At Green Bay Road they abandoned the parkway and merged with
Wilmette-bound traffic, hugging the fieldstone railroad embankment. It was a
mile of eluding cars, wedged between an insensate locomotive and percolating
road rage, with nothing but a few ounces of Styrofoam and fiberglass cradling
her brain. But Barrett detected no common sense prick of danger. She felt
invulnerable. For the first time in months, she felt balanced and
sure-footed. The concatenation of speed and force propelled her like some
unalterable algebraic equation. She repressed an impulse to bolt upright, let
loose the handle bars and fling out her arms, the same gesture of
invincibility and freedom she'd made cruising suburban sidestreets on her
Huffy as a kid.

Instead, she tailed Wiley over the gentle rise of the railroad crossing,
snaked through the playlot and crested the short grade to the Green Bay
Trail. Barrett shifted gears, the first and last time all day. A Chicago and
Northwestern clacketed along the track as they joined the concrete trail
paralleling the rails. Barrett peered at the windows with nostalgia,
recalling rides home in the warm train on cold afternoons, when she'd worked
in the Loop. She'd be cushioned by the collegial sounds of commuters spinning
their travails into indignant or funny anecdotes, the cozy smell of popcorn
wafting through the car, the efficient click of the conductor's metal punch
as he marked her ticket and slipped it back under the tab of the seat frame
in front of her. It was a reassuring, civilized routine.

Barrett yearned, suddenly, to jump off her bike and throw it into the
bushes, to bound up the train's quilted metal steps, as if it could whisk her
away, not to a job, but into its perpetual journeying, like a time machine,
away from the complications of her middle age and either back or forward to a
place of security and eternal well-being. But she didn't. Her legs kept
pushing, her pedals kept pumping, her wheels kept rotating along, gaining
momentum as the train braked for passengers. She and Wiley pulled ahead,
winning the imaginary race, faster, cleverer, more powerful than the
locomotive. It was an easy illusion, with the road so flat. She could have
conquered it at age eleven on her brother Jake's banana-seated Stingray,
baseball cards clipped to the spokes. She wanted that, a handful of baseball
cards clipped to her spokes, to punctuate the swift whir of this overbred
mountain bike with its ludicrous embarrassment of gears, a pasha in a
poolroom.

And then, something happened. She can't remember much what. She's hardly
tried. Her futile attempts at talk and movement have drained her. But that
word -- catapult -- as in the gloves will catapult you to bike nirvana -- it
casts a sinister, metallic glitter. It tapdances across her neurons from then
to now, a twisted premonition. Barrett pictures an evil slinky, tumbling down
the steps of time and almost laughs. She can't hear it, but can feel it, a
rueful laugh fighting to escape. It can't quite get past her epiglottis.