Karen turns to the window, and a speck of dirt on it makes her think, wouldn’t it be great if stars turned black during the day – the sky covered with dots like pepper? A cresent moon is visible to the south. Imagine looking up at the moon and seeing it on fire! For the first time in many moons, Karen feels as if her life is a real story, not just a string of events entered into a daybook – false linearity imposed on chaos as we humans try to make sense of oiur iffy situation here on earth. Karen thinks, Our curse as humans is that we are forced to interpret life as a sequence of events – a story – and when we can’t figure out what our particular story is, we feel lost somehow.

None of that for Karen, not today. The horny teenager across the aisle ever so discreetly holds up his iphone and ever so discreetly takes Karen’s photo, so Karen gives the camera the finger. She feels young again. And then she is struck by a sense of deja vu; strange, because her current mission is unlike any she’s undertaken before. And then the deja vu passes and Karen is left wondering what life would be like if it were nothing but deja vu – if life felt like a rerun all the time. She read something once about a person who had that condition, a lesion in the part of the brain that dictates one’s sense of time. Is that all time is – our perception of how quickly it does or does not pass?

And then the plane begins its gentle slope into the airport. The captain says they’ll be at the gate five minutes early. Karen experiences a rush of Christmas-morning feeling, the crazed, vibrating knowledge of wrapped toys beneath the tree, although the tree is actually the airport hotel cocktail lounge and the toy wrapped up in a box is Warren. Now that’s what I’d like Karen thinks. The sensation of it being Christmas morning colouring every moment of my life. 

A huffy flight attendant tells Karen to raise her seat-back for landing. Meddlesome cow. Karen decides to torment the flight attendant by waiting until the absolute last minute to re-position it. She adjusts herself in her seat and thinks about Warren. What does she know about the man? Only what he has chosen to tell her about himself, as well as the qualities she attributes to him thanks to his prompt-without-being-too-prompt-hence-not-at-all-psycho response time to her e-mails, e-mails in which she has told him about her job (as a secretary for three psychiatrists, the trio of whom are thoroughly mad), her daughter (Casey, the moody fifteen-year-old violinist), her ex (Kevin, the bastard; at least he’s planning to pay for Casey’s college education), and…after those big strokes, what’s to tell? We run out of things that make us individual very quickly; all of us have far more in common than we do not have in common. When Karen started working for doctors March, Wellesley, and Yamato, she thought she would at least enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of transcribing the doctor’s dictations after sessions – what fun to watch other people screw their lives up royally. And at first it was great, or rather, Dear Warren, at first it was great – but then it suddenly started becoming not so great, because, in between the suicides and stalkings and breakdowns and drug overdoses, it emerged that there are only a few variations on the theme of madness, or rather, of being untypical: paranoia, autism, depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and conditions that result from brain damage and growing old – well, you get the picture. All these Oliver Sacks books and online TED Conference speeches make craziness seem kooky and fun and compelling. Trust me, it’s all about making people stick to their meds and not being driven crazy when the ADHDs fidget and tap their feet against the rack full of aging Instyle magazines in the waiting area.

In his reply, Warren said that he had once thought it would be interesting to be a priest, because you’d get to hear similar tales of people’s dark sides in operation, except, when he thought it through, it might actually be dull as dirt, because there are only seven sins, not even eight, and once you’ve heard nothing other than seven sins over and over again, you must resort to doing Sudoku puzzles on the side of confessional, praying for someone, anyone, to invent a new sin and make things seem interesting again.

Sudoku? I love Sudoku, replied Karen. Warren liked it too. They were really connecting by then.

Warren: Karen is expecting a man around six feet tall, thinning hair but still with some shape to it, reasonably handsome – certainly handsome enough to be handsome enough to be sexy, but not so handsome as to leave Karen in a state of perpetual unease around waitresses, secretaries, and post-grad students. Wait – why am I fooling myself? A man walks into a bookstore and looks up books on loneliness, and every woman in the store hits on him. A woman looks for books on loneliness, and the store clears out. It doesn’t matter what sort of man you’re discussing, the only attractive feature he needs to possess is a pulse. Oddly, being divorced and having a daughter makes it easier for Karen to meet new guys – online, at least. By one’s early thirties, loss in all forms invariably makes its presence known. Children give Karen a common language to share with single fathers, one that childless people could never speak. And as long as one reined in the bitterness, divorce, offers another commonality not shared by the perpetually single.

Karen knows she looks younger than forty. Perhaps thirty six – or thirty four with a drinking problem. In Warren’s photos – and there have been only two photos (should that have set alarm bells ringing?) – he seems to be a slightly sad man, and a bit cheap looking, for some reason. It was hard to imagine him putting premium petrol into his 2009 Ford Ranger, which was in the third JPEG he shipped, a photo with no human beings in it. Please don’t let Warren be cheap. I’m too young to discuss coupons.

Trudging off the plane, Karen enjoyed the status smorgasbord of jet deplaning: foil snack wrappers and Dan Brown paperbacks in coach class, copies of The Economist and The Atlantic abandoned in business class, and, of course, elderly and crippled passengers abandoned on the iceberg, deplaning only at the very end.

And then, sailing past the luggage carousel holding only carry-on luggage, Karen felt the not unpleasant tinge of superiority. We envy those people who travel light, don’t we? At the carousel closest to the exit door stood a group of priests, and Karen got thinking again about the seven deadly sins, and she wondered why there were Ten Commandments but only seven sins. One would think, over the course of two thousand years, they might of harmonized that sort of thing. She walked past the pornographer-in-training teenage boy, travelling with his father and sister. He winked at Karen, and Karen laughed and walked out of the electric doors. The rain had stopped and sun leaked into the fringes of the taxi ranks. What a beautiful day! Yessirree, nothing could possibly go wrong on a beautiful day like today.

Cue the flaming Zeppelin.

Karen’s good-mood bubble was quickly popped when she got into a taxi and informed her driver that she wanted to go to the nearby Camelot Hotel. The driver was livid that she wasn’t a big, juicy downtown fare. His friend passing by in another cab rolled down his his window, Karen knew that her good name was being trashed in some language in which all the words sounded like boobaloo. Six minutes later the cab dropped her off in front of the Camelot Airport Cocktail lounge building, a defeated concrete satellite of the main hotel that resembled the third-best restaurant in the forth largest city in Bulgaria. The cabbie zoomed away as Karen was slamming the door. She decided to find the incident funny rather than annoying. Sometimes life leaves you with no choice, and besides, her present beneath the tree was waiting to be opened.


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