fiction, whale, vacation, promotion, lightning, freak chance
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To say he wasn't having fun would be imprecise. It was pleasant, what they were doing: drinking wine, making mean jokes about popular podcasts, listening to songs from artists that had once seemed essential but now seemed absurd. If he could spend a vacation doing anything, these are the activities he would choose. But tonight he was only pretending to be happy, and he feared the others could tell he wasn't listening to the conversation, even when he himself was talking. There were other things on his mind. He didn't need friends right now. He got up from the rocking chair and disappeared through the screen door that led to the beach. He could hear his wife asking why he was going out into the rain, but he didn't look back and behaved as if he'd heard nothing at all.
The drizzle was negligible, almost a mist. It would be an hour before it rained for real. He walked without shoes on the impossibly long wooden dock, over the dunes and out toward the water. At first, he could still hear the music from the living room mixed with the voices of the various couples, particularly the donkey laugh of his old pal Roger. By the time he reached the middle of the dock, Roger's laugh was the only sound he could decipher. When he reached the dock's end, he could hear nothing except the ocean. He was finally alone.
"You should be happy to have this problem," he kept telling himself, as if it were possible to change your feelings by criticizing your conscience. He'd received the offer Friday afternoon, just as he and Veronica were catching the ferry to Atlantique. He sheepishly passed the phone to his wife so that she could read the email. "That's [End Page 124] amazing," she said without inflection. "What are you going to do?" He stared straight ahead, like a cow. "Let me rephrase the question," his wife said. "What are you going to do, besides not talk about it?"
He spent the next thirty hours incessantly balancing two thoughts at the same time. The first thought would change. The second thought did not. When he was scrubbing the grill, he thought about the cleanliness of the grill, but also about his problem. When he threw a Frisbee on the beach, he thought about the velocity of the wind and the accuracy of his toss, but also about his problem. In the shower, he thought about his problem while searching for the shampoo. He never relaxed. It never went away. He took an afternoon nap and woke up exhausted. The complexities of the conundrum were so straightforward. There was no way to simplify the decision. If he accepted the offer, he would make more money. But it wouldn't be life-changing money, because that had already happened in his twenties and money can only change your life once. If he accepted the offer, he would travel constantly, often to exotic places. But traveling is only exciting if you're single. What's the upside of meeting interesting people if you're already married? His preference was to exclusively encounter people who were boring, and those people could be found in New York. If he accepted the offer, the work would be challenging and (potentially) satisfying. It would move him into a rarefied tier of his already-rarefied profession. But wasn't his current mediocrity challenging enough? Wasn't his life already (potentially) satisfying? He was about to turn thirty-three. The number of years he still had to work was roughly equivalent to the number of years he'd been alive. That felt like a prison sentence. Maybe if he took the offer, he could bank the money and retire at forty-five. But that would never happen. The kind of guy who took this type of offer always worked until he died, and he would become one of those guys. He probably was one of those guys already, which is why the...