She left the bike behind because it couldn’t be transported, obviously. The distance too great, the cost too exorbitant. Taking it on the plane would be impossible and so, too, would shipping it. It would be cheaper to buy a new one altogether at her next destination. But, once again, Ella felt as though she was abandoning something important. Something that felt right. Admittedly, this particular bike, a dark red Peugot she bought the first week she was in Paris, had practically cradled her ass like a newborn baby every time she rode it. That wasn’t easy to find in a bike—and she’d be lucky if she ever found it again.
Of course, she couldn’t help but feel that such a metaphor also applied to the other object of affection she was leaving behind: her… well, she didn’t know quite what to call him. The word “lover” was prosaic, trite and disgusting, especially within the geographical context of Paris. “Boyfriend” was too juvenile, too simplistic. What, then, could he be called? She supposed it didn’t matter now that she was departing. Driven out by their mutual realization of patent incompatibility. The bicycle was just collateral damage.
She remembered the first day it caught her eye, winking to her with the gleam of its handlebars in the sunlight. As though coyly seducing, “Bonjour mademoiselle, n’aimeriez-vous pas me monter?” In her interior mind, this bike’s pickup line was highly suggestive in nature. It wanted her, and it wasn’t going to let her pass by so many more times without luring her to do what it desired. Which, like all bikes, was to be ridden. Owned. It only took a couple more ramblings by the shop for her to surrender. In fact, Ella was quite relieved someone else didn’t see fit to suddenly snap up the entity she would name Gustave, after Flaubert.
Ella had only been living in her not-lover/not-boyfriend Xavier’s apartment for about a month, moving in with him when her own “room” situation had grown too dire to ignore any longer. She understood that this was Paris, and people had their “good time” needs, but the situation in her glorified dormitory was too untenable. Every night, a barrage of people—drinking, smoking, fucking. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. And though the price was “right” at three hundred euros a month, she decided it would be more right to take advantage of Xavier offering her a place to live until she could “figure something out”—a.k.a. how to pay what would be her half of the rent, or, if she chose, to break out on her own again. Just because a couple was a couple didn’t mean they had to live together, after all. And since French people still freely admitted to liking Woody Allen, the Woody and Mia example could even be used to illuminate this point. With the exclusion of the fact that living apart did not serve to make their relationship last.
The main issue that arose from living with Xavier quickly became clear the day Ella arrived with the bike, which she lovingly walked inside and placed against the wall in the hallway. “What’s that?” Xavier asked in an eerily calm voice, knowing full what it was.
Ella, ignoring his tone, chirpily replied, “It’s Gustave. My new bike. Well, it’s used but new to me. I got a good deal on it.”
Xavier arched his brow. “Did you though? Can anything be a ‘deal’ when you have no money to spare?”
In that moment, it became apparent that Xavier was a Ricky Ricardo (or worse still, Fred Mertz) type, seeking to control her finances and make her feel the guilt and shame that really all humans should for their capitalistic whims. But this wasn’t as bad of a capitalistic whim as most, for the use of a bike would at least help to reduce her carbon footprint, n’est-ce pas? That’s what she found herself explaining to him, feeling, for whatever reason, like she had to justify her purchase. And, to her chagrin, she found herself agreeing that she did. Hence, she argued, “This bike will take me to and from jobs, Xavier. It’s an investment.”
Xavier muttered to himself, “You would need a job first to make an investment.”
Ella wasn’t totally unemployed, per se. It was just that it was so difficult to find steady work as an American in France who didn’t speak the language fluently and whose skill set was deemed limited by what society could transform into a corporate enterprise. Thus, she lived on a series of strung-together gigs that consisted of “teaching English” and babysitting. It wasn’t exactly a profitable existence and she wondered how a world that prided itself on “possibility” in theory could be so limited in practice.
As she cautiously approached the living room where Xavier was sitting on the couch, she declared, “You’ll see. The bike is going to be life-changing for my ‘career.’” And it was. Minus the part about changing anything with regard to her “career.”
Each day, she found herself riding all the way to the Seine from their removed perch in the fourteenth arrondissement, which took somewhere in the hour-plus range at times. For there were so many quagmires and landmines on Parisian roads and sidewalks that she often found herself at a stop-start pace. Thus, riding Gustave took up most of her days, proving what Xavier already knew about her so-called “investment”: that it would only allow her to idle all the more. Yet Ella did not see it as idling, so much as an affordable way to manifest freedom. There were so few ways to do so as a broke ass anymore, and this was a primary one. Xavier couldn’t understand something like that, so willing to surrender his life to the office, where he worked as a wage slave for a middling amount. One that still bristled him enough to feel Ella should pay up for some rent.
Alas, three months went by, and she was no closer to “contributing.” But were those blow jobs and candlelit dinners not contributions that couldn’t be quantified in monetary value (unless, of course, you were a prostitute)? Xavier didn’t seem to see it that way, and one evening, in a fit of rage, he picked up the bike, took it out to the balcony and dropped it from their second-floor perch. If they had been higher up, Gustave might not have survived. As it was, he already got quite maimed from the fall. And in that instant of hearing the cringeworthy crash, Ella not only saw Gustave as a “he” rather than an “it,” but she also knew it was time for her and Xavier to part ways. This, in turn, meant a departure from France altogether. With no one left to turn to in said country, that meant she would be banished back to her own. A self-inflicted wound resulting largely from her own lack of social skills. An inability to network. Therefore an inability, in short, to function all that successfully in society.
She made it a point to spend her last sou on repairing Gustave. It was important to her that he found a good home. Someone who could appreciate his worth as much as she did. And oh, that seat—that wondrous, endlessly comfortable seat. Would she ever find a bike that made her pelvic area sing so? Likely not. Least of all in crude, crass America where everything was made to hurt despite being peddled as “top-of-the-line comfort.” Crashing at her sister Roberta’s house in the sprawl of San Bernardino, she was horrified to find how easy it was to get a menial job now that she was in the U.S. One didn’t even really need to speak English in America the way one had to speak French while in France to finagle employment. So it was that she effortlessly secured a job at In-n-Out, probably the best a girl could do as far as fast food chain occupations went. And with the money she earned over the next month or so, it wasn’t with an eye toward looking for her own place that she began to envision funneling her savings into, so much as a new bike.
Although Roberta found such things “puerile”—herself the proud owner of a silver Mercedes SL550—she obliged Ella in coming along (in other words, giving her a ride) to a few bike shops to “appraise the market.”
It didn’t take much time for Ella to see that the quality simply wasn’t there, and that she would be more likely to win the lottery than find a comparable replacement for Gustave. While one might have thought she would be more broken up about the demise of her relationship with Xavier, it was Gustave she was truly mourning. And plus, Xavier revealed who he was when he treated Gustave—the most precious thing to Ella in Paris—with such reckless contempt. She couldn’t love someone like that, someone so willing to crush a spirit just because it didn’t bend to his own will.
As Ella explained to Roberta on the way back to her four-bedroom house (filled with no husband or children) that she might have to go back to Paris just to find a worthy bike, it struck her that she should simply try to find Gustave again. Surely not enough time had lapsed for her to lose his trail entirely. She could go to the shop where she sold it and demand to know the address of the person who ended up buying it. She would pay double. Roberta informed her of what a ridiculous idea this was, and that she ought to be focusing her attentions on something more useful—like a “real” job. Oh, that old line. Ella was so goddamn sick of hearing it, as if any job was actually real and not created solely for the benefit of giving humans a false sense of purpose. Well her purpose was clear: she was going to retrieve Gustave. Should never have left him in the first place, especially in his state of post-maimed vulnerability. How could she have been so callous to the only being that had shown her any kindness?
On the plane, with most of her In-n-Out earnings disbursed on this trip, Ella felt a resolve as she never had before. Gustave would be hers again—she wasn’t going to leave without him this time, financial costs be damned! You can’t put a price on the only thing that holds you right. And, speaking of, upon getting settled in at her grotesque hostel, she was appalled to find the Seine riddled with “romantic”-feeling people who had no qualms about “necking,” as it was once called in the 1950s. Why must people, even (and perhaps especially) Europeans, be so undignified?
Just as she felt she might vomit over the scene, she happened upon a familiar vision: her red Peugot. Gustave. Eyeing him up and down, she was led to the pair of strong, hairy hands clasping to Gustave’s handlebars as he stood beside it. Studying the man closer, Ella was struck by his handsomeness. She was reminded then that it was usually the most attractive people who tended to be alone. No one ever really suited them. They were all too ugly, too inferior. Ella took her chances on being counted among that inferior ilk as she sidled up to him and commented, “Nice bike. Where’d you get it?” When Jean-Pierre told her it had been abandoned in the courtyard of his apartment building, Ella practically wept. How could anyone leave Gustave like that? And then she remembered that she had basically done the same. Unless, of course, this bike was not really Gustave and her intuition had been mistaken. Maybe she was being duped. It wouldn’t have been the first instance, and certainly not the last.
Disappointed by Jean-Pierre’s answer, he read in her face the sadness that was enveloping her over this loss and inquired, “Is everything all right with you?”
She looked up from the bike she realized she was ogling. “Oh… It’s just… I had a bike like this once. I really miss him.”
Ella forgot to correct herself before speaking aloud. Never usually letting on so freely about her objectophilia when it came to Gustave. “Uh, yes. I refer to my bike as a man. Named Gustave.”
Jean-Pierre smiled at her warmly. “That might be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Ella frowned. “I can assure you it’s not.”
He regarded her with something like reverence as he offered, “If the bike meant so much to you, perhaps you would like mine?”
She was floored by his generosity, and also skeptical of it. “I don’t know. That wouldn’t feel right.”
“Well you’re welcome to pay me for it if that would make you feel better. It doesn’t mean that much to me,” he said as he angled the seat toward her crotch. Oh that seat. That inimitable seat. She had to try it to know for sure.
“Let me just take it for a quick spin and see how I feel…” she suggested, practically salivating.
He smirked. “This is your chance to bike off into the sunset without paying me anything.”
“Oh no. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Absolutely not. We’re not all uncouth thieves. Americans, that is.”
“Good to know.”
She proceeded to mount the potential Gustave, slowly positioning her groin onto the pointed part of the seat before easing completely in. It was him! She could feel it. However Jean-Pierre had obtained him didn’t matter now. She was riding fast and free down the river, in an utter state of bliss until an agonizing pain overtook her entire vagina. What the hell was happening? She looked down to see not only blood pouring across her legs, but that the seat had fallen off behind her, and what she was now “resting on” was the metal rod that had slammed inside of her. Gustave had rejected her. In the cruelest, most unfathomable of ways. This was his retaliation for ever letting him near Xavier, and for then abandoning him so savagely afterward.
Allowing herself to topple to the ground, she could see Jean-Pierre in the distance, running to get to her. “Oh my God! We need to get you to a hospital,” he said as he crouched down next to Ella and cradled her in his arms. Cradled her as only Gustave had up until this moment. It was then Ella apprehended this was actually Gustave’s act of goodwill all along, to lead her to a human being that could do what Ella previously believed only Gustave would.
At the house in the country where they moved after their eventual marriage, a special place in the shed is still reserved solely for Gustave, the very thing that brought Ella and Jean-Pierre together. And yes, Jean-Pierre would always make the joke that, for all he knew, Ella was a virgin when they met, but that it got taken from her right before his very eyes. But who needs a hymen anyway when true love is the result of egregiously tearing it? All Ella could say was, she had no plans to let Gustave penetrate ever again, keeping him solely for visual posterity now.