I didn’t hear it coming. I was walking west on B—Street in lower Manhattan, minding my own business in my own neighborhood, enjoying the careless sunshine on the wide, uncrowded sidewalk, trying to avoid the cracks. Suddenly a bicycle sailed up from behind and tore past me on the sidewalk, just grazing my left sleeve. I uttered a startled shriek and heard the bicyclist laugh in response. I caught a glimpse of him, the pumping of a muscled thigh in black tights, the matching jersey with its bold yellow stripe hunched forward over the handlebars, so like the cycling outfit my ex-husband used to wear—could it be he? But what would he be doing so far downtown? “You asshole!” I shouted after him, and his laughter became uproarious. He sped by a woman and a young child walking toward me and disappeared around a corner. My heart pounded, his laughter rang in my ears, and I felt the air rush from my lungs as if sucked out by his slipstream, leaving me empty and gasping.
“Did you see that?” I asked the woman, who had drawn abreast of me, clinging to the little girl’s hand. “Did you see that maniac almost knock me down?”
She didn’t answer, but hurried on by, pulling the child away from me, as I might once have pulled my own daughter away from a feral dog.
“Bicyclists! Silent killers!” I called after her. “They come from behind. You can’t hear them coming. You can’t see them!” Desperate for a witness, I started to follow her. She picked up her child and quickened her pace. “What are they doing on the sidewalks? They ride the wrong way down one-way streets! They speed through red lights!” I shouted at her, beginning to trot. “The mayor gives them special lanes. But do they use them?” The woman was running toward M—Street and I was chasing her, huffing and puffing. Other pedestrians stopped to stare at us, but I didn’t bother with them. They hadn’t seen the bicyclist. This woman had. “They have no limits—they’re lawless anarchists! Two-wheeled gangsters!” I was feeling a terrible pain in my chest. Was I suffering a heart attack? The woman was gaining ground, even with the burden of the child. I slowed to a stop and cried after her, “Don’t think you’re safe! One day it will be you, and your child, the bicyclist hits!”
That night as I tossed and turned in bed, the scene spun through my mind in an endless loop. Rush of air. Shriek. Laughter. I pinpointed the exact moment at which, if only I had acted more quickly, I could have knocked the rider off the bicycle. I could have sent him flying over the handlebars and sprawling on the sidewalk, or even sliding under the wheels of an oncoming car. The image filled me with such excitement and such anguish that I couldn’t sleep. I got up and found my old wedding album, under the dust of twenty-five years. I looked through it until I encountered a once-favorite photograph: the young couple (my husband and I) lean forward toward the camera, radiating an idiotic happiness, and bend over the wedding cake to make the all-important first cut. His appearance: golden-haired, virile, intellectual, a rebel. But for the first time I noticed how his hand wraps around hers as she grips the knife, and on his face is an intent, masterful, one might say, controlling expression, as if he will never let go. I slipped the photo from the album and put it in an envelope.
The very next morning the bicyclist struck again. This time in Brooklyn. I was coming from the subway on my way to work. I admit I was distracted, on edge, waiting for the results of a biopsy—is there anything more nerve-wracking? I barely saw the intersection in front of my office building. I crossed the street with the light, of that I’m dead certain, only to be cut off—by the streak of a bicyclist. I didn’t see him clearly (Was there black? Was there yellow?), but I heard his loud call—“Woo-wooo!”
My ex-husband’s voice.
Again! In a different borough! I froze, looking around for him, but he was gone. What did it mean? His woo-wooo echoed in my brain. Was it a warning…a threat, or … a cry of longing? Maybe his new marriage to the young designer wasn’t going well. I barely made it to the curb before a UPS truck hurtled by. I had to get to the bottom of this. I raced into my office, threw down my bag, and dialed my ex-husband’s number. There was no answer. “What are you up to?” I said into the answering machine. “You can’t get away with this. There are laws! I’ll get a court order.”
My colleagues expressed concern, but I reassured them that I could handle it. I took some calming yoga breaths and got to work checking emails, setting up meetings, dispensing advice, entering records into the database. It is possible to lose oneself entirely in one’s work, especially when the work is doing good for the downtrodden. The morning was productive and at the afternoon staff meeting I reported on the progress I’d made in several new ventures, to everyone’s satisfaction. After the meeting I told my boss I had an urgent matter to attend to and due to the informality of our organization (several members of the staff have had their nervous breakdowns on the office couch) he had no objection to my leaving early.
Immediately upon leaving work the full force of my situation struck me, the looming unexplained reappearance of my lost marriage in my life, after I thought I was done with heartbreak, self-pity, and all those loathsome sentiments of an unsolicited divorce. I took the subway back into the city and went directly to my ex-husband’s address on the Upper West Side—a vast, ornate apartment building known as the Versailles. I strode through its arched entry as if I belonged there, through the wrought iron and gilt gates beyond which I could see the courtyard with its oval drive, where a few BMWs and Mercedes were parked under the trees. I was stopped by the Russian doorman, who asked my business. I inquired if Mr. Wolfe had come in. “I find out if he’s home,” the Russian said, picking up the phone. “Who should I say is callink?” The accent made him sound sinister.
“No! Just give him this,” I said. I handed the doorman the envelope containing the wedding picture. I hoped to show my husband that the marriage had been doomed from that first slice (although admittedly it had endured for twenty-four years through the raising of children and the meteoric rise in fortune, before the young designer appeared) and convince him to give up his harassment.
And yet, it continued. I returned home from delivering my message to find a bicycle locked to the signpost directly in front of the door of my building. Incensed, I looked around for its owner. People strolled up and down the street, oblivious to my consternation. I was exhausted from an overactive day. The bicycle in my face was really too much to bear. I felt a pressure building in my temples. Something had to be done. I marched up to the bicycle, grabbed its sleek frame, and gave it a shake. It gleamed with pale Bianchi green impunity. Its dropped handlebars and dagger of a seat exuded competitiveness, the will to dominate. The latest in sportif style, it was typical of my ex-husband. It had to be his. My brain was ready to explode. I tugged hard, but the indestructible lock held it fast. With a decisive action, I released the front wheel (cavalierly left unlocked, as if to advertise that he could afford a new one easily enough), and carried it into my building and up the stairs to my apartment. I leaned it against the wall of my bedroom and flung myself on the bed. I was done for the day.
If he wanted it back, he would have to make the first move.
The results of the biopsy were grim, and the doctor wanted to schedule surgery immediately. It was not the sort of surgery any woman wants to rush into—losing her most precious female assets, the source of so much of her own pleasure, the delight of her children and lovers. It seemed unlikely that there would be any more lovers, following the procedure. I told the doctor I had a few things to take care of first. After several days with the bicycle wheel in my bedroom looking like a disembodied limb, it was beginning to invade my dreams. And still no word from my ex-husband. I decided that a confrontation would have to take place. I would arrange it to seem accidental. To this end, I took a medical leave from work and made my way to the Upper West Side.
Not far from the Versailles the iconic delicatessen Zabar’s had taken over nearly an entire city block in the last several decades. No one in the neighborhood could avoid its allure; it was the perfect spot for a chance encounter. I entered, passed a bank of checkout counters, and wandered its packed and exotic aisles looking for a discreet place to sequester myself and watch its shoppers—the little old ladies, hardened Communists, university professors wearing goatees, European nannies with ubiquitous strollers, and other faithful that flock to this store like homing pigeons. I found a spot by the packaged meat (salami, sopressata, Hebrew National franks) that I figured wouldn’t attract much attention, and staked my lookout. Sooner or later he had to show up. I was patient; I could wait.
But who did I see, shoving her way up to the Caviar Express Counter, where the sign read “Caviar Only or Foie Gras Take A Number,” but the new Mrs. Wolfe, ogling the Osetra Caspian at 120 dollars an ounce. I recognized her immediately. She was tall (she would have towered over my ex-husband if he were there), gawky, with cropped red hair and that bad skin redheads have, not pretty, but she had the advantage of youth and time to develop taste.
So that’s how it’s going to be, I thought. She loaded up her cart and moved on toward the smoked fish, twelve different types (Nova, belly lox, pickled lox, sturgeon, sable, gravlox, chubs, baked salmon, brook trout, whitefish, etc.) lined up like dead soldiers. I stepped up beside her and said, “The sturgeon is good today. Get the sturgeon.”
She turned to me, her face turning white and splotchy. “Who do you think you are?” she said, as if she didn’t know, as if we hadn’t been introduced in the waning days of my marriage. She had been someone I entertained in my home, took to my bosom, as it were.
“I’m Ms. Wolfe, Mrs. Wolfe.” I’d seen on her website that she’d taken his name. I’d been Mrs. Wolfe for twenty-five years, and had become Ms. Wolfe; there would be no changing of my name. But women these days seemed to change their names with each new husband, so that after a while and a string of husbands they wore their surnames like heirloom pearls. “You’re having a party?” I asked her.
She stared at me, reminding me of the fish in the tanks at Chinese restaurants. “What are you doing here?”
“Helping you shop. I’ve done this for years. I know what Mr. Wolfe likes. Get the sturgeon.”
“I can manage on my own,” she said, and pushed her cart past me.
Poor thing. She was in over her head. I followed her at a distance and watched with a discerning eye what she chose, and when she wasn’t looking, I slipped a couple items into the cart. I felt oddly protective, as if I needed to save her from missteps that might be causing my ex-husband to be following me on his bicycle all over town. She needed a guardian angel. Now I had a mission.
I went every day to Zabar’s to watch for Mrs. Wolfe. She came in at the same time, on her way home from work, to pick up a few things. She would look past me and pretend not to see me. I would go through the checkout line in front of her and leave something—a pungent stilton, a jar of apple blossom honey, or some such favorite of Mr. Wolfe’s—paid for on the conveyor belt. “It’s for the lady behind me,” I would tell the checkout girl.