Authors: Stewart O'Nan
ALSO BY STEWART O’NAN
Songs for the Missing
Last Night at the Lobster
The Good Wife
The Night Country
Wish You Were Here
A Prayer for the Dying
A World Away
The Speed Queen
The Names of the Dead
In the Walled City
(with Stephen King)
The Circus Fire
The Vietnam Reader
On Writers and Writing ,
by John Gardner (editor)
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in 2012 by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Copyright © Stewart O’Nan, 2012
All rights reserved
Excerpt from “Wheel of Fortune,” words and music by Bennie Benjamin and George David Weiss. Copyright © 1951 (renewed) Claude A. Music Co. and Abilene Music, Inc. All rights on behalf of Claude A. Music Co. administered by Chappell & Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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The odds : a love story / Stewart O’Nan.
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Carla Bolte • Set in Simoncini Garamond
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The wheel of fortune
goes spinning round
Will the arrow point my way?
Will this be the day?
O wheel of fortune
don’t pass me by
Let me know the magic of
a kiss and a sigh
While the wheel is spinning, spinning, spinning
I’ll not dream of winning
fortune or fame
While the wheel is turning, turning, turning
I’ll be ever yearning
for love’s precious flame
O wheel of fortune
I’m hoping somehow
if you’ll ever smile on me
please let it be now.
Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls:
1 in 195
The final weekend of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never-distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada. “Like the slaves,” Marion told her sister Celia. They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they’d spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagara Falls, as if, across the border, by that fabled and overwrought cauldron of new beginnings, away from any domestic, everyday claims, they might find each other again. Or at least Art hoped so. Marion was just hoping to endure it with some grace and get back home so she could start dealing with the paperwork required to become, for the first time in her life, a single-filing taxpayer.
They told their daughter Emma they were taking a second honeymoon.
“Plus they’re doing another open house here, so…” Marion, on the other line, qualified.
They weren’t good liars, they were just afraid of the truth and what it might say about them. They were middle-class, prey to the tyranny of appearances and what they could afford, or dare, which was part of their problem. They were too settled and practical for what they were doing, uncomfortable with desperate
measures. They could barely discuss the plan between themselves, as if, exposed to light and air, it might evaporate.
With Jeremy, it was enough to say they wanted to see the new casino, a Frank Gehry knockoff featured on the covers of Sunday travel sections and in‑flight magazines. He was impressed with the rate they’d gotten. Art had dug around online to find a bargain.
“Your father the high roller,” Marion joked.
The Valentine’s Getaway Special, it was called: $249, inclusive of meals and a stake of fifty Lucky Bucks toward table games.
They took the bus because it was part of the package, but now, burrowing through a dark wind tunnel of blowing snow somewhere on the outskirts of Buffalo, surrounded by much younger couples—including, frozen zoetropically in the light of oncoming cars, a fleshy pair in Harley gear necking directly across the aisle—they both wished they’d driven.
They’d already made their separate cases at home, so there was no sense going over it again. Art, ever the math major, always bringing matters back to the stingy reality of numbers, had pointed out it would save them fifty dollars in gas, not to mention parking, which Marion thought absurd, and typical. They were so far beyond the stage where fifty dollars might help—like this ridiculous gamble, betting their marriage, essentially, on the spin of a wheel—yet he clung to his old a‑penny-saved‑is‑a‑penny-earned bookkeeping, forgetting the ledger he was tending was drenched in red. Taking the bus represented yet another loss of control, giving themselves up to the hand of fate, or at least a sleep-deprived driver. The only reason she went along with
it—besides not wanting to fight—was that she wouldn’t have to worry about Art tailgating people the whole way in this weather, though of course she didn’t say that.
The bus, additionally, was supposed to provide them with cover, as if in gray middle age they weren’t invisible enough. From the beginning Art had conceived of the trip as a secret mission, a fantastic last-ditch escape from the snares of their real life, and while Marion refused to believe in the possibility, as at first she’d refused to believe the severity of their situation, she also knew they’d run out of options. The house had been on the market over a year now without a nibble. They would lose it—had already lost it, honestly. The question was, how much would it cost them?
Everything, barring a miracle. Art had already crunched the numbers, and after a necessary period of denial, Marion had conceded them, which was why they were barreling north on I‑90, Lake Erie a black void beyond the window.
Art just wanted to get there. The Indians gym bag on his lap with the leering, bucktoothed Chief Wahoo made him nervous, as if the banded packets of twenties fitted inside like bricks were stolen. He wouldn’t be able to relax until he’d locked them in the safe, along with the ring he’d managed to keep a secret from Marion. In love he wasn’t frugal, despite what she might say. In another mad surrender to extravagance, for seventy-five more dollars a night, he’d reserved one of the bridal suites on the top floor overlooking the Falls, and despite their guaranteed late arrival, he was afraid the front desk might have lost or ignored his request and given their room away.
Beside him, Marion lowered her mystery and massaged her neck as if she had a crick in it.
“I’m starving,” she said. “Aren’t you hungry?”