I pushed open the battered door and wheeled my bike into the shop.
I stood on the carpet in a small puddle of my own making, squelching cold toes in waterlogged cycling shoes, eyes crossed as I watched the rain water drip from the peak of my cap.
I knew that the shop, my local bike shop, was doing pretty well. Business was good.
Appearances can be deceptive.
The retail Marie Celeste wasn’t giving anything away.
I always found the tired interior of the shop a faintly depressing place.
It had an air of neglect, a forlorn, Eastern Bloc emptiness that many shops once held back in the seventies but was now extinct.
Except for here, the local bike shop.
Drilled hardboard sheets coated in yellowing white gloss covered some of the walls, supporting chipped chipboard shelves in sagging rows that were in turn laden with haphazard cycling paraphernalia.
Elsewhere, faded posters of track stars in leather hairnet helmets tore themselves from rusty drawing pins after decades of crucifixion on the cracked, rotten plaster.
The obligatory fluorescent light blinked madly over a garish of huddle children’s bicycles, creepily incongruous amongst the sallow shades that surrounded them.
Outside, peering through the rivulets of water meandering down the plate glass window, a tired looking prostitute tried to catch my eye. She looked pleadingly as she mimed a wanking action.
I mouthed the words, ‘no thank you’ and looked away.
The rainwater that leaked from my clothes darkened the dilapidated carpet beneath my feet.
Worn paths in the carpet lead in three directions.
To the counter, to the back office, to the workshop.
The counter was deserted, it’s cracked glass offering a peek into another world of shiny metal componentry and slick black carbon fibre.
Gleaming baubles every bit as out of place as the children’s bikes.
In place of an office door there hung a soiled curtain, frayed and ominous, the sort of curtain you would instantly regret peeking through for fear of what there might be beyond…
“Hello?” I didn’t expect an answer, but I got one.
“For fuck’s sake…”
It came from the workshop.
I followed the worn carpet trail in that direction.
Another grim curtain hid the workshop.
“Who the fuck wants to know?”
Exasperated sighs and tuts came from behind the curtain.
“You’d better come in then, I suppose.”
I held back the greasy material and stepped into the workshop.
Benches scattered with battered tools, ancient workstands and vices of differing sizes, a concrete floor blackened by decades of oil and grime.
On the wall, sepia stunners from long gone page 3’s smiled cheekily over the detritus of the workshop.
Teflon, Dazzle and Saul were hunched in the stygian gloom, biting into giant sandwiches and slurping from chipped mugs of tea.
“Now then, you cunt.”
All three started laughing, spitting crumbs and slopping tea over a very expensive looking Colnago racer.
The owner of the shop, Teflon, stopped laughing first.
“Sorry Luci, it’s just that we’re having a competition to see who can call customers a cunt without them knowing. Dazzle’s just taken the lead with that beauty.”
“That’s nice. I’m glad to see customer service hasn’t lapsed in any way.”
“Yeah, Saul got a beauty yesterday. Some knob-head wanted to know if you could put a Shimano derrailleur with Campagnolo shifters, and he says, ‘You cunt really get away with that!”
More laughter. Milky tea and chewed ham dripped from the glittering paint of the Colnago.
“What can we do for you, then, Luci?” asked Teflon.
“I got a puncture. Some glass has slit the sidewall of my tyre, and…”
“Fucking Hell… give it here.”
Through muttered curses, Saul set to work. He’s a miserable fucker, but he’s magic with a bike. I didn’t respond to his insults, I just let him crack on with what he had to do.
Dazzle was sat in the corner, munching his sandwich with his left hand whilst slowly pumping a track pump with his right. His skinny arms were knotted with rock hard muscles.
Here, Teflon!” called Dazzle. “Luci’s a know-all. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Yeah, Teflon. Ask Luci,” muttered Saul.
“Ask me what?”
Teflon gargled a mouthful of tea. “Right then, Luci. You’re a smart arse. Tell me this. Where does all the milk come from?”
Was it a trick question? I didn’t know, but I played along.
“Cows, Teflon. All the milk comes from cows.”
“Ah, yes! But where are all the cows?”
“Erm… in the fields. The cows are in the fields.”
Teflon waggled his eyebrows, and the strip lighting reflected off his tanned bald head.
“Hah! But there’s not enough of them! Think about it! There’s fucking tens of millions of us in England, and we’re all having milk on our cereal, milk in our tea, cheese in our sarnies, yoghurt for the women and the puffs, ice cream for the kids! That is a fuck of a lot of milk, by anyone’s guessing. So where’s it coming from? By rights, all the fields should be over flowing with fucking cows, and every other wagon on the road should be a dairy tanker! But it’s not! So where… is… the…milk… coming…from?”
“Hang about. Where does it say you have to be wither a woman or gay to like yoghurt?”
“Be honest, Luci. When did you last have a yoghurt?”
“Exactly. You fucking puff.”
As they all laughed and Saul fettled and Dazzle pumped, I got to thinking; where does all the milk come from?
To be honest, Teflon had a point.
There’s not THAT many dairy farms about, not that many cows about.
I know that Yorkshire doesn’t have that many dairy farms compared to, say, Devon, but I’d been to Devon before, and the fields weren’t heaving with cows. I can’t honestly remember seeing that many at all.
Where DOES all the milk come from?
The thought of it kind of disturbed me.
I shrugged. “Maybe it’s rat milk. Maybe they’ve got these underground farms filled with millions and millions of rats like battery chickens and they’re all fitted with tiny milking machines and all the milk we’re drinking isn’t really cows milk but is rat milk, and the cows in the fields are just for show.”
The workshop went silent.
Saul stopped fettling.
Dazzle stopped pumping.
Teflon slowly spat his tea back into his mug.
They all stared at me.
“Fucking Hell, Luci.” Teflon got up and walked away, shaking his head. He left his tea on the work bench.
“Here, your bike’s fixed.”
“Erm.. thanks Saul. You’ve done a smashing job. What do I owe you?”
“Pay us next time.”
Saul disappeared through the dirty curtain.
Only me and Dazzle remained.
Dazzle was laughing quietly to himself, and he’d resumed his pumping.
“Rats! hehehehe! Did you see their faces, Luci! I thought Saul was gonna puke! Rats! Hehehe!”
Dazzle’s arms were really straining now. He had both hands on the pump, grinding it down as he forced more air into…
“Dazzle, what the fuck are you pumping up there?”
He grinned back at me, and nodded at a closed door.
A valve poked through the keyhole.
The pump was attached to the valve.
Shiny black rubber protruded obscenely from the gaps around the door, and faint struggles could be heard from within.
“Holy shit, Dazzle. What’s in there??”
Dazzle’s grin grew wider, and he started to giggle.
I was going to ask if that was a bit dangerous, but at that moment the world ended.
It’s hard to describe the noise, or the wave of pressure, or the dark rain of shredded rubber that flitted down around us. Dazzle rolled on the floor, screaming with laughter, laughter I couldn’t hear.
All I could hear was a high whining.
Fuck. I was deaf.
The door that had held back the overinflated tyre was hanging open to reveal a filthy toilet. A scrawny teenager staggered out with wild hair and a nose bleed.
Like a silent movie, I watched as Dazzle grabbed him by the collar and frog marched him through the curtain, into the shop.
The hapless scrote was flung into the street, where he sat for a while in a small stream of rainwater, cigarette ends and jauntily floating crisp packets. After a short while he stumbled to his feet and wandered away.
The prostitute was no longer there.
The rain had begun to ease.
I turned to thank the lads for repairing my bike, but the shop was deserted. I couldn’t hear anyone, but then again, I couldn’t hear fuck all thanks to Dazzle’s theft deterrent.
I left the shop.
Climbed aboard my bike, rode away.
On a deserted patch of scrub land, a mournful horse grazed on grass and litter and watched as I rode past.
I looked at him, and he looked at me.
Where were all the cows?
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