Maisy looked at the bike and wrinkled her nose. It used to be red. It was a kind of rusty brown now, with two flat tyres, and a sad, abandoned air.
“It’s a magic bike,” said Jack. He was trying to cheer her up. They were in a new house. This was the third one this year. Maisy looked at him and wrinkled her nose again.
Aunt Sally and Uncle Allan weren’t bad, not really, Jack thought. Just today, he’d asked Uncle Allan if there were any bikes they could ride. There was one his size. It wasn’t too bad, just a little dusty. The only one that was small enough for Maisy though was this rusty monstrosity in front of them now.
“Well now,” said Uncle Allan. “I’ll just put some air in the tyres. It’ll be fine.” He wandered off to find the pump, hitching up his jeans as he walked.
Maisy sat down on the front veranda and put her chin in her hands. “Hey Maisy, did you hear me? Its a magic bike. Really.” Jack made his voice bright and cheery.
Maisy frowned. “It’s not a magic bike. It’s old and broken. And it doesn’t even have training wheels on it. I can’t ride without training wheels.”
“Sure you can. I’ll teach you.” Jack tried again, with his bright voice.
Maisy just frowned at him.
Uncle Allan pumped up the tyres, and Aunt Sally found an old rag to wipe off the dust and spiderwebs, and then the bike was ready to go.
“Just go up there, on the gravel track behind the house,” Uncle Allan pointed.
“Thanks Uncle Allan,” said Jack.
“You’re not my real uncle,” said Maisy, under her breath.
Jack ran alongside Maisy as she pedalled, holding the back of her seat. As soon as he thought she had her balance, he let go. The rusty old bike shot forwards, with Maisy’s feet on the pedals almost a blur. Jack ran as fast as he could, ready to catch Maisy if she fell. It was her first time riding without training wheels, but it looked like she was doing fine. Jack was puffing hard, but he couldn’t keep up with the old bike.
“Jack!” Yelled Maisy, as she bumped over the rough stones, her blonde hair flying behind her at the back of her helmet. She rode all the way down to the end of the dirt track, then put on the brakes, skidding to a gentle stop. Jack finally caught up. “Are you ok?”
“I couldn’t stop. Maybe it really is a magic bike.”
“Well you didn’t fall off.”
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll walk back to the house though.”
“Can I get a new bike?”
Aunt Sally was peeling carrots for dinner. She looked over her glasses at Maisy. “Oh, love, we don’t even know how long you’re going to be here for. We can’t just get a new bike for every new kid that comes to stay.”
“You’re not my real aunty.” Maisy whispered as she walked out of the kitchen, only just loud enough to hear.
They tried the bike again. Once again, Jack ran alongside for as long as he could. Then the bike took off, kicking up a cloud of dust as it raced to the end of the track, before skidding to a stop.
“Wow. I guess you can ride without training wheels now,” puffed Jack, as he caught up.
“I guess. I think maybe it was the bike though.”
“Well why don’t you try again, maybe a bit slower?”
Jack helped Maisy steady herself, and she rode all the way back to the house, without even a wobble.
“I’ve got a magic bike,” Maisy told Mum.
“Yeah, have you sweetie?” Mum sounded far away, on the other end of the phone line.
“Yep. It goes all by itself. It doesn’t let me fall off either.”
“That’s lovely, sweet pea. How’s the new home?”
“They’re all right. I miss you though.”
“I miss you too Maisy May.”
Jack rode ahead of Maisy down the dirt track. He twisted his handle bars, snaking his tyres in the dirt. Maisy’s bike followed, snaking perfectly behind him. Jack aimed for a little bump in the path, jumping his front tyre off the ground. Maisy’s bike did the same. He raced to the end of the trail, jamming on his brakes just before the dirt ran out, skidding in a semi-circle. Maisy’s bike did exactly the same, spitting out a spray of dust from the back tyre.
“Wow Maisy, you’re getting pretty good.”
Maisy shook her head. “I didn’t do any of it. Honest. It’s the bike.”
Back at the house, they dialled Mum’s number. It was one of the old phones, attached to the wall, with buttons that beeped when you pressed them. The phone rang and rang.
“It’s ok Maisy, she’ll answer next week.” Jack used his bright voice, even though he didn’t feel very cheery. “She’s got a lot going on, you know.”
Maisy frowned, and went outside, slamming the door behind her. The rusty bike was lying by the front verandah. She kicked the tyre hard. “Stupid bike.”
“Come on Maise. Let’s go for a ride. It might cheer you up.”
Maisy wrinkled her nose at him, but she picked up the bike. They rode to the back of the house, and down the track. The rusty red bike suddenly swerved towards the edge of the road, and stopped hard. Maisy flew over the handlebars and landed in the ditch. There was a bit of muddy water there, in amongst the grass, and she came down with a splash. Jack skidded to a stop and turned around to look at her, his hand covering his mouth. Maisy wrinkled her nose, and then she smiled. She climbed out of the ditch, dripping muddy water. On the way home, the bike worked perfectly.
Mum didn’t answer the phone again. Maisy decided to run away and find her. Maybe Mum had been captured by pirates, or was busy fighting a dragon. Maisy should help her. She packed her backpack with all her important things. She took her favourite green t-shirt, and her soft pink unicorn pyjamas, plus the bracelet Mum had given her, and her sticker book. In the kitchen, she took two apples, and crept out of the front door. She rode the rusty bike down the front driveway. At the front gate, the bike spun in a circle, making Maisy squeal. It went all the way back to the front of the house, even though Maisy squeezed the brakes hard. She tried again, and again, but each time, the bike turned at the front gate and went back to the house. On the fourth try, the bike tipped sideways, dumping Maisy into the dirt near the front steps.
“Want to talk about it?” asked Uncle Allan.
“No,” said Maisy, but she sat next to him on the front veranda for a while, quietly kicking her feet.
At Christmas time, Maisy and Jack each got a big box, wrapped in bright paper.
“New bikes!” Maisy’s bike was shiny blue and green, with ribbons on the handle bars.
“Well, you kiddos have been with us for a while now. About time you got new bikes. And we were thinking maybe you’d stay for a while.” Maisy hugged Aunt Sally and Uncle Allan, and didn’t whisper anything under her breath.
Best of all, for Christmas, they got a visit with Mum. She hugged them and cried, and gave them chocolate and toys. A remote control car for Jack, and an electronic dog for Maisy. When you pressed the button, the dog barked and did a backflip.
When it was time to go, Mum cried again. “I love you both. I’ll see you soon.” Maisy didn’t know if ‘soon’ would be a long time or a short time. It was ok though, because her mum would always come back, when she had finished fighting dragons and pirates.
After all the Christmas leftovers were eaten, and the tree was taken down, Uncle Allan said, “Well, maybe I’ll take this old rusty bike to the rubbish dump, now that you’ve got a new one.”
“No!” said Maisy and Jack together.
“Let’s keep it,” Maisy said. “Just in case.”