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The flight attendant who brought the beer was the same one who’d performed the safety demonstration an hour earlier as they’d taxied down the runway at San Francisco. ‘In the unlikely event of landing in water,’ a disembodied voice had said as the woman popped a lifejacket over her head. ‘Unlikely’ hardly went far enough, Conor thought. He hated to be a pedant, but still. It was unlikely that he’d packed a European adapter, but one might yet materialise among the tangle of accessories he’d shoved in his suitcase as the taxi waited by the kerb. It was unlikely that the man seated to his left would stop talking any time soon, but it was not inconceivable that some affliction of the throat might set in. It seemed wrong, somehow, that the possibility that they would all be plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic to have their eyes eaten out by small fishes should be placed on a par with these other, more mundane, eventualities. Surely, at a minimum, it was ‘extremely unlikely’?
On the other side of him sat his ex-wife, Reece. They’d been married ten years when he’d discovered she was conducting an affair with one of her co-workers at the marine biology centre, a younger man called Dan. Or Quinoa Dan as Conor privately thought of him, with his man-bun and his Converse and his vegan tray-bakes. Conor had been to Dan’s apartment once, in the days before the affair. He’d eaten flourless vegan cake for Dan’s 35th birthday in a loft in an old bottling factory in Mission Bay, an open-plan rectangular space, with up-cycled furniture and cork floors. When confronted about the affair, Reece said that she was sorry, but she didn’t say that she would stop seeing Dan. Instead, she’d quietly packed a suitcase and left. That was in January.
‘This might sound a little odd,’ was how he’d prefaced his request when he’d rung her on a Saturday evening in late April.
‘Go on,’ she said.
The affair with Dan had since ended, and Reece was renting a studio apartment in Belmont. They were being civilised about the divorce, because what other way was there to be, Conor thought, at this hour of their lives, him 52, Reece 47. It wasn’t as if they were high schoolers, maddened by young love’s implosion.
‘Remember how my father always adored you?’ he said.
‘Your father’s a sweetheart. I’ll always be very fond of him.’
‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘Daddy hasn’t been well lately.’ He stopped. He’d thought long and hard about this call, but now he feared that he’d miscalculated. ‘His lungs are bad, his heart is bad, his kidneys aren’t too good either. It’s his 80th birthday on July 10th and Joanne wants us all to be there.’
‘Yes, us. You. Me.’
‘Oh,’ she said. He heard a soft clunk on the other end of the line. He pictured her putting down the phone, winding her index finger round and round in her hair, as she’d always done when puzzled. ‘Reece?’ he said, ‘Are you still there?’ Was she in bed, he wondered? He imagined his voice travelling down the wires, re-visiting his wife in her new bedroom.