Herne Hill

The velodrome was hidden amongst the houses. You went up a muddy track between garden fences and parked beneath the trees. There was a lot of rubbish lying about; bits of wood, twisted metal, faded signs, empty bottles, tatty scraps of paper, fallen leaves, oil cans, broken vending machines. There were a couple of portakabins and some cars and trailers, they looked as if they had been there for a long time. But the track had been re-surfaced recently and was now a smooth tarmac, sloping and banked in an oval like an egg. There were faded signs around the track and beyond were the houses. Anyone standing at the window on an upper floor would have a perfect view of the track and any activity on it. There was a sheltered seating area beside the track with two rows of hard wooden benches. Alison, Amanda and Annie sat together on the hard benches and watched the riders circling the track. They were talking and laughing and seemed comfortable in each other’s company. ‘I don’t like cycling,’ said Alison. ‘I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. I know Pete loves it but it doesn’t do anything for me.’ ‘I love it,’ said Amanda. ‘I decided that if Dave loved it so much I ought to get into it, even if just a little bit. Now I watch it on the telly every chance I get. Orica Green Edge they’re my favourite team. And some of them aren’t all skeletal and anorexic and look like Cheryl Cole, some of them have got gorgeous bodies and you can see all their muscles in that lycra.’ ‘And everything else,’ said Alison. ‘You can see everything they’ve got.’ ‘Oh Ali,’ said Amanda. ‘And what about you Annie? Do you like it?’ ‘I think Nick’s having an affair,’ said Annie. ‘No!’ said Alison. ‘Why’d you say that?’ ‘Little things,’ said Annie. ‘Lots of things. He’s booked all these trips for a start. And he goes out on these long rides on a Sunday, so he says, but when he comes back, his bike looks like it’s hardly been used. And last Saturday he went out and when he came back he said he’d done 70 miles but I looked on Strava and it only said 27. And he always says he’s working late but he never used to work late. Why would he start now?’ ‘Maybe he really is busy,’ said Alison. ‘Have you said anything?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘Well, I don’t know – challenged him. Asked him about working late or these trips?’ Clive had started the devil take the hindmost race. Nine riders circled the track and every second lap the last rider over the line was eliminated. Nick was the second rider to be thrown out; he pretended not to hear Clive call out his number and carried on for an extra lap before peeling off into the central area. He looked towards the stand and waved at his wife. ‘I asked him about the Strava data. He said he lost satellite connection for a while.’ ‘That does happen,’ said Amanda. ‘It’s happened to me on a few rides.’ ‘Have you started cycling then?’ said Annie. ‘A bit, not that much,’ said Amanda. ‘Like I said though, I am getting into it. Maybe you’re just imagining it, leaping to conclusions.’ ‘Maybe,’ said Annie. ‘Maybe not. Do you and Dave go cycling together then?’ ‘We’ve gone a few times but he’s so much quicker so I just hold him back. I’ve been out on my own a few times and went on one of those Sky rides.’ ‘When was that?’ said Annie. ‘A few weeks ago. It was all right.’ Dave won the race just ahead of Steve. When he crossed the line he punched the air just like a pro and pointed a finger at Alison. She waved back. ‘He’s such a knob,’ she said. ‘But I love him.’ ‘What are you going to do?’ said Amanda. ‘I don’t know yet,’ said Annie. ‘But if I find out he’s been fucking someone else, that’s it, he can fuck off.’ ‘I don’t know what I’d do if Dave had an affair,’ said Amanda. ‘Kill him probably. And destroy his bicycles. What’s that thing – my biggest fear is that when I die my wife will sell my bicycles for what I told her they cost? I’d give them away. No, I wouldn’t. I’d sell them and keep the money. Go and watch Orica Green Edge and Simon Gerrans.’ ‘It’s not funny,’ said Annie. ‘It’s not a joke.’ ‘I know honey,’ said Amanda. ‘I’m sorry, you’re right. I hope it’s not true.’ The riders were having a break and taking a drink, sitting on their bikes on the track. Clive was explaining the rules for the next event. Nick couldn’t remember what happened. He had been riding along and then he felt a loud noise behind him and something hit him and he flew into the air. He landed on the tarmac and his right arm slammed down, one foot was still locked in the pedals. His eyes were open and he tried to sit up. ‘Wait,’ said a voice. ‘Don’t rush.’ It was a woman’s voice, soft and gentle but insistent and firm. ‘Does it hurt?’ Nick liked the voice; he wanted to hear more of it. Up in the stands the women saw what happened. Nick had slowed down and a rider behind – it was Steve – had not seen him – his head was down and not watching – and ploughed straight into Nick’s rear wheel. Annie jumped up. ‘It’s Nick,’ she said. Amanda jumped up too. ‘God, it’s Nick,’ she said. Annie looked at her. ‘Steve was in that crash too but it’s Nick you’re worried about. It’s you isn’t  it? You bitch. You cunt, you lying, cheating, fucking cunt.’ Amanda was twisting the strap of her hand-bag. She bit her lip. ‘What? No I’m not. That’s ridiculous.’. ‘Is it? Is it really? said Annie. ‘Ridiculous that you didn’t mean to fuck my husband or didn’t mean for me to find out?’ ‘Ridiculous, any of it. All of it. I’m not fucking your husband. I hardly know him.’ ‘I see it all now,’ said Annie. ‘It’s you he goes to see. Steve goes on the ride and Nick nips round to your place to service your bottom bracket. I bet if I checked your Strava feed and compared it to Nick’s I’d find you’re out together. And you didn’t go on any Sky ride, did you? You went on a Nick ride. It’s true, isn’t it?’ ‘I’m not on Strava,’ said Amanda. ‘I think he’s hurt,’ said Alison. ‘I hope the cunt is dead,’ said Annie. ‘I wish you were all dead.’ She started to cry. She wanted to keep on calling Amanda a cunt because she loved the word, loved saying it, loved the way it made her feel when she said it, or better still, shouted it. ‘Cunt,’ she said, crying. ‘I think he’s hurt,’ said Alison again. There was a catch in her voice. Nick was lying on the track. There was blood on his arm and his ankle was twisted. ‘I’m all right,’ he said. He put his weight on his left arm and sat up. ‘Just stay like that,’ said the lady with the nice voice. ‘Can you move your legs?’ Nick moved his legs gingerly and sat up. He removed his helmet with his left hand. ‘I’m okay,’ he said. ‘I’m all right. Fuck but my arm hurts.’ ‘I think he’s hurt,’ said Alison again. He got to his feet and walked slowly across the track and then across the centre and then across the remaining section of the track. He leaned over the barrier and saw Amanda and Alison and Annie. Amanda was looking at her hand-bag and didn’t catch his eye. Annie’s cheeks were red and she had tears in her eyes. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know. I know who you’ve been fucking.’ She jerked her head at Amanda. Nick put his hand gingerly on the graze on his elbow. Blood was drying on his forearm. He sat down on the track. ‘Oh God,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Listen to the pair of you,’ said Annie. ‘It’s amazing how sorry everyone is when they get caught.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ he said again. Nick closed his eyes and lay down. Alison called an ambulance. Nick died three days later; he didn’t regain consciousness. Heart attack, the doctor said. Annie and Amanda were beside his bed. Annie and Amanda were married in the spring. Alison was a witness. They don’t go to the velodrome any more. Alison and Steve split up. She didn’t tell him about her affair with Nick.   *  

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