Hello old friends, and welcome new ones joining me from the Best of Boneshaker! Thanks for checking out my web page. There are lots of blog entries beneath this, but I want to sneak you an excerpt from my forthcoming novel, The Januarium, which will be available on Amazon as an ebook by the end of the month. 'Cause it's my birthday, and for my birthday, I'm making myself a novelist. I'll post a link to it once it's published.
The Januarium is a young adult/LGBT adventure in an alternative 1911 San Francisco. 16 year old inventor Tinker Martin’s father was born into slavery. Reparations and a group of Quakers enabled him to become a doctor, but Tinker worries slavery could return and is committed to designing a flying bicycle that anyone could build and use to claim their freedom. Her best friend Yuri is a bicycle courier who trades her scrap metal for bike repairs and understands her passion for things with gears and wings.
“Elizabishka!” cries Yuri, taking my first name, Elizabeth, and making it adorably Ukranian. He sweeps me up in a spinning hug. “Thank you for having me over to test machines and do laundry. I haven’t seen you in weeks! You have made the flicycle?” He reads the pain on my face. His mustache droops, following the corners of his mouth. “No! Well, with time. This is the washing mechanism, yes?” he takes in the scaffolding, the diamond frame, the rear wheel with the strap running around the hogshead. “I will load up my laundry, and you will tell me what happened.”
I glance at his bicycle in the corner. It’s his bakery delivery bike, with two huge wicker baskets hugging the rear wheel, now overflowing with smelly socks and shirtsleeves. Yuri follows my glance. “Don’t worry,” he says, “we line the panniers with big papers before we put in the bread.”
He loads the barrel while I tell him about the flight and the crash. His face goes bloodless when I get to the twisted frame and accordioned wings. He pats my shoulder, saying, “well, I hope you will let me try to fly next one.”
I blurt out an involuntary laugh, and say, “I think you’re too good a friend to risk on one of my harebrained contraptions.”
“Your heart is sore still from the crash. Let’s have a successful washing machine to remind you you’re not that dangerous.”
I smile at him and pour in five gallons of water I’ve set aside in a carboy, plus a handful of soap shavings. Yuri borrows my mallet to pound the lid on the barrel. He gets on the bike, gets off the bike, and adjusts the saddle so his knees aren’t up in his armpits. Then away he goes, doing what Yuri’s best at.
Skate wheels rattle against the barrel. I stop Yuri, adjust the angle, and the barrel spins smoothly. I can hear the water sloshing through the clothes inside. I’ll have to remember to paint the iron frame so nothing rusts. Things seem to work. I start the stove in the corner so I can start steaming Graciela’s window frame.
Yuri looks over at me, sheepish. “Tinker, I met a bicycle.”
“Is she pretty?” I ask, spoofing off his lovestruck tone.
“The prettiest.” His eyes roll heavenward. “She’s called the Slipstream, and she’s incredible. Diamond safety frame, of course, gear ratios for incredible power and speed, and, get this—she’s aluminum.”
I whistle, impressed. “Fast and light, rigid and responsive, also more brittle and horribly messy to make.” I begin carefully disassembling Graciela’s window sash.
“More expensive, too.”
“Ahh, but the good ones always are, aren’t they? How much?”
Yuri swallows nervously. “I have a little savings.”
“She fast enough you’d win races with her?”
Yuri looks sideways at me. “You know me as not a man who brags.” I wait for it. “I know the wheelmen in the area. Yes. With this bike I would win races.” He pedals on a while in reverie, then whispers, eyes narrowed, “Slipstream.”
“Well,” I say, grabbing an oil can and heading over to the bakery bike, “I hope you bring her home someday so I can meet her.” I start tuning up his bike while I wait. The salt air is so corrosive in San Francisco, and ungreased gears wear fast.
“Me, too,” he says, letting go of the handlebars to stretch his back while he pedals. “So what is on your mind these days? Making next plans for flying bicycle?”
“Have you been following this Januarium thing? It’s fascinating. They’re turning Alcatraz into a refrigerated arctic preserve.” I tighten the springs on his brake pads so they feel more responsive. Then I notice the front ones are unevenly worn. I grab a replacement pair from my kit.
“Yes, the Russian paper carries this story, too. I can’t imagine why in this lovely climate someone spends enormous money making this frozen hell.”
“You read Russian? I thought Ukrainian was quite different. And it won’t be hell,” I say, unaccountably offended. “There’ll be foxes and musk ox, living in a glittering a glass dome off the shore. It will be magical.” I see the brake pads wore that way because the wheel is bent out of true and rubbing wrong. I take it out of the fork, and start adjusting the tension on the spokes.
Yuri shakes his head, pedaling on. “Rich people are crazy. And, yes, I read Russian. I am a man of many talents.” He says, arching an eyebrow like a lothario. “Besides, there’s not enough Ukrainians here for our own news. Russian is not my home culture, but it takes an edge off homesickness.”
“Wow. That’s impressive.” I look up from the wheel for a moment, taking in my trilingual friend. “But you know what else is impressive? The Januarium! This Cantilever fellow isn’t just keeping pets, he’s using the cold and the animals to research inflammation and metabolism. His work could reverse degenerative disease, and extend human life!”
The bucket on the stove is boiling over. I slip a T-shaped chimney of pipe over the top. Soon, steam pours out the ends, and I slide the warped pieces of window frame in the top pipe. Since it’s oak, it will take an hour or more to soften. Plenty of time to finish the wheel, tighten the headset, and oil everything.
“You ask me, it’s unnatural. Sure, you’ll live forever--as world’s first immortal popsicle.” Yuri stops pedaling and his voice drops with intensity, “Tinker, I just made my first joke.”
“What do you mean? It wasn’t terribly funny.”
Yuri looks cross. “In Ukraine, I am what you call laugh-a-minute. Very funny guy. But you got to really know the language to make jokes. This is my first English joke. This is the first time Yuri the funny guy makes it over to United States.”
Given my first taste of Yuri’s humor, I’ll have to take “very funny guy” on faith. But Yuri's my chuckaboo, so I say, “You’re right, Yuri. That’s huge. We should do something to celebrate, to welcome Funny Yuri to the United States. First, though, let me check your socks.”