“It’s cold out there.”
“Proper parky, it is. You want to get wrapped up if you’re on the bike.”
“Icy too. Black ice, the worst kind. You can’t see it, you see. Nasty stuff, black ice.”
“Fffmm mm ffff.”
“Are you on the bike today then?”
I lean my bike against the wall, pull off my heavy gloves, unbuckle my helmet and pull the thick fleece face mask down under my chin.
“Yeah, I’m on the bike.”
Sasquatch blinks owlishly at me, blinks at my bike.
“You want to go steady, you do. It’s cold out there.”
“Cheers, Sasquatch. I’ll remember that.”
I wrap up again and wheel my bike out into the night.
The few slivers of skin still exposed to the air pucker and recoil as the cold slips in.
Sasquatch is right. It’s cold. Fucking cold.
Freezing mist billows in the car park flood lighting like fire smoke from a burning warehouse. There is no frost, there’s been no time for it to form. The cold has arrived with such speed that all water petrifies immediately, clear and clean and perfect.
I roll out of the car park, onto the road, heading home.
I keep my wheels on the dry road wherever possible. Dark patches are wet and wet might be ice and ice might be painful.
My back wheel kicks out occasionally, a regular little jolt of adrenaline to keep things interesting. I’m aiming to get off the main road as soon as possible, away from the cars, but until then I’m nervous. It was his fault, they’d say. I never saw him, they’d say. Silly cunt shouldn’t have been on a bike in that weather, they’d say.
Some of us don’t have a choice, I say.
I don’t want that conversation to happen.
I swing left, quiet roads, uphill drag.
Breathing is difficult through my fleece face mask. It’s usually fine, but not this time. I move my mouth and the material crackles. I reach up. A thick crust of ice covers the cloth. My breath is freezing.
Through my gloves the heat is leeching away. The heat replaced by pain. Needle pricks in the shape of my fingernails first. The ring finger of my left hand totally numb, the heat sucked out by the cold metal of my wedding band. A tiny gap between garments lets the mist in, creeping death, a ghost touch. Horrible.
Later I’ll read that the temperature hit minus fourteen, but numbers mean nothing right now.
I watch the wheel, watch the road.
The hill climbs up with trees looming low on either side and the limbs are lower tonight and there are black branches scattered here and there, ice loaded fingers that couldn’t take the weight and snapped. Cracks and groans in the woods, the black gleaming tree limbs like the shadow of past lightning against the sky, the cold bearing down on them, testing them.
A dead blackbird in the road. Not marked or harmed, killed by the cold. A sparrow, then another. Perfectly preserved, the work of a deranged guerrilla taxidermist.
I feel angry. That’s what I hate about February. The little things struggle through the Winter, hang on where others die, and just as the thaw starts a deep frost or a heavy snow arrives, punishing the little things for daring to hope. Little packets of warmth snuffed out in their holes, soft petals turned to ice and then slime, green shoots turned black. A brutal month.
A perfect line of shattered ice across the road. I look up, see the power lines sagging, overloaded, hear the fizz and crackle and I shudder involuntary. Million volts or something. Not nice.
A ping and clatter amongst my wheel spokes. Ice is growing there too, on every piece of bare metal. A heavy glaze, blurring the bike.
I push on.
The roads are so quiet, little traffic. I’m the only person alive, the only one unfrozen.
I ride past the dark gaps in the petrified trees where The Lofts once were, where the pigeons once flew, but now fog looms silently where the birds flew and the smoke belched and the birds died in their snapnecked pyre.
I press on.
The trees become houses and the hedgerows become gardens and I catch my shadow and my shadow catches me in the light of the lurid streetlights, and I pass empty mills and boarded up waste ground and a row of half empty shops where neon lights splutter and shopkeepers huddle alone, staring into the cold.
A dark side street, and I carefully stop.
The road is littered with strange things, gleaming, like blisters of bottle glass across the tarmac. I lean the bike against a wall and walk over to take a look.
I squat down, feel the deeper cold radiating from the ground.
They are frogs.
I feel sad again, angry. The frogs had been migrating from the waste ground, from beneath the rocks and shattered concrete of a demolished factory where they had slept throughout winter and as the season changed they had emerged, heading to the ponds further up the hill to spawn.
But the ice has stopped that.
The frog has a fine skirt of ice around it, moulding it to the tarmac. Each frog the same – glazed, petrified.
With a gloved finger I push the frog and it lifts away easily, perfect and undamaged, and I see a little pulse in the throat.
It is alive.
The torpor that has protected it all Winter protects it now, but it can’t protect it forever. The road is quiet, but that won’t last long. A couple of cars would wipe them all out, over a dozen frogs, a generation.
I have a think.
I have an idea.
I unstrap the flap on my big bike pannier, rummage through my work clothes and find my lunch box. I reckon it’s big enough. Lucky I’m such a greedy bastard.
I walk along the road, stooping to scoop up every frog I find, frogs the size of a fifty pence piece, frogs the size of my palm. One at a time I pop them in the box until the box is full and the road is clear. I replace the lid, leaving a small gap for air.
The lunch box feels incredible. The weight of it. Full to the top with frogs. I nestle it carefully back in the pannier amongst the warm clothes and climb back on the bike, push the pedals.
I keep an eye out for more frogs but there are none.
Up the road, past the houses to the overgrown fields and crack trunked willows, shambolic bramble nests, the skeletons of teasle and cow parsley. Beyond are the ponds, deep, their banks overgrown and unfishable. I climb off the bike and unfasten the pannier, carefully lift out the heavy lunchbox. I prise open the lid and look inside.
“Oh… oh you dirty little bastards.”
Inside, the frogs are fucking.
The warmth of my clothing around them and the scent of lady frogs has awoken the male frogs with impressive speed. Spring has sprung where my sandwiches and Club biscuit and Monster Munch usually reside.
At first I’m pretty disgusted. The writhing mass of slimy sex amongst the half melted wet of the ice was pretty gross, an amphibian orgy in Tupperware. But then a thought dawns on me.
This is the first time in the history of planet earth that this event has occurred.
I feel pretty confident that at no time in history has a man stopped to collect frozen frogs in his lunchbox, triggering a pannier based sex fest on a bike.
I am astonished.
These creatures were as good as dead and here they are, creating life. Small frogs on big frogs, big frogs on small frogs, frogs on frogs on frogs.
All fucking like mad.
I creep across the fields to the ponds, the grass crunching under my cycling shoes like sugar glass. With great care, not wanting to uncouple any of the aquatic amoures, I tip the contents of my lunchbox of love into the black water of the pond. I know the cold hasn’t had chance to penetrate the depths of the water – it would take a week to change it’s average temperature. Still in their clinches the frogs paddle down into the deep and disappear.
I don’t know why, but I say, “Go, my pretties, and fuck yourself silly in the darkness.”
I hear a cough.
I look up and see two teenagers who’d been copping off behind a tree, watching me.
There is a very uncomfortable moment.
A masked man in lycra, crouching, uttering strange sentences, staring at youngsters fingering in the woods.
Wouldn’t look good on the front page of the Yorkshire Evening post.
There is only one thing I can do.
I stand up, draw myself to my full height and bellow, “GO, MY PRETTIES, AND FUCK YOURSELF SILLY IN THE DARKNESS!”
Within moments I am alone. I hear their footsteps echoing in the distant street.
I return to my bike, put my lunchbox in the pannier, then I pedal home.
The next day I buy a new lunchbox.
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