike scenes in GT. Amazed at the craftsmanship on every page of the novel. Oh, and did you smoke, RR? I imagine you did-those were the days when everyone did. Hope you've gotten over that. The shoulder bump puzzles me....a throw away? Pressure to write from a master...I suppose I should keep trying, but aspire to what? A page as good as any page in GT? Tall order.

  6. Avus: I changed the title, to throw out more hints. Beryl may have to return. This is a field I know well and I'm not sure I can afford to be so profligate as to use it all up in 1000 words.

    Blonde Two: I envy Beryl several things but she has the morals of a wolverine. Title changed to reflect that.

    MikeM: Among my stories this is likely to be my orphan child. The subject, I thought, would discourage most, fewer still would comment. So I'm grateful to you, Blonde Two and Avus.

    Lucy says we should take no heed of stats. But in times of famine.... there are occasionally some correlations. In this instance I can't help notice the huge discrepancy between comment and pageview numbers. Just a load of disappointed petrolheads someone will tell me.

    Beryl is the name of a real bike racer I watched and interviewed during my days on MotorCycling. She caused a collective gasp in the UK when she said she would rather win races than have a baby. She was rather innocent, nowhere near as monomaniacal as my Beryl. My main aim with this story was to touch on the unthinkingness of those who do well at sport. And their very confused morality. The final line is intended to show that for the moment, at least, Beryl hardly qualifies as a human being.

    The bump. Bike-race starts are often terrifying to watch, let alone take part in. Riders do come together and obviously Beryl, weighing a mere eight stones (that's 112 lb), would tend to come off worst. But she is undeterred.

    No I never smoked. As a kid I suffered from chronic bronchitis (retrospectively diagnosed as asthma) and I set great store by continuing to breathe. But Eric would have smoked. In fact I worry about him, I know a racing bike mechanic and I hope he won't think the line "it was a class thing" was directed against him.

    No pressure from me. There's a scene - perhaps just a reference - that you included in our early days. I don't want to go back and check because I'd prefer to hang on to the evocation. A rough old bar, out on its own by the side of a rural road, strictly blue-collar and not doing too well. I was hoping for a few conversational exchanges, not going anywhere but telling the reader something about the speakers, during one of the deadly parts of the day - late afternoon. Doesn't have to be a complete story, just you testing your ear and your feeling for the spoken word. Nothing pretentious, just working stiffs (a phrase you'll recognise I've come to love).