My inspiration to write The Bicycle Path came from an Autumn bicycle ride. It was a beautiful late afternoon on a Sunday, a little misty because it had been raining earlier that day.
The late afternoon sunlight filtered through a hazy atmosphere making everything look like a Monet painting. There were still plenty of full color leaves on the trees, while many other trees had already dropped all their leaves for the year. Naked trees are interesting, even beautiful, black limbs against grey sky.
In the forest preserve, as I pedaled around on the bicycle/jogging path, I passed three gang members or wanna-be’s and then I rode past a lone female jogger. Thought it was risky for her to be out there by herself. I prayed for her protection as I continued on the 3+ mile loop.
I completed the loop and headed toward the park exit. A Cook County sheriff had arrived in his squad car waiting to close the park at sunset. After a quick debate in my mind, I stopped and told him about jogger just so someone would know she was there. I suggested that maybe if she didn’t appear in the parking lot before he closed the park, he should look for her.
Seemed like the right thing to do. If that woman was foolish enough to run on the back side of the mostly deserted park on a Sunday afternoon close to sunset, maybe she was foolish enough to not have told anyone where she was.
As I pedaled back home, I wondered if I had done the right thing, if what I did really mattered or if I was just overly concerned. That’s when I realized that if anything did happen to the jogger, the cop would remember me!
What I did still bothers me a little bit because of that, but I also still think that I did the right thing. I just didn’t think about the potential exposure to myself very much or dismissed it when alerted the police officer. It also required trust in the police to not manufacture evidence against me if anything happened to the girl and they didn’t have a suspect in hand.
On my way back home, my writer’s imagination kicked in. I entertained myself all the way. By the time I got home, I had a short story.
Another reason I wrote this story is to explore the ambiguity of apparent guilt or innocence that sometimes pops up. OJ Simpson comes to mind. Or so-called Black Widows – women whose husbands mysteriously die (Would you like some Glycol in your orange juice?). SIDS. The list of situations sadly goes on and on. These matters are troubling, more so when the accused seems like an average or decent person.
So, what would you have done? Would you have told the cop about the woman in an effort to help her if she didn’t show up? She’d get help sooner than waiting hours or a day or two before someone reported her missing. Or would you have just trusted (who?) that she would be OK and would exit the backside of the lonely path? Or does it depend on the circumstances too much to say what you’d do?