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In-Flight Entertainment


by Helen Simpson

Hardcover, 165 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $24 |


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Book Summary

A new collection of 13 stories by the Somerset Maugham Award-winning author of Four Bare Legs in a Bed invokes the experiences of contemporary women who tackle such challenges as midlife, marriage, parenting and young love.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: In-Flight Entertainment

from Diary of an Interesting Year


My thirtieth birthday. G gave me this little spiralbacked notebook and a Biro. It's a good present, hardly any rust on the spiral and no water damage to the paper. I'm going to start a diary. I'll keep my handwriting tiny to make the paper go further.


G is really getting me down. He's in his element. They should carve it on his tombstone — "I Was Right."


Glad we don't live in London. The Hatchwells have got cousins staying with them, they trekked up from Peckham (three days). Went round this afternoon and they were saying the thing that finally drove them out was the sewage system — when the drains backed up it overflowed everywhere. They said the smell was unbelievable, the streets were swimming in it, and of course the hospitals are down so there's nothing to be done about the cholera. Didn't get too close to them in case they were carrying it. They lost their two sons like that last year.

"You see," G said to me on the way home, "capitalism cared more about its children as accessories and demonstrations of earning power than for their future."

"Oh shut up," I said.

2ND MARCH 2040

Can't sleep. I'm writing this instead of staring at the ceiling. There's a mosquito in the room, I can hear it whining close to my ear. Very humid, air like filthy soup, plus we're supposed to wear our face masks in bed too but I was running with sweat so I ripped mine off just now. Got up and looked at myself in the mirror on the landing — ribs like a fence, hair in greasy rats' tails. Yesterday the rats in the kitchen were busy gnawing away at the bread bin — they didn't even look up when I came in.

6TH MARCH 2040

Another quarrel with G. OK, yes, he was right, but why crow about it? That's what you get when you marry your professor from Uni — wall-to-wall pontificating from an older man. "I saw it coming — any fool could see it coming especially after the Big Melt," he brags. "Thresholds crossed, cascade effect, hopelessly optimistic to assume we had till 2060, blahdy blahdy blah, the plutonomy as lemming, democracy's massive own goal." No wonder we haven't got any friends.

He cheered when rationing came in. He's the one who volunteered first as car-share warden for our road: one piddling little Peugeot for the entire road. He gets a real kick out of the camaraderie round the standpipe.

— I'll swap my big tin of chickpeas for your little tin of sardines.

— No, no, my sardines are protein.

— Chickpeas are protein too, plus they fill you up more. Anyway, I thought you still had some tuna.

— No, I swapped that with Astrid Huggins for a tin of tomato soup.

Really sick of bartering, but hard to know how to earn money since the Internet went down. "Also, money's no use unless you've got shedloads of it," as I said to him in bed last night, "The top layer hanging on inside their plastic bubbles of filtered air while the rest of us shuffle round with goiters and tumors and bits of old sheet tied over our mouths. Plus, we're soaking wet the whole time. We've given up on umbrellas, we just go round permanently drenched." I only stopped ranting when I heard a snore and clocked he was asleep.

8TH APRIL 2040

Boring morning washing out rags. No wood for hot water, so had to use ashes and lye again. Hands very sore even though I put plastic bags over them. Did the face masks first, then the rags from my period. Took forever. At least I haven't got to do diapers like Lexi and Esme, that would send me right over the edge.

27TH APRIL 2040

Just back from Maia's. Seven months. She's very frightened. I don't blame her. She tried to make me promise I'd take care of the baby if anything happens to her. I havered (mostly at the thought of coming between her and that throwback Martin — she'd got a new black eye, I didn't ask). I suppose there's no harm in promising if it makes her feel better. After all it wouldn't exactly be taking on a responsibility — I give a new baby three months max in these conditions. Diarrhea, basically.

14TH MAY 2040

Can't sleep. Bites itching, trying not to scratch. Heavy thumps and squeaks just above, in the ceiling. Think of something nice. Soap and hot water. Fresh air. Condoms! Sick of being permanently on knife edge re pregnancy.

Start again. Wandering round a supermarket — warm, gorgeously lit — corridors of open fridges full of tiger prawns and filet mignon. Gliding off down the fast lane in a sports car, stopping to fill up with ten gallons of gas. Online, booking tickets for The Mousetrap, click, ordering a case of wine, click, a holiday home, click, a pair of patent leather boots, click, a gap year, click. I go to iTunes and download The Marriage of Figaro, then I chat face-to-face in real time with G's parents in Sydney. No, don't think about what happened to them. Horrible. Go to sleep.

21ST MAY 2040

Another row with G. He blew my second candle out, he said one was enough. It wasn't though, I couldn't see to read anymore. He drives me mad — it's like living with a policeman. It always was, even before the Collapse. "The earth has enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed" was his favorite. Nobody likes being labeled greedy. I called him Killjoy and he didn't like that. "Every one of us takes about twenty-five thousand breaths a day," he told me. "Each breath removes oxygen from the atmosphere and replaces it with carbon dioxide." Well, pardon me for breathing! What was I supposed to do — turn into a tree?

6TH JUNE 2040

Went round to the Lumleys for the news last night. Whole road there squashed into front room, straining to listen to radio — batteries very low (no new ones in the last govt delivery). Big news though — compulsory billeting next week. The Shorthouses were up in arms, Kai shouting and red in the face, Lexi in tears. "You work all your life" etc., etc. What planet is he on. None of us too keen, but nothing to be done about it. When we got back, G checked our stash of tins under the bedroom floorboards. A big rat shot out and I screamed my head off. G held me till I stopped crying then we had sex. Woke in the night and prayed not to be pregnant, though God knows who I was praying to.


In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson. Copyright 2012 by Helen Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.