Chapter i

In the dream he knew he was dreaming. His instinct, his senses, a certain feeling of lightness told him so. And yet he did not know how to wake up, what to do to stop looking. It was like a fog that ascended from the sea towards the hill, as if the road was prolonged in a path of clouds; a fog that sometimes covered even the moon, appeasing its brightness in the sky. He felt the wind, that wind hitting his face, heard the familiar roar like a purr. In the dream, she seemed to step out of herself, drifting away as she rose contemplating the nearby bend near the hill, the trees in the background, the moonlight straining to break through the fog, like that beacon breaking through the darkness in its irrepressible advance down the road….

She could see it more clearly now. It was her, even if she didn’t look so much like what she remembered of herself, that is, the shoulder-length blonde hair, the eyes closing toward the corners, high, high cheekbones, the brief lips, always painted a soft pink. No, what she saw was another woman, a woman with bronze skin, slightly shorter and with defined eyebrows, curly jet black hair in the air. She saw the motorcycle. It was a bike she could never remember seeing with her own eyes, different from the one she had in the garage, but one she knew from old catalogs. Maybe it was a lost memory of some exhibition she went to as a child, she didn’t know. The woman she was contemplating in the dream was riding a maroon Indian Chief, with long, pretentious fender flares, an Indian face in the position lights, fringe on the leather of the seat. As if her sight was the camera surrounding the scene and looking from behind, she saw then, embroidered on the leather of the jacket, the skull with the crossed pistons.

That was the recurring dream. What (despite her best efforts) she could not see, terrified her. Somehow, she knew that the woman on the motorcycle would be lost in the fog and that something was about to happen. But she never woke up in time to see it.

Christie awoke restless in the middle of the night. It was    still strange for her to look beside her in bed and not find Tony, an ingrained habit that became less and less common over time as he became more elusive and distant, traveling for work more frequently each time. They did not live together, but one night out of three he would sleep in her apartment. For a year and a half she thought she had finally achieved that thing they called stability, which sometimes is nothing more than the illusion of a solid building that finally does not resist the slightest wind. Finally, the day she called him at home at midnight and a woman answered, she accepted that, to her regret, she had been wrong. It was not the first time, of course, and who knows if it would be the last.

He tried to shoo away the dream images, but it was useless. That happens when one has a recurring dream. The details become a little more fixed each time, like when we watch a movie again and perceive new details in that repetition, and finally, from watching it so much, we can almost reproduce the dialogues, anticipate the scenes. How many years had you been seeing the same thing? Sometimes months would pass before dreaming again of the woman on the motorcycle, but in the bad times I could dream even more than once a week of that road, the fog closing in, the mystery of the disappearance before reaching the bend in the hill, the fear of what was about to happen, the violent sensation of heat in my hands when I woke up.

She stood up, feeling the sweat on her skin, the thin long T-shirt clinging to her breasts. She went to the kitchen, gave up on whiskey and took a glass of water. She walked over to the window facing the street. Her apartment was on the third floor of a building on North Paulina St., on Chicago’s east side, a one-way street, which during the fall was populated by the leaves of sycamores and willows that decorated the sides of the sidewalks, providing shade for the rows of cars that used to park there. At that time of night, the street was still and quiet, perhaps too quiet. Sometimes, Christie, seized by an impulse that made her snap out of herself, would ride down to the building’s parking lot, hop on her Harley-Davidson Iron 883 and, in the middle of the night, breaking the silence almost as a desecration, she would ride out into the streets. She would then reach the highway, always heading southwest out of town, taking 66, perhaps drawn to the same route her father took as a child when they visited grandparents. It was like a call from the tribe, a special mood in the blood.

He looked at the time on the clock and went to the closet. Soon she was wearing the dark leather pants with the brown stripes on the side, the jacket that closed up to the neck and sneakers. She rode down the elevator to the parking lot of the building with her helmet in her hand; a few seconds later, she was riding out on the Harley.

She didn’t remember much about her grandparents. It was curious that over time the images also became fuzzy, despite the photos that adorned her studio apartment. It was as if he needed to reaffirm the memory from the photos, because what he had in his memory-the house on Edgewood Avenue in suburban Cook, the rickety garage that creaked when he stepped on it, Grandpa’s hobby of model boat building that he left half-done, the old Dodge D100 pickup truck he had in the shed that doubled as a garage, that smell of aspens coming up from the Willow Springs trail, the steam from a kettle always ready when they came to visit, the sense of rootedness, of roots reaching out to her own sense of belonging to a world older than she was-yes, what she remembered, seemed to be fading in time, getting farther and farther away from what it really was.

Maybe he was thinking about that as he sped down 66, taking the 64th Street exit after Brainard Avenue to the tree-lined, silent street where his grandparents lived more than twenty years ago. What was left for him there? Very little indeed: the echo of ghosts, the subtle drug of nostalgia. After his grandparents’ accident, his father sold the house, certain that the memories would weigh more heavily on him than they could relieve him.

All this, however, was mitigated by the powerful sensation of the wind hitting her on the Harley, the raging freedom of riding freely on the road, the need to get away, to flee, without even knowing what she was escaping from, as if she were not herself. Other days she was overcome by a certain discouragement, she would get into the prison of her own conscience and would prefer to uncork a beer, finish the tequila left over in a bottle, rummage in her bar, arranged like a hiding place under a shelf full of porcelain ornaments?

Once, while playing, Tony asked her if she preferred the motorcycle to him. She laughed, kissed him, told him not to be silly. But later, in the nocturnal silence of the room, while he slept naked beside her, she asked herself the same question. It was not, of course, something as trivial as abandoning a motorcycle or not. Would she be able to establish a sedentary and formal relationship, dodge that tedium that quickly appeared every time he stopped being just her and became that ever-abstract idea that is a couple?

Her first boyfriend, Victor, was a boy of Panamanian descent, despised by Christie’s father. He was a few years older and someone had told her he had dangerous friends. He was in high school with her. She remembered the warm thrill of the first contact, the boy’s warm hands venturing beyond what she thought she could afford, but not stopping him. A slight nostalgia made her think of that first time, in the attic of her house, when she was alone with him. She was touched by a certain unexpected awkwardness in him, the abrupt fleetingness, the absence of any emotion other than curiosity.

She soon grew bored with the repeated and perhaps unsatisfactory ritual. She was imposing the distance that Victor refused to accept and at some point, exhausted, she asked him not to look for her anymore. He insisted and out of tiredness or clumsiness she gave in on occasion. But it was not until a certain afternoon when, irate, she threw him out of her house. Victor had gone when his father was away, entered the house, determined to stay by her side. She asked him to leave, pushing him away, and Victor held her, so they both went to the floor. He discovered something he had never seen before in her eyes. His hand managed to get under her skirt, touching her without her wanting it. She screamed and Victor covered her mouth. She was terrified of that urgent need to have her, which seemed to block everything else in him. When he finally partially undressed her, she was sickened by the ignominy of feeling his enforced presence inside her. It may have been a few seconds that she had him on top of her, until, enraged, she reached to grab a heavy ceramic ashtray from the coffee table and smash it over his head. He rolled to the side, screaming. Then she ran to the closet and grabbed a golf club from her father. Victor called her crazy, threatening her, as her eyebrow bled, and tried to fight her off. Christie landed a blow on the arm he was raising to defend himself and heard the crunch in the bone. Victor shrieked, insulting her. He kicked over a chair and left, slamming the door.

Christie cried, sitting on the floor of her home. She said nothing to her father, and rage and terror filled her for weeks. He, perhaps fearing she would report him, left town; she never saw him again. At some point, boredom again imposed itself over the other sensations, until it became an unwillingness and a permanent flight. But he did not remember that it was at that time that he began to drink. Then others would come, of course: a boy who used to coincide with her in the library, the skater brother of one of her college classmates, the friend from the office, who felt a genuine devotion for Christie, enough to risk trying something like a relationship, failing with a bang; some occasional lovers at parties, in some bar….

When had it started, where exactly did that chronic tiredness come from, the dissatisfaction that nothing seemed to erase? She refused to believe it had anything to do with her mother’s abandonment. Her father had only told her when she was a teenager, but she had always sensed it. When she was little (four years old, maybe three), it was not unusual to smell the alcohol in her mother’s kisses, her solitary confinements in the room where Christie would later find empty bottles, her father’s dry reprimand. She could not avoid, shortly before Christmas, hearing the arguments, her father’s claims, her mother’s ironic response, the slapping, the crying.

His mother had finally left with another man. She could, with effort, understand the break with her father. Perhaps it was something in the blood of the women in the family. But her? She hadn’t heard from her mother again. Her father made up a silly excuse, a business trip, a very long trip that was getting harder and harder to justify.

“If I continue along this route, I’d sooner or later reach the Pacific,” he thought. “Yes, it would be quite a trip. From Lake Michigan to Los Angeles. But once there, I wouldn’t know what to do except go back.”

An hour after leaving his apartment on North Paulina St. in the middle of the night, he set out on his return trip. It was not unusual for her to wander on her Harley, as one who goes sailing with no other pleasure than to feel the swaying of the waters, except that these waters were speed and the intense instinct to free herself from the invisible burden of the dull, repetitive days, the nights of murky solitude, the suffocating city. If she had to sum up what she thought she was looking for, she would say she wanted to be free. A weight on her shoulders, invisible and constant, had weighed her down since her childhood and nothing she did seemed to be enough.

Little did he know that, soon, a chance encounter in the city could mean the opportunity to balance that inconstant balance that up to that moment seemed to be his life.