He’s in 13C. She’s in 13B. He’s moving west to take a job teaching history to seventh graders. She’s heading home from a nursing conference. He’s gangly, earnest, and scared. She has brick-red hair and eyes shaped like daisy petals.
After takeoff she produces two oranges from a monstrous purple handbag and offers him one. He tears off the peel into a hundred tiny pieces. When he looks over she has somehow unzipped her orange and her peel sits on the tray table in a single, mesmerizing spiral.
“How did you—?”
“You’re cute,” she says.
She eats it as if it were an apple: huge bites. Threads of juice spill down her chin. The flight attendant brings napkins. The cabin lights dim. She leans across him to look out the window at stars and he smells cloves, ocean wind, orange blossoms.
Her name is Annie. She’s twenty-nine years old, a hospice nurse. Her voice is a quiet, serene thing, a voice like a pool of sweet, underground water. A voice he wants to listen to in the dark.
** The remainder of this archived story has been removed at the author’s request (after a gracious three-month loan for the July 2012 issue). When it becomes available in book form, we will happily provide a link for purchase.
Anthony Doerr is the author of four books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome, and, most recently, Memory Wall. Doerr’s short fiction has won four O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, the Pacific Northwest Book Award, three Ohioana Book Awards, and the 2010 Story Prize. In 2007, the British literary magazine Granta placed Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American novelists.
Read our interview with Tony here.