The Switzerland Trail was sandy in that section. Four to six inches deep, loose and hard to ride through. She was hauling Justin, always in the top percentile for weight and height. Her husband hadn’t wanted to move the seat to his own bike.
She’d said: There’s shaken baby syndrome. I don’t think we should take him mountain biking.
He’d said: He’ll be fine. You’re always complaining we don’t do things together.
How many times had she done this? Suppressed her own instincts, even outright knowledge, to avoid a fight with him?
His white t-shirt was a bright dot ahead of her on the trail. Sweat poured into her eyes and made her hands slip on the handlebars. She ought to have gloves, but he’d said they were a waste of money. At least he’d agreed to a helmet for Justin. And sunglasses, though he rolled his eyes whenever she put them on their child.
Her sprained ankle, from a jog last week, was sending knives up the outside of her leg; she could feel her knee straining to make up for the ankle’s weakness.
Mostly she thought: This isn’t safe. She kept fishtailing in the sand. The bike wanted to come over on the right because she couldn’t compensate enough with the other leg.
Behind her, Justin was silent. That bothered her about her child. He’d whine when he was hungry but otherwise he never complained. He was only a year and half, and he’d learned already to make himself silent and invisible. She didn’t know whose fault that was.
Her husband circled back. He was squinting in the high-altitude sun. He had no sunglasses for himself because the ones that really worked were too expensive. Cheap sunglasses were worse for your eyes—they made them dilate and then more of the sun’s harmful radiation could get in. So he wore nothing.
This is how it happens, she thought. She’d tried so hard not to marry her father, but here he was, measuring everything by his own experience. He could ride faster; what was her problem? He could carry his heavy mountain bike—he hadn’t wanted to spend money on good bikes—up to the road when the former train track came to an end. He didn’t have a bad ankle.
What do you want me to do? she said. Leave Justin alone on trail while I carry my bike up? While they were arguing, two other bikers came along, hopped off, and swung their titanium bikes on their shoulders, scrambling over the rocks in the train cut without any visible effort.
If you want me to do my bike, you can hold Justin, she said.
Never mind, he said. He carried first her bike and then his to the top of the cut. The dirt road back to their car was washboarded. She didn’t want to take Justin down it. She squeezed her brakes, weaving from side to side to find the smoothest route. A car came behind her and honked. From far ahead, he turned around and scowled.
She was a technical climber and an expert skier. On her own she’d bomb right down this hillside.
The sad thing was she was pretty sure she’d read this scene already in a novel or a story. And thought, why would anyone marry that guy? She’d read The Women’s Room all the way back in junior high, or started to, but got so mad she couldn’t finish. All I have to do is not marry anyone like that, she’d thought. Or not marry anyone.
Sooner or later she would lose her temper, scream at him. And he would grow cold and dispassionate. See, he’d say. You’re an angry bitch. No one can deal with you. I can’t be expected to deal with you. All of these conflicts all day that she’d avoided, and there will one thing that will finally set her off.
They were silent during the ride home, Justin sucking his thumb. She was quick to change out of her biking clothes. Her husband grabbed the shower. She sat in the kitchen with her leg up, a bag of peas on her ankle.
I see you haven’t started dinner, he said, when he came down, dressed in his favorite worn polo and jeans.
There it was. No, she snapped. Haven’t even thought what to have. I thought maybe you could figure it out for once! The knives from the ankle had reached her hip. Perhaps she was shrill.
You really think I do nothing around here, don’t you. He was dead calm.
Not what I think at all! What do you want for dinner?
I’d like you to have a thought in your head is all. Still dead calm.
Justin had disappeared. She imagined him hiding in his room. The dog, a golden retriever who had jumped with joy when they came home, had crawled under the table at her feet. Somehow this calmed her.
I have many thoughts in my head, she said, calm as he was. Mainly how toxic this is for me. For Justin. And for the damn dog. Who helpfully whined. She said, I am going to open a beer and watch you make dinner while I ice this ankle. Tomorrow I’ll call around to marriage counselors. If you want to be involved in that, let me know by noon. If not, I’ll call divorce mediators instead.
Just another of your crazy things. You’d have to get a job. Who’d hire you?
She did think putting Justin in daycare would be the worst part. That’s what he’s had on her. She went to the fridge. There’s some leftover mac & cheese. I’ll just zap it and take it to Justin in his room. You’re on your own.
No way to a divorce, he called after her.
In Colorado, she murmured, you don’t have to agree.