Ren Wednesday is a nonbinary queer writer and zine-maker who escaped London for Glasgow and doesn’t want to go back. Their work is often concerned with feelings, textures, peculiarities and reality-slips. Their zine High Precision Ghosts, about Graham Chapman and growing up under Section 28 is part of a collection at the Museum of Youth Culture.
Frankie Cycles On
by Ren Wednesday
“I’m going,” said Frankie, and left. The bike’s kickstand snapped back with a metallic thunk and she put her weight onto the pedals, lifting off the seat to get traction. She glanced over her shoulder to where her girlfriend—her ex-girlfriend—stood outside the closed restaurant. Cora was looking down, only the top of her head illuminated by the streetlamp. Frankie rode on.
She pumped the pedals and shouted wordless frustration into the night; the sound echoed off the sandstone buildings and some pub stragglers answered with a mocking cheer. At the top of the road, she ran a red light into the path of a minicab. It blared its horn and sweat prickled her forehead as she swerved onto Great Western Road. Frankie spat, the beery glob of saliva splatting on the tarmac. She’d take the long way home, through the park. It would give her time to think.
She was about to turn right, towards the University, when a fox crossed the road ahead of her. It was a scraggly one, its tail sparse like a tree struggling to thrive.
“Not looking too great there, pal,” said Frankie.
“You’ve looked better yourself, if we’re dropping truth bombs,” said the fox.
Frankie startled, hit a pothole, lurched sideways off the bike and smacked her shin on the pedal. The bike bell jingled. Not only had the fox just spoken, it had done so in a familiar voice. It was that of her first boyfriend, Charlie, a bartending stoner who liked to take her dumpster diving for out-of-date food in the bins behind the Co-op. She hadn’t seen him in six years. When she righted herself the fox was dawdling at the entrance to the side street, as if waiting for her.
“Charlie?” she said.
“‘Sup,” said the fox.
“Why are you a fox?”
The fox scratched behind its ear. “Last thing I remember is eating some mushrooms, so I guess I’m hallucinating?”
“What? That’s not—” Frankie looked around, hoping to run this new reality by another person, but the street was empty. At a loss for what else to do, she got back on the bike. The fox, Charlie, followed her.
“Don’t worry. It’s chill. I think I’m a fox just for tonight,” he said.
“Well, I can’t deal with that right now, so I’m going to ignore you.”
They passed a red-bricked High School and rows of bay-windowed tenements. The area reminded Frankie of studying for, and dropping out of, her degree programme. The flush of shame that came with that memory was comforting in its normality. That was the real world, not ex-boyfriends in the form of foxes. She accelerated to shake him off, the exertion making her sweaty. Charlie matched her pace. She slowed.
“Look, can you just go?” she said.
The fox thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think so. I’ve got this sense that hanging out with you is, like, my one true purpose as a fox, or something. I don’t want a bad trip.”
Frankie couldn’t tell if he was serious. Did foxes always look like they were smirking?
“Ugh, fine,” she said. “Just follow behind, then? No offence, but this is really weird.”
“As you wish.”
“I warn you, I’m not in a good mood. I think I just broke up with my girlfriend.”
Frankie stopped at the bottom of the street to catch her breath and inspect her scraped shin, disappointed that there wasn’t more blood. Charlie took the opportunity to lift his leg against a lamppost.
“Urgh,” said Frankie looking away from the jet of yellow piss.
“You’re still breaking up with people then?” he said.
Frankie ignored him. They passed the patchouli-scented tea shop popular with students—she’d fought with Cora there too, over cups of an acrid herbal tea called ‘Faeries Blood’. Outside the shop, a magpie perching on a mossy balustrade chattered, then took flight, gliding above Frankie’s head.
“Evening, babe,” it said.
“Oh no, not you.” Frankie pedalled fast, then hit traffic calming bumps that rattled the bike.
“What kind of greeting’s that?”
The magpie landed on Frankie’s handlebars and extended a black and white wing towards Charlie.
“I’m Elena,” the magpie said. “Frankie’s my problematic ex. And you?”
“Charlie. Frankie dumped me, but it’s cool.”
Elena’s eyes glinted. “Charlie?”
A food courier approached on an e-bike, a Spotify ad crackling from his phone. The animals drifted away from Frankie, then returned as he retreated.
“— As in, the Charlie who Frankie ditched just before going backpacking in Chile with, because she realised she was a les—”
“God!” Frankie swatted at the bird, who easily evaded her arm.
“Yup,” said Charlie. “That’s the one.”
Elena laughed a magpie cackle.
At the bottom of the street, Frankie caught the glint of broken glass too late. She swerved, but it was no use. The ground vibrated through the back wheel as it lost pressure.
“Shit.” Frankie got off the bike and looked at the deflating back tire. “Shit!” She let the bike clatter to the road and kicked at it in frustration, aware that she was being childish.
“Come on, babe. Breaking your toe isn’t going to help anything,” said Elena.
“Shame I’m a fox right now,” said Charlie. “I’m a boss at fixing punctures.”
Frankie picked up the bike with bad grace and walked it up the dark slope at the entrance to the park.
“You’re going through the park at this time?” said Elena, hanging back.
Frankie turned to her hangers-on. “If you don’t like it, feel free to leave!” she said. “Why are you two even here? What do you want?”
Charlie looked up from investigating a ketchup-smeared takeaway box. “I told you. I ate some weird mushrooms and I’m tripping balls,” he said.
Elena flew to the bike’s handlebars, clipping Frankie on the side of the head with a wing as she passed.
“There’s obviously some powerful magic going on,” she said, “If only I had my tarot deck!”
Frankie stared. “Since when are you into tarot?”
“My girlfriend does readings. That’s how we met, actually.”
Frankie turned away from her, struck by a stab of jealousy. The magpie continued.
“So, my theory is you tapped into some ambient energy and manifested us here.”
“Seriously? Why would I possibly want to manifest my exes? Seems more like a cosmic punishment to me.” Frankie took a shortcut through the grass, her hi-tops dampening with dew. The bike’s back wheel dragged on the soft surface, and she yanked it onwards.
“I’m actually reading this book and it explains everything,” said Charlie. “Like, psychics, ghosts, lucid dreams, whatever—it’s all because the universe is a hologram.”
“See? the fox gets it!” Elena flew down and attempted an interspecies high-five.
The path they joined was unlit and cracked by tree roots, and Frankie stumbled; the bike seat hit her in the small of the back and Elena flew up in alarm.
“Careful,” said Charlie, “I don’t want to drag you to A&E by the ankles.”
Frankie adjusted the headlamp to send more light ahead. The tarmac was so uneven that she had to concentrate on steering the bike through its hills and valleys.
“While I’m here I might as well be nosy,” said Elena “You got a special someone?”
“She thinks she just broke up with her girlfriend,” said Charlie, helpfully.
“Urgh, I don’t know,” said Frankie, kicking a fallen branch out of the path. “I don’t understand her sometimes. She’s so calm all the time.”
“I like calm,” said Charlie.
“Sure, but she’s totally unbothered.”
“You want her to be bothered?” The white in Elena’s wings caught the bike’s front light.
“I don’t know! I guess? I’d like her to react to things sometimes!”
They crossed a bridge over the River Kelvin. Ponderous statues sat on either end, folds of cast-iron fabric draped around their feet. Cora had used this bridge in an art project last year, painted herself grey and posed among the statues while Frankie took photos. There had been grey streaks around her bathtub for weeks.
“What do you want her to react to, babe?”
Frankie thought about the fight at the restaurant. How she’d flirted with the waitress with the art-school mullet to antagonise Cora, and then got upset when her girlfriend didn’t take the bait. She shook her head.
Over the bridge, the smell of weed drifted towards them from a couple of guys smoking on a bench. Charlie perked up, but Frankie and Elena drew away, Frankie feeling in her pocket for the sturdy key to her flat’s backcourt and gripping it in her fist. The men ignored them and Frankie turned, relieved, onto an avenue of sprawling horse chestnut trees. She was about to scold Elena for making her paranoid about the park when something scuttled, loud and sudden, above their heads. Frankie yelped and Elena took flight in a noisy flapping of wings. A squirrel ran into view across a low branch, shaking loose leaves onto the path.
“Francesca?” the squirrel chattered. “Is that you? It’s me, Safiye.”
“Oh, it’s another one!” said Elena, “Come and join us Miss Squirrel, where do you sit in the pantheon of exes?”
“Oh no, I’m not—” said the squirrel.
“She’s not—” said Frankie. The squirrel dropped to the path in front of the bike. Frankie swerved around her and kept going, calling over her shoulder.
“Safiye, hi! How are you? It’s been a while!”
Safiye scurried along the tarmac.
“Yeah, I’m not bad, keeping busy. I live in Leeds now, working at a publishing company—um, I don’t understand what’s happening?”
“None of us do, love,” said Elena. “We think the universe might be a hologram? Hey, Frankie—where’s your manners? Let—what was your name? Safiye? Such a pretty name! Let Safiye hop up on your whatsit.”
Reluctantly, Frankie let Safiye climb onto the bike rack. Elena perched beside her.
“So, not an ex?” said Elena.
“No. We were friends back in school.”
“Yep, we were school friends,” said Frankie. “Ages ago. Years and years ago.”
“Right…” Elena leaned closer to Safiye. “It’s okay. You can tell us the truth. Did Frankie dump you, too? Friend dump you?”
Frankie pinged the bike bell. “Elena! Butt out!”
“She’s in a bad mood,” stage-whispered the magpie.
They were back on the road now, a streetlamp-lined avenue bisecting the park. Charlie darted ahead to the minced remains of a pigeon—just feathers jutting out of tire-flattened pink mulch. Elena left Safiye’s side and flapped over to have a peck.
“I’m going to be sick,” said Frankie.
Charlie looked at her with a blood-flecked snout. “When in Rome,” he said.
“We’re animals, babe!” Elena’s voice was muffled by a beakful of carrion.
Sour bile rose in Frankie’s throat and she marched the bike past them. Their bickering voices followed her, tussling over the meat. As she crossed the street at the edge of the park, snuffling gulps came from the bike rack.
“Hey, it’s okay…” said Frankie.
“Is it? I was in Marbella!” said Safiye.
“That sounds nice?”
“It was nice! I was a bridesmaid! We went paddle-boarding!” Safiye swallowed hard. “And now I’m a squirrel in a strange park with…”
“With me, yeah. Sorry.”
Safiye snorted an unhappy laugh. “If you’re apologising to me, I really must be dreaming.”
Frankie didn’t know what to say. She was relieved when Charlie and Elena caught up to the bike at the lights, Elena giggling at Charlie’s attempts to remove burs from his fur with his teeth.
Frankie turned onto Argyle Street, and they passed a bar with a dark wood interior where she and Elena had once spent half a paycheck on French Martinis.
“Now that was a good night,” said Elena, nodding towards it before settling back on the bike rack next to Safiye.
“You alright there, love?” she said. “You seem too nice a girl to be mixed up with Frankie.”
“Are you actually flirting with her right now?” said Frankie.
“I’m not flirting. I’m showing basic human compassion, you arsehole!” Elena spat something from her beak that hit Frankie’s back. Elena yelped. Charlie snickered.
Safiye’s voice was quiet.
“You were right, Elena. Me and Francesca—Frankie, we were best friends ‘til year nine. Then she just dumped me. It really hurt my feelings, if I’m honest.”
Frankie turned round to look at Safiye. Elena had a wing around her small grey body. “I’m sorry, yeah?” Frankie said. “I was a jerk.”
On the other side of the road, a woman in a dressing gown taking her dog out stared at their odd procession.
“Mm,” said Safiye. “Do I want to know why you did it? I probably shouldn’t ask.”
Frankie gripped the handlebars tight. “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t.” She took a breath and pulled the words from deep in her body.
“I had feelings for you, okay? Typical crush on straight best friend stuff, though at the time it felt—anyway… You weren’t interested, and I was freaked out by how I felt, so I just thought it’d be simpler to start over.” Frankie stared ahead, concentrated on the bike pedals ticking over.
“Oh!” said Safiye, “I had no idea!”
“No! I mean, I guess looking back… but you know you could have said something, Frankie? Like, my brother’s gay. I wouldn’t have told anyone—”
“I know. I wanted to say something later, but it was like, ‘She hates me now.’”
Frankie weaved the bike through the barriers and into the overpass crossing the motorway, its plexiglass sides opaque with the scratched remains of layers of advertising.
“Well, I appreciate you saying it now. Even if… you know, none of this is really real.”
“Even dreams are real, in a way,” said Elena.
“Truth.” Charlie extended a paw and Elena bumped it with her wing. “While we’re clearing the air— Charlie, is there anything you want to say to the woman of the hour?”
The fox padded along in thought for a moment.
“It doesn’t keep me up at night,” he said, “but I do sometimes wonder if you ever went on that backpacking trip.”
Frankie groaned. “Oh God, okay.” She recited the story in a sing-song: “I flew to Santiago, got a full twenty-four hours in there before a friend back home confessed their love for me and I flew back and blew the rest of the money on cheap vodka and takeaway.”
Charlie barked a laugh and Frankie smiled a reluctant smile. The bike chain clicked as they descended the concrete slope of the overpass. “I am a fucking mess, right enough,” Frankie said.
They cut behind the hotel where Frankie had accompanied Cora to her cousin’s wedding. The smell of the fir trees reminded her of the two of them escaping outside for a smoke and a whinge when the acoustic Ed Sheeran covers had become too much. What was Cora doing now? Crying on the phone to her sister? Cursing Frankie in her journal? Probably just sleeping, Frankie decided, still and unbothered.
“I want my turn,” said Elena.
She perched between the handlebars and faced Frankie, her iridescent blue-green feathers glistening under the streetlamp.
“You broke my heart, obviously.”
“I know,” said Frankie.
“But I gave you a lot of hassle.” Elena twitched her tail feathers. “And you probably didn’t deserve all of it.”
“Kind of you to say.”
The bike vibrated as Frankie wheeled it over a patch of cobblestones.
“Maybe it’s just the romantic setting,” said Elena, as they passed the industrial wheelie bins at the back of the hotel, “but I’m feeling nostalgic tonight. I do wish it had ended better between us.” The tip of her wing brushed Frankie’s hand.
“Me too,” said Frankie.
They were at the edge of the Clyde and Frankie walked the bike along the riverside. A cool breeze blew off the water that filled her nostrils with the vegetal smell of river mud. As the beam of the headlamp shone on the railings, it spotlighted fat spiders hanging in webs between the struts. Normally, Frankie would have recoiled, but tonight she felt a strange tenderness towards them; the spiders could have their moment, too.
They crossed the metal span of the footbridge—Elena perched on the handlebars, Safiye on the bike rack, and Charlie trotting close to Frankie’s legs. The girl, the fox, the magpie, and the squirrel were held together for an instant at the peak of the bridge as if they were one creature of tails, wings, limbs, and wheels. Across the Clyde, the criss-cross girders of the vast shipbuilding crane and the silver arc of the Squinty Bridge stood out against the sky. Then, the moment passed, and Frankie reached a stop on the other side. The animals and the girl looked at one another, and Charlie nodded.
“Well, I think that’s my purpose fulfilled,” he said. “Later, guys. It’s been a good trip.”
“I’m off, too,” said Safiye. “Um. I’m glad we could talk.”
The fox and the squirrel disappeared into the winding paths of the Science Centre garden and Elena waved them goodbye with a wing. Frankie held out a hand to stroke the magpie’s sleek head. She didn’t move away.
“D’you think we could be friends, despite it all?” she said.
Elena stretched her black-tipped wings. “Well, if tonight’s shown me anything it’s that we’re part of each other’s lives whether we like it or not.” She rubbed her head into Frankie’s hand. “But I think I could grow to like it.” Elena took flight, and Frankie watched until she was hidden by the dark outlines of the trees.
At the riverside, a black-headed gull flapped onto a bench. Frankie propped the bike next to it and sat down.
“I’ve been a dick to you,” she said.
“Yes,” said Cora.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me. I don’t think you should, really. But I am sorry.” Cora looked at her with round black pupils ringed in white.
“I feel like you want something from me,” she said, “but I don’t know what it is.”
Frankie dropped forward on her forearms and talked to the river.
“I want you to be passionate about me. I want you to care if I stay or go. I want to feel that I’m worth fighting for.” She blinked, and the lights from the buildings blurred, coloured ink dropped in water.
Cora pecked at her feathers with a curved red beak. “Jealousy isn’t the same as passion. You know that, right? Because if we do try this again it’s really important that you know that.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Okay then.” Cora sat down, settling into the bench. They sat without speaking for a moment.
“You’re taking this whole animal thing very well,” said Frankie, waving a hand towards her. She rubbed the lump forming on her shin. It felt like an age since she had fallen off her bike on Great Western Road.
“Elena thinks I manifested this. She’s gone all woo because her new girlfriend’s a tarot reader. I don’t know. Maybe we should go for a drink with them some time. If you want.”
The gull squawked, loud and startling.
The bird tipped its head towards her and chattered, and Frankie realised it was no longer Cora, just an ordinary black-headed gull. It hunched its neck into its body, chirped and hopped off the bench to join its fellow.
“Oh,” said Frankie. She watched the two gulls flap and squawk away across the river.
Frankie took out her phone, then put it away again. She looked at her palms, calloused from bike-riding. She looked at the deflated back tire of her bike. Across Glasgow, foxes trotted down quiet streets, magpies perched on drainpipes, and squirrels scaled pebbledash flats. For a moment, Frankie felt the presence of all the creatures in the city, as if they were held together in one web. Then she gave the river a salute, picked up her bike, and pointed it south. The universe would need to save any further revelations for another night. Frankie was going home.
Copyright 2022 by Ren Wednesday