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Authors: Emma Donoghue

Landing

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Landing

Emma Donoghue

HARCOURT, INC.

Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London

For Chris,
worth any journey.

Contents
LANDING. Copyright
©
2007 by Emma Donoghue
All rights reserved.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be submitted online at
www.harcourt.com/contact
or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

www.HarcourtBooks.com

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, organizations,
and events are the products of the author's imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Portions of "Home Base" were previously published in
No Margins,
edited by Nairne Holtz and Catherine Lake, Insomniac Press, Toronto, 2006.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Donoghue, Emma, 1969–
Landing/Emma Donoghue.
p. cm.
1. Long-distance relationships—Fiction. 2. Lesbians—Fiction.
3. Flight attendants—Fiction. 4. Women archivists—Fiction.
5. Dublin (Ireland)—Fiction. 6. Ontario—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6054.O547L36 2007
823'.914—dc22 2006025375
ISBN 978-0151012978
Text set in Adobe Garamond
Designed by Linda Lockowitz
Printed in the United States of America
First edition

K J I H G F E D C B A

NOTE

Ireland, Ontario, occupies the same spot on the map as the real Dublin, Ontario, but is in all other respects fictional. Likewise, the Irish airline for which one of my protagonists works is entirely imaginary.

New Year's Eve

DISORIENTATION (from French,
désorienter,
to turn from the east).
(1) Loss of one's sense of position or direction.
(2) Mental confusion.

Later on, Jude Turner would look back on December thirty-first as the last morning her life had been firm, graspable, all in one piece.

She'd been sleeping naked and dreamless. She woke at six, as always, in the house in Ireland, Ontario, where she'd been born; she didn't own an alarm clock. In her old robe she gave her narrow face the briefest of glances in the mirror as she splashed it with cold water, damped down her hair, reached for her black rectangular glasses. The third and eighth stairs groaned under her feet, and the stove was almost out; she wedged logs into the bed of flushed ash. She drank her coffee black from a blue mug she'd made in second grade.

As Jude drew on her second cigarette it was beginning to get light. She watched the backyard through a portcullis of two-foot icicles: Were those fresh raccoon tracks? Soon she'd shovel the driveway, then the Petersons' next door. The neighbour on the other side was Bub, a cryptic turkey plucker with a huge mustache. Usually her mother would be down by now, hair in curlers, but since Boxing Day, Rachel Turner had been away at her sister's in England. The silence trickled like oil into Jude's ears.

She'd walk the three blocks to the museum by seven so she could get some real work done before anyone called, or dropped by to donate a mangy fur tippet, because this afternoon was the postmortem on the feeble results of the Christmas fundraising campaign. At twenty-five, Jude—the curator—was the age of most of the board members' grandchildren.

The phone started up with a shrill jangle, and though she was inclined not to answer it, she did. It was the accent she recognized, more than the voice.

"Louise! Merry Christmas. Why are you whispering?" Jude broke in on her aunt's gabbled monologue. "Not herself, how?"

"I just don't think—" Louise interrupted herself in a louder voice: "I'm only on the phone, Rachel, I'll be right in."

As she stubbed out her cigarette, Jude tried to picture the house in England—a town called Luton—though she'd never seen it. "Put Mom on the line, would you?"

Instead of answering, her aunt called out, "Could you stick the kettle on?" Then, hissed into the phone, "Just a tick."

Waiting, Jude felt irritation bloom behind her eyes. Her aunt had always liked her gin; could she possibly be drunk at, what—she checked the grandfather clock and added five hours—11:30 in the morning?

Louise came back on the line, in the exaggerated style of a community theatre production: "Your mother's making tea."

"What's up, is she sick?"

"She'd never complain, and I haven't told her I'm ringing you," her aunt whispered, "but if you ask me, you should pop over and bring her home."

Pop over,
as if Luton were a couple of kilometres down the road. Jude couldn't keep her voice from cracking like a whip. "Could I please speak to my mother?"

"The yellow pot," Louise shouted, "the other's for herbal. And a couple of those Atkins gingernuts." Then, quieter, "Jude, dear, I must go, I've tai chi at noon—just take my word for it, would you please, she needs her daughter—"

The line went dead. Jude stared at the black Bakelite receiver, then dropped it back in the cradle.

She looked up the number in the stained address book on the counter, but after four rings she got the message, in Louise's guarded tones: "You have reached 3688492..."

"Me again, Jude," she told the machine. "I—listen, I really don't get what's wrong. I'd appreciate it if Mom could call me back right away." Rachel must be well enough to use the phone if she was walking around making tea, surely?

Jude cooked some oatmeal, just to kill a few minutes. After two spoonfuls her appetite disappeared.

This was ridiculous. Sixty-six, lean, and sharp, Jude's mother never went to the doctor except for flu shots. Not a keen traveler, but a perfectly competent one. Louise was six years her elder, or was it seven? If there was something seriously wrong with Rachel—pain or fever, bleeding or a lump—surely Louise would have said? It struck Jude now that her aunt had sounded evasive, paranoid, almost. Could these be the first signs of senility?

Jude tried the Luton number again and got the machine. This time she didn't leave a message, because she knew she'd sound too fierce. Surely the two sisters wouldn't have gone out a minute after making a pot of tea?

Her stomach was a nest of snakes.
Pop over,
as easy as that. The Atlantic stretched out in her mind, a wide gray horror.

It wasn't as if she were phobic, exactly. She'd just never felt the need or inclination to get on an airplane. It was one of those things that people wrongly assumed to be compulsory, like cell phones or gym memberships. Jude had got through her first quarter century just fine without air travel. In February, for instance, when much of the population of Ontario headed like shuddering swallows to Mexico or Cuba, she preferred to go snowshoeing in the Pinery. Two years ago, to get to her cousin's wedding in Vancouver, she'd taken a week each way and slept in the back of her Mustang. And the summer her friends from high school had been touring Europe, Jude had been up north planting trees to pay for her first motorbike. Surely it was her business if she preferred to stay on the ground?

Your mother's not herself.
What was that supposed to mean?

Neither of them had called back. This whole thing, Jude told herself, would no doubt turn out to be nothing more than an inconvenient and expensive fantasy of her aunt's. But in her firm, slightly childish script that hadn't changed since grade school, she started writing out a CLOSED DUE TO FAMILY EMERGENCY notice to tape on the door of the one-room museum.

Rizla took the afternoon off from the garage to drive her to the airport in his new orange pickup. He was in a full-length shearling coat of Ben Turner's; Jude had found it in a dry-cleaners' bag in the basement, years after her father had decamped to Florida, and it gave her a shiver of pleasant spite to see Rizla wear it slung over a White Snake T-shirt stained with motor oil.

White specks spiraled into the windshield; the country roads were thickly coated with snow. Jude took a drag on the cigarette they were sharing. "So, how come when I called, it said 'This number has been disconnected'?"

"Just a temporary misunderstanding with those dumb-asses at the phone company," he said out of the side of his mouth.

"Uh-huh." After a second, she asked, "What are your payments on the truck?"

"Isn't she a beaut?"

"She is, she's a big gorgeous tangerine. What are your payments?"

Rizla kept his eyes on the road. "Leasing's better value in the long run."

"But if you can't cover your phone bill—"

"Shit, if you're planning to grill me on my budget all the way to Detroit, you can ride in the back."

"Okay, okay." Jude passed him the cigarette. "Why wouldn't either of them have called me back? I left three messages," she muttered, aware of repeating herself.

"Maybe your mom's got something unmentionable," he suggested. "She is British, after all."

"Like what? Bloody stools?"

"Syphilis. Pubic lice."

She flicked his ear, and Rizla yelped in pain. She took the cigarette back, and smoked it down to the filter.

"I bet the old gals are just getting on each other's tits," he said after a minute. "My sisters used to rip each other's hair out, literally."

"All your sisters?"

"Mostly the middle ones." Rizla came fifth in a Mohawk-Dutch family of eleven. An only child, Jude had always been fascinated by the Vandeloos.

"But if that's all it is, why wouldn't she just send Mom to a hotel? Why drag me halfway 'round the world with some line about 'She needs her daughter'?"

"England's hardly halfway, more like a quarter," said Rizla, scratching his armpit with the complacent air of a guy who'd been to Bangkok. "Hey, is it really Ma Turner's health you're freaking out about, or having to finally get on a plane?"

Jude lit another cigarette. "Why do you call her that?"

"Why shouldn't I? When she brings her little Honda in for a tune-up, she always sort of squints at me, called me 'Richard.'"

"It is your name."

He snorted at that.

When he wrenched his black ponytail out of his collar she noticed, for the first time, some streaks of gray. "It's mostly the flying," she admitted. "I'm nauseous already."

"Have a couple whiskeys, nothing to it. Actually, it's fun to see you lose your rag, for once. Everyone thinks you're so mature," Rizla added with a smirk. He put on a quavery voice: "'That Turner girl that set up our museum, she's got her feet on the ground all right.'"

The image struck Jude as heavy, mud-locked. She changed the subject to hockey. While Rizla raved about his Leafs' chances of making it to the play-offs, her mind was working over every word Louise had said on the phone.

Dropping her off, he pointed up at the sign that said KISS 'N FLY, and pursed his lips like a gargoyle. She gave his ponytail a tug instead, and climbed out into the freezing air.

The Detroit airport was worse than a mall: fluorescent lights, announcements, stray children, suitcases mummified in plastic wrap. Jude lined up at one desk after another until she was put on standby to London Heathrow with some Irish carrier she'd never heard of. Thank god she'd gotten around to applying for a passport last year because of the new U.S. border regulations. Then there was a commotion about her paying with cash. (She'd emptied her account this morning.) "You can't turn me away just because I don't have a credit card," she argued.

She inched through security in her socks, and had to buy a padded envelope to send her Swiss Army knife home rather than have it confiscated.
Let the flight be full;
then she could call Luton with a clear conscience and say she'd done her best. But at the gate, the woman in the green uniform and boxy little hat called out a list of names that included Jude Turner.

I'm off to England,
she told herself, trying to rouse some enthusiasm, but all she could think of were those royal guards on the postcards, with bearskin straps cutting into their chins. As she shuffled down the tube that led to the plane, her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. Mountains cloaked in fog, wings bursting into flame, suicide bombers ...
Your fears are total clichés,
she told herself.
Come on, how truly likely is any of that?

BOOK: Landing
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