too many words by laura lemay

500 words: blood

OK I cheated. I didn’t write this one based on a random word I pulled out of a book; I just wrote it.

In the Blood

He snuck out the cyclist’s dorm on day 15 of the tour, long after midnight and long after even the chaperones had gone to bed. He stole a bicycle from the alley next to the hotel and carried it out to the street until he could be sure no one would hear him leave. It was the sort of bicycle a grandmother would use to carry vegetables back from town on sundays; fenders and wide handlebars with a big basket tied to the front fender. After two weeks on his racing bike the old bicycle felt heavy and awkward but it was two wheels and it would get him through town and up into the meadows on the other side.

She was meeting him on the hill at the far end of town. He was running a huge risk meeting her here. Even sending messages to her through his soigneurs was forbidden; sneaking out could get him suspended from the race. Meeting her at all might result in a dangerously high level of testosterone in the morning’s testing and he could be banned for the year or more. But he was winning and he missed her so he took the chance.

He left the bike at the bottom of the hill and caught her up in his arms. She smelled of olives and lavender and summer and he kissed her again and again, her fingers laced the hair in the back of his neck.

She cried when he removed his shirt and she saw the catheters and apparatus they had installled into him for the testing. She knew what they did to him, of course, had seen the cuts and the scars, but never like this. Never during the racing season, when they set him up for testing. Three times a day they tested him, blood, urine, saliva, spinal fluid. Electrolytes, liver function, hormones, red blood cell count, all compared against standard baseline levels they took when he started racing at age 14. All to ensure that he was racing clean.

They could not make love for fear of displacing the apparatus or hurting him, but she enjoyed his company for an hour or two in the moonlight in the grass on the hillside, the old bike beside them.

“Doesn’t it hurt,” she asked him, touching the apparatus taped just under his left nipple. The skin where the catheter went in was raw, scabbed, red. He laughed in reply. “Not as much as racing,” he said.

“Why do you do it, then?”

“Its part of the job,” he said, thinking she meant the testing. “It’s part of racing.”

“No,” she sat up. “Why do you have to keep on racing?” she asked, desperate, tears once again. “Why do you have to let them keep doing that to you?”

He looked at her, astonished that she would ask such a question, after all the time they had been together. “I have to race,” he said, plainly, honestly, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s in my blood.”