One Last Time


“Danny died Tuesday,” Parker’s tight voice announces.

“I’m not having a good day,” I tell the answering machine, refusing to pick up. “I’m not having a good day at all. Why don’t you call back with a better message?”

“Brian, are you there?” Parker says. “Pick up the fucking phone. Are you there?” I can hear him gnashing his teeth. “The memorial service is Saturday morning at…”


“I knew you were there. Why didn’t you pick up?”

“I’m not going.”

“Yes you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’ll feel like shit forever if you don’t go.”

“I’ll feel like shit forever anyway. Feeling like shit is my natural state.”

“I booked you a flight,” Parker says. “Delta 202 at 3:30 tomorrow out of San Jose. I’ll pick you up at Logan baggage claim.”

“Parker, I’m not…”

He hangs up.

Danny, always full of surprises, is now distinguished by being the only straight male graduate of an Ivy League school —in my acquaintance— to die from AIDS.


In San Jose, I park the car in long term, after some hectic business with the ticket machine.

The ticket comes out, the gate goes up, you drive through. I know this. I pushed the button, removed the ticket, and took my foot off the clutch: 1, 2, 3 — and my car hopped forward, rammed into the yellow wooden arm, causing the parking guy to gallop out of his booth, waving both hands like someone at a crash scene.

“I’m sorry, man,” I said. “It’s not my car. I didn’t know it was gonna do that.”

“Whose car is it?” the guy asked, like it was any of his business.

“A friend’s,” I said, pushing down on the clutch and shifting into first.

“Nice,” the guy said.

“Look, I’m sorry about your gate, but I have to get to a funeral,” I said, easing forward.

“Sure,” the guy said.

I can smell the lilies already. Danny’s mom will be there, looking taut, like she always does, and his father…

The skin around my eyes feels strained, and my hand wobbles on the stick. I put the ticket on the dashboard, where it sticks conveniently in a mysterious furry substance.

Why don’t I ever have anybody to drop me off at times like this?


When I met Danny he’d just come from a wake. He was standing in the hallway outside Parker’s dorm room, wearing a sharp-creased black suit. We waited for Parker to return with our meds, and struck up a conversation. Danny cracked jokes about the deceased, his aunt Violet —he described her as a fat, domineering and dry-skinned woman who flaked in stressful situations— which seemed irreverent, even to me. I sensed possibilities.

Tall, with thick sandy hair, freckles and blue eyes, he came from one of those big Irish Catholic families in which somebody died or got married every weekend. He carried the noise of the crowd with him. I was struck for the first time by the fact that I was really a very average-looking guy.

It was a sunny, late September day, and the light turned the brick buildings on the quad rose. Parker showed up acting twitchy and irritable, handed each of us a Chinese take-out container rattling with pills, and sent us on our way. (Dispensing medication has always come naturally to Parker, which may have accounted for his decision to become a doctor.)

Danny and I got a bottle and rode around town in my cast-off Mercury, yelling out the windows at women, exaggerating about past misdeeds and feeding ourselves pills at intervals until we wound up slumped over the hood of the car, laughing hysterically about what I can’t remember. My bad intentions fused with his disregard for consequence, and we formed a friendship that seemed like the stuff of legend.

That was over ten years ago, long before Karin, detox, that damn dirty needle.


I grab my backpack. In it are a pair of Spider Man pajamas and a box of No-Doz. For old time’s sake.

“Inappropriate funeral attire, Brian,” Parker will say.

Reflexively, I’ll defend myself: “Peter Pan packed my bag.”

“Don’t be an asshole,” he’ll reply. “Peter Pan is dead. Here. Wear this white shirt.”

Since Parker stopped self-prescribing he’s become downright ornery. He lost patience with me several years back anyhow, when I borrowed his new red Volkswagen and mashed it against a tree. Blood-alcohol level: High. Recollection of event: None. There were a few seconds of stunning clarity after I began to feel the pavement digging into my face, but Parker is not interested in hearing about that. He’s not one for war stories, especially if they involve the destruction of his property.

Well, he shouldn’t have loaned me the car, anyway. I’ve always had difficulty managing my personal effects — let alone anybody else’s. There’s a dream I have every so often that I’m walking through a strange city and everywhere I look there is something that belongs to me, deposited randomly on the sidewalk or in a bush. Underwear. Gloves. Framed photographs of the people who used to love me.


Writing my name on the baggage claim stub, I get stuck on the address. How can I not know my own address? The clerk looks at me with measured patience.

“New place,” I lie.

When Karin left I was asleep. I woke up to the cold, literally. It was two degrees outside according to the thermometer and she’d opened every window. I yanked the storms down, pinching my fingers in the metal tracks.God FUCKING DAMN IT!

“Just put your phone number, sir,” the clerk suggests.

Phone number. My handwriting looks foreign to me.

There I was, standing in the middle of the living room, blood on my fingers, cats cowering next to the couch, my dick the size of an acorn. And who did I call?

“Has anyone you don’t know approached you and asked you to carry something?” the clerk asks.

My best friend Danny.

“No,” I say. “I don’t think so.”

“Have your bags been under your control since you packed them?”

“Sort of.”

And where was my girlfriend?

“Sort of?”


Sniffling in his bed.

“Airport security is a serious matter, sir. Have your bags been under your control since you packed them?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

“Thank you. You can board at gate C16, through the double doors on the right.”

I didn’t find out until much, much later. I’d like to say that when I found out, enough time had passed that it wasn’t a big deal. No problem. Hey, all’s well that ends well. That’s what Danny would have said. He would’ve meant it, too. And why not? Women fell all over him like he emitted some kind of nerve gas.

My pack gets jumbled up with somebody’s laptop and a large, fake leather purse, and I think the thing I always think: I want what they have. I want to take up the objects and duties of somebody else’s life and install myself there, with the lipstick and menthol cigarettes, the business reports and car insurance payments.




AA has made me into a nervous classifier of people — I can spot a habit from ten blocks away. Coke. Pills. Pot. Crack. But me? I just drank myself into a grotesque stupor every night, with the occasional prescription binge for variety.

Danny was, of course, more adventurous. He truly believed he could do anything he wanted to with absolutely no repercussions. Somehow his voracious appetites made him endearing.

Here’s a tip. If your girlfriend ever describes a friend of yours as endearing, you’re done for. Their eyes are already meeting across the crowded room. Endearing. Obviously she’d never witnessed him projectile vomiting out the window of a speeding car. My car. Took the paint right off it.

I explained to Danny once that I started drinking to make myself more permeable, more able to experience things. More like him, I guess. But getting loaded never broke my surface; it just curdled my character. We were sitting on the wave-splashed rocks edging his family’s summer place in Maine, where we would later host a large and incredibly destructive party.

“You think too much,” he replied, one hand flapping around until it lit on something to do. Like comb quickly through his shiny hair, or pinch at his eternally itchy nose.

“Somebody’s got to,” I said. He laughed and slapped me on the back. Things were too easy for him: good-looking, funny, smart. Money falling like fat fruit from the American Dream tree.

If I ever have children, I’ve got one piece of advice for them: Don’t hang out with rich kids. You’ll finish college on your hard-won scholarship and they’ll go off to Kenya to save some rare fucking species of wild cat until they sort themselves out. Meanwhile, you’ll be eating ramen noodles and tuna fish and dreading the arrival of yet another breezy postcard with a foreign stamp.

Danny could sail a boat to Cuba and shoot up with a lower-tier rock star in the space of a five-minute conversation, his body gulping the very air as if he just couldn’t get enough of it. He drank for the same reason he did everything else — to propel himself from one exhilarating moment of being Danny to the next.


At gate C16 I buy a package of Lifesavers and a Harper’s from the newsstand, and sit down in a row of empty chairs. The molded plastic seats are grubby, the carpet a jarring shade of blue with brown triangles on it.

Everything seems ugly and old — am I still in California? I flip through the Harper’s, wondering at how people can care enough about something other than themselves to write impassioned letters to the editor.

I don’t have to go to this funeral. No one will miss me. Mr. and Mrs. O’Hara certainly won’t. The last time I saw Mrs. O’Hara was when she caught me in her master bathroom, sniffing her towel, with a cap of prescription tranquilizers and a nice cold glass of tap water. They’ll greet me with a glazed look indicating they wish I hadn’t come and direct me to the back corner of the church where the acquaintances go.

His fraternity friends from school will be there, all those hale and hearty boys who could do more blow than Scarface and not even dent their trust funds. They’ll be placed front and center, a row or two behind the aunts, uncles and cousins.

If Danny showed up for my funeral, my mother would forget I was dead and take him out to lunch.

If he were sitting here in the airport, he’d probably be reading Esquire, a magazine he could peruse without noting any ironic disparities between his lifestyle and the one advertised. He went out with the kind of girls you see on the periphery in celebrity magazines, the bony, shiny-haired types who pose for photos with their equally bony, shiny-haired friends. Not famous, but attentive to the lifestyles and fashions equated with fame. Decorative girls. Danny decorated himself with a lot of them — their kiwi-colored handbags and little beaded dresses were always draped over chairs in his apartment.

So why Karin? Karin is not beautiful. If it weren’t for her red hair and her long-fingered hands, she’d be downright plain. This fact always gave me comfort. She was mine. Men never looked at her for more than a moment, unless she was walking away from them.


At wedding number eight last summer — Joe and Allison from school, sweethearts all this time — Parker wanted to know why I never came to visit Danny in the hospital. I stood staring at the green hump of land outside our hotel window while Parker fastened his tie in the mirror.

“Because he’s sick,” I said.

“He’s sick,” Parker said.

“He’s sick he’s sick he’s sick. He’s sunken and yellow and bruised and covered in sores.”

“How do you know that? You haven’t been to see him.”

“I’ve read about it.”

“You’ve read about it,” Parker said, his voice dropping an octave. He’s going to hit me, I thought. He is definitely going to hit me. “You know you can’t catch anything by showing a little fucking compassion and going to see him, right? He’s not gonna be around for much longer.”

“I’m not a doctor,” I said.

“What the fuck does that mean?” Parker demanded, turning to face me.

“I’m not a fucking doctor. I’m not prepared to deal with that shit.”

“Everybody dies,” Parker said, like he was talking to a kid that had lost a pet turtle.

“Not like that,” I said.

“Get out,” Parker said quietly.

“No,” I said. “There’s something you’re forgetting.”

“What am I fucking forgetting?” Parker asked.

“You hooked him.”

Parker’s fist spun through the air like a star, landing on my right cheekbone, and I fell against the trimly made bed.

“You did it, man, you hooked him. He put you through school,” I said and closed my eyes, waiting for round two.

Parker stood over me, his manicured hands open, his face fixed like something under glass. Then he reached down and helped me up. One of these times we won’t forgive each other, and then I’ll be free of everything except the memories of my past.

I seem to be working toward that goal more quickly than I intended.


All the bored faces in first class scroll over us lesser passengers as we trundle our baggage to the back of the plane, stalled behind a kid in a striped shirt whining for a soda, and an old, old lady in a lavender suit whose handbag clips people sitting on the aisle every couple of seats.

I watch a sated-looking man with a large platinum ring twingle his icecubes in bourbon and wad the Times around himself like a tarp, and I have to fight the urge to turn around, to shove back out into the terminal as though I’ve just arrived.

I read a story in the paper once about three drunk businessmen who got off an international flight and stole a baggage trolley. They careened around the runway until airport security caught up with them, guns drawn.

Then, the giddy businessmen leapt off the cart and ran toward the terminal. One of them, seeing a large hole in the ground, jumped to safety. Or so he thought. The hole was an automatic trash compactor, and as his blue-suited body fell past the sensor, the machine activated, its metal sides pressing forward, crushing him into a businessman-shaped cube. His two buddies stopped running at the brief and terrible sound of his scream.

Moral of the story is…?

Danny, who, when I told him this story, had just celebrated six months of sobriety, said, “Booze, man. See where it takes ya?”

This from the same man who did a naked barrel roll on a keg at our five-year college reunion, rising to scattered applause with confetti in his hair.

I couldn’t agree.

“I think it’s unfair,” I said. “The poor son-of-a-bitch.” What a moment that must have been, that exhilarating second in the air before darkness closed over him.



The trouble with recovery as I see it is the emphasis on God.

“Why don’t we just can all this higher power crap?” I said at last night’s meeting. “I’ll just pick up my lifetime supply of cigarettes and Diet Coke and we can leave it at that.”

I could see in the carefully neutral expressions of my peers that they thought I was failing to process my issues.

“I don’t have issues,” I told them, and stood up. “I’m missing a piece. I feel nothing. I’m a sociopath.”

“Brian,” somebody whispered. “We can help you work through this. You’re obviously experiencing a lot of pain over your friend’s death.”

I remained standing. I’d made the mistake of telling the group about the phone calls. Three in the last month. What did he want? To get right with me before he died? Apologize? Not Danny. Rationalize, joke, disregard. At least that’s what I assumed he wanted, because I never actually picked up.

Legs crossed and recrossed, everybody leaned forward and looked at me. The whiff of guilt in the air was like blood in the water. These were people, like me, who had repeatedly let down the ones they loved — I was about to tell their favorite kind of story. Their eyes were focussed, their tongues tasted good in their mouths.

“Fuck YOU,” I said, and walked out the door, with a fleeting sense of victory that evaporated before I made it onto the street.



While the plane is taking off, I concentrate on a feeling of lightness, disconnection from the ground. I look out the window, and think, UP, UP, UP! After we reach cruising altitude I let out my breath and watch the clouds. The stewardess minces by, her bleached courtesy devoid of sex appeal. How did I end up on an airline where they still wear navy blue bows? She asks me what I would like.

I’d like a blow job, I think. She wrinkles her nose as though a distasteful image has come to her, and shimmies the cart impatiently.

“Orange juice,” I say. “On the rocks.”

She smiles with her mouth only, a barely perceptible lip exercise that does not affect the rest of her face. She leaves me with a cup of orange juice that tastes like a can. Aluminum juice. No doubt it’s toxic. Everything is toxic, even spring water. All the innocent pleasures of the past — Coca-Cola, Mountain Springs, Sex with Stewardesses — contain lethal possibilities.

The woman next to me smells like a casserole. She wears a small gold heart dangling over the top of her turtleneck, which is a disconcerting shade of peach. She looks as though she’s lost something. Her mouth forms a sad “O” and her eyes are fixed on the seatback in front of her. The tufty brown-gray hair of the man seated there pokes hopefully up. He’s got a happy head. Some people you can just tell, looking at their hands or the backs of their heads, that they are happy.

“Why?” I want to ask them.


About a year after Karin left I decided to get sober. I’d woken up on a cold concrete stoop, half-a-block from my apartment, urine making a map on my pant leg. Danny’d gone into detox a couple of months ahead of me, after passing out in the champagne fountain at his sister Elizabeth’s wedding.

Of course, he cleaned right up like a copper penny. He made friends with the staff at The Clinic, and the women in particular were all deeply concerned for his welfare. An endless network of entertaining new alcoholic pals appeared: Bud, Leonard, Marianne, Louise. He made detox sound like such a good time, I thought I’d go.

All the sitcom types checked out before I arrived, however. My liver was sounding an organ-failure alert that made my whole body feel sick and weak. Everybody seemed ugly, smelly, and liable to steal the few possessions I’d brought along. The staff had clean, cracked hands and supercilious smiles. And I took up smoking, which doesn’t suit me.


When Parker and Danny came to cheer me up in the stir, the first thing Parker said was “Christ, Brian, you look like shit.” I’d been playing cards with my roommate, Hank, a grouchy third-timer who didn’t give me much hope for the future. I’d beaten him at round after round of gin — what a game! — until finally I started losing deliberately on Hank’s behalf.

“Thanks a million, Parker,” I said, and we all slapped hands and went down the hall to the lounge, where a couple of candy stripers came to check up on Danny.

The way he leaned back in the overstuffed chair, one foot on the coffee table, so at ease, made me want to slug him. Parker just fidgeted with the inspirational literature and looked vaguely disdainful, or dismayed, I wasn’t sure which. Hard to tell with him — his drying-out process had been far more dignified than either mine or Danny’s. He just stopped, one day. Mr. Willpower and the Stud, not the two guys you want seeing you all unshaven and fat beneath the fluorescent lights.

“Hang in there, man,” Danny said on his way out. “I’m here for ya.”


The woman next to me has allowed her two small packages of peanuts to slip down into the V-shaped wedge between her stretchpant-clad thighs. I try not to think about that, or about putting my hand in for a peanut rescue attempt.

I want to say something to her, but she stares resolutely ahead at Happy Hair and her fingers do little convulsive prong/grip, prong/grip motions on the metal ends of the armrests.

I realize then that she is afraid. She hasn’t been thinking thoughts of up, but of down. She’ll jeopardize us all.

“Lifesaver?” I ask her, and she looks at me as though I have threatened to open the escape hatch and flush her out of the plane. I reach into my pocket, which is trapped beneath the seatbelt, and my fingers struggle around in the tweediness for a minute before I come up with the half-gone package of Lifesavers, a glob of lint clinging to the top.


One thing I don’t miss about the good old days is attempting to reconstruct the details of the night before: where did my keys go, what happened to my shoes, who was the recipient of my midnight phone call?

Numerous women have had the pleasure of being on The List, but mostly Karin, until we moved in together, and I bought her a ring that I hid in my sock drawer because the right opportunity just never arose. I was usually too busy apologizing to propose. Now that I live sober and alone in a two-room carpeted shithole the telephone tempts me anew:

Call her, she’ll come keep you warm. Call her, she’ll understand. She needs you. You need her. Give her a ring. She’ll think it’s touching you mix up the beginnings and endings of your sentences, so nervous, so dazed with love.

Or maybe she’ll just think you’re drunk.

Tell her it’s just the phone jitters — it’s been so long. She misses you. You miss her. She wants you back. Of course she does.

But I know from experience that this same telephone will pretend not to know me in the morning. I thought that after a while without her the middle of the night would be different. It’s not. I get up, around four or five a.m., and walk down the hall to the bathroom, sensing through the black panes of the curtainless windows that the night is empty, the sky endless and blank.


“What’s your name?” I ask the woman next to me, in as affable and harmless a manner as I can muster. It comes out sounding like “It’s a nice day.” Perfect. It’s a nice day, what’s your name?

“Susan,” she answers, and adds in a whisper, “I hate flying.” I think this is kind of her. Nothing worse than loud proclamations of fear on board ship. Brings down morale.

“I’m not crazy about it either,” I say. “What I do is, I pretend I’m flying the plane. That way, I’m busy while we’re taking off — pulling the throttle, pushing all those buttons…”

Susan looks ill.

“But I’m not actually doing anything,” I say, holding my hands out so she can see I haven’t been messing with any controls. “It’s just a distraction.” We’re bumping along between thin sheets of clouds, cotton candy pulled to pieces and laid across the sky. I don’t tell her that I always try to get a seat near the wing, upon which I imagine strippers doing a complicated, nasty number just for me.

“You know what I do?” Susan says.

“No,” I answer, unexpectedly turned on.

“I take two Valiums and drink a shot of Absolut before I get on the plane.” I look at her face, a round, soft-featured face with hazel-brown eyes and the kind of perky, good-natured nose that starts to look out of place on a woman as she ages.

“Oh,” I say.

She smiles and blinks slowly as if to accentuate her artificial relaxation. Her throat is tanned and a little wrinkly — she’s probably in her early forties. Is she flying towards or away from her husband? How attached is she to the idea of being married?

“You have any more of those?” I ask her, and a small, smooth rock slides down my throat, rests cold against my ribs. Please say no, I think. Please say no.


On the last legendary night of our drinking careers, Danny and I got loaded on the way to see the Rolling Stones at Foxboro. We were arguing about which song was the single greatest Stones song ever.

“Emotional Rescue,” I said, steering Parker’s new red VW into the passing lane.

“Bullshit,” Danny said, swishing some pricey bogwater around his mouth. “Beast of Burden is their best song, no competition.”

“Overplayed,” I said.

“Here,” he said, passing me the bottle. “Go up that entrance ramp.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” I said, single-malt cooling my tongue.

“Do it do it do it GO!”

I swung the VW across two lanes and hurtled around the corner up the ramp, both of us yelling and whooping and the car rattling from the speed, the terrified face of a woman driving a Yugo swerving to avoid us and then we popped over the curb and onto the Northbound, hearts pumping inside our heads.

“Woohoo,” Danny said, laughing, leaning back against the seat. “Atta boy. Don’t think so much.”

It was on the way home that the tree leaned out to embrace the car, and we woke up with blood all over our faces, me with one shoe missing, and Danny’s collar bone cracked.

“Get Offa My Cloud,” Danny said, as the paramedics loaded him into the back of the ambulance, and I shook my head. A decidedly minor song.

He’d spent some time in the parking lot with a long-haired rocker who claimed to have opened for the Stones in New York City in ‘78. The needle slid in, slid out, just another story to tell. I was hunched over a bonfire in a can, listening to a bunch of Harley riders talk about how they were going to kill me.



“Yes,” Susan says. “You want some?”

This is the kind of situation I always find myself in. I ask for things, I make bad decisions. I want. Danny never really wanted anything. Because it never occurred to him that he wouldn’t get whatever he desired.

Susan looks at me expectantly.

I taste the chalky aftertaste in the back of my mouth, feel my body sink into the seat. The heaviness around my eyes, and later, the feeling of being separated from something, when the pills wear off. The feeling of being left behind.

“Yeah,” I say. I feel like something is trying to escape my chest, the air slowly compressed out of me.

Up, up, up.

“Nurse,” I say, as the stewardess passes by, handing out headphones. “Could I have some vodka for this orange juice?”

She gives me a suspicious look, reaches into the metal recesses of her cart, and extracts a tiny bottle.

Bitch, I think at her. Bitch bitch bitch.

“Do you want these?” Susan asks, pulling the packets of peanuts from their warm resting place. “Salt makes me feel bloated, especially on a plane. You lose half a gallon of water as soon as the thing takes off. Sucks the moisture right out of you.”

To demonstrate my faith in her pronouncement, I hydrate myself with my newly improved drink.


The very last time I saw Danny, we were standing outside the YMCA in the cold, swapping tales with the rest of the Tuesday regulars. All I can see in my mind’s eye are chapped, red hands knuckling cigarettes and breath vaporizing the air. Storytime. After the meeting is when the real details get leaked.

Then I hit my wife in the face with a wrench.

Danny was telling our Rolling Stones adventure, in nitty-gritty detail, and I was busy digesting the fact that he and Karin had been doing the dirty the whole while I was suffering the worst bender of my life.

“I thought you knew,” Parker had said at the end of my long pause during what I thought was just a routine phone call. “Son-of-a-bitch. How could you not know?”

My thoughts swarmed around like bees, as I watched the regulars respond to Danny’s exaggerations, laughing in all the right places. I watched his jaw shaping words until my mind was blackened and stinging, and when he got to the part about the blow-up dolls inflating during “Honky Tonk Women,” I threw him down in a snow bank and punched him in the face as hard as I could, until the other guys pulled me off him.

I don’t remember this, but apparently I was sobbing like a baby, and saying embarrassing things, like: “I thought you were my friend,” and “How was it, fucking your best friend’s girl?” A bad movie.

In one of my imagined versions of this moment, a plow goes by, scraping along with a gunnel of snow pouring out one side and whiting over the salt and exhaust-covered banks. Danny and I are caught up, and we roll along underneath it, tossed in the air and scraped back over and over again, the yellow lights illuminating the praying faces of our audience. Deus Ex. Killed by a snow plow.

In another, he says, “I’m sorry man, I’m sorry,” and we bear hug and walk away from the scene, our noses bleeding, the remaining onlookers baffled and moved by the strength of our bond.

We certainly don’t get into separate cars and drive away, never to speak again.


Susan refuses the headset, and so do I. The better to hear one of the engines falling out, or the stud-bolting rip of the wing disattaching itself from the plane. I can’t watch any more movies, anyway, especially not the happy-ending pap they show on public transportation. In the end, Danny and I were made of movies — our first year of sobriety was one big double feature. We’d watch anything: bloated Hollywood melodramas, goofy romantic comedies, horror flicks, animated films, long-winded French movies — so long as it took up the hours between seven and eleven p.m. The worst hours of the day, any alcoholic will tell you. Seamed with temptation. The people inside the misted pub windows look like they’re having such a good time, it seems entirely possible to drink like a normal person.

And thank God for those romantic sub-plots, right?


“Are you visiting friends in Boston?” Susan asks.


“Just a business trip?” she offers, surveying my tatty tweed jacket, wrinkled shirt and splotched jeans. Maybe I’m one of those freelance types who never has to leave his living room?

“No,” I say, pleased to have a definite answer.

She waits a moment.


“Oh-haha-no.” I’m beginning to enjoy this game.


“No, thank God.”

She laughs at this. “I know what you mean.”

“I’m going to a funeral,” I say, with a relaxed smile to let her know that I’ve been to a lot of funerals, I like the free food, it’s no big deal, don’t sweat it. Just a dead guy.

“Oh God. I’m sorry. Was it someone you were close to?”

“No,” I say.

Silence hums in the pressurized cabin for a long moment.

“Would you mind putting your shade down just a little bit?” I say. “The sun’s getting in my eyes.”

“Are you okay?” Susan asks.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”


I order some more improvement from the stewardess. It slides cool and familiar down my throat, filling out all the empty pockets in my gut where my feelings used to reside. I watch the shadow of the plane move along the ground.

It grows small, smaller, then larger, moving closer and closer across the pressed-in houses and tiny parking lots, until it looks like a whiskered shark, and the flaps on the wings groan open, exposing the fragile-looking mechanics that keep us aloft.