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On a whim, I decide to ride my bike down the highway, along the gully, way past the cherry orchard, past my school, to the country store. It will be my first lone venture away from home. I know it’s a long way and I also know I’m up for the trip. The bike is old but good, my big sister’s hand-me-down and I’m a good rider. I never even needed training wheels. The store sells spearmint licorice in green rubbery ropes and that will be my reward. I’m seven years old.

	I set out with a belly full of Lucky Charms. Acres of wheat fields, still green, line either side of the highway. I ride standing on the pedals to make it up a steep hill and coast down the other side with lilac wind against my face. The air is just right, not too hot or too cold. I pass landmarks I’ve only seen by car or on the school bus, apple and cherry orchards beyond white slat fences, the old willow stump where my big sister and I found a lost puppy once. Everything is familiar in a brand new way.

	I’m more than halfway to the store—way more. I see someone on the roadside walking in my direction. He’s all grown up, a man.

	“Do you want to see what I have?” he asks as I coast by. His hair is close-cropped and he wears a plaid shirt tucked in his jeans. I think he must have a frog in his pocket or maybe a shiny piece of agate. I pedal in a wide circle, roll to a stop, nod my head, yes.

	“Follow me,” he says and he walks behind plum trees and wild blackcap vines next to the creek. It’s the same creek where Theresa Wilson once found a gunnysack filled with rocks and dead kittens. I roll my bike behind the man. So much walking, just to show me his frog, I think. 

	He points to a cluster of bushes. “Hide your bike in there.” I lower my bike onto the grass, wondering why. 

He walks a couple more paces off the trail. “This is good,” he finally says and he turns to face me. He pauses for what must be dramatic effect before unzipping his pants. 

	“Oh. I misunderstood,” I say. It’s all clear now. I’m polite and cover my eyes. “I’ll just get my bike,” I tell him and turn to walk away.

	He zips his fly and looks confused. “Why did you think we came back here?” 

	“I thought you had a frog or something,” I say, embarrassed at what a stupid kid I’d been just thirty seconds before. 

	He falls to his knees and grabs my arms. His eyes are panicked blue. He shakes me hard. “Promise not to tell. Promise, promise you won’t tell.”

            On his knees he is slightly shorter than me and I realize he isn’t really a man. He looks the same age as the high school kids that sit in the front of the school bus, so still and serious. His fingers are digging into my arms.

	“Don’t worry,” I whisper. “I won’t say a word.” I’m the one still and serious now looking into his wild eyes. I need him to trust me. “I promise I won’t tell.” And I never do. Not until now.


I’m 17. I’m riding my friend’s old-lady bike. It has thick heavy tires and upturned handlebars with a wicker basket. My friend’s name is June and she’s an old lady, hence the old-lady bike. June never goes out of the house alone, unless it’s an emergency. Then she will put on her dark sunglasses and red lipstick and wrap her silver head in her Greta Garbo scarf. She’ll ride her old lady bike a half-mile to the store to get cigarettes and an occasional pint of Johnny Walker. 

In the bike basket, I’ve stowed cans of coke, two sub sandwiches and two giant dill pickles wrapped in waxed paper, one for me and one for June. The deli keeps the huge pickles in an oak wine-vat filled with fermented dill and vinegar that has turned shamrock green. 

The bike is heavy and slow and cars race by me on the street. Teenaged boys rip past in cars without mufflers and honk their horns. Old men, who might have teenaged daughters of their own, turn their heads and leer in the same way I catch my dad staring too hard sometimes when he drives by girls on the street trying to mind their own business. I pretend I don’t see the men my dad’s age. I pretend I don’t hear the teenagers and their honking horns. It’s routine. I’m riding a slow, old-lady bike and my hair floats off my shoulders like a wavy cape. 

I’m almost to the place where I need to turn left across the highway to get to June’s street. A white panel-van rolls by too slow and the driver turns his head. He’s white, thirty-something with a short dark beard. We lock eyes and the place just between my stomach and lungs feels like it is being squeezed.

He doesn’t look at me like the middle-aged fathers or the honking teenagers who really don’t see me at all, but just see ass or tits or a young face. The man in the dirty white van looks directly into my eyes, in a way opposite of impulsive. His stare is deep and gray and some old part of my brain knows that he doesn’t just want my tits and ass, he wants my soul.

He rolls to a stop about fifteen feet ahead of me and I cut left and race across the highway. The van lurches into gear and I see him get ready to make a U-turn in my direction. Cars speed by and he has to wait for them to pass. 

I swing onto June’s street pedaling as fast as I can on her damned old-lady bike. Her house is about five blocks up on the left, the yellow one with the yard overgrown with dandelions and juniper bushes. I ride standing up, putting my full strength into making the bike go faster. I roll up the driveway, pedal across the lawn and skid the bike under the juniper boughs. Crouched low, I’m hyperventilating as the van rolls by, driving in slow motion. I see the driver’s head turn side to side, scanning tree-lined streets.


There’s a multiplayer game that involves hooking yourself up to a computer so it can read your pulse and heart rate. In order to win, everyone on your team needs to relax. Cleansing breaths, that’s the key. It’s a win-win.

“It’s not how out of breath you get,” my friend Laurel says. It’s how fast you recover your resting heart rate that counts.”

We’re riding up a mountain trail, a thousand foot climb in a mile. “It’s not that technical,” she tells me. 

Mountain bikers have their own language…hard tail, bagging a peak, kicker. Not that technical means it’s supposed to be easy. I’m bonked. I see halos, bright flashing lights wincing through the trees. “That’s not good,” Laurel says. I’m low on water and she gives me hers.


The sole motivation of the interspecies predator is to dominate, a researcher explains. It’s a zero-sum game. There’s no win-win. Only win-lose. Fast breath—racing heart, gluco-corticoids flood the bloodstream, cause muscle to tense, skin to constrict, hair to stand on end. These, our primitive autonomic responses in the face of a predator, the researcher says.

Fear. How convenient. 

But what happens when you’re looking right at him and he has the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen… when his voice is velvet against your ear? He’s the guy who would rescue you from a burning building, six-foot three, gainfully employed, a California homeowner, ex Eagle Scout. He’s like one of those twig-length insects, leafy-green until he has you clenched between his jaws. It’s not until you’re inside that dark house that you see his true colors. 

When his ex-girlfriend broke up with him he cut her picture into fifty pieces and sent it to her in the mail. “And she was only a girlfriend,” he tells me. “I love you so much. We will always be together.” He bends to kiss my cheek and reminds me in that velvety voice about the gun he keeps in his closet.

But didn’t you kind of know all along? I pretend to be the researcher and ask myself. He cast his charm on me – I say in defense of me against myself—an enchanted spell—one part dopamine, one part norepinephrine, one part oxytocin. When he brought me flowers he brought my mother flowers too. What do you do? 

You make a plan. You can see the future and you prepare him for your getaway. 

I start to get him ready for our divorce even before we’re married. It’s an evening routine, as automatic as brushing my teeth, or emptying the dishwasher. I wait until after dinner, when he’s getting very sleepy. 

Listen to my voice, I tell him. “You’ll be remarried within a year. It will be one of the truly great loves. You’ll have children together, and they’ll be beautiful and smart like you. Your life will be full of tender laughter. I can feel it in my heart, in the bones of my spine. I can sense these things,” I say. “You know that I do.”

	Two weeks before my wedding, I buy my dress at an Everything Must Go sale at Trudy’s Bridal Shop. 


 According to the researcher, the interspecies predator is driven by envy and shame. I assume he means human predator unless he’s Doctor Doolittle. “The predator’s goal is the destruction of desired object. Once said object is damaged, there is nothing to envy. With enough damage, all potential threats of humiliation are obliterated.”


I picture the future if I stay, versus life after a divorce. In one view I live in a dim house, and in it I have turned old and shrill. 

In the other view, I’m outside. The birds are singing. I walk barefoot through emerald grass.


My inner researcher carefully records my dreams. One night I see a bike with bright streamers on the handle bars leaning against a giant oak. He lunges at me from behind the tree and tells me that I’m looking very sexy. I scream out, but not because I’m scared. He lies down in a ditch and asks if I can make him feel dirty. I comply, by rubbing mud against the soles of his feet. I then get on the bike and fly away, streamers flapping like glittery wings.


On the other side of the thousand-foot climb, we get to ride down the trail. The trees on either side of the path lace together in an arc, high over our heads. It takes some practice, but I speed up over the rocks and glide through the air like a pebble skipping the water. At the base of the hill, we ride into a clover-covered clearing, lay our bikes in the meadow grass, kick off our shoes.

“See, you’ve recovered your resting heart rate already,” my friend Laurel says. 

She’s right. The space just above my stomach and lungs opens into a wide clearing. 

I’m standing ankle deep in clover. The world is vast, the possibilities in all directions unfolding up ahead. There is this iridescent moment.

Tracy Oliver lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is the founder and principal of Skycastle Media. She is at work on her first novel. Visit her at tracyoliver.comhttp://www.tracyoliver.comshapeimage_4_link_0












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