Even after he’d gotten old and cranky, and had lived and loved through regime changes and the melting Planet Earth and survived his wife’s menopause and come to the conclusion that happiness as a prolonged state was a myth, Turner still remembered with perfect clarity the three happiest days of his life.
They were December 25, 26, and 27, in the year 1965.
The moment he got on his new bicycle and pedaled it across the grass he forgot completely and forever about plumbing supplies, and he experienced nothing short of perfect joy. He remembered until his death the feeling of the tires bounding across the grass and patches of dirt, mostly dirt, and the whacking of the training wheels as they spun, first one side and then the other, gripping the ground to keep him upright as he sailed across the universe.
Turner’s universe those three days was the small front yard, the small back yard, and the narrow strip of cracked and uneven concrete that made up the sidewalk, which then turned into a narrower, more cracked walkway to the front of their rental house at 1512 Rosenberg. For three days Turner pedaled and smiled and whee-ed and yelled in little yips of happiness until, felled by hunger, we would go inside and eat another big bowlful of sliced cucumbers doused with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper.
“Turner,” Mom would sigh. “Why don’t you eat something else?”
“‘Cause I don’t wanna!” he’d chirp before vigorously stabbing each slice and sticking it in his mouth, the tang of the vinegar mixing with the salt and the spice of the pepper but still somehow ameliorated by the oil.
Mom’s garden out back was like Mom, it was wild and untamed and fecund and it overflowed with cucumbers and tomatoes and eggplant and watermelons and squash and green beans, and it was wild like Mom’s cooking, a dynamic explosion of tastes and flavors evoked from fresh things and always leaving behind a kitchen that looked like a war zone.
Mom’s weak point was cleaning, just like her green thumb in the garden was in perfect musical counterpoint to her brown thumb for children, especially boys, who she saw as a shocking reaffirmation of the unfairness and dirtiness of life, the mark of the devil on what should have been a life blessed with daughters instead of sons.
Turner remembered the moment that his three perfect days of perfect happiness came to an end. It was on December 28, 1965.
“Hey, Pops!” said Cason. Pops was in his study working on his book.
“What?” he said, with that classic Pops-is-annoyed-but-resigned-to-fatherhood tone that he’d perfected over the last few years.
“Come take off our training wheels!”
“Already?” Pops said, reluctantly, not wanting to leave the keys of the big, the giant, the outsized, the massive steel Remington on which he daily pounded out the tattoo of his life.
“Yeah!” said Cason.
“I don’t want mine off,” said Turner.
Pops turned around in the wooden swivel chair. “If I take off one, I’m taking off both. So work it out between yourselves and let me know.” Then he spun back to the Remington and resumed his pounding.
Turner scampered down the hall, but Cason tackled him. “We’re taking off the training wheels, you big chicken sissy!” Cason emphasized it with a punch to the kidney.
Turner moaned. “I don’t want them off. I don’t want them off!”
“You big chicken sissy!” Cason punched him again and ran back to Pops’s study. “Okay!” he said. “Come take ’em off!”
Pops and Cason and Turner went out to the back yard. Pops got his crescent wrench and pulled the training wheels off of Cason’s bike. Turner watched the scene unfold with horror. Next, Pops amputated the wheels off of Turner’s bike, his beautiful gold and white and silver bike, his perfect sailing boat for the universe, the training wheels, still almost brand new, now laying in a pile with Cason’s, dead, inert, useless, and the only thing that remained was his beautiful bike, which was now so crippled it could only lie on its side, and Turner felt alone and wretched and sad and most of all convulsed by a feeling of profound and infinite dread.