When I was in fifth grade, I dressed up like Evil Knievil for Halloween. That is, I bought the Evil Knievil costume at Woolco—a pale, nondescript face under a partial helmet and staring through the clear box cover. With the white coveralls folded underneath, and the white helmet with a blue banner of stars, at quick glance it looked like I had picked up a birthday cake.
At home I stood in front of the mirror, the long, striped pants pooling over my feet. What was clear was that just walking around as Evil Knievel wouldn’t work. I’d have to be on my bicycle—Evil’s motorcycle. I had a red Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat, with handlebars that jutted out like a Harley’s. On my bike, everyone would know who I was.
The school’s Halloween carnival was that Saturday night, two days before Halloween. That evening I rode my bicycle over; it was a little hard to see out of the mask’s eye holes, but after a few blocks I got used to it. The parking lot was filled with parents dropping off their kids—Popeyes, pirates, witches, fairies, a Fred Flintsone. A Holly Hobbie. And Eric Spencer, who with a long black wig, fake mustache, and silky pants was supposed to be Doug Henning.
I pedaled my bike to the gym’s main entrance, where Mr. Howie was taking tickets.
“No bikes,” he said.
“But it’s part of my costume,” I said at last.
“Sorry. Someone could get hurt.”
Behind him I could see they had a cake walk going, and there was a rigged up jail, where for fifty cents you’d hire the “jailers”—eighth graders—to go and put someone in the jail for ten minutes. All week I had looked forwarding to having eighth graders chasing me around the gym as I stood up on my pedals and tried to pop a wheelie. Only I wasn’t very good at wheelies.
I didn’t have a lock, and I didn’t want to go inside without my bike and just be Evil Knievil standing around. People might have thought I was just an astronaut. And I didn’t want to go home, since it was still so early. So instead I decided I’d ride around the gym, just do laps all night. People would maybe see me from the windows. They’d say, “There goes Davis. He’s Evil Knievil.”
For forty-five minutes I rode my laps. It was clear everyone was having a good time inside, and sometimes I’d slow down and steal a glimpse. I saw they had Chuck Moon in jail; he was dressed like Paul Bunyon, and I could see under his arms he had one of his sister’s blue stuffed animals. Babe the blue ox. I saw the gym teacher, Ms. Pruitt, step out the rear exit for a cigarette. “Let’s keep it off the sidewalk,” she said in her hoarse voice as I rode past. Everyone called her Hoarsie because she had been yelling for so many years.
Is that the hardest you can run?!
Quit standing around!
That’s not hustling!
After a while I got tired. I put the kickstand up and leaned to the right, trying to balance. I pushed the mask to the top of face. That’s when I saw Meredith Landers.
Before she came into the light streaming from the gym, I couldn’t figure out what she was dressed as. And then when I could see her more clearly I still couldn’t tell. She was wearing what look liked a beige body stocking. She was carrying a long stick with a stuffed horse’s head on the end.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I said.
We listened to some kids screaming because they didn’t want to be put in jail, then she said. “So what are you supposed to be?”
“Evil Knievil,” I said.
“So why are you out here?”
“They won’t let me take my bike in,” I said.
She nodded. “They wouldn’t let you take your horse in?” I said.
“Your horse,” I said. I saw that on her chest she had two colored red spots.
“No,” she said with some irritation. “It’s because I’m supposed to be nude. I’m Lady Godiva riding on my horse, but they said I couldn’t come in like that.”
That was when I noticed the black triangle of fabric below her waist.
“Do you even know who that is?” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yeah, right,” she said. “Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of Conventry so that her husband would stop taxing people so much.”
All I knew about Miriam was that her father had long hair and wore it in a braid—I had seen him drop her off in front of the school in his van a few times. She was supposed to be smart, and she was always eating in the cafeteria by herself, holding a book in front of her face. I remembered she still used a lunch box–“Little House on the Prairie.”
My eyes were still on the triangle, and after she said something about protesting this ridiculous school, she said, “You can stop staring now.”
I looked up with a start. “Anyway,” she said, “my mother is going to pick me up in thirty minutes. I didn’t really want to come anyway, but she said she didn’t want me staying home reading every Saturday night. So I put on this.”
We stayed there for a time. I could hear some announcements being made over the intercom, and down the way I could see that Ms. Pruitt had stepped out for another cigarette break.
“Well, I guess I should get going,” I said.
“All right,” she said, and as I pulled my mask down again, turned my bike around and pedaled way, I turned back to see if she was still watching. She was. I pulled as hard as I could on the front wheel, but I couldn’t get it off the ground.
It had turned cold, and as I rode faster, the sharp air pressed against my chest. I was imagining riding right past Mr. Howie at the door, with Miriam holding on tightly, and Mr. Howie signaling to those eighth grade jailers to chase us down, with Miriam cheering our defiance. “Faster, faster!” And I was thinking about every stupid stunt Evil Knievil had ever attempted.