The friend who disappeared

I met Betty Rubble on the suburban streets of Bainbridge Island 12 years ago while I was riding my bike and she was vigorously walking a beach road. I almost ran her over and she screamed something profane at me, I had these headphones in my ears and I think I was listening to U2 at the time, so I could not hear a word she said, but I slowed and turned my bike around, and then I removed an earbud and stopped and waited, she approached and I asked if she had said something to me.

“Yes, I said you’re an asshole and should learn to ride a bicycle.” She continued to walk.

I nodded and put the earbud back in, turned the bike around, started to peddle, harder and faster until I passed her again on her left and dug in and rode away. At that time in my life I rode five or six days a week, rain or shine, almost every day at 10 in the morning. It was my ritual, it was both a punishment and a joy. There was never really a reason I started, although a painful divorce did coincide with the more serious riding, I kept at it, pushing myself, year after year, harder and faster until I was in the best shape of my life, a serious, daily cyclist.

I started to see Betty Rubble often out on the roads and in the various parks, walking. At some point I stopped at the Tree House Café for a quick coffee and she was sitting there and I grabbed my coffee and sat with her. She was wearing a tight, dark pair of runners winter tights, a gray lycra zip up top of some sort and something in her hair that pulled it all back in a bunch. Her face was clean and white, not quite a China doll, but very clean.

“You know who I am?” I asked.

“I know you ride your bike a lot.”

“You called me an asshole a couple months ago.”

“OK.”

“Kind of hurt my feelings.”

“Yeah, looks like you spent a lot of time crying.”

“That and I drink more.”

“Is that helping to ease the pain?”

“Nope, I’m still an asshole.”

“I can tell. My name is Betty, Betty Rubble.”

“I’m Matt.”

From then on I would slow and chat while I was out and about on my cycle. We would have coffee, we exchanged phone numbers and we would meet. We became fast friends. Betty was tall, dark haired, fair skinned, thin, athletic, almost always smiling, naturally stunning and alluring in the most intense way imaginable. She married Fred Flinstone 5 years earlier, they had a 3 year old son named Barney and they seemed very happy with one another. How could they not be, she was amazing, he was some sort of male model, athlete attorney or something. Perfect really.

I liked Fred Flinstone, he was a man who seemed at peace with himself. I am not sure I could pull off his calmness, because here I was, a cyclist, meeting his wife out on the road, for a coffee now and then, sometimes downtown for a donut, we laughed and joked. He knows she and I are enjoying ourselves and yet he does not seem to care in the least. I had met him, we had talked, he seemed like a grounded man. He did not view me as any sort of competition for his wife, which was fine, because I never had been, but my question always remained, how did he know that?

That never really mattered though, how he knew, if he knew or if he just did not care if his beautiful and seductive wife was flirting with the guy on the super sleek Italian cycle. Some men were just not the jealous type.

There is a pier at Point White and sometimes, when I was slow and tired, I would ride my speedy racing cycle down to that pier and instead of continuing to ride, I would just get off my bike and walk out onto the wooden planks and sit over the water and watch fish. I know, thinking back on it I am amazed at how incredibly boring it sounds, but when you consider days of cycling, often the same roads, sometimes over a hundred miles a day, loafing on a pier on a warm spring day staring down on fish swimming below is not really all that bad.

I was laying face down on the pier, watching the small salmon doing some sort of primitive dance and someone walked up and laid next to me, uncomfortably close, I don’t really like a lot of physical contact. I turned to my right, it was Betty. She was radiant, even more so than usual. We were just inches apart, her lips gently touched with a shade of color, but her face naturally tanned and healthy. Our eyes met, she did not say anything. I could sense her breath. The closeness shook me. At that point, we were friends and there was a tension when we were with one another, not necessarily a sexual tension, but certainly a palpable chemistry that neither of us seemed to know what to do with, nor to even acknowledge. I just held my stare and we were both looking at one another, but seeing more than one another, for a second, the world slowed, for just a moment we were completely alone, the salmon stopped swimming, there was no traffic and the wind blew to a quiet hush. There was something in her eyes and then there was a tear. All of a sudden, what had been a peaceful scene was now dread and not a word had been spoken. My head gently shook from side to side, hardly noticeable, but then she shook her head, almost in response, subtly up and down. A tear formed in my eye and slid down my cheek.

“Breast cancer.”

“Yeah.”

“He’s 3 fuckin’ years old.”

“Yeah.”

We stared at each other for a long time. Then she said, “why are you laying on the pier?”

“Watching the fish.” Then we both laid face down, side by side, and stared at the fish. Her left hand, above her head, my right hand, reaching out, holding it. I liked that feeling.

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