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.

Meanwhile, my health deteriorated. I was losing strength. My children called in that diligent way grown children do, to report on their lives —my daughter in graduate school in Chicago, my son in Silicon Valley. If they remembered they’d ask about me and I’d say, “Nothing new.” I mentioned I was tired and left it vague, and children in the robustness of their twenties don’t require further explanations for the exhaustion of an older generation. The bicycle remained clamped to the signpost outside my building. It made me edgy, expecting every time I walked out the door to find my ex-husband waiting to pounce on me and demand his wheel back. The wheel was still propped against my bedroom wall. Finally I decided there was only one thing to do. I took the wheel in hand, left my building, and headed uptown for the Versailles. Once again I passed through those imposing gates, meant, no doubt, to keep out the likes of me, and faced the Russian doorman. I held up my hand to silence him. “Please, no announcement. Just give this to Mr. Wolfe.” I gave him the bicycle wheel. “He asked me to drop it off.” I’m not above an occasional fib to accomplish my goals.

I hoped to bring about some sort of resolution, whether it was a confrontation, an explanation, or just an end to his presence in my life. Instead, I received a phone message. I had just returned from another unsatisfactory visit to the doctor, whose description of the prognosis and procedures revolted me and yet he refused my simple request for a prescription, something to pep me up. Picking up the phone I heard my ex-husband’s voice. “Cut it out. You’re scaring my wife. Stay the fuck away from the Upper West Side or I’ll have you locked up.”

Well! I thought, I’ll stay away from you, if you’ll stay away from me. I did my best to put it out of my mind. I started seeing a homeopathic doctor in Chinatown who told me that state of mind was the key to my cure. I devoted myself to herbal teas and meditation. I also visited my lawyer to make a few changes in my will. There’s a calming effect to getting one’s affairs in order. Several weeks went by with no further incidents, and I really thought it was over. I was feeling hopeful. Until I was shocked out of my reprieve.

It was in the MoMA, at the de Kooning retrospective. It was crowded of course, but I was ignoring the crowds, absorbed in the great swirling brushstrokes of pink and black, white and gold, that seemed like raw flesh splayed across the canvas. All at once I was pulled out of reverie by an alarming sight. Not six feet in front of me, her back to me, stood Mrs. Wolfe, entwined with a strange man. She had her arm around him; he had his hand on her ass. They were in animated conversation with one another, ignoring the painting in front of us and the people around them. The implications were unmistakable. Who could he be? I edged around to get a better look, while staying out of her line of sight. He was young, her age or younger, thin to emaciated, wearing the tight black pants and old-school Chuck Taylors of a hipster.

This was too much! This was insupportable! After all that Mr. Wolfe had thrown away for her—his college sweetheart, his long marriage, his adorable (albeit grown) children, his happy home! How could she be unfaithful to him? Where was her gratitude? I rushed toward them, pushing my way through the crowd. A murmur arose; a guard started to move forward. I grabbed the young man by his lapels and yanked him away from her, practically sending him spinning into Pink Angels. We were both surprised at the strength of my vehemence. I looked for words to express my rage. “This has to stop!” I cried. “You have no right!”

“Dude!” he exclaimed. He was a youth of limited vocabulary, unlike my ex-husband, who could be quite eloquent. “What’s up?”

Her face turned white, then flushed to red, like a neon display of guilt. She dropped the arm that had clasped her lover’s waist. “Mr. Wolfe will hear about this!” I sputtered. “You can’t get away with this!” I attempted to push him against the wall.

Someone yelled, “Guard!”

Not one but two guards grasped me roughly by each arm and escorted me from the gallery. I looked back at her over my shoulder. She was brushing off her long black cardigan, as if our encounter had left lint on it. Her companion grinned. I suppose he enjoyed the excitement. The guards took me out of the gallery to an office on the first floor, where after a brief lecture they released me. After all, I hadn’t touched a work of art, and grabbing a man’s jacket hardly qualifies as assault and battery in a city with far worse crime problems. I left the museum to ponder my next step, and walked blindly through the streets, dizzy with the emotions that assailed me.

I felt hurt for my ex-husband, betrayed on his behalf. He was, after all, the love of my life and I still cared for his happiness, even if he had made some wrong choices. There was a possibility that my inadvertent discovery would galvanize Mrs. Wolfe into compliance with her marital vows. The young hipster obviously offered little in comparison to what she already had. It’s true that I had threatened to reveal her, but she might feel confident in her ability to deny the charges.

Against this scenario played another: that I now had what I needed to get my husband back. That the young designer would prove to be just a blip in our long lives together. I entertained this notion with pleasurable fantasies—a house in the country for just the two of us, but with room to spare when our children and grandchildren visited.

For several days I stayed in my apartment, scarcely sleeping, pacing the rooms as I went back and forth in my mind. I imagined his response if I exposed his wife’s affair to Mr. Wolfe. I imagined his rage, turning to despair, turning to. . .what? A softening toward me, the wife who’d stood by him so many years, his confidant, the heartthrob of his youth, the mother of his children. “Darling, can you ever forgive me. . .”

I shook the image from my mind. Finally I could no longer bear the confinement, and I made my way uptown to Zabar’s. I went straight to the Caviar Express Counter and requested a pound of Osetra caviar, which the clerk packaged in a container with a sticker for 1,920 dollars. I went to wait for Mrs. Wolfe at the checkout line. I didn’t have to wait long. At her usual hour she appeared and took her place on the line with her cart. I waited until she was near the register, then I stepped in front of her. She hadn’t seen me since the incident at MoMA. I saw a thousand thoughts flashing on the screen of her mind—shock, fear, revulsion, etc. etc. She didn’t know what I would do.

What I planned to do was to thrust the caviar onto the conveyor belt, slam my credit card on top of it, and declare to her, “This caviar will seal my silence. Take it!” I would exclaim. “And never see the young man again. I’ll be watching.”

However, just at the moment of highest drama when I was to deliver my lines, the most unprecedented arrival of Mr. Wolfe himself, striding up to his wife, out of breath from having hurried through the aisles to catch her, interrupted me. He saw me, raised his fist, and shouted, “You again! Get out! I warned you to stay away!”

I ran for the door, still clinging to the basket of caviar.

Which was how I found myself, two days later, after the most humiliating spectacle of arrest on charges of grand larceny. Grand larceny! I had simply returned to my apartment to hide in shame, and the unfortunate caviar accompanied me. When the officers came, of course I didn’t have the funds to cover my intended purchase. They seemed deaf to my explanations, as did a succession of dreary officials. There were forms, fingerprints, and an uncomfortable conveyance to a bleak island surrounded by chain-link and razor wire. There were endless hallways of shuffling women, a night in a room with fifty cots, peeling linoleum, leaking ceilings, the stench of garbage, barred windows, and the constant roar of jets from a nearby airport over the murmurs and yells of prisoners. There were invasive questions and incredulity to the point where I had no other option but to beg my ex-husband’s help, as much as it galled me. Who else could I turn to? There was a phone call, then more excruciating formalities, then we were sitting in the back of the cab with as much distance between us as was humanly possible.

“It was kind of you to bail me out,” I said. My husband stared resolutely forward and said nothing. Silence had always been one of his most formidable weapons. “Generous,” I said. “More generous than I would have expected.”

“Just tell the driver where you want to be dropped,” he said from the opposite side of the universe. The cab wove from lane to lane on the BQE. From the highway’s elevation, Manhattan appeared like a fairy tale across the river.

“You know,” I said.

“Know what?” he asked.

“My address. Your bicycle is chained in front of my building.”

He looked at me with a peculiar expression, his green eyes penetrating the barrier that separated us. I realized that he had written the bicycle off as a loss, along with me. “I returned the wheel,” I said. “It’s time you retrieve the rest of it.”

“You’re insane,” he said. He turned away.

“I don’t think so.” But to avoid making a scene witnessed by the Pakistani driver (I believe in good international relationships, especially in these troubled times) I gave him directions to my apartment. “Take the Williamsburg Bridge,” I said. “We don’t want to waste any more of Mr. Wolfe’s hard-earned cash than necessary.”

We crossed the bridge without further conversation. We inched our way through congested traffic. Time compressed inside the cab to claustrophobia worse than Rikers Island. Block by agonizing block we traversed the neighborhoods where years ago we’d lived together. So much had changed! Gleaming residences where once there’d been burnt-out slums. The corner bodega where we’d been known by name (we were called the young American couple by the immigrant community) was now a designer boutique. The Chinese laundry that had once returned, folded in a brown paper bag, a week’s pay left in the back pocket of my husband’s jeans—gone. Streets where children had played in open hydrants on hot summer nights, where Italian grandmothers had leaned on pillows from open windows, keeping watch over our comings and goings, I could hear their voices still, shouting for their children, shouting for their husbands—now these streets were tree-lined thoroughfares for the young and chic. Factories turned into artists’ lofts turned into chain retail establishments luring the moneyed masses from around the globe. The past and present hung in layered veils across my vision. I kept blinking, to see if I could clear it.

“Isn’t that where Bella’s Luncheonette used to be?” My ex-husband’s question startled me. Bella’s had been replaced by a store that sold nothing but tiny cupcakes. “Remember the eggplant hero we used to split?” he asked. “Back when we were poor.”

Did I hear wistfulness? Could it be that he was gripped in the very same nostalgia that had me hallucinating, that he was softening? This could be the moment to play my card, to reveal his wife’s duplicity, and invite him back to the heart that had remained true. “Those were good times,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind going back to them.”

“You want to go back to waiting on tables while I work in the machine shop?” There was sarcasm in his voice. I fought the urge to blurt out my information in a fit of pique. I kept my temper and tried to prove my point.

“We were happy then,” I said.

“Maybe you were. Want little, get little, be happy—wasn’t that your philosophy? I had bigger dreams.”

That was too much! I remembered the ambitions of my youth with aching clarity, ambitions he had trampled. The veils of nostalgia cleared. I’ll take no more insults, I thought. Let the new Mrs. Wolfe have him; I can’t be bought. Horns honked, pedestrians muscled their way across intersections, the cab turned down the block to my apartment, returning me to the flow of the present.

The cab pulled to a stop next to the locked bicycle. It had lost its brilliance in the months chained to the signpost. Dirty, beginning to rust, its remaining wheel bent, it was no longer an object of speed and power. I got out of the taxi. “Yes, well, here we are. You’ve seen the last of me,” I said and shut the car door with a flourish.

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