It was a miracle that Tom remembered anything, really. But he did remember stopping at the top of Twmbarlwm Tump, heart thumping against his chest, thighs and calves burning red-hot from the long ascent. Dad couldn’t accuse him of not training. Not this time. This heavy old rust bucket of a bike, rescued from the tip, had nearly killed him.
He remembered catching his breath in the fresh, ferny breeze, pushing off from the grassy verge for a no-holds-barred plummet downhill thinking “Yeah. I’ve earned this.”
Taking the first two bends, gathering pace, he resisted the temptation to brake.
He wasn’t worried. He felt free. When he did feel the back brake, after the pink house on fifth bend when he almost lost it, nothing much registered. He heard only a squeal above the cold, rushing white-noise of wind and tyres.
He was in control again. Head down and concentrating, crouched slightly above the saddle, perfectly balanced, gripping the torn remnants of rubber on the handlebars.
He felt magnificent; god-like and supreme. Hyper-aware, hyper-confident; hyper-alive! If only his dad could see him now, taking the fastest line, leaning into the bends, descending on this ancient heap of crap like a Tour champion.
His dad never thought he was much cop. He’d known that for sure after his pal Pete had told him “Your dad told my dad he doesn’t think you’ll ever win, you know. He thinks you’re a big wuss. No fighting spirit.”
Tom had just nodded, pretending he had known, resigned that his father knew that there was really no point; that they were just going through the motions because it was something his father had to do. Having been a cycling champion, Lol Evans wanted victory for his son much more than he’d ever wanted it for himself.
The milk tanker was almost completely across the road executing a ponderously tight turn when Tom hurtled on to the scene.
He felt something like a fist gripping his guts and twisting them in one brutal movement. The seconds began to stretch and stretch thinner and slower, thinner and slower like soft chewing gum. It gave him time to consider the options.
Brake very hard? Nah. He was already squeezing the levers against the handlebars. Ear-splitting screeching indicated next to no brakes.
He could attempt to leap off? Downhilling at over 40mph? Messy.
The gateway. Obvious, really. The muddy open gateway that the tanker had just rumbled through.
Tom pulled the bars left. The old bike responded smooth as a speeding arrow. A sudden vicious splatter of freezing mud on legs and face, the tooth-loosening juddering of rough turf. The impact with the wall stopping him dead; caught him completely unawares. Surprised fingers released the handlebars and feet flew from the pedals as he ascended into the air in a graceful arc. He was surrounded by silence.
Disembodied voices called to him from the void.
His gran: “Tom, wake up. Come and see what I’ve brought for you, my love.”
His mum: “I’ve brought your cassette player Tom. Listen. It’s your favourite group. Pilot.”
His sister “Oh Tom look at the state of you. That blood stain won’t come out.”
The voices came and went as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Then his dad; insistent, demanding.
“Tom. Tom! What the bloody hell d’you think you’re doing?”
His eyes flicked open. The alarm was buzzing for attention; 5.00am.
Time to get going. He paused at the door of the dark bedroom where the familiar medals hung from shelves and a wall was adorned with a tapestry of bike mag cuttings and snaps of boy racing, boy with trophies, boy with state-of-the-art carbon fibre racer.
“Hey. You awake? Time to get up.”
The hump beneath the duvet shifted slightly.
Tom swung his son’s already-packed bag over his shoulder and headed downstairs.
That damn dream; so weird and disorientating. The last time he had it, his lad had won the junior championships.
Today, the lad was up against elite riders and first cats – his first race out of juniors. Maybe it was a omen. Maybe the boy would make it a good one.