A long time ago, my father started riding his motorcycle in the Wall of Death at carnivals all over England.
Biking round and round in that giant barrel, up and down the steep walls, he thought would be a way to make money fast.
Careening one-handed, winning even, still, enough money didn’t come.
Death didn’t, either.
Either he was faster than death or death was afraid of leaping into that barrel and not finding a way out.
Farming was what he’d first wanted to do, farming 80 acres of his parents’ land, and he wanted the money to buy the land before they sold it to someone else.
God knows why they didn’t just keep it or give it to him outright.
He always said (the land long gone, his mouth an ugly twist) they didn’t need the money.
I guess they just didn’t believe in giving things away, not even to their own son.
Joker of a biker that he was.
Knowing that death might lurk beyond any leap of faith, while money certainly did not, never stopped him.
Life now, evidently, was best lived at high speed with the roar of an engine and gravity flattening and twisting the gut.
Maybe losing the farm meant there was nothing else to live for.
Not for me, certainly: I was born, he bounced me on his knee, then handed me over and donned his helmet and was off—fatherly love too frightening or perhaps not frightening enough.
Once and only once did I, as an adult, watch him perform.
Perform: ostensibly a gift to his audience but really to himself, the attention all one way.
Quick as a nightmare he raced the sloping walls, circling up and up and pointing with one hand toward us, the spectators, at the top of the barrel looking down, only a wire mesh between us and him.
Reaching the top, he leaped the wheel around; just then I saw his eyes through the gap in the helmet.
Stony eyes, looking right at me.
That’s when I knew he’d never wanted me to come, not really, and maybe he’d never even wanted me to be born.
Under that flaming suit was a heart, yes, but a heart powered by adrenaline.
Violent love was the only option.
Waiting only until his bike was roaring straight up toward us once again, I flung myself over the safety bar and onto the wire mesh, my body spread eagled, the windless impact—shock, recognition in his eyes.
“Xtreme Daughter Hails Daredevil Father,” the papers the next day would read.
Youth always deemed innocent, the story ran as a tragedy.
“Zapped His Focus, Sent Biker Plunging to Barrel Floor Death.”