So, I took up bike riding not too long ago as a way to trick my body into thinking its having fun while getting exercise so I can stop wheezing like Darth Vader every time I go up a staircase. There’s a nice little bike trail by my house and while occasionally I’ll pass other people on bikes and do that “Hi, I am on a bike and you are on a bike too, we are on bikes” head nod thing, mostly I’m by myself with nothing but the sound of cars passing nearby and Various Outdoor Creatures. So I’m usually all alone when I get to my favorite part, this overpass tunnel that the bike path cuts through. On one side is a canal (though me and my romantic notions would refer to it as a river, but more on that later), and after a heavy rain the water encroaches onto the path, reaching for the tips of my sneakers as the pedals cycle downwards. On the other side are uneven stacks of rocky concrete chunks piled against the overpass wall. It’s cool and dark and the acoustics turn the rumble of cars passing overhead into an encompassing roar that’s part wave and part runaway train. It’s downhill either side of it and so I’m always speeding through in a moment that stretches out in time with the wall of noise, with the lapping of the water. A moment of unreality, darkness and sound. As soon as I get my bike out for a ride, I’m already thinking about the tunnel.
But it’s also a lie.
Not literally, you can come to my house (no you can’t), find the bike path and follow it and see the tunnel for yourself, it’s definitely a thing that exists. But you’d be disappointed. It is after all, just an overpass with a canal on one side. Even walking, you’re barely in it for more than thirty seconds. It’s also smack in the middle of Boca Raton, which is like trying to put the portal to Narnia in an Office Depot, (unlike Bed, Bath Beyond, which I’m pretty sure actually has the portal to Narnia in it).
But a sad overpass does not make for an interesting story, and that’s where the lying comes in and the title of this thing starts to make a little more sense. Because the essential job of the writer, the fiction writer at least, is to lie. Even in the most real of realist pieces that are the written equivalent of those hyperrealist paintings that look like photographs, there’s some lying involved because who would want to read a story where things are presented exactly as they are?
(Boring people, maybe?)
Because you have to sell it, you have to make it interesting, worth someone sitting down and reading all the way through and if the story you tell is, “I like bike riding and sometimes I bike under an overpass and there’s a canal,” there’s nothing there. It’s perfectly accurate but also perfectly dull and uninteresting. So you have to lie. And not in the sense where the tunnel is now lengthened by ten, the water flowing thick and black and as you pedal you hear the faint, disembodied sounds of a child crying. Because that’s just ridiculous. But all it takes is a small change, a touch of the eerie, a splash of difference that can elevate it from the mundane to the intriguing and make it something that someone wants to read. Because everyone can go and see an overpass but not everyone has felt the cool air caressing their arms and legs and hot, red face as their ears ring with endlessly repeating echoes that all vanish as soon at the tires of the bike touch sunlight.
The overpass tunnel is my favorite part of the bike trail because of its potential. All it takes are few changes here and there, a few choice tweaks, and it can become something more than the truth could ever make it. Because when you build something up, craft it to be more than it is, when you lie, that’s when you get something worth talking about, that’s when you start to approach a greater truth.
Or at least, an interesting story.
Megan Hesse is a second year MFA student, with a BA in Literature and a PhD in Making Questionable Decisions. If you happen to see her riding her bike, try not to laugh too hard.