“Company,” by Ann Beattie

Let me try this out, he thought, pulling into the driveway with its bottom-scraping incline, the one Dana always said would eventually force her to get out of the car and walk, as she piled on the pounds as an old lady. I’ll try this out: I instinctively know I’m sick, I suspect I’m dying, but in a way not remotely heroic, I will nonetheless carry this bag into the house and greet my wife, if she’s anywhere nearby, but I will start seeing everything from the point of view of someone looking down on all of it from above (he did not believe in the afterlife, but he did believe in perspective) and perhaps there is solace, even freedom, in seeing everything as if it’s already over. It was like some crazy mental exercise they would have given them in Virginia, one of those What Ifs that turned out to be a nursery rhyme compared to what happened in the real world.

“Henry,” Dana called from upstairs…

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Ann Beattie is the author of ten books of stories and eight novels, most recently Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life. Among other honors, she has received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and one of her stories was selected by John Updike for The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She lives in Maine and in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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