by Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard
translated by Aimee Wall
Félix-Antoine parks his Jeep in the lot of a depanneur in Frelighsburg. He gets out, stretches, yawns. He strips completely naked, as if we were in the middle of the woods. One or two cars pass. He takes his sweet time, as if to show off his enormous cyclist’s ass to me before putting on his shorts. The seams of his jersey look like they’re about to burst at the shoulders. The slut.
“You’re gross,” I say.
“You’re probably due to buy a new jersey in your size. You’ve grown.”
“Would you prefer I ride topless?” he asks.
“Let’s not inflict that on everyone, okay?”
He takes the bikes out of the Jeep, inflates the tires, locks the car.
Everything is checked and ready. We have water. We have tubes. We have air. We have a lot of sugar in many forms.
Félix starts down the road, bringing us toward the border. The Americans are a pain in the ass. Once they made me get off my bike because they thought I was hiding drugs in the frame. It must be written in my file that I’m a worthless junkie. It all goes fine in the end. We cross over. Burning sun. American flags. American houses. American cows. It’s a hilly loop, Félix has done it before. I don’t go out riding as much as he does, because of the need for a car.
We meet a pack of what seem to be Americans, and stick with them. They’re old. They can’t be going faster than twenty-six kilometres an hour. Old bougie types wearing skin-tight jerseys over their beer bellies so they can feel like Lance Armstrong one day a week. We follow them for five or six kilometres. Their route eventually splits off from ours. We pick back up our cruising speed.
The route is boring for a bit, nothing but fields, and then we pass a really pretty village, much prettier than most villages in the Townships, or in Quebec in general really. We take a little break there, refill our canteens, eat a little sugar.
We’re approaching Jay Peak park, which is pretty big, according to Félix-Antoine.
It gets steep. Very steep. I can’t see the end of the incline. It’s really long. Félix takes off like a shot. I hate him. I follow maybe fifty metres behind him and lose sight of him at a curve. I feel like I’m starting to run out of juice. My pace slows. I hang in there, remembering that Félix said he hadn’t made this climb the first time he tried this loop. I imagine him shrinking before me, white with shame and envy. But I choke. I’m hot. My quadriceps are as hard and heavy as rocks. At a little plateau I think about stopping a moment, and then I think how ugly I am, and stupid, and lazy, and now with my pride bruised I find a new source of energy and I manage to hit the pedals again and climb to the top of the hill, where I see Félix standing next to his bike, splashing his face with water, and just as I reach him I can’t push anymore, and I can’t even detach my shoes from my pedals, and I fall over like a rookie, my ass and shoulder scraping along the asphalt, gravel sticking to my face, my diaphragm still trying to stretch out even lower so my lungs can expand but unable to manage it, the rhythm of my breathing refusing to slow, the lactic acid starting already to burn my thighs front and back.
“I’m dying!” I cry. “I’m gonna die!”
“You’re hyperventilating,” Félix-Antoine says. “Relax. Relax.”
I manage to unclip my shoes from my pedals and roll onto my back. The sky is darker, heavy. It’s going to rain again. It rains all the time lately. I think about the rain that was starting to fall just as the polo-playing cyclists passed through the alley the other night, just before Gabriel didn’t come. I think about myself, smoking completely naked in the doorway as the torrential rain fell. Gabriel’s tattoos. His soft cock. Félix-Antoine says:
“You should be proud of yourself, I didn’t even manage it the first time.”
Gabriel’s lips, wet with Jack Daniel’s.
“I beat you,” I say, my gaze still fixed on the engorged sky.
“Are you gonna be alright to keep going?”
“Fuck off, yes, I’m fine.”
I wipe my face, I get up, I take one, two, three sips of water. The worst is over, I can make it back, no problem. I say:
“Is it calling for bad weather today?”
“There’s a chance of showers. At the end of the day.”
“What time is it?”
“So we should be back at the car for what, around four?” I ask.
“Four, four-thirty, yeah, if it goes well,” he says.
“Okay, a picture and then let’s go.”
Félix-Antoine takes my phone, points, shoots, gives it back to me.
The cyclist, holding her bike by its frame, high up in one hand, looking more disdainful than triumphant, no smile. Behind her, a huge sign for Jay Peak Resort, which must be twice her height. A bed of flowers at her feet. The tip of a hill in the background, a greying sky.
I stop at the picture of Gabriel. His wall. The outpouring of well wishes. The Rest In Peace We’ll Love You Forevers. People really love dead people. A dead person is easy to love: you can assume they love you back because there’s no way to check, and they never get on your nerves because they’re no longer around to bother you.
“What are you doing?” Félix-Antoine asks.
“You want one too?” I ask.
The cyclist leaning nonchalantly against the seat of his bike, his gaze inviting, suggestive, troubling. The eyes of a wolf. His quads taut and swollen with effort. His jersey close to splitting open under the pressure of his enormous arms, his shoulders. The Jay Peak poster. The flower bed. The hills. The greying sky.
“You’re gorgeous,” I say.
The descent is very satisfying. My odometer reaches sixty-six kilometres an hour. We make a pit stop at a tourist trap, a log-cabin boutique, to refill our bottles.
When we come back out, the sky is nearly black.
“We better not waste time getting back,” I say.
“I have no intention of messing around,” Félix says.
And sure enough, just to provoke me, he speeds up, just enough to make me step on it a little. We leave the forest and ride through a few kilometres of farmland, then back into the woods, on a long stretch of slight incline, which soon gets pretty annoying and ends up being downright awful. Félix turns toward me and shouts between gasps:
“Yeah, I forgot there are two hills…”