On a tiny TV in the cluttered living room of a two-bedroom terraced house, Kate Meadows watched her best friend emerge from the tunnel into the central arena of the velodrome. The crowd noise doubled, maxing out the TVs speakers. Her heart surged. The babys bottle was balanced on the TV, and the howl of the crowd raised concentric waves in the milk. When Zoe lifted her arms to acknowledge the crowds support, the answering roar sent the bottle traveling across the top of the TV. It teetered on the edge, fell to the floor, and lay on its side, surrendering white formula from its translucent teat to the thirsty brown hessian of the carpet. Kate ignored it. She was transfixed by the image of Zoe.
Kate was twenty-four years old, and since the age of six, her dream had been to win gold in an Olympics. Her eighteen years of preparation had been perfect. She had reached the highest level in the sport. She had shared a coach with Zoe and trained with her and beaten her in the Nationals and the Worlds. And then, in the final year of preparation for Athens, baby Sophie had arrived.
This was an old TV and the picture quality was terrible, but it was quite clear to Kate that Zoe was now sitting on a twelve-thousand-dollar American prototype race bike with a matte black monocoque frame made from high-modulus unidirectional carbon fiber, while she herself was sitting on a Klippan sofa from Ikea, with pigmented epoxy/polyester powder-coated steel legs and a removable, machine-washable cover in Almås red. Kate was well aware that there were victories to which such a seat could be ridden, but they were small and domesticated triumphs, measured in infants weaned and potty-training campaigns prosecuted to dryness. She ground her knuckles into her temples, making herself remember how in love she was with Sophie and with Jack, who was in Athens preparing for his own race the next day. She tried to exorcise all jealous thoughts from her headkneading her temples till they hurtbut God forgive her, her heart still ached to win gold.
Under the coffee table Sophie picked over the fallen mess of breakfast and lunch, cooing happily as she brought cornflakes and nonspecific mush to her mouth. The doctor had said she was too poorly to travel to Athens, but now the child seemed effervescent with health. You had to remind yourself that babies didnt do these things deliberately. They didnt use the kitchen calendar to trace out the precise schedule of your dreams with their chubby little fingers and then plan their asthma and their allergies to clash with it.
It was sweltering in the living room. The open window admitted no cooling breeze, only the oppressive August heat reflecting off the pale concrete of their yard. Kate felt sweat running down the small of her back. From next door, through the shared wall, she heard the neighbor vacuuming. The Hoover groaned and thumped its bald plastic head against the skirting board, again and again, a lifer despairing of parole. Crackling bands of electrical interference scrolled down the TV picture, masking Zoes face as she lined up to start the race.
The two riders were under starters orders now. A neutral voice counted down from ten. Up at the start line, behind the barrier, Kate caught a glimpse of Tom Voss in the group of IOC officials and VIPs. At the sight of her coach, her pulse quickened to prepare her system for the intense activity that his arrival always signaled. Adrenaline flooded her. When the countdown in the velodrome reached five, she watched Zoes hands tense on the handlebars. Her own hands tensed too, involuntarily, grabbing phantom bars in the stifling air of the living room. Her leg muscles twitched and her awareness sharpened, dilating every second. Kate hated the way her body still readied itself to race like this, hopelessly, the way a widows exhausted heart must still leap at a photo of her dead lover.
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