Don is just about to experience the happiest moment of his lifeby Michel Faber / January 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Don, son of people no longer living, husband of Alice, father of Drew and Aleesha, is very, very close to experiencing the happiest moment of his life. It’s 10.03am according to his watch, and he is travelling down through the Scottish highlands to Inverness, tired and ever so slightly anxious in case he falls asleep between now and when the train reaches the station, and misses his cue to say to Alice, Drew and Aleesha: “OK, this is Inverness, let’s move it. His wife and children are dozing, worn out by sightseeing; the responsibility rests on his shoulders. He doesn’t know that the train terminates in Inverness and that everyone will be told by loudspeakers to get out; he imagines it rolling smoothly on, ferrying them farther south, stealthily leaving their pre-booked bed & breakfast behind. This is his first visit to Scotland; the film in his camera has only two shots left; there’s no Diet Coke on the refreshment trolley; his wife’s head sags forward, giving her a double chin; big raindrops skid silently against the thick glass of the train windows.
Don and his family have occupied the table seating on both sides of the central aisle: eight seats in all, for four people. He reassures himself that this is OK: the train isn’t very full. Plus, he and his family are big people: Americans, head and shoulders above most of the other passengers. Drew, just turned fifteen, is five-eleven; Don is six-two. Both of them have hands like boxers. Three hours ago, on the way down to breakfast in an overheated hotel near Dunrobin Castle, Drew had a little blowout and said “Fuck you, Dad,” but they’ve made up since then, and Don is two minutes away from the big moment.
Alice and Aleesha are across the aisle, slumped opposite each other, their sports bags propped in the window seats, too bulky for the overhead baggage rack. Aleesha, still a child at thirteen despite her budding breasts and chipped white nail polish, has snoozed off in the middle of reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her thin arm dangles in the aisle, bracelets of chewed multi-coloured cotton hooped around her knobbly wrist. Her mother is dreaming uneasily, digging her head into the back of the seat as if registering her frustration with its pitiless design. Alice is forty, and hates being forty. Every month, three days before her…