I rode my new bike to the end of the street, then I turned around and rode home. My wife was sitting on the porch.
“You look more natural than I would have thought,” she said.
“I’ve had a bike my whole life.”
“I’ve never seen you on a bike.”
“I mean my whole life before I met you.”
She got her bike out of the garage and we went for a spin. First we rode down the hill, then we went out along the road that led to the beach. I hadn’t ridden a bike in years. My wife took hers out everyday. She was addicted to it.
After a couple of miles I was destroyed. My lungs burned and my head had too much blood in it. Every time I looked at my wife she was farther away. When we came to a hill she pedaled up it like she was coasting down it with the wind at her back. She got smaller and smaller. I stared at my front wheel and the pavement rushing under it. When I looked up again she was gone.
I stopped and sat at the side of the road. I thought my heart might explode if I laughed or sneezed. The sky had never looked so near and blue.
After a while I saw my wife race around the bend. She rode up to me, leaned her bike against a tree, sat down in the grass.
“Little out of shape,” I said.
“You did well,” she said. “Tomorrow you’ll do better.”
We got on our bikes. I followed her home.
In the morning I found her in the kitchen dressed in one of her bike-riding outfits. She even had a number on her back. There was a similar outfit draped over the back of my chair.
“We’re leaving in half an hour,” she said. She looked at her watch. “Make that 25 minutes.”
“My legs are stiff,” I said.
“Don’t let your pain define you.”
“I just woke up.”
We did some stretching out in the garage. Then we got on our bikes.
“You’ll go first this time,” she said. “I want to keep my eye on you.”
“Where we going?”
“I’ll tell you where to go. Put this on.”
She gave me a helmet.
“There’s a head-set attached,” she said. “You can hear me, but I can’t hear you. It’s one-way.”
“Why can’t you hear me?”
“Why would I need to?”
She mounted her bike. Instantly it became an extension of her body. You could hardly tell where she ended and it began. When I walked over to my bike, it seemed to press itself against the wall.
We went out along the road to the beach again. I could hear my wife, but I couldn’t see her. She was behind me.
She said, “I had to do something. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
Then I remembered she couldn’t hear me.
She said, “You hardly move. You need to stay in shape. Turn left!”
I thought about turning right, making a break for it, but I knew she would catch me.
Wherever we went the road led uphill. My lungs were bursting. The blood was pounding so hard I couldn’t hear my wife.
“Let’s stop,” I said.
I pulled over to the side of the road.
“What are you doing?”
I heard her voice in the headset. I could also hear it directly from her mouth.
“It’s beautiful out here,” I said. “Look at that tree. What kind of tree is that?”
“I’ll tell you when to stop,” she said, pulling up beside me.
“I know when to stop.”
“You never know when to stop.”
“Why are you torturing me?”
“You are torturing yourself! As usual. I’m saving you.”
“Ah, shit. You go on without me. I’m a goner.”
“In two weeks you’ll be a new man.”
“Maybe ten days.”
“What’s wrong with me as I am? Why do I have to be a new man?”
The voice in the headset said, “You are falling apart. Have you seen yourself lately? Have you heard the way your knees crack when you go up the stairs?”
“No,” I said.
“Get on the bike.”
“This isn’t a birthday present. It’s an intervention.”
The voice said, “What will you be like in ten years? Twenty years? That’s what I ask myself.”
I said, “What will I be like in twenty minutes?”
But I got back on the bike and we set off. Maybe she was right. Maybe I needed this.
The voice in the headset said, “You need this.”
We pedaled all the way to the beach. There was a bar. People were sitting outside at tables in the sun, drinking and smoking. They looked happy.
“Let’s have a beer,” I said.
“Are you fucking serious?”
“I’ve earned it.”
I tore the helmet off before the voice could speak.
We leaned our bikes against the wall and sat at one of the tables. I ordered two beers.
“My legs are shaking,” I said.
“They’re coming back to life.”
“How long are you going to do this to me?”
“At your age it’s a never-ending struggle.”
With the headset off, she was my wife again. I took her hand and said, “Look, I’m happy you’re concerned about me, but I’m not sure-“
“This isn’t purely about you,” she said. “I don’t want an invalid on my hands in the future. I don’t want to play nursey all day when we get old.”
I let go of her hand and took hold of my beer. She watched me from the other side of the table. I finished my beer, then I finished hers. My bike leaned against the wall of the bar.
The next morning I couldn’t get out of bed.
“You are killing me,” I said.
“I’m saving you.”
“I don’t want to be saved.”
“It’s out of your hands.”
I got out of bed and tottered across the floor. She passed me my helmet. I put it on.
Maybe I could pay someone to steal my bike. That’s what I thought. I knew a few people who might do that for me. But how would I get a message out to them? How would I get away from the voice?
Riding to the beach became our routine. It got easier as I grew stronger. I came to rely on the voice in the headset telling me what not to do. Sometimes I made mistakes. But the voice was there to remind me of who I was and who I was supposed to be.
As the weather got warmer we started going on longer rides. We rode through the mountains. We rode to different beaches, ones we’d never visited in the car. Sometimes we went swimming. If there was a bar I made sure I got a beer. That was my reward.
Then one morning I switched the helmets. I couldn’t believe I’d done it. But I had. When we got out on the road I started to speak.
“I know you can hear me,” I said. “Are you surprised?”
I circled around behind her.
“That’s right, keep pedaling, keep moving. Don’t turn around!”
We reached a crossroads.
I said, “Turn right.”
She obeyed me.
“Go faster,” I said.
We pedaled out along an old disused road. I didn’t know where it went. Probably no one knew anymore. We were off the map now. We would find out where we were going when we got there.
My heartbeat was steady. I breathed evenly. No more huffing and puffing. That was over now. I knew my wife was listening to my breathing in her headset. Every so often I whispered a few words or issued a new command.
The sun was getting low in the sky. We kept going. I could see she was starting to flag. She was slowing down. I felt like I could keep going forever. I said, “Don’t stop.”
We came to a village. There was no one there. It had been abandoned for years, generations. It was getting dark. There were no cars, no streetlights, no electricity. There was no noise. Nothing and no one. A street of empty houses. Just me, my wife, and our bikes.
I told her to stop.
We stopped in front of the largest house on the street. The last of the sun was shining in its broken windows. The front door hung open on its hinges.
“Get off the bike,” I said into my headset.
She got off her bike and stood in the empty street, looking around, squinting at the houses.
“Where are we?” she said.
I took off my helmet.
“This is where we live now,” I said. “This is your new home.”
Photo by VirtKitty on flickr