Jim pulled out Charlie’s big new red bike and went back for his own—-and Charlie went back and appeared with his old yellow bike. He said “helmet” and went and found it atop a box and started to strap it on backwards: “Other way,” we told him, and Jim helped him straighten the helmet with the visor-like edge pointed forward. Charlie ran back for Jim’s helmet and placed it on the ground beside the yellow bike and Jim concluded that, for the first ride of March, it would be just as well for Charlie to ride his old bike. “The new one is big,” he noted, adjusting the seat on the yellow bike, and off they went,.
Ten minutes later Jim called me: He needed the wrench to adjust the seat even more. “He can’t really pedal,” said Jim and I drove in the black car and found them in a gas station parking lot. A woman beside a minivan smiled with some undefinable expression at me. I waved the wrench at Jim, who noted that Charlie had tried to get into the woman’s minivan. There have been times when he and Jim have been biking and it’s started thunderstorming and I’ve come to pick up Charlie, who perhaps was expecting that, since they’d stopped, some car would appear and they’d load up his bike and go home.
“Let’s go, pal,” said Jim as he handed the wrench back to me. “No bike,” said Charlie and went towards the back door of the car. “But you just got started!” I said. “No bike,” said Charlie. And then a pause and then “bike ride” and he got on his bike. (Sometimes “no” doesn’t always seem to mean no but more like “not yet, I gotta think about it some more.”) Jim held Charlie’s shoulder briefly: Jim does this rarely now as Charlie is good to balance on his own but in previous days, Jim used to do that shoulder-hold constantly, to direct Charlie to turn left or right or, at a stop sign, to “squeeze brakes!” (and then Jim would apply the shoulder-hold to be doubly sure that Charlie and Charlie’s bike stopped). Today Charlie quickly secured himself on his old yellow bike and they turned off around and down a tree-lined street, and came back after a twelve-mile ride.
It wasn’t quite dinner time. Charlie started to call out “burritos! guacamole!” (I guess we’re in a Mexican food phase.) “It’s still kind of early,” I said. “Maybe we could wait a bit?” “No,” said Charlie. “We could practice cello,” I suggested. “No cello,” said Charlie—–five minutes later, I found him sitting in a chair turned to the side, looking expectant. “Cello, cello,” he said and I took out the cello, the bow and the rosin. Charlie reached for the latter two and, with jerky zigzag movements and the bottom of the bow grasped in his right hand, applied the rosin.
He plucked the A and D strings with my hand just touching his fingers and then took the bow and set it to the C string. I moved his elbow a bit up more so the bow was perpendicular with the strings. Charlie bowed and bowed in short movements that were reminiscent of how he throws a ball, using only his hands and forearm, and not the full strength all the way up to his shoulders and from his back. “C, C, C. G, G G and A,” I found myself singing. Over time, Charlie’s strokes lengthened by centimeters and then shortened and I touched his elbow and upper arm again, lightly. He was leaning his chin into the top of the instrument in a drooping hypotonic sort of way, and–or—maybe the better to feel the vibrations emanating from the wood.
Charlie asked for a break and pushed the cello toward me, held onto the bow for a minute more, then got up. Jim clapped and said “that’s beautiful, Cholly.”
It was and as I wiped off the rosin dust from the cello and loosened the bow, I thought of how Jim has gradually stopped needing to use the shoulder-hold on the bike. I don’t know how long it will take but one day I think I’ll be able to drop my hand from Charlie’s elbow and sit quietly and hear the music.