Depending on the Horizon by Cate McGowan

Yes, the boys and I fashioned retrofitted, hand-me-down bikes—spray painted speed machines tooled in overgrown backyards and empty garages, made tough like each of us to withstand Georgia red clay, easement trails, steep hills, kid-built ramps. After-school afternoons, we’d pedal muddy paths as if the real Devil chased us, scooting down creek bank inclines, picking up hard steam, top-speeding jumps, sliding to full-stops on slick rocks, our nylon windbreakers imprinting primary colors against cloud backdrops. Those days, the boys and I trimmed through humid atmosphere, a bird-like swiftness our only concern. We stuck hard landings, sometimes, but most times we missed our mark, skidding out, dark bruising a raspberried arm. The boys and I panted through those waning afternoons, played on the clock while the cavernous woods swallowed us up. We anticipated the inevitable summons from our households, the supper songs wailing for our return—Come home to SUUU-pper! Each call had a particular lilt, a rhythm canted and chanted by familiar kin. The tunes warbled over far-off rooftops, scratched our ears with operatic choruses from mothers and older sisters. The loud keening stalled us for a second, came at us through dusky trees turned blue to shadows.

On nights before the world nudged its way in, those commands herded the males back home. Kyle and Chip and John and Ricky and Michael and Petey and Rusty. Each ten-year-old boy saddled up his dirt bike, peeled off, left me. Alone, I pricked up my ears to the wind and waited for Mom’s reveilles to holler for me. The cries seldom came, and only cricket trills found the trail. I’d lean over my parked bike, kickstand foot in orange mud, my pine straw pigtails warm nests against my back. I’d lollygag through sky dark forest; the light marbled depending on the horizon, and the stars purpled inside their back-lit heaven. I’d mount my bike, take a last go at the tough hill, loft through air, my pink jacket a sail, and without the boys, I soared like a fleet hellkite, wheeling dangerous curves, tasting speed, and joy’s reveries shifted with a glint of light, a freedom flash, no siren song pulling me. No.

Cate McGowan is the author of the story collection, True Places Never Are (Moon City Press, 2015), which won the Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. McGowan’s work appears in literary outlets such as W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, Shenandoah, (b)oink, and Vestal Review. Find her at