Calamity and Other Stories

Calamity and Other Stories

by Daphne Kalotay

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Twelve luminous stories alive with friendship and secrets introduce a remarkable writer. Daphne Kalotay’s characters confront regrets and unrealized hopes in tales tinged with gentle humor. A newly independent woman finds herself in bed with an ex-husband of long ago. A little girl gets a surprising glimpse into adulthood when she catches her mother in a moment


Twelve luminous stories alive with friendship and secrets introduce a remarkable writer. Daphne Kalotay’s characters confront regrets and unrealized hopes in tales tinged with gentle humor. A newly independent woman finds herself in bed with an ex-husband of long ago. A little girl gets a surprising glimpse into adulthood when she catches her mother in a moment of uninhibited pleasure. A thirteen-year-old boy contends with the unwanted attentions of a younger girl. And for two older women, a tie formed in their youth sustains them through varied twists of fate. These are dazzling intertwined tales of love, failure, and the comedy of human relationships.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Kalotay's debut story collection centers on contemporary characters, recognizable individuals whose chance encounters with new people or unfamiliar situations provide revealing insights. Many of the stories focus on the young -- adults in their early 20s, teenagers and children -- who are struggling to make connections with others, to come to terms with difficult relationships, or to find a comfortable place in the world.

Several stories in Calamity follow the same character, at different points in his or her life. For example, we read about Rhea as a 10-year-old who unexpectedly witnesses her mother enjoying a surprising moment of sexual pleasure. Later, Rhea reappears as a lonely, single 28-year-old craving a deeper involvement with the electrician who fixes the wiring in her apartment. Later still, we meet Rhea when she is working as a college professor and suffering through a terrifying plane ride with a stranger.

Kalotay's writing is restrained yet nimble, pulling readers into each story without drawing attention to the prose. As a result, her characters are real, sympathetic, and memorable -- the kind of people you'd be delighted to meet. (Spring 2005 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
Kalotay's delicately graceful debut offers what many story collections do not: the chance to discover what becomes of its many characters. While some never resurface, like the heartbreaking Sergei, a Russian immigrant permanently scarred by a past mugging in "Sunshine Cleaners," or Cole Curtin, the down-and-out piano teacher hopelessly in love with his young students' mothers in "Serenade," others reappear throughout Kalotay's 12 interconnected tales. Geoff, a 13-year-old boy struggling with puberty, his parents' divorce and his mother's consequent depression in "All Life's Grandeur," is later found hungover in the backseat of a stranger's car, obsessing over love and bracing himself for his childhood best friend's marriage. Annie, a young and confident divorcee in "A Brand New You," attends the same wedding, now an eccentric, insightful old woman. Capturing her characters at different stages in their lives, Kalotay artfully crafts her book around their metamorphoses, both big and small. Her greatest achievements are "The Man from Allston Electric" and the title story, in which Rhea, the true star of the book, finds fleeting sanctuary with a repairman and divulges her deepest secret to a complete stranger. Contrary to the high-drama intensity suggested by the collection's title, each of Kalotay's stories is unwaveringly sparse and deceptively simple, focusing on the power of the ordinary rather than the energy of action. Agent, Leigh Feldman. (On sale Jan. 18) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
There are two kinds of short stories: one, the moment-frozen-in-time dissection of a particular event; and two, the all-encompassing storytelling of a writer like Alice Munro, which is in essence a kind of abbreviated novel--a full-length narrative boiled down to its essential details, but which still tells an entire story. Kalotay's stories are of the latter variety. Her characters are explored in full, their landscapes lively and almost tangible in their realism, their plots touching on not just the present but also the past of the story's world, like feature-length films in their intricacy. The stories in this collection deal with such subjects as summer cottage life, high school prom, an immigrant's loneliness, weddings, and the life of divorcTes, among others. But Kalotay manages a fresh angle in her treatment of each of those subjects; her characters are so fully rendered, so real that the plots of her story become vistas upon which the author's creation are placed, often resulting in fascinating consequences. Kalotay's writing is lithe, her dialogue light yet believable, and her characters delightfully comprehensible and identifiable as people we know. Kalotay's stories are ponderous (in a good way) and superbly told. This collection is best suited for patient readers who like to take in each word, who wonder how writers like Kalotay pull on their emotions so. KLIATT Codes: SA--Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2005, Random House, Anchor, 193p., $12.95.. Ages 15 to adult.
—Sam Solomon
Kirkus Reviews
Best friends grow into young womanhood, in a debut collection of a dozen interlocking tales. We meet willful, dark-haired Rhea and cheerful, blonde Callie as ten-year-old girls living in an affluent Boston suburb, where they witness a moment of grown-up intimacy between their mothers at a summer party ("Serenade"). Next comes the trite "A Brand New You," in which newly thin and happy 40-year-old grad student Annie flaunts her liberation by seducing her ex-husband. A much stronger piece, "All Life's Grandeur," shows protagonist Geoff enduring puberty and his father's sexy new wife while his mother "recovers" at her parents' house. "Prom Season" serves merely to introduce Geoff's best friend Mack, an indolent, attractive boy who must be prodded into asking his date to the prom. A recent Russian immigrant uses petty meanness as a flirtation device in "Sunshine Cleaners," the only story that does not obviously feature a previous character, and one of the best in the collection. Rhea, now a grad student in her late 20s and newly dumped by fiance Gregory, returns to flirt with a workingman in "The Man from Allston Electric" and with an Italian aristocrat in "Difficult Thoughts," which includes an inexcusable cameo by the ghost of a dead mother. In "Anniversary," Mack's mother Eileen confesses to best friend Annie that she wishes her son, engaged to Callie, would marry Rhea instead. No such luck. Geoff, whose unraveled relationship is chronicled in "Snapshots," is urged by a happily married man to find a woman in "Rehearsal Dinner." Meanwhile, Rhea has a near-death experience en route to the wedding in "Calamity" and confesses the truth about her relationship with Mack. Which makes her a drunkenspectacle in the final story, "Wedding at Rockport," where Mack marries Callie, Eileen pines for Rhea, and Geoff falls in love. Unsatisfying as a proto-novel and wildly uneven as stand-alone stories. Agent: Leigh Feldman/Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman
From the Publisher
"Like short-story collections by Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore . . . Calamity tends to dwell on fraught relationships between the sexes. . . . Lovely [and] comic." —San Francisco Chronicle"Superior fiction. Forget the flashy epiphany, the Kodak moment. Kalotay prefers the glancing accumulation of detail, which pays off to impressive effect." —Los Angeles Times"Kalotay's collection builds force so quietly that when all the characters appear together in the final story you're stunned—by how well it works and by how familiar these women now feel." —The New York Times Book Review"Contemplative, melancholy, yet not without humor, these are well-made fictions on a delicate scale that subtly demonstrate such truths as the persistence of character and the endurance of friendship." —The Boston Globe"These stories, simply told and insightful, make for entertaining reading.” —The Sunday Oklahoman“Daphne Kalotay pursues the ongoing arc of her characters’ lives in subtle, languid, sometimes oblique ways.”  The Improper Bostonian“Kalotay’s stories offer an intimate glimpse at . . . the absurdities and delights of an ordinary life.” —The Virginian-Pilot"[A] delicately graceful debut. . . . Capturing her characters at different stages in their lives, Kalotay artfully crafts her book around their metamorphoses, both big and small." —Publishers Weekly"Compassion is at the heart of Kalotay's polished stories, as are a subtle sense of humor and appreciation for the complexities of human emotion." —Booklist

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Read an Excerpt

They had been in the air for less than an hour when Rhea heard
a popping sound. It seemed to come from outside, maybe from
one of the wings, and though it wasn't anything Rhea had ever
heard before, she knew instinctively that it was a bad sound.
"Did you hear that?" said the woman in the next seat.
Rhea said no.
"You didn't hear that?"
Rhea said no partly because she found denial a perfectly
acceptable way of preventing panic, and partly because she did
not like-again, instinctively-this woman, who, as a standby
passenger, had claimed seat 36B at the very last minute, just
when Rhea had confidently placed her bag there and arranged
along both tray tables the folder full of student papers she suspected
she would not read, the magazine she knew she would,
and the little leather journal in which she recorded tersely
phrased personal insights. Then came this big woman, too
much of her for her seat, with coarse dark hair and a broad
shock of white on top, like a skunk. She looked to be a good
forty years older than Rhea, seventy or so, and wore enormous
eyeglasses that wove in gold across the bridge of her nose. The
air immediately filled with the too-sweet smell of imitation
perfume-probably, Rhea thought to herself, something in
misspelled French. The glasses were real, Christian Dior-
printed on the outer part of the left temple, another horizontal
gold braid.
It was at that point, after gathering back her belongings, that
Rhea had written in her little notebook, "I am living proof that it
does not take money to be a snob."
From the way the woman wedged herself into her seat with
an unrestrained wheeze, her long flowered skirt catching on the
armrest, Rhea knew that she was one of those people who had no
trouble falling asleep in public places, drooling even, sprawling
out on bus seats and in movie theaters. And, true to form, the
woman had even snored a little, while Rhea skimmed an article
entitled "Turn Him On-with Minimal Makeup!"
"There, did you hear that?" the woman asked again.
"Hear what?"
But it was no good lying anymore, because just then the
plane took a sudden dip and, just as quickly, righted itself.
Around them, people murmured nervously.
"Oh my God," said the woman. "You can't say you didn't feel
"Fine, you're right." Rhea blamed the woman for forcing her
to admit it. "Happy now?"
The woman turned to stare at Rhea, enormous glasses magnifying
her dark eyes. Rhea too was shocked at her outburst. She
attributed it to fear-of the plane's odd behavior, and of the
coming weekend in Massachusetts, yet another event she preferred
not to think about. She wished she had taken advantage of
the airport bar before boarding. There had certainly been time
enough, two hours of delay due to technical problems with the
plane, which Rhea now considered mentioning to the standby
woman, who had conveniently missed that whole chapter of the
The captain's voice, a lazy-sounding one, came at them:
"Folks. It appears we're having some problems with our
right hydraulic system. What that means is that, rather than continue
on to Logan, we're going to have to land at the closest runway,
which is in Baltimore. I've just spoken with the folks at BWI,
and it looks like they can clear us for landing in about twenty
minutes. So, if you'll bear with us. We apologize for the inconvenience."
"Inconvenience?" said the standby woman. She sounded
like she might be from New Jersey. "Landing without a right hydraulic
system." She shook her head. "Well, I'm sure he'll do a
fine job. Even without the right hydraulic system. I'm sure he's a
fine pilot."
Rhea said, "It doesn't matter if he's fine or not." She hadn't
mean to snap. But the plane was veering a little to the right, now
back to the left, and now made another sudden, brief plunge.
The woman took a short, frightened breath. Her perfume
seemed momentarily stronger.
"He's probably testing the plane," Rhea told the standby
woman, wishing it were true. "Seeing which functions are still
"It's my fault," said the standby woman.
"What's your fault?"
"I'm bad luck. Nothing ever goes smoothly when I'm involved.
If I'm in a car, there's a flat tire. Or a traffic jam. If I go to
a movie, there's some black thing flickering on the screen. If you
invite me to a wedding, it rains."
Rhea thought for a moment and said, "That's incredibly egotistical."
The standby woman did not seem to have heard her. "I'm a
"Everyone thinks that about themselves," said Rhea.
"But with me it's true," said the standby woman.
"Believe me. It isn't. I know for certain. None of this is your
"How do you know?"
Rhea knew because it was her fault. This fact had become
suddenly clear to her. For months she had been dreading Callie
and Mack's wedding, regretted ever having agreed to be Maid of
Honor. Never mind the inconvenience of it, with the semester
barely started and Rhea only a month into her new job. Never
mind that the flight from Virginia, where she had accepted a
professorship at a small private college, had cost enough to make
her regret ever having moved there in the first place. That wasn't
the half of it-and yet Rhea had said yes. After all, Callie was her
oldest childhood friend, and had asked her without-
Rhea could not even allow herself to continue the thought.
Each day that the wedding drew closer, Rhea had waited for some
emergency to present itself, something that might prevent her
from attending. If only a problem arose that was completely out
of her control, then she would have an excuse.
The plane tilted oddly back, as if stretching its head to yawn.
Around them, people were making panicky sounds.
"You see?" said the standby woman. "I'm bad luck."
"Fine!" Rhea said. "Blame it on her, everyone. She's the
cause of all this." It came out more loudly than Rhea had intended.
The woman turned toward her, gigantic lenses for eyes,
looking stunned. The plane tilted forward, and then more forward.
Rhea gripped her armrests. More general panic was expressed
before the structure found its balance.
The woman's eyes had welled with tears. She sniffed into the
little square napkin that had come with her complimentary beverage,
and reached behind the enormous gold frames to dab at
her eyes.
"See that?" said Rhea. "You thought things were bad, and
now you see that it wasn't so bad after all. So what if the right hydraulic
system failed. Maybe it's worse to have your neighbor
saying mean things to you, making a spectacle of the both of us."
"I'm glad you're able to see that."
"Look at the bright side. We're heading to the airport, and
the plane's still, miraculously, in the air. Be thankful. Be glad."
"Okay, I will," said the woman.
"Because I'll tell you something," Rhea continued. "No matter
how bad it gets, it can always get worse."
As if to confirm this, the captain came on the intercom and
said, "Well, folks. It looks like we're having some trouble with
our front wing flaps."
Nervous groans came from all around, the intonation of
whiny question marks.
"What this means," the pilot went on, "is that our landing is
going to be more difficult than anticipated. We do still have full
brake control, but we are going to have to instruct you in the
proper emergency landing procedure. So I'd like you to please
give your full attention to Irene and Nat, who in a few minutes
will provide detailed instructions."
"See that?" said Rhea.
"Oh God," said the woman.
"And you know what?" Rhea went on, unsure of what exactly
propelled her. "Even now, it could still get worse."
"What, do you want it to?" The woman gave a huff.
"I'm just trying to put it in perspective. This is not at all as
bad as all kinds of terrible things. You know what I read in the
paper the other day? I read about a guy, some young father here
in the good old U.S. of A., who went out with a buddy of his and
left his baby daughter in the car, windows rolled up, on a sunny
ninety-degree day. Just left her there while he and his friend
went fishing or something."
"That's horrible," said the standby woman, and added, tentatively,
"Did she die?"
"Of course," Rhea told her. "But that wasn't the worst part.
When they came back to the car, the baby had been so hot and
miserable, she had torn her hair out of her head."
"Oh my God."
"A little baby with fists full of her own hair." Rhea took a
breath. "So you see, we don't have it so bad."
The woman said, "I can't believe you just told me that."
"I'm sorry," Rhea said. "Talking makes me feel better. I like
to put things in perspective."
Actually, Rhea suspected that her habit of putting things in
perspective was the very problem with the way she lived her
life. To be so aware, constantly aware, of the many horrors in
the world made it hard to take your own problems seriously.
And yet it was no help, Rhea knew, to belittle her own existence.
That hadn't made it any less painful when her fiancé left
her, or when she didn't get the Tufts job, or when a journal
rejected a paper of hers. If only she could shake that greater
pessimism-that resigned acceptance of life's constant abominations-
that she so often let guide her decisions. She had
given so many things up that way, and betrayed Callie with the
same reasoning. That persistent reminder, the threat of
calamity, had allowed her to justify all kinds of actions she now
Rhea opened up her little leather-bound notebook and
wrote neatly, "Hypothetical life is always better."
The captain asked them to please give their attention to
Nat and Irene.
Rhea thought for a moment and said aloud, "Don't women
ever get to be captains?"
The standby woman took only a moment before saying, "No,
no, I don't think so."
Rhea nodded, mystery solved. That was what Rhea liked
about older women. You could count on them for the truth, because
they had lived it. Young people pretended that the world
was better than it had once been, because that was what should
be true. Older women could state the actual reality-the limita-
tions and injustices that prevailed-because they had grown up
in a world where these things were said outright.
Rhea opened her little notebook again and wrote, "Old
women are good for the facts."
Nat and Irene had begun their performance. On a broad
screen glowed a detailed accompanying video. Rhea focused her
attention on Irene, who stood closest and, with hair in a stiff
ponytail, told her audience that they would need to remove all
jewelry, eyewear, headwear, hair clips, and false teeth.
Even though Rhea knew that what she was being told might
save her life, the old student in her had dredged up from her
school days a natural resistance to instruction, so that she found
it impossible, even now, to give Irene her full, respectful concentration.
Instead, she found herself wondering who would
pick her up at Logan. "Don't worry, someone will come get you,"
Callie had said in her easy way. But what if it were Mack? Would
Rhea be able to keep from telling him? Would she be able to not
cry? And then Rhea remembered that she might not make it to
the airport.
Irene was now demonstrating how to crouch in the proper
position, head between knees, hands grasped behind the neck.
She asked the passengers to please practice this position, and
Rhea bent forward. The position was not comfortable. She sat
up, as others had.
Irene instructed them to please practice this position again.
She's just saying that to kill time, thought Rhea. But, like an
obedient child, she bent over again.
The standby woman was too big to do this properly. Giving
up, she said to Rhea, "I used to be thin, like you. On my wedding
day I weighed ninety-nine pounds."
Is that some sort of threat? Rhea wanted to ask. No, she
thought, just another musing on loss, now that tragedy seemed
The captain spoke. "Folks. We have not yet been cleared for
landing." There was the pause of the intercom clicking off, then
on again. "It looks like we're going to have to circle for about ten
more minutes. Thank you for your patience."
The flight attendants were making their way down the aisles,
checking that everyone was following the proper procedure.
"I suppose I should introduce myself," the woman said. "I'm
Rhea thought to herself how many times this poor woman
had said that name and watched people act like it was perfectly
acceptable. Except for when she was in elementary school,
thought Rhea. I bet she was teased a lot.
"My name's Rhea."
In elementary school they had called her Dia Rhea.
Gaylord said, "I'm going to visit my son. He has two boys. I
haven't seen them in a few months. Not since my husband's funeral.
I'm a new widow."
She said "new widow," Rhea thought, the way one might say
"recent graduate" or "nouveau riche." Well, maybe she was
newly rich, buying whatever she could off of her husband's insurance
policy. That, come to think of it, might explain the
showy eyeglasses.
Some rows ahead of them, a woman was refusing to remove
her jewelry. A stewardess could be heard insisting in reasonable,
businesslike inflections.
"This was my grandmother's necklace, and I will not take
it off."
"Good for her," said Gaylord, carefully folding her glasses
into a case of purple leather, which she now clicked shut.
Amazing, thought Rhea, seeing Gaylord's face exposed,
puffy pockets of darkened skin under her eyes, little lines all
over, her expression sad and overwhelmed, as if she had been
suddenly asked to shave her head or walk naked in public. Without
her glasses, she no longer looked at all appalling. She did still
look a little skunky. Rhea watched as she took from her purse,
also purple leather, a gold makeup compact, which she sprung
open and peered into with a sigh. With a tiny brush, she applied
pale green powder to her eyelids. Then she dabbed a different
little brush into some red gel, which she swiped back and forth
over her lips.
Primping for death, thought Rhea. Gaylord peeked at herself
in the mirror one more time and said, "I look dreadful."
And Rhea thought to herself that they all were, really were,
everyone on the aircraft, full of dread.
"If we live through this," she said, though she hadn't meant
to put it that way, "do you know what this whole experience will
Gaylord shook her head.
"An anecdote." Rhea knew that the sick feeling that they all
had in their stomachs right now would not even return in the
telling. It would be recalled and described but not felt.
Gaylord said, "We're going to die together."
"I cannot believe you just said that. Will you please not say
that? Really. Do not say that again." Rhea could hear the annoyance
in her voice. "You may feel you've lived a full life, but I'm
not finished yet, all right?"
"I apologize," said Gaylord, sighing.
Behind them, a baby began to wail. All around was the snapping
sound of rings, chains, and watches being placed in purses,
sunglasses removed and folded.
Rhea opened up her little leather notebook. In all caps she
wrote "REGRETS" and underneath, in lowercase, "Do I have
She sat and thought.
"Well, do you?" asked Gaylord.
"Do I what?"
"Have any regrets?"
"You're peeking!"
"So-do you?"
Rhea considered saying, "I regret not having flown first
class." But instead she found herself nodding. "Yes." Before she
could lose track of her thought, she wrote in her notebook, "I regret
having spent the majority of my life trying not to offend
Gaylord raised her eyebrows and said, "Could have fooled
"You're still spying!"
"What do you expect?"
"See, that's what I mean." What she meant was that Gaylord,
unlike herself, dared to tell the truth. She had dared to admit she
was looking over Rhea's shoulder. Rhea rarely felt comfortable
admitting what she was thinking. "I always try to keep my mouth
zipped," she told Gaylord, "I try to hide my true thoughts, but
they always seem to pop out. And then I feel rude, when I say
what I think. It's just nerves today, freeing me up that way. And I
resent that. I resent that it takes an emergency landing for me to
really say what's what. It's only now that I see I've lived my life
trying to be polite."
"But why would you want to be impolite? What good is there
in that?"
"I've just spent so much time holding my knees closed, you
know? Clasping my hands on my lap. What good does that do the
world? I've spent so much time and effort on trying to dress the
right way, trying to say the appropriate things. Trying to fit in
rather than be a person who accomplishes anything. That's my
Gaylord seemed to be thinking this over. She said, "In other
words, you regret having been a woman."
This fact had not occurred to Rhea before, not in those precise
words. But now she saw that it was true. "Yes, I regret not
having been a man in this world."
She thought of this now, and, returning to the memory she
so often arrived at, asked Gaylord, "Any secrets you'll be taking
to your grave?"
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe I'm just thinking aloud. Wondering if I have a secret
I'd rather die than tell."
"Do you?"
"I have a secret. But I'd rather tell it than die." And it suddenly
seemed that she alone could save the airplane, that if she
told just one person, they would all be saved. This feeling was
overwhelming. She whispered to Gaylord, "When I was twentyeight
I had an abortion."
Gaylord nodded her head and said, "When I was twentyeight
I had a miscarriage."
"An abortion is different," said Rhea, annoyed. "And anyway,
that's not the whole secret."
Maybe, thought Rhea, Gaylord was one of those religious
ladies who stand outside the clinics on weekends, holding rosary
beads and photographs of bloody fetuses. But no, Gaylord with
her bright stripe of hair simply wouldn't fit in with those tedious,
pale women. That shock of white. It suddenly struck Rhea
as an incredibly bold thing, to enter the world each day with hair
like that.
"So what's the story?" Gaylord asked.
"It was two years ago. I'd known I was pregnant for nearly
two months," Rhea told her. "I went through everything you
probably did, morning sickness, everything. But I had been
awarded a travel grant, a research scholarship, actually, and I was
supposed to leave in a few months, and I knew there was no way
I could have a baby and go traipsing around Italy. And the
father-he. Wasn't my boyfriend. He was my friend's boyfriend."
She paused to bite her upper lip. "I finally convinced myself
that everything would be better once I ended the pregnancy. So I
didn't tell anyone, and I went to have the abortion and felt completely
prepared. Completely ready. And I got there and they did
the final checkup beforehand, and you know what? There were
two. I was carrying twins."
Rhea felt herself about to cry, but the voice of the head flight
attendant came from the intercom. "We will now complete our
descent. Please take your positions. We remind you that you are
to have removed all headwear, eyewear, jewelry, dentures, retainers,
and studs. Please take your positions."
The air swelled with the eerie quiet of controlled panic. Only
the screaming baby continued to complain. People spoke in
whispery tones as they bent forward, heads between knees, and
grabbed their necks.
"I guess this is it," said Gaylord, whose face wasn't quite between
her knees.
"What about you?" Rhea asked, head down, voice muffled.
"What about me?"
"What's your secret?"
Gaylord said, "I'm still wearing my false teeth."
Rhea laughed.
"I look bad enough without my glasses. If I die I'm going to
at least have my teeth in."
"Top or bottom?"
"Bottom. I look ancient with my jaw all sunken in."
Gaylord sighed. "My husband."
"I guess that's my secret."
The captain came on. "Flight attendants, prepare for
Gaylord said, "I started gaining a lot of weight after my first
child," as if in explanation.
That was when the plane began heading swiftly toward the
ground. No one dared to sigh or squirm. Even the baby stopped
screaming. Rhea gripped her neck as tightly as she was able.
Down, down, they went, and went, and went, and then hit the
ground with incredible force. There was another popping noise,
and the plane continued forward at great speed. But it was still in
one piece, thought Rhea, at least it seemed to be, unless they
were about to slam into something. Rhea supposed that was en-
tirely possible. But then the plane began to slow. Rhea could feel
it. They could all feel it, and the air itself seemed to relax, to refill
with a collective exhalation.
Gaylord said, "I think we may actually be okay."
Are you trying to jinx it? thought Rhea. But right then the
plane came to a stop.
Without waiting for word from the captain, everyone sat up.
Above them, oxygen masks dangled like piñatas. They must have
been released on impact. Looking out the window, Rhea saw an
array of emergency vehicles-fire trucks, ambulances, lights and
neon colors. Nat the flight attendant was already making his way
down the aisle, explaining that they should not use the oxygen
"They're just for dramatic effect," said Rhea. Indeed, there
was an odd air of festival, the hanging masks all around them.
Over the intercom, the captain stated that they were going to
have to evacuate the plane via emergency chute. "Please leave all
belongings on the plane," he said. "Do not take your belongings
with you down the chute. Follow the flight attendants, and leave
your belongings on the plane."
All around, women grabbed their pocketbooks. Gaylord had
already put her glasses back on. Now she snapped her earrings
into place. Her hands were shaking. "I can't believe we made it,"
she said. Rhea realized that her own hands were trembling.
The emergency exit had been opened, and from outside
came the whine of a siren. It really was unnecessary, thought
Rhea. But the siren continued as, row by row, passengers stood
up to shimmy out of their seats, ducking through the vines of
oxygen masks. It was already Rhea and Gaylord's turn. As they
waited in the aisle, shaky-legged, Rhea looked at Gaylord, at her
astounding glasses and heavy earrings and bright makeup.
"What your husband did to you," said Rhea. "It has nothing
to do with your weight. You know that, right?"
Gaylord looked at her in a way that suggested she just barely
knew this. But she nodded as Rhea said, "What I mean is-"
Gaylord said, "I know. It was just violence."
As they moved up toward the exit, the siren became louder.
Just violence. That those words should be allowed side by side . . .
Rhea glanced at Gaylord and did not want to imagine her past.
The situations people found themselves in on any day, Rhea reflected,
were really no less absurd than the one she was in right
now, standing here like a third-grader, about to go down a giant
inflated slide. I must note this, Rhea thought to herself, and then
realized that she no longer had her little leather book. She had
left it back at her seat.
"Wait till I tell my grandkids about this slide," Gaylord said,
looking truly pleased. "Whoever would have thought I'd be given
the chance to go down a slide again?"
The slide really was quite something, enormous and bouncy
and neon yellow. Some people hesitated before jumping out.
Women kept smuggling their purses along with them.
Rhea said, "Are we really going down that thing?" The airplane
itself, improbability incarnate, suddenly seemed safer
than that clownish slide. Gaylord did not appear at all worried.
She took the flight attendant's hand and then let go. Rhea
watched her slide fearlessly down, her skirt hitching up to her
waist. With clenched fists, Rhea stepped out to follow her into
the world of sirens and lights.

Meet the Author

Born and raised in New Jersey, Daphne Kalotay is a graduate of Vassar College and of Boston University, where she received an MA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in literature. Her short stories have appeared in various literary journals and magazines, and she has taught literature and writing at Middlebury College and Boston University. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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